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Paul Gambles
Co-founder of MBMG Group


Update April 25, 2015

Keeping a budget can help you make the most of your money

As well as ‘getting more exercise’, one of the items that can be difficult to achieve in a To Do list is setting - and more importantly, sticking to - a personal budget.

It seems simple to do, doesn’t it? First you make a list of your income; then write down your basic outgoings. After that, divide what’s left over between savings, clothes, as well as that sleek new tablet with apps for reading the newspaper while simultaneously making you a hot, frothy cappuccino.

The problem is that life - or at least financial life - is far more complicated nowadays. If you have more than one bank account, in more than one jurisdiction, you have to factor in your balance in each account. Plus, whilst some current and savings accounts are free to maintain, many charge a monthly or annual fee. Already you have a little bit less in there than you thought.

Then, if you wish to transfer money from one account to another, you are likely to have to pay charges and be subject to the receiving bank’s exchange rate of that day. By which time you have already lost the value of an item of clothing or two from your budget.
With all that in mind, it’s worth considering a few things when creating a personal budget.

Identifying goals

It sounds simple, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget what we’re actually trying to achieve. What do you want to do with your money in the short, medium and long term?
This point is the keystone of your budget, as it can help you see the bigger picture when you’re tempted to buy that wall-to-wall home cinema, instead of investing in the future.

Check exactly where your money is going

Do you check your money at the end of each month? You would be surprised to see where it all goes - especially if you are subject to those bank charges I mentioned earlier.
That’s why it’s important to stay aware of what really goes out. One handy way is to use a spreadsheet to track and categorize one month’s expenses. Then, make sure you add in your expenditure once a day - that way you know where everything goes and you quick spot any anomalies.

You could categorize your expenses as follows:
1. Fixed needs - necessary expenses which are the same amount each month (e.g. housing and savings)
2. Variable needs - necessary expenses which tend to vary from month to month (e.g. electricity, grocery shopping)
3. Non-essentials - going out, electronics, clothes, etc.

Pay yourself first

You may have noticed that I’ve put savings into the Fixed needs category. This is because I believe that personal savings should really be held in equal importance to bills and loan payments, if not higher. If you have a savings plan with a decent interest return, you could accumulate a healthy nest egg with compound interest.

In other words, the sooner you start saving, the better. Money invested today creates greater wealth at retirement than a greater amount invested several years down the line. For example, if a 45 year-old starts to invest USD 20,000 a year and a 21 year-old invests USD 5,000 a year at the same interest rate until they are 65, the result is as shown in the table on this page.

This is because each time the interest is calculated, it is applied to the total amount in your account. Thus after year 2, the 45-year-old in the example has already received 7.5% interest on the initial USD 20,000 investment, added a further USD 20,000 and accrued a further 7.5% interest on the total.

So, if you prioritize saving above all, starting right now, you could stand to benefit greatly.

List sources of income

On the spreadsheet, make a list of all the different sources of income and how much you receive. You may be able to rattle your monthly income off the top of your head; but to have it noted down on a spreadsheet against your outgoings enables you to see in black and white exactly how much money you have left.

Make adjustments

Your personal budget shouldn’t be something set in stone. You may find that some items cost more than you expect (we’re back to those bank charges again!). You may have switched on your air-con for longer than usual - resulting in a large-than-life electricity bill. That’s why you need to allow for an adjustments category - a bit of money on the side to allow for going over-budget.

Additionally, you may be going slightly overboard in the non-essentials category. This can be managed by listing what your usual non-essentials are and setting a realistic monthly limit for each. Thus, if you discover you’ve gone over-budget in eating out, you can quickly adjust by reducing your expenses on gadgets. You’re overall non-essentials budget will be balanced and you won’t have to compromise on the essential items - particularly those savings!

If you can’t trim enough of your non-essentials to enjoy life, putting everything on a spreadsheet in this way will at least allow you to make an informed decision on which fixed or variable needs can be reduced - exchanging that villa for a condo, or eating more noodles and less caviar, for example.

Keeping to it

This is of course intended merely as a suggestion for planning a budget. There are many different ways, as everyone has different priorities and types of expenses. What is essential is to find a way of keeping a record that works for you, so that you keep noting expenses, check it regularly and adjust it accordingly. You could use a classic spreadsheet or there are various smartphone & tablet apps available, which enable you to make quick updates as you’re spending.
Whichever way you choose, keep to it so you can make the most of your money.

Please Note: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is correct, MBMG Group cannot be held responsible for any errors that may occur. The views of the contributors may not necessarily reflect the house view of MBMG Group. Views and opinions expressed herein may change with market conditions and should not be used in isolation.

MBMG Group is an advisory firm that assists expatriates and locals within the South East Asia Region with services ranging from Investment Advisory, Personal Advisory, Tax Advisory, Corporate Advisory, Insurance Services, Accounting & Auditing Services, Legal Services, Estate Planning and Property Solutions. For more information: Tel: +66 2665 2536; e-mail: [email protected]; Linkedin: MBMG Group; Twitter: @MBMGIntl; Facebook: /MBMGGroup

Update April 16, 2015

Preparing for the Digital Afterlife

I’ve long held in great importance the concept of helping clients make sure their affairs are in order should anything happen to them. The right planning can ensure loved ones do not have to deal with financial complications during times of emotional distress.

That’s why I took great interest when I read a while back about American money advisor James Starr’s1 legacy drawer concept - a drawer in your home, containing all of the important information your family needs in case something happens to you.

It’s not just a case of just writing a will for each jurisdiction in which you hold assets; although too many people fail even to do this, potentially leaving their family with awful legal headaches. Whether you’re single without children or in your seventies with a host of grandchildren, a legacy drawer is vital. It should be in your home and contain everything that has to do with your finances and be organised in a way that any document can be found in seconds.

Brave New World

I think this idea is excellent. However nowadays, in our increasingly complex online world, it may not go far enough. We now have to think more broadly about accessing all our different possessions, both physical and digital - be they of material or sentimental importance.

Digital assets which can be monetized, such as internet-based bank accounts, PayPal accounts; air miles accounts; or even digital currency accounts, such as Bitcoin, are all accessed using passwords.
Not only that: photograph, book, music and film collections all used to be physical memories and legacies; yet nowadays many of us store these digitally.

What do you actually own?

Whilst stories about actor Bruce Willis suing Apple over future ownership of his music collection were a media fabrication, it does bring access and ownership into question. Once we upload photos to social media, a public cloud or when we buy digital music files, do we actually own them and can our loved ones inherit them? Sometimes digital content is not transferable to others, as when we buy or store content we only buy the rights to access it, not the actual file itself.2

Of course it all depends on the terms and conditions of the storage provider, which many of us never read -as demonstrated recently when, by agreeing to the terms and conditions, some people unwittingly gave up rights to their first child in exchange for free Wi-Fi!3

The Digital Afterlife

If you do store photos and other memories on Facebook, it can be frustrating verging on the impossible for loved ones to access your account without a password.4 The social media giant has set up something called memorialization which, among other things, blocks advertisements, friend requests and stops anyone from changing status updates. The difficulty with this approach, though, is that loved ones without login details are unable to retrieve photographs and other memories.

James Starr’s suggested legacy drawer contents:
1 Cover Letter
2. Financial Account
3. Funeral Instructions
4. Insurance Policies
5. Important Documents
6. Personal Letters
7. Monthly Budget
8. Passwords
9. Tax Returns
10. Will and Estate Plans
Source: Charisma Mag

To address this, Facebook launched Legacy Contact5 in February this year. This allows you to grant permission to someone, in the event of your death, to download an archive of photographs, posts and profile information. You can assign one legacy contact but that person won’t be able to edit old posts, access private messages or delete the entire account.6 So far it is only available in the US but the social media site intends to roll it out to other countries.7 Facebook state that they’ll also respect a legacy contact designated in a will.8

Facebook aren’t the first to offer such a service. In 2013, Google started to allow people to state what they’d like to happen to their data from between three and twelve months after their death - including deletion or passing data from an account to other people. According to Google, the feature is designed “to plan your digital afterlife.”9 Note that Google isn’t allowing total control of someone else’s account, merely enabling data to be accessed. Data privacy laws in some countries make it very difficult to pass control of digital accounts to others, even if they stipulate it in a will.10

The simplest way around this is to keep an account active by storing all the relevant passwords in a legacy drawer, so your loved ones or executors can access them later. They can then cancel automatic payments, deactivate accounts and keep open the memories you would like your loved ones to inherit. This solution may not break ground in terms of technological innovation but it does fulfil an important purpose: it’s straightforward to keep up-to-date now and easy to use at a later date.

Controlling who sees what

If you want an online place to enable loved ones to access your passwords, documents and photographs, there are now apps which allow you to store all your important information in one place. With these you can choose which person can see which password by limiting their access permission. The data is stored on secure servers, which can be accessed via the internet. In other words: a cloud facility whose contents cannot even be read by the provider’s administrators.11 Should anything happen to you, your closest loved one can activate pre-set messages to others, enabling them to access only the data you wish them to have.

I’m not in a position to recommend such apps, as I haven’t tried them myself, but in theory it provides some form of solution to controlling your digital afterlife. This, of course, creates a digital solution to a digital problem, so it may not be the simplest solution depending on your loved ones’ technical knowhow. Nevertheless, it gives you more control over who sees what.

Be prepared

Whatever your preferences for how to provide information, it’s important that our closest family member or friend can access a place where everything is kept. As much as we may wish, it is not something that we should put off from doing.

7 idem
10 idem

Update April 10, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: Founder of Modern Singapore

In the early hours of 23rd March, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that his father and independent Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had died.

Lee’s death brought tributes from leaders around the world, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barak Obama. “He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs,” President Obama said shortly after the announcement.1

A Cambridge-educated lawyer, Lee is widely credited with building Singapore into one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per capita basis.2

This was no small feat, given the tumultuous beginnings independent Singapore had to endure.

In the aftermath of World War Two, the island remained a British colony and began a slow process to winning total self-rule. This was finally achieved in 1959, when Lee’s People’s Action Party won an overwhelming majority in elections to the new Legislative Assembly.

Having fulfilled Lee’s objective to enroll Singapore in the newly-formed state of Malaysia in 1963, it became clear that the island’s affiliation to Kuala Lumpur would not work. In August 1965, Lee tearfully announced the dream of unity was over. “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories,” he said3.

Lee’s government then used Singapore’s independence, geography and its people’s education to create one of the world’s prominent financial centres.

Taking its place on the world stage, Lee strengthened Singapore’s ties with the US and played a key role in the development of ASEAN, forging strong links with Thailand, and the Philippines, in addition to neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia.

For forty years from 1970, the island-state enjoyed economic growth rates to rival any among the East Asian tigers.4

Lee’s foreign policy transformed ASEAN into a group primarily concerned with trade: freer trade in the region was beneficial to Singapore as a centre of commerce.

After stepping down as Prime Minister in 1990, Lee took on a role as Minister Mentor to his successors - Goh Chok Tong and then his own son - until retirement in 2011. He saw eastern Asian success as the triumph of “Confucian values” (discipline, order and respect) and promoted Singapore as the centre of “Asian values”.5

In a letter of condolence to Lee’s son, Singapore’s president Tony Tan said, “Many doubted if Singapore could survive as a nation but Mr. Lee rallied our people together and led his cabinet colleagues to successfully build up our armed forces, develop our infrastructure and transform Singapore into a global metropolis.”6

One important aspect of Lee’s time in power was investment in education to create a highly-educated workforce, fluent in English. Tan acknowledged that “Establishing English as the common working language enabled Singaporeans to have more equal opportunities to learn, communicate and work regardless of race.

“Because of these policies, Singaporeans today are able to leverage on our bilingual and bicultural edge to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves around the world,” Tan went on to say.

There can be little doubt that Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore what it is today, one of the major players in the global economy.

2 idem
3 August 9, 1965, as quoted in The Theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and Resistance, Terence Chong
4 idem

Update April 4, 2015

Liberté, Égalité, Fiscalité!

Foreign owners of property in France could be in line for a tax rebate - and it’s all thanks to a Dutchman.
Gérard de Ruyter was working in France between 1997 & 2004 for a Dutch company and received his salary in his native Netherlands. After declaring his income to the French tax authorities, he was sent a bill for social security contributions because he received income from life annuities he’d bought. It seemed irrelevant to the French taxman that de Ruyter was already paying tax on this income in the Netherlands.

A Landmark Decision

Mr de Ruyter took the taxman to court and won on appeal. The French state then contested the decision at the Conseil d’État (Supreme Court), who asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2013 as to whether the charges were against EU regulations and freedoms (C-623/13).*
It is estimated that the French government received €250 million a year thanks to claiming such social security charges from non-residents through this tax measure.1 The government made the move under the premise that the CSG and CRDS social contributions were legally considered as a ‘tax’ because they weren’t paid in return for rights to social benefits. As income from property in France is subject to tax, it provided an opportunity for the state to charge those with French property but not earning in the country.
In fact the treasury was looking for ways to recoup tax money, as over 35,000 households** were estimated to have left the country in 2011, 62% more than in 2010.2 This situation wasn’t helped by a number of high-profile public figures leaving in 2012 to avoid heavy tax bills: such as actor Gérard Depardieu who moved to a village 1 km inside Belgium; Bernard Arnault - head of luxury brands conglomerate LVMH; and Alain Afflelou, founder of the French opticians chain that bears his name.3
In stipulating who is liable to pay income tax, the French tax authorities’ website states that even if someone is not domiciled in France, they should still complete an income tax declaration if they own one or more homes there. However, it goes on to say that taxation of such people only applies according to international conventions to which France has signed.4
The end of the line was reached at the end of February this year, when the Luxembourg-based ECJ ruled that the French authorities did not have the right to subject the property income of people who paid salaries outside France to its social contribution charges.
The ECJ’s decision is based on an EU Regulation5 which prohibits different EU members’ social security systems from overlapping. The court decision goes on to say that this prohibition stands irrespective of the pursuit of professional activity, so applies to both active and passive income. That means that those who contribute to another EU country’s social security system are not - and should not have been in the past - subject to French social contribution charges.


The Ruyter decision has far-reaching consequences. Since 2012, the estimated 350,000 people who cross borders to work (and therefore are paid outside France), as well as around 60,000 non-residents6 who own property in France, have had to pay French social contributions of 15.5% on income from rent or capital gains made.
Those who contribute to other EU-countries’ social security systems should, in theory, qualify for a reimbursement of the French social contributions they have had to pay between fiscal years 2012 and 2014.7 What remains to be seen, however, is how the ECJ decision will be applied to those living outside the EU, and whether they will also qualify for a refund of the 15.5% social contribution charge.
On a positive note there is a precedent: in October last year France’s Conseil d’État ruled, in a case involving Swiss taxpayers, that that there should not be a higher tax on property capital gains for non-EU residents than for those living in EU member states. The court decided that the 33.33% rate - as opposed to the 19% rate applied to EU-residents - was incompatible with the EU principle of freedom of movement of capital8 and the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTA) between France and Switzerland.9
As France’s Supreme Court applied EU principles to those living outside the bloc and given that France has DTAs with 108 countries and territories around the world, this could mean that the same will apply to refunds for the illegal social charges.

Getting a Rebate

This possibility has yet to be tested; but if you are resident outside the EU and have paid social contributions on property in France, it may be worth applying for the refund anyway.
To apply to get your money back, contact the Tax Office for Non-Residents:
e-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: +33 1 57 33 83 00
Postal address: Service des impôts des particuliers - Non-résidents
10 rue du centre
TSA 10010
93 465 Noisy le Grand Cedex

Further Information

Of course, every case is different; so there are no guarantees of whether you will qualify for a refund and, if so, how much. With that in mind, it’s best to seek advice.
The European Commission provides free information on taxes in all EU countries at the following address:
You can also e-mail a specific question to them at:
* The full ECJ decision is available at the following addresses:
English version:
French version:
** Households, not individuals, as married couples/official partners count as one fiscal entity in France.

IR&sfid=50 (then click Qui paie l’impôt)
5 Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 of the Council of 14 June 1971
8 Article 63, TFEU,

Please Note: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is correct, MBMG Group cannot be held responsible for any errors that may occur. The views of the contributors may not necessarily reflect the house view of MBMG Group. Views and opinions expressed herein may change with market conditions and should not be used in isolation.
MBMG Group is an advisory firm that assists expatriates and locals within the South East Asia Region with services ranging from Investment Advisory, Personal Advisory, Tax Advisory, Corporate Advisory, Insurance Services, Accounting & Auditing Services, Legal Services, Estate Planning and Property Solutions. For more information: Tel: +66 2665 2536; e-mail: [email protected]; Linkedin: MBMG Group; Twitter: @MBMGIntl; Facebook: /MBMGGroup


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Keeping a budget can help you make the most of your money

Preparing for the Digital Afterlife

Lee Kuan Yew: Founder of Modern Singapore

Liberté, Égalité, Fiscalité!