If you knew you could loan someone less than $100 and it would dramatically improve their life forever, would you do it?

[tweetmeme only_single=false http://www.URL.com%5DThis is what micro-credit is all about – extending small loans to the poor to allow them to engage in commercial activity in their local communities. While many poor people work hard and have great business ideas to provide for themselves and their families, they often lack collateral, and unlike you or I cannot access it from traditional lenders.

In the past this left them either with no capital or at the mercy of middlemen who charged extortionate interest rates on loans. This meant they were basically unable to lift themselves out of the poverty into which they were born. But with micro-credit, where interest is charged at a rate that allows them to turn a profit, they are empowered them to innovate and change their own lives.

Microcredit began in the 1970s when Muhammed Yunnis founded Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, providing small loans to the country’s poorest people. Grameen Bank has now loaned more than $8 billion to the poor people in Bangladesh and touched more than 40 million members and their families.

Since then thousands of micro-credit programs have sprung up around the world, inspired by the Grameen model. Many of these programs, including Grameen, favour lending to women as research has found they are more likely to use the money to benefit the whole family.

Today lending money to poor families is easier than ever before, with online micro-credit organisations such a Kiva linking lenders and borrowers from all over the world. For more information, to take a look at some of the families seeking loans, or to start lending, visit their website here.

[tweetmeme only_single=false http://www.URL.com%5DThese days it’s becoming increasingly popular to change careers later on in life in the search for something more meaningful and fulfilling.

But mid-life, or even retirement age career changes often take more courage than those in our twenties and thirties. We’re older, we have more at stake, and the grey ceiling can make switching jobs more difficult.

The good news is: for many of us these fears pale in comparison to the opportunity to do something meaningful with the second part of our lives. And with a bit of careful planning: it’s possible to find a career that is both fulfilling and practical.

The following articles are a great place to get started:

  • A 14-step plan by about.com to make your career transition manageable and help you re-envision the second half of your life
  • Four strategies from What’sNext for choosing the direction of your career change, including putting together the right team of supporters and advisers
  • Our earlier post discussing zenployment, or the quest for a new career that is more in line with you goals and values

You may also like to check-out this video by Paul Clitheroe discussing career choices  and the need for careful planning.

Or if you need a helping hand, feel free to come and see us.

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Stroke is Australia’s second biggest killer after heart disease and our leading cause of disability*, with 60,000 Australian suffering from it each year.** Luckily, according to the National Stroke Foundation, there are some things we can do lower the risk of stroke, or if it occurs to spot the early signs so we can get help fast.

spotting the symptoms

According to the National Stroke Foundation’s CEO, Dr Erin Lalor, recognising the early signs of a stroke and seeking medical assistance as soon as possible helps save lives.

“When a stroke is suspected, every second counts – it is vital to call an ambulance immediately to give the patient the best possible chance of recovery,” she says. “There are life-saving treatments available but they are only effective if people act fast.”

The National Stroke Foundation’s FAST program helps you spot the initial signs of a stroke:

  • Facial weakness. Check the person’s face: has their mouth drooped?
  • Arm weakness. Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech difficulty. Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 immediately.

preventing a stroke

According to the National Stroke Foundation, there are some steps you can take to lower the risk of stroke. These include:

  • Managing risk factors such as an irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. See to your doctor for a diagnosis.
  • Eating a balanced diet especially one that is low in saturated fat and salt. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is recommended and avoiding processed or canned foods as they can be high in sodium/salt.
  • Keeping active. People who participate in moderate activity are less likely to have a stroke. Try and build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  • Quitting smoking. Smoking can increases your risk of stroke by increasing blood pressure and reducing oxygen in the blood. Seek advice on how you can quit smoking as soon as possible by calling the QUIT line on 13 18 48 •
  • Limiting alcohol. Your risk of stroke can be reduced with moderate alcohol intake (1-2 glasses a day). However, excessive amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke

insurance cover for strokes and other traumas

If the worst happens and you suffer a stroke, it will take a while to recover, during which time you will need to meet your usual financial obligations as well as cover the cost of recovery.

Insurance cover can help your family cope financially if you suffer from a stroke or other serious trauma. Trauma insurance payments can cover specialist medical attention, home modifications and repayment of debts (such as a mortgage).

An ipac adviser can help you determine the level of cover you need to protect your family financially. Click here to contact us for a confidential discussion about your personal circumstances.

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2006. Australia’s Health 2006.  ** AG Thrift (personal communication). Estimates obtained using NEMESIS data (assuming no change in incidence), and Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates of a changing population.

[tweetmeme only_single=false http://www.URL.com]We all know happiness comes at a price right? Well, according to Arun Abey and Andrew Ford, not necessarily.

In their book, How Much Is Enough, Abey and Ford propose the idea of hedonic arbitrage – basically the notion of increasing your happiness without increasing your spending or wealth. This is an idea the authors have been exploring in conjunction with behavioural finance authority Shlomo Benartzi.

The basic underlining principle is that we are best off spending our limited resources on the things that are going to make the biggest contribution to our happiness. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?

The only problem is, when it comes to knowing what is going to make us truly happy – not just fleetingly, but over the long term – us humans tend to come up short.

This point is well illustrated by the fact that although our wealth has risen exponentially over the past 50 years, happiness levels have barely changed. Obviously, we aren’t using our increasing wealth to improve our happiness.

The good news is there are things we can do to get in touch with what makes us happier, and spend less money while we’re at it.

focus on gratifications, over pleasures

In the pursuit of happiness, leading positive psychologist Martin Seligman emphasises the difference between pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures come from external stimuli bringing immediate delight to the senses and tend to be momentary – for example, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to your favourite song or taking a warm bath on a cold day. Gratifications on the other hand involve us getting lost in activities that challenge and engage us. This could include rock-climbing, dancing, painting or playing chess.

As gratifications have a longer lasting impact on our happiness, hedonic arbitrage dictates channelling more money to these things and less to the momentary pleasures. The good news, gratifications also tend to be cheaper! For more information on gratifications, check-out our earlier post finding flow

take the eating out test

Happy, fulfilled people know what experiences they value and invest their time and money on those things. Here is a short activity to help you get in touch with what experiences you value and why.

First ask yourself which experience you would prefer and why:

  • Dining out at an expensive restaurant
  • A cheap and cheerful night out with a group of colleagues
  • Cooking at home with a handful of friends

Now try each of these experiences and take note of which you most enjoyed and why. Did your expectations match the outcome? Did your preferences have more to do with dollar outlay, ambience or the people involved?

the $50 test

Similar to the eating out test, this involves you getting in touch with the experiences and things you value most. Over the next few weeks plan three activities spending less than $50 each. This could include a anything from dinner with your partner, taking children to the movies, buying art supplies, doing a cooking class or planting a small vegetable garden. For each activity rate how happy you think it will make you, how happy it makes you immediately after and how happy it makes you a month later. What did you discover? Did your expectations match the outcome? Which activity gave you the most happiness over the long-term?

keep a happiness diary

This is similar to a keeping an expense diary but with an extra column for how happy each item makes you. Over the next week or two record everything you buy and do, how much it costs and how happy it makes you both immediately after and a month later. Now look at what you’re spending most of your money on. Does it match up with what makes you most happy? If not, why not?

Finding out what makes you happy takes time and effort, but in a world of prioritisation what could be more important?

For more information on hedonic arbitrage, or to order Abey and Ford’s book, check-out http://www.howmuchisenough.net/

[tweetmeme only_single=false http://www.URL.com]October 17-22 is anti-poverty week – an Australian expansion of the UN’s annual International Anti-Poverty Day created to strengthen public understanding of poverty, and encourage individuals, organisations and governments to take action to address it.

In Australia poverty and severe hardship affect more than a million people, while around the world more than one billion people are desperately poor.*

what can I do?
If you want to contribute to change, this week is your opportunity to get involved by organising an activity or joining in one that is already planned. The activity can be as big or small as you like – it’s only limited by your imagination.

Some ideas are to:

• Write a letter to your newspaper or MP
• Organise a film night to focus on issues of poverty
• Hold a meal with friends to discuss issues of poverty
• Hold a fund-raiser at work
• Blog or write about issues of poverty
• Set-up an anti-poverty display at work, school, or library
• Donate or volunteer to a charity that helps reduce poverty

Or to join in an activity near you click here

beyond anti-poverty week
If helping reduce poverty is important to you, there are plenty of things you can do on an ongoing basis from volunteering, making regular donations, campaigning or even setting up a trust or foundation in your Will. Click here for more details.

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