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PHUKET: When it comes to financial advice, my first words of caution to everyone are “never, ever, do anything yourself that you don’t understand 100%”.

If the markets seem too complex, there is no reason you can’t handle your financial affairs without using this tool.

Every asset class at the end of the day is just that: a tool. There are many ways to skin a cat, they say, and your financial plan is a perfect example of this.

Starting out with a time frame of when you will need cash flows in the future is extremely important when considering financial planning.

Children and their schooling and university funding tends to be one of life’s largest outlays, so setting something up to cover this is important for most.

The earlier you start saving, the less of a return you can get and still meet your needs. Many expats don’t know that there are many ways to get the costs down as well.

For instance, if you were to purchase a condo in a university town in a European country that allows foreign students to enroll for classes in English language without any entrance acceptance requirements, you have just taken a massive bite out of your overall university expense.

You probably didn’t even know these programs exist, but do a little research and you will find them in abundance. That’s right, free tuition to study in programs at a high international standard for international students exists.

With a little thought and planning, you can save up for a down payment while your children are young, and rent the property out to pay off most of the mortgage over the 18 years it takes your children to reach university age.

Then, all you have to pay for their higher education is their food and entertainment bills for four years. At the end of it, you will have an asset that can be sold, most likely at a nice profit.

This is just one example of a non-traditional plan for life that avoids the financial markets as the ‘go-to’ answer. Of course this means your child loses the choice of university, but as with everything in life there is always a trade-off.

This might not be the best option for everyone.

Another way to save for retirement without putting your money into a traditional investment account is to become an expert at a niche and invest in that.

One of my friends was recently sharing with me the returns he made on certain collectibles.

Of course, you need to be passionate about what you are becoming an expert at for this to work, but my friend made returns of up to 1000% in a few years’ time by knowing which Star Wars figures were not produced in massive numbers and would therefore appreciate in value.

This is again just one example, and if you do not truly become an expert you will surely lose your shirt in niche investment markets.

I am not suggesting specifically doing either of these things, but simply that financial planning should be a discussion rather than a sales pitch for a pre-manufactured strategy.

Too often, the financial services industry tries to fit square pegs into round holes, and the advice you receive suffers as a result.

Make sure any adviser you sit down to talk with has a variety of solutions to offer you, otherwise he or she is likely to pursue a one-size-fits-all strategy, and you may not be happy with the end result.

David Mayes MBA resides in Phuket and provides wealth management services to expatriates around the globe, focusing on UK pension transfers. He can be reached at david.m@faramond.com or 085-335 8573. Faramond UK is regulated by the FCA and provides advice on pensions and taxation.

— David Mayes