In times when the lockdown is slowly being lifted, life is more confusing than usual. From a financial perspective, the global pandemic brought us new challenges. The good news is that we now have time to reflect on what is happening to our personal finances.
Experts note that when the situation gets uncertain, people should not rush to make big decisions or make hasty changes in their financial pictures. Seeking professional financial advice might be a useful step to help.
Having that in mind, we have decided to talk with the financial coach Debbie Katzav and share her tips on how to manage personal finances in a time of global crisis.
We’ve met with Debbie by video call over morning coffee. She inspired us immediately with her vivid energy and positive attitude. Here are the moments from our talk.
Debbie, could you please introduce yourself? What is your job?
My name is Debbie Katzav. I live in the center of Israel, just north of Tel Aviv. Officially, my title is Personal Finances Advisor. It is also known as a Money Coach in certain countries.
Basically, what I do is I guide people – it can be singles, couples, or small business owners – towards understanding, managing, and organizing various aspects of their finances. It can be their budget, expenses, their incomes, or their savings. I explain how to reduce expenses and create savings, to make sure they put some money away for pension time and so that they know what’s going on with their insurances. I’m not an insurance agent or broker. However, I have enough knowledge to point my clients in the right direction and ask the right questions of their brokers and advisors. As those areas are full of information and terminology, whenever people get a report or request from their agent, they get scared and don’t know what to do with it. But I know how to deal with it.
One of the reasons why I am in this field is that I’ve gone through different things in my life, all of which had financial implications. I migrated between countries three times. I was married, got divorced, got married again. I lost my dad at a pretty young age… So I’ve had a lot of different experiences and more… I made money, lost money, bought and sold properties, and so on. All these events had implications also on my finances, so eventually, I wanted to help other people to avoid financial problems and mistakes.
Besides this, I love organizing. I love knowing where I can find information quickly and be able to use it. And I enjoy everything digital: apps, programs, technology… For instance, I’ve been using Excel and PowerPoint since the 1990-s. Now I learn how to use any new app very easily and quickly.
To go back, I became self-employed 9 years ago, I’m 52, by the way. Till then I was always an employee in large organizations for over 20 years. I worked very hard building my business and raising two small boys at that time. And I was really lucky to get great marketing opportunities at the beginning which took me further. I charged forward with those opportunities, as I knew that I’d need to step outside my own boundaries in order to succeed as a small business owner. Taking those risks paid off and I managed to build my business very well. For example, I had a regular column on one of Israel’s biggest websites and that led to TV appearances, radio broadcasts, and other media contacts. Right now I prefer to invest in my own media: website, blog, and podcast (in Hebrew at the moment).
Wow! That’s amazing.
Yes, that’s a lot of life behind me! (Laughing)
You’ve mentioned that you love to use the apps. How did you get to know Toshl?
I use the Toshl app for more than 4 years. I don’t really remember exactly but either I’ve heard about it through a client or my sister who lives in New York. Anyway, I’ve been a paid Toshl Pro customer for 4 years and it is really worth the money… I did explore other apps at that time and I found that Toshl was really intuitive, nicely designed, and user-friendly.
As a financial coach, could you please share: what should we focus on when managing our financial life?
Obviously, the first thing is control of the day-to-day expenses. I call them variable expenses – expenses that occur daily and we actually have to put a hand in our pocket to take a credit card or cash, or use online banking to make a transfer – all of these expenses need to be tracked because it is very easy to lose control over them.
Aside from those, we have fixed expenses. Although they are repeating every month, we need to control them and think if there is a way we can reduce them. Some people say: “Oh this is fixed. I can’t do anything about it”. But sometimes you can. For instance, in Israel, we have a pretty cheap cellular service for less than 10 dollars per month. And I still see some people using the more expensive program even though there is no reason for them to have it.
Then, we need to make sure that we have savings, liquid savings. Especially now, in the times of the global pandemic, a lot of people suddenly didn’t have an income… And if you have some money to put back in your current account that you’ve saved up for a rainy day, you are in a much better position than people who haven’t done that. So you need to have money that is pretty liquid and you need to have savings for retirement or when you stop working. It can be in many formats: rent from the property, saving accounts, investments.
I think it is also important to be a smart consumer. It means not being roped in by clever advertising or a friend or celebrity who posts an Instagram photo of an item that was just bought but rather – to investigate, do price comparisons in advance. I’m not saying: “Don’t buy”. I love buying myself and I think it’s fun. Just let’s be clever consumers.
It is better to buy one good-quality expensive item than many cheap ones. Personally, I don’t like online shopping for cheap clothes… That’s just like… Where I’m going to put it?! (Laughing) It might be the wrong size or colour, or maybe the quality of the material will be very low… I’d rather buy good things, more expensive and not so many. That’s being the smart consumer.
To sum up, just control your expenses, make the savings, and be a smart consumer.
Do you suggest looking at it individually?
Oh, absolutely. For instance, a situation in my family is very different from the situation of a family with small children. Yes, I can give very general advice but at the end of the day, each person or family and each household is in its own situation. All in all, it is very individual.
You know, I cannot tell a family who has a coeliac kid to spend much less on food. They will spend more because that gluten-free food is very expensive. So everything needs to be adjusted. Only when I do individual work with a family, I can point out the areas that are not in line with what it should be.
Now we live in times of the global pandemic. Some of us could experience uncertainty about our financial future. Are there any specific tips on how to act in these circumstances?
I think you need to put on your creative hat and realize that you have to move out of your comfort zone. For example, what I’m doing now (as I finally had the time during the 2 months of lockdown) is putting together an online workshop. Yes, it is a lot of work but I’m moving out of my comfort zone to create new services which will bring me new clients and new income. That is what we need at the moment of uncertainty.
On the other hand, we need to exercise restraint. As the lockdown is lifting slowly, I see that people are so craving to go to the mall and buy… And maybe they don’t have money… They need to think first: “OK, the mall is open but it doesn’t imply that I HAVE to go and spend!”. You know, don’t go to the mall, go for a walk around the block!
So we need to become restrained and keep being optimistic and learn some new skills. I think there are lots of opportunities to learn skills that you can sell to create an income. These things could be a little bit more difficult, though it’s worth trying.
What else? We should put off some purchases… For example, before the pandemic, you planned to renovate your house during the summer. But now, if your income has changed, you need to put it off, to leave some money in your bank account.
This is also a time to review the budget of your monthly expenses. You need to do it every month but in times of uncertainty, you need to adjust it even more. And in this sense, Toshl is a very handy tool.
Recently, the global market has shifted to the Internet. Many people purchase goods and services online. Are there any hints on how not to overspend?
It’s a big problem. I see it with a lot of my clients. Apart from purchases that require delivery services, there are subscriptions for online products. When my clients go through their bank statements having transactions from App Store or Play Store, sometimes they can hardly answer what that online purchase was for. When you’re buying online, it is very easy to think: “Oh, it’s just three dollars!” I think our minds are not capable of aggregating everything that we purchase over a period of a month and we cannot work it out unless we see it on a screen (in Toshl!)
Another thing… Most of my clients use Toshl manually. One of the things I teach them is that they have to enter their purchases on the same day. Because the next day you wake up, your mind is like a blank page and you don’t remember anything. I’m also quite a big online purchaser of services for my business Yesterday I paid for Zoom and I put it in Toshl right away. And that’s how I can control myself because it is very easy to get lost.
Could you describe: who is your typical customer?
I have three types of customers. The first ones are couples or individuals that want to learn how to manage their finances. I teach them how to analyze their expenses and how to create, maintain, follow, and track a new budget. These people come to me to learn and I guide them in that.
The next type is people who ask me to manage things for them as a personal financial assistant. Typically, these are older people. Normally, they are well off, and if they want someone to deal with it for them, they can afford it. I’m the one to clean up the messes and consult them.
And the last ones are small business owners. If you are a small business owner, you have to sell your service or product but at the same time, you need to manage your business on your own. A lot of small business owners don’t know how to manage the financial aspects of their business. Most deal only with the tax aspects and amounts that need to be paid to the authorities. I’m the one who really goes into the numbers and says: “Oh, you spent too much on equipment!”. What I do with small business owners, I look at the details and advise them every month on what they need to be more careful with. I look at the numbers from a different point of view than the accountant does.
And now I might have one more type! These are the people who are going to learn and do everything on their own using the Toshl app.
Yes, we’ve heard about the workshops you organize to share your knowledge with others. Could you tell us more about these events?
The workshops are my new service. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of years but it was quite challenging to get people to come at the same time and to the same place. Then the pandemic came… And now everybody meets and learns online. So I said, “OK, now it is time”. What I want to share is completely teachable in the online environment.
Basically, I run the workshop to teach people how to use Toshl to manage their personal finances. I’ve discovered over the years how to use the app correctly and stick with it over time. It needs to be set in a certain way and I’ll share these tips at the workshop. The session lasts for 1.5 hours and it is in Hebrew. There in fact going to be 2 workshops – for beginners and an advanced session. I also have an idea to do it in English for clients from all over the world. And hopefully, I’ll also sell the workshop as an online course.
Which methods and approaches do you use in your work?
First of all, my approach is that order and efficiency are the basis for effectiveness. If you have all your ducks in a row and everything organized in a clever way, then you are probably going to be efficient and effective in whatever it is: your business or saving. Another approach is that at the beginning you’re always sweating a little bit more until you get everything organized, and then it goes pretty quickly and smoothly.
In terms of actual methods or tools, I use a lot of different ones to run the business. With my clients, I use Excel and Toshl: Toshl – for tracking the day-to-day expenses and controlling them and Excel – for looking at the big picture and doing more complicated analysis, etc.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
During the last two months, many people were writing statements such as: “Now I know that it is important to save, spend money on the right things and not to overspend”. I think in a few months most of us will go back to our old habits because we are creatures of comfort and we like buying items and experiences. But I do hope that more and more people will understand that it is OK and not so boring to control personal finances… It can be done quite easily and in a more calculated way. There are so many handy tools for that! So do not forget what we went and are still going through with Covid-19 and spend wisely.