Time to count that dough. KELLY SIKKEMA

Guess what—being a Scrooge is cool now. Thrifty is the new sexy. Being cheap is being rich. Can't say we never saw this coming. General equilibrium theory and all that jazz. Every oversaturation has to one day come to a reset, and it's no different with people and their spending habits.

Perhaps learning their lesson from millennials who couldn't afford houses thanks to avocado toast tendencies, Gen Zs are now taking a financial responsibility a lot more seriously than the generation before.

What is 'Loud Budgeting'?

In so many words, Loud Budgeting is a trendy name for the personal finance strategy (if you will) that is all about unabashedly making wise spending decisions. Explained by TikTok-er Lukas Battle, it opposes 2023's 'Quiet Luxury' (please don't make us explain this), and because the rich allegedly hate spending money, following their cue is in fact "more chic, more stylish, more of a flex".

Don't you just love the TikTok generation? Casually, singlehandedly eradicating the negative stigmas surrounding saving so we can finally prioritise and reach financial goals without shame. The "Loud" bit attributes to the communication part of it. Setting honest boundaries and having open dialogues about your newfound relationship with money; basically unapologetically rejecting invites because it costs too much.

Kidding. Besides coming up with alternative plans to uh, financially unaligned hangouts, recommendations include opening high-yield savings account to earn interest, canceling under-utilised credit card subscriptions or renegotiating rates with current providers.

Credit begone! CLAY BANKS

It's a good thing, right?

In local context, this rides on the back of a recent report on minimum household income required amid inflation impact. With latest figures rising by five percent, researchers found that the “reasonable starting point” for a living wage in Singapore was SGD2,990 monthly.

If anyone is feeling the pinch, it's surely in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Throw in the tired trope about being Crazy, Asian, but not rich. And while many particularly of Chinese descent may have had a frugal mindset indoctrinated in us since youth, it has never been a lifestyle to flaunt. So this trend, while eyeroll-worthy in hype, is essentially useful these nine percent GST days.

When done without being extreme about it, we can see how Loud Budgeting will truly benefit us all in the long run. You go, Gen Z.

Given last year’s annus horribilis for the digital asset sector, many investors would be forgiven for writing off cryptocurrencies altogether. But the fear of missing out is an underestimated human driver.

In the first half of 2023, Bitcoin and other major cryptocurrencies kicked off the year with a strong performance. But with rising borrowing costs and a slowdown in the global economy have since dampened appetite for the speculative asset.

Continued Regulatory Uncertainty

In July, a decision by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled the XRP token sold by Ripple Labs in secondary markets was not a security, which led to a short-lived bump in cryptocurrency prices.

Many legal observers noted serious flaws in the Ripple Labs decision. Especially in the District Court’s flawed application of the famed Howey test for securities, established by the US Supreme Court.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced it intends to appeal the Ripple Labs decision, possibly bringing all token issuances within the ambit of the regulatory agency’s oversight.

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts, eager for the SEC to approve a long-awaited spot-based Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF), also had their hopes dashed when the regulator recently announced a delay in considering all applications. Payment processing giant PayPal announced it would be issuing a stablecoin, only to “pause” the initiative just a week later.

Against this backdrop of continued regulatory uncertainty, investors, both retail and institutional, are understandably standing on the sidelines when it comes to cryptocurrencies and the sector has not seen meaningful inflows.

Yet as investments go, Bitcoin and some other cryptocurrencies, including ether, have had an incredible run this year, with Bitcoin gaining some 75 per cent and Ether up some 55 per cent. And even with the recent pullback in cryptocurrency prices, it seems the human penchant for speculation on a technology simultaneously overhyped and underdeveloped, shows no signs of waning.

Central banks globally have yet to stop exploring the prospect of issuing their own digital currencies, commonly known as “central bank digital currencies” or CBDCs. BlackRock, one of the biggest asset managers globally, has thrown its hat into the ring and applied to list a spot Bitcoin ETF in the US. Meanwhile, Europe saw its first spot Bitcoin ETF listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

These activities come against a backdrop of regulatory enforcement actions against some of the biggest names in the digital asset industry. That includes action by the SEC against Binance and Coinbase, two of the world’s largest exchanges.

If financial institutions are skittish about participating in a sector so rife with regulatory challenges, their actions don’t seem to be reflecting that reticence. In some ways, the prospect of enforcement and regulatory action may be a good thing for cryptocurrencies long-term as it would provide the much-needed backdrop of certainty that could move more institutional participation.

Macroeconomics and Cryptocurrency

At just over a trillion dollars in market capitalisation on a good day, cryptocurrencies, to paraphrase a recent decision of the New York District Court for the Southern District of New York, just aren’t that systemically significant.

Yet, an ongoing narrative touted by proponents of cryptocurrency as an investable asset, argues the unprecedented growth in money supply, inflation and an interest rate hiking cycle that looks set to taper, should bolster the attractiveness of deflationary assets such as Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s deflationary quality (there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins and the amount that can be mined roughly every four years halves) has long been touted as a reason for its inclusion in an investment portfolio.

Many investors have been seduced by the siren song of the simplicity of Bitcoin’s “deflationary asset quality” as an investment case. But just because an asset is deflationary doesn’t necessarily mean it will retain its value over the long term.

Take gold for instance, which has long been touted as a hedge against inflation given its finite supply.

Yet despite record-high inflation in the US in 2022, the value of gold as an inflation hedge actually decreased because a stronger dollar and higher US Treasury yields made it more attractive for investors to put their dollars into assets which generate yields, which gold does not.

Similarly, with the current risk-free rate of return well over zero, it’s hard to make an investment case for an asset that generates zero yields such as Bitcoin.

Another narrative being touted as supporting the investment case for Bitcoin is that interest rates will soon taper and start to be cut, which will bring increased liquidity and make speculative assets such as cryptocurrencies more attractive. Yet, there is nothing to suggest interest rates won’t simply remain higher for longer.

The US Federal Reserve has not indicated it intends to cut interest rates anytime soon, instead, the overwhelming messaging from members of the Fed has been persistently high inflation and a need to keep rates at their current level or higher for longer.

Historically, central banks have also always acted one step behind market conditions, cutting rates only in the face of a full-blown recession rather than preemptively.

And if a recession is a necessary precursor to rate cuts, it’s difficult to see how dire economic conditions could bolster the investment case for cryptocurrencies.

The elephant in the room of course is Bitcoin can’t be a Chimera, constantly shifting its investment case on the basis of the current macroeconomic climate—Bitcoin can’t be both a speculative asset and a store of value to hedge against inflation depending on who’s asking.

Perhaps, and because, Bitcoin in particular and cryptocurrencies in general are so susceptible to narrative capture, the nascent asset class (if it’s safe to refer to it as that) will almost always find itself an audience, even if the size of that audience may regularly vary.

The Internet of Value

Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts liken the current state of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies to the early days of the Internet and acknowledge that the propensity to oversell its usefulness was in many ways similar to when the world was first coming to terms with a new means of communication in the form of the Internet.

Today, few, if any, can imagine a life without the Internet, which orders many aspects of modern life. Given how much of our lives are increasingly digital, surely the way we conduct our commerce ought to be as well? But much of commerce already is digital.

Whereas early iterations of the web were ill-suited to supporting financial transactions, digital payments in most of the developed world are taken for granted. Where there remains plenty of room for improvement is in the areas of transparency and access. Although digital payments have become almost ubiquitous, huge swathes of the global population remain unbanked.

Mismanagement and inflation have plagued citizens in certain parts of the world, where it turns out that holding Bitcoin is far more sensible than clutching to pesos and bolívars.

The tokenisation of assets and the analytics and transparency that would afford is attracting greater interest.

Billions of dollars of bonds have already been tokenised, and financial institutions globally are embracing the use of blockchain technology to speed up processes without giving up security.

And finally, to improve access to banking services and speed up transactions while reducing friction, central banks are still open to the idea of issuing their own digital currencies.

The concept of tokenised securities is also taking root, with some pointing to the ability to effect faster and safer trades while receiving real-time information on interested party transactions.

It is difficult to say what cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them, would look like a decade from now; it is unclear at best.

Even in the early days of the Internet, it was impossible to foresee how advancements in bandwidth, mobile technology and rich content would reshape not just our digital experience but our physical lives. Similarly, where blockchain and cryptocurrencies will take us next is less certain.

To be sure, blockchain technology will need to scale significantly while keeping costs low, to constitute a meaningful alternative to current methods of value transfer.

What is clear though is that given the potentially transformative power of both blockchain and cryptocurrencies, there will be more than a handful of investors willing to take a punt on their long-term value, which is all fine and dandy as long as they recognise exactly what they are doing—taking a punt.

As a financial planner of eight years, I have had thousands of conversations with my clients about their money. Today, as one who specialises in working with two main segments; professionals and business owners, I meet people from a wide range of industries—from tech, to law, to finance (both traditional and de-fi), to family business owners at various stages of their empire-building. This rich myriad of individuals has provided me with a profound insight into the various ways people think and manage their money.

While giving professional advice on a range of topics from insurance to wealth and investment planning, I also get to observe the fascinating interplay firsthand on how different people have different proclivities in their habits and approach on money management.

I’ve absorbed the learnings into one large mental tapestry, and have of late turned some of these thoughts inward to reflect on ideas associated with what money means to me, what it means to be wealthy, and what the Holy Grail of one’s financial and life journey should be. After all, money, in its essence, is a powerful force that intertwines with our lives, shaping our choices, dreams, and ultimately, our future. But it's the way we perceive and interact with money that truly determines its impact on our lives.

Growing up, I thought a lot about money. My family wasn’t poor, so I never had some rag-to-riches inspirational story. But we were far from wealthy as well, and we had times where I could sense that times weren’t so good. My parents are traditional so we didn’t talk too much about these things back then, but the awareness that things weren’t rosy came to light at various moments.

There was the time that for my 21st birthday, my mum showed me a set of papers over lunch. It was for an investment plan she’d made on my behalf, as a gift for my future.

Seemed like such an adulting thing to do. I signed for the papers and she helped me put them away in a cabinet at home. I didn’t think too much about it and put it away in my head as well. About a year later, though, my mum came back to me and sheepishly told me she needed to liquidate. I didn’t ask much further and said I understood.

Then there was the time that I got a spot for an exchange programme to Norway, but my family’s financial circumstances led to me pulling out. I said I understood. When I found out later on that finances were thin because my mum was the sole breadwinner supporting the family, I really did understand.

Money is the underlying currency of everything. It wasn't just the material possessions it could buy; rather, it was the potential it held to provide security and open doors to opportunities.

As I embarked on my journey as a financial planner, I realised that my personality traits, circumstances and background played a significant role in shaping my relationship with money—an awareness I bring to understanding my clients better today as well.

In hindsight, those formative years also created a sense of wanting more. It wasn’t a desperate hunger, nor greed, but I would describe it as an innate curiosity to see how people lived, behaved when there was an abundance of money, or when there was a lack. It then gave rise to a calling for me to make a difference as a financial planner. The ideas around personal finance, financial planning and money intrigued me. And I found myself resolved to work hard to never be of lack of it. Still, I always knew that money is means to an end.

So what is the end? What is the Holy Grail of financial planning and self actualisation?

If I were to define it from a financial planner’s lens—be it wealthy or not, it's the delicate equilibrium between living a fulfilling present and securing a prosperous future. It's the art of juggling dreams, goals and practicality with finesse, like a seasoned tightrope walker crossing the chasm of financial uncertainty.

To achieve this balance, we must first understand that the holy grail is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's a bespoke quest, tailored to the unique circumstances, aspirations and challenges of each individual. It requires deep introspection, an honest assessment of priorities, and a willingness to make informed decisions. That is why I love what I do—embarking on journeys with my clients to guide and grow with them.

The Holy Grail demands a solid foundation built on financial literacy. It's about understanding the language of money, deciphering the intricacies of fisical responsibility, and demystifying the enigma of compound interest. Or at least, proceeding with action to take advantage of said enigma. Without action, the path to financial success remains just that—a path. Traveling the path to the Grail sometimes warrants a good companion—like a trusted financial planner!

The Holy Grail is also not just about numbers and spreadsheets. It's about aligning our financial choices with our values and passions. It's about pursuing a career or starting a business that brings fulfillment, investing in experiences that create cherished memories, and giving back to causes that resonate with our souls. It's the recognition that true wealth extends beyond material possessions and embraces the richness of a purposeful life.

The quest for the Holy Grail necessitates perseverance and self-control. It demands that we resist the pull of rapid gratification, exercise patience in the face of market turbulence, and maintain our long-term goals. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the only ones who can endure the difficulties and stick to their financial strategy will find the magnificent prize at the conclusion of the journey.

Throughout the journey, one can expect to encounter various trials and tribulations, testing our character and resolve. Only those of unwavering faith and concerted action will be deemed worthy to behold the Holy Grail. There is much to be learned then, in the quest itself for a fulfilling present and the security of a prosperous future.

The financial landscape is ever-changing, with new technologies, economic shifts, and unforeseen circumstances. Getting to the Holy Grail requires us to remain agile, to adapt our strategies as needed, and to seize opportunities that arise along the way. Flexibility is the key that unlocks the door to continued financial growth and resilience.

So, my fellow treasure seekers, as we’re all on our paths to hunt for this Holy Grail, the road beckons us with promises of a life well-lived, of dreams realised and of a secure future. The true value lies in the quest not just in the destination but in the journey itself. It's in the knowledge gained, the lessons learned, and the growth that accompanies our pursuit of financial mastery.

May we have the courage to stay the course, arming ourselves with knowledge, discipline, adaptability and a steadfast determination to strike that perfect balance. But don’t forget to pause and appreciate the moments along the way!