Make the Most of Financial Literacy Month

Come to find out, April is financial literacy month. Since the world has slowed down and we may have more time on our hands, we can spend some time becoming more financially literate. Knowledge is power as cliche as this is.

To me, financial literacy means learning about how to manage what I earn well. It means being intentional about my money by planning for it using a balanced and realistic budget. Financial literacy also involves learning about how to manage your money, to spend it wisely and also to save and invest it with discipline. Developing literacy of any kind requires sustained work, the building of good habits through practice and using what is learnt to strengthen this.

We prioritise literacy – the ability to read and write well, as well as, the knowledge to do this in different contexts. We should also do this with financial literacy. Parents should teach their kids and it should be taught in schools. We should also seek how materials to help us learn more and improve this knowledge.

How to Start on the Road to Developing Financial Literacy

Be inquisitive. Search on Google. Search on Twitter and YouTube as well as other platforms. We all know that once we search for something Google starts throwing it in our faces again and again. Use it in your favour.

Check the different platforms like Coursera where universities offer free courses. You might be able to learn about basic accounting or something to aid in your financial literacy. Come out of this time with knowledge to help better manage your money, so you can save and have a solid emergency fund for hard times to come. As we see now, hard times do come and like now may mean job loss, income stagnation or some other financial hardship. Learn how to plan well and give yourself any kind of buffer you can.

Why Financial Literacy is Important for All of Us

On my financial literacy journey, so far, I have learnt the importance of being disciplined and managing my money so I can save. There are all kinds of popular sayings to make us want to spend what we earn and more. We often hear to work hard and play hard. If you work for it, it’s yours to spend as you please and some even believe it’s normal to have debt.

Financial advisors exist for a reason. The good ones help to guide people to healthy financial lives. We may not all have one but we can seek out information and learn.

Financial literacy goes beyond being able to read and write. We aren’t all naturally able to manage our money, talents and resources. How do you know how to monetise your ideas, skills and the like? How do we know how to negotiate for a better salary, mortgages etc? We have to learn about specific industries that interests us, know how to read different financial reports to a degree and make necessary decisions intentionally.

At some stage we will all retire. How do we plan for this? A bit of financial literacy is important and goes a long way to helping us prepare and plan for this. It is a major key to enjoying retirement. We are never too young to start planning for retirement.

In this financial literacy month, start searching and developing knowledge. Become more financially literate and enrich your life in the process.

Laughter is Always Good Medicine

Laugh a lot.

Laugh often and out loud, those nice belly laughs.

Find things that make you laugh and brings mirth in what feels like a mirthless time.

I enjoy scrolling on Twitter and seeing memes and just comments where people bring humour to all kinda things. I pause to laugh and let it feed my soul because it feels good and it’s important.

There are also some good videos going around on Facebook with parents lamenting about how hard it is to teach their kids and be with them all day. LOL! They are hilarious! I am glad that people can take their frustrating experiences and provide laughter for themselves and others.

Laughter is always good medicine.

Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself because that is needed sometimes.

Plug into some of these memes, GIFS and things of that sort that create a light atmosphere where you can laugh. Balance out the doom and gloom with some of this to keep your mind healthy.

Kids are pretty funny, so if you have them around I am sure you are laughing a lot and doing do often.

This is my PSA. Remember to laugh sometimes through the seemingly endless , heavy and uncertain times of 2020…so far.

Tips to Ward Off Boredom if Your Area Locks Down (Especially those of us who live Alone)

  • While you still have your freedom, stay home an entire weekend to get a taste of what this will be like for days or weeks.
  • Plan for it – Get whatever you need to make your place an oasis. Think of exercises you can do in your space to be active. Make a meal plan with enough variation to satisfy your tastes.
  • Make different meals. Try different recipes, hence the planning mentioned above. Try baking different things, making pasta from scratch or dishes that are more intricate.
  • Read. Journal. Paint and/or draw. Blog. Vlog. Write a book. Compose songs.
  • Take dance breaks.
  • Clean from top to bottom. Organise stuff. Take naps.
  • Have spa days.
  • Have daily video chats with friends and family.
  • Immerse yourself with positive thoughts.
  • Pray.
  • Spend quality time reading the Bible.
  • Work on your budget. Learn more about personal finance and so on.
  • Knit. Crochet. Sew. Mend what needs mending.
  • Keep a gratitude list and update it weekly.
  • Do free online courses. Google and have at it.
  • If you work from home, mix it up, so it doesn’t become monotonous.
  • If you have a balcony or space indoor, plant something and nurture it.
  • Please add to the list…

Being Calm in Periods of Uncertainty

We live in uncertain times. Everywhere we turn, we hear news of the coronavirus. It feels unrelenting. If we are not careful we start living life on the edge and take on a cloak of fear. We can however, cultivate a sense of calmness even in these times. Our mental health and physical health require that we focus on this. It is a form of self-care.

I know, the word self-care is banded about and it may ironically cause people to become more stressed, if they think about the fact that they don’t have time to care for themselves. Practicing a healthy mind set costs nothing. It involves some discipline and effort to view things positively when everything in you wants to do the opposite.

I am a woman of faith. I choose to live by faith, especially in these times when it seems everything is out of control. We live on the earth, which is imperfect. Thus, trials, illnesses and hardships will come but we also know from experience that there are many great things we have, even in the midst of these negative elements. We have friends, family, sunshine, laughter, food, shelter, jobs, hospitals with medical professionals who are working for and with us, keep thinking and adding to the list.

It is important to remember that the bad times do not cause everything to be bad. It may feel like it but this doesn’t make it true.

It is important to focus on being calm among the heavy atmosphere of worry and fear, that permeates our world now. Does worrying actually help us to prepare for the worst? Does it rob us of enjoying the good things we have now? Does it help us mentally and emotionally?

How often are you following news about what is happening in China, South Korea, Italy, Japan and so on? Do you look at the maps to show how may people are infected everywhere? This is necessary but it can really rest on us if we do this over and over again each day. It is interesting that we don’t hear much about the number of people who get better. You have to dig to find this information.

Scale back on how often you read about the spread of the virus. Focus more on eating well, washing your hands and practicing good hygiene, as you do your part to care for your health. Also, focus on being calm in this storm. Make your home an oasis of peace and enjoy this often.

I know God isn’t somewhere surprised about what is happening now. I may sound naive, but I choose to believe and walk by faith, at all times. I pray everyone can find peace in these times and always. It is well.

Life in Japan in the Time of the Coronavirus

  • Those who still have masks don them religiously everyday. There are no masks in the shops so many people are ‘maskless’. I don’t wear a mask, so maybe I am living dangerously. Based on informed research, I know the run of the mill masks most people wear are not effective. I have seen where people have pulled down their masks to sneeze before, let’s hope good sense prevails.
  • Announcements have been made for people to wash their hands. Yes, you would think this is normal practice but mine eyes have seen fingers on one hand passed quickly under a pipe, after people leave a bathroom stall. Yup, even when the soap dispenser is right by the faucet. There are bottles of alcohol at the entrance to many places where we can spritz our hands to help. This is a normal thing anyway. As for me, I wash my hands well with soap and around my mouth as well, when I get to work, when I come home and before eating lunch.
  • Interestingly, I don’t hear of or read about people being reminded to amp up things that boost their immune systems: eating fruits and veggies, sleeping enough, drinking water, taking vitamins and exercising among other things. Yep, I am even more intentional about these, as I often am during winter when influenza comes yearly.
  • There is information on signs and symptoms to look out for and when to book it to the hospital. Let’s keep these medical professionals prayed up.
  • There are announcements about avoiding crowded places. Well in Tokyo, we commute by train and rush hour is always crowded (think of over 2 million or more people each day) so yeah.
  • We all read about the quarantine of those on the cruise ship and those getting off now, just like people outside the country.
  • The atmosphere is becoming tenser everyday. I read today that someone pressed the emergency stop button in the train somewhere in the country. This was because someone who wasn’t wearing a mask was coughing. People will cough, sneeze and the like a lot now. It is allergy season, it is early this year and as brutal as usual. I never experience it but this year my nose is runny.
  • Many of us are still doing the things we would normally do everyday. This is not a bad thing because being stressed isn’t good for the immune system. This too shall pass…

Visas, Travel Privilege and Expenses

Sometimes you want to visit a particular country so much but alas you don’t qualify for a visa. When you are from a developing country with a weak passport this happens and does so quite often for some people. The burden of proving, that you are a person of moral character, who will not become an illegal migrant, is virtually nigh on impossible for some people applying for visas in some countries.

If visa applications were free or even refunded in part this would not be so bad. Imagine spending over a US$150 to apply for a visa, paying for pictures and transport to an embassy to hear that you don’t qualify. On what basis you may ask? Well, this particular individual doesn’t qualify because she is single and works in a job that is not seen as professional. The one making this decision doesn’t even open the individual’s passport to see that she has visited other developed countries and returned home.

Many decisions for a visa seem to be made in an arbitrary manner. There are people who are unemployed, unmarried, not in school and have no so called ‘ties’ to their country who are granted visas. Then you have professionals who have served in their respective fields for over a decade, earn good salaries, have cars and houses and refused visas multiple times. These are not made up stories. These are people I know well. It is a frustrating experience I am sure.

Visas cost time and money. None of the money for the application fee is refunded. You often can’t appeal a decision. No plausible explanation is given in many cases. For many people from developing countries, applying for a visa to visit a developed country is like buying the lottery. They don’t have the freedom to go and come as they please. You may ask why not travel to other countries? Fun fact: many people need to transit through a developed country to get from destination Y TO Z in some cases. For example, if friends or relatives in Jamaica want to visit me in Japan they may need to get a transit visa for one of a few developed countries to do so. The most affordable routes are via these countries. There is the option to go through Mexico, which is visa free for us but you may be looking at an additional 500 dollars or more for airfare. How ironic, that those of us from developing countries pay more to see the world.

Is a transit visa not easy to get you may ask? The process for getting a transit visa is the same as getting a non-immigrant visa. For some countries the fee might be a little less but all the documents are the same. I have dedicated my share of time researching, planning and applying for visa for a lot of places. Don’t believe that living in a developed country, makes me a shoo in to get visas for other developed countries all the time. In some cases, even other developing countries can be a pain.

What is Involved in Applying for a Visa to the Average Developed Country

Money – Visas can range from $US50 to over $150. This is why some developing countries charge visitors from developed countries for visas as well. Visa free reciprocity is a beautiful thing and I take advantage of it as much as I can. As a Jamaican I have gone to quite a few countries in Asia, Africa and South America visa free. It really makes planning a trip so much easier. You also need pictures, so that’s money. You also may need to travel to the embassy. You also may need to have flights and hotels booked (this is no guarantee to getting the visa). Also, you often need to show a bank account with a healthy balance and a bank statement that reflects the status of your account for six months or so. Bank statements aren’t free.

Time – If you need to visit an embassy for a face to face interview, you need to take time off work. You need to take time to read the application form well and prepare all the necessary documents. Things like the size of pictures, how clear they are and how recently they were taken is very important. I have had to go to a studio to get it done to meet certain specifications. You may also have to get a job letter and that may take time as well.

Angst – It is hard to make firm plans before you get a visa. This means you may not be able to take advantage of flight deals and the like. Also, even when you get a visa it may be for a limited period, so it’s hard t plan in a concrete way. Oh yeah, having a visa is never a guarantee that you will be allowed into a country. Many visitors take this for granted. I guess this applies to all travellers.

For those who have experienced this let me know if I have forgotten anything.

Travelling to Visa Free Countries is Best but

the developed countries make themselves so attractive, how do many of us not have a desire to see all the natural and manmade wonders?

Anyway, once one passes that stage then you come to realise, if you are like me, that you can enjoy many great places in the world visa free on a Jamaican passport: Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, The Philippines, Indonesia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and quite a number of other countries and territories. Thus, I have made it my business to focus on travelling to visa free countries and saving myself the angst of all I mentioned above. It is quite liberating. My advice to others from places with passports that require visas for certain countries, think about doing this too. Try visiting some visa free places and enjoying travelling this way. Alas sometimes you may need a visa to get to them but some transit visas are easily procured by airlines in certain regions.

Don’t let visa refusals from certain developed countries dampen your spirit of adventure. It can be a blessing to push you to enjoy and discover other less popular places.

The Grass isn’t Greener, Everywhere has its Quirks

How many of us choose to focus on an opportunity that seems oh so attractive, so that it clouds our view of the good things we have going right where we are now.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side though. This cliche is sometimes true.

When we focus on something negative for too long, it could just be one negative thing, it grows and grows and causes a whole world of discontentment. It can be quite overwhelming to the point where we run off to supposed greener pastures and then discover that we left something good.

Spend some time reflecting and noting the positives against the negatives of a situation before making a decision to change path. This is applicable to a whole range of situations. It should also not be done hastily or when we are feeling low.

I am learning that everywhere has its quirks and sometimes it is worth pushing through some stormy seasons. I am learning to persevere and enjoy the positives as I learn, work on myself and grow amidst the negatives. A permanent decision ought not to be taken to address a temporary situation. Everything in life will not be fine all the time. Trials and struggles really do make us strong if we look at them as learning opportunities.

Now, if we are in a situation, whatever it is and know it is toxic and ruining our minds, then it’s good to walk away. Nothing is worth us compromising our mental health. This is far from simple but the effort to do so is worth it.

I have been blessed to be able to walk away from a toxic work environment before. I remember feeling uneasy about it even though it was the right thing to do. I am happy I took the plunge at the time and it was well worth it. I was able to do this with some confidence because I had saved up some money, to allow me to take what I thought, was a job with a lower salary. In time even that was sorted.

Moving from one job to another, for example, includes dedicated research and networking in some cases. It is always good to keep an eye on what is going on in different sectors of interest and also polishing our CVs from time to time. It’s nice to be content in a job but it is also good to be aware of what is happening in the industry. This means than, we can more accurately weigh an opportunity, to see if it is greener than where we are at. Regardless of this, it is good to remember everywhere has its quirks. When the novelty wears off there will always be something that may cause us some discomfort. I think its best to learn from this, grow and keep going. It often happens that not focusing on this lessens its impact. Choose to focus on the positives and remind yourself of them often.

The grass is sometimes greener indeed but how devastating is it when we jump without proper preparation. We may find that the new grass is filled with even more weeds than where we ran from. Everywhere has it quirks, expect these and resolve to be content despite them but know when to move on to other opportunities.