Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

How To Avoid A 401(k) Meltdown If The Trump Rally Fizzles

Millions of Americans are asking the wrong questions when it comes to their retirement plans. It’s not “how much should I invest now?” or “is the market safe?” You should invest as much as you can in every kind of market.

So forget about the question of whether the “Trump rally” is over, or taking a pause. If that’s your concern, you’re focused on the wrong thing.

Despite this reality, far too many investors are trying to find the right fund manager who can somehow predict and navigate the rocky seas the market will toss up. In rare cases, some managers get lucky and get in and out at the right time. But most don’t have this ability.

Most of us want to believe that professional money managers know just when to get in and out of stocks. We put a lot of faith in them — and mis-spend some $2 trillion in fees hoping that they’ll be right and protect our money.

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The numbers don’t lie, however. Most managers can’t do better than passive market averages and rarely outperform after you subtract their fees. So if you’re placing your trust in active management, you’re headed for a meltdown sooner or later.

A recent study by Jeff Ptak at Morningstar shows the folly of active management for most investors.

Ptak looked a the relationship between what actively managed funds return to the fees they charge for management. In most cases, expenses will cancel out most significant gains.

“Fees haven’t fallen that steeply, and, as a result more than two-thirds of U.S. stock funds levy annual expenses that would wipe out their estimated future pre-fee excess returns.”

What this means is that active managers who time the market aren’t likely to outperform passive baskets of stocks. When you subtract their fees, you’re not coming out ahead.

Fees take an even bigger bite when overall market returns are lower. If stocks return less than double digits, you’re going to feel the pain even more.

Ptak is blunt in his conclusion: “Many active stock funds are too expensive to succeed. The exceptions are small-cap funds, where it appears fees are still below estimated pre-fee excess returns.”

What can you do to avoid the meltdown of overpriced, actively managed funds? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) Find the lowest-cost index funds to cover U.S. and global stocks and bonds. Expense ratios shouldn’t be more than 0.20% annually (as opposed to 1% or more for active funds).

2) If you still want active funds in your portfolio, they should be highly-rated managers who invest in smaller companies.

3) Make sure that the “active” part of your portfolio is no more than 30% of your total holdings. While this is an arbitrary percentage, it will provide some buffer against market timing decisions.

You should also avoid the error of picking funds based on their past performance, which can never be guaranteed. So, instead of asking how they performed, you should ask “how many securities can they hold for the lowest-possible cost.”

 

5 Things Everyone Should Know About Dow 20,000

Dow 20,000 – an incredible milestone! The Dow Jones industrial average is nearing the 20,000 mark for the first time, and when the barrier is broken, Americans watching the evening news, tuning in to the radio or aimlessly browsing the internet will see the headline, whether they care about it or not.

Should investors really care? Should anyone? And the answer is: yes and no.

Regardless of what importance level you assign to Dow 20,000, here are five things everyone should know about Dow 20k.

1. The Economy is Improving and so are Expectations

This one may be obvious, but with the Dow and other stock market indices at all-time highs, things are getting better. Over the last 81 months the private sector has added an impressive 15.6 million jobs, and in November the unemployment rate hit 4.6 percent for the first time since August 2007.

On top of that, when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates interest rates on Dec. 14, Chair Janet Yellen said the hike was “a reflection of the confidence we have in the progress the economy has made and our judgment that progress will continue … the economy has proven to be remarkably resilient.”

Consumer confidence also improved in November, reaching pre-recession levels once again. As expectations improve, you can generally expect to see the stock market rise as well.

2. The Dow Actually Isn’t a Great Reflection of the Business Landscape

If the first point was a little straightforward, this one may be the most misunderstood: The Dow is definitely not the best measure of how American businesses are performing. That 20,000 figure? That’s only based on the share prices of 30 of the largest companies in the U.S.

“The Dow represents 30 large stocks. The S&P 500 represents nearly 17 times that number,” says Kevin Barr, head of investment management at SEI, an investment management firm headquartered in Oaks, Pennsylvania. “Both the Dow and S&P leave out the mid- and small-cap companies that form much of the stock market, which comprises thousands of stocks. While the Dow is commonly cited as a benchmark, investors need to keep its size and scope in mind.”

On top of that, the Dow is a price-weighted average, which means that stocks with higher share prices carry more influence. Nevermind that this is an entirely arbitrary way to do things. Currently, Goldman Sachs Group (GS) carries the heaviest weight in the blue-chip index at 8.38 percent, while Cisco Systems (CSCO) has the lowest weight at 1.06 percent.

Thus, if CSCO jumps 10 percent after a great earnings report, but GS falls just 1.3 percent, the two cancel each other out as far as the Dow is concerned. This despite the fact that at $153 billion, Cisco is actually worth about $56 billion more than Goldman Sachs.

While the S&P 500 is a better measure of how corporate America is doing, a better measure still is the Russell 3000 and Wilshire 5000, which track thousands of smaller stocks and represent essentially the entire U.S. stock market.

Unlike the Dow, the S&P 500, Russell 3000 and Wilshire 5000 are all market capitalization-weighted.

3. Put Dow 20,000 in Perspective

Due to the power of compound interest, 100-point – or even 1,000-point – swings in the Dow don’t mean what they used to.

Think about it this way: The Dow first crossed the 1,000 mark in November 1972. It would take more than 14 years for the Dow to gain the next 1,000 points, which it accomplished when it first broke 2,000 in 1987. In contrast, the Dow hit 19,000 on Nov. 22, and is approaching 20,000 less than a month later.

So if you hear that the Dow went up or down 100 points in a day, don’t put too much stock into it. In 1972, that was a 10 percent move. Today, it’s a half-percent.

4. A Few Minor Changes in the Index’s Constituents Make a Huge Difference

Further adding to the arbitrary nature of the Dow, the index’s 30 constituents aren’t set in stone like many people might think.

Every few years or so, if it’s necessary, the index committee will add some new member(s) to the index; the incoming stocks will often replace stocks or companies that have been faring poorly or are losing influence.

Sometimes, those decisions can seriously hamper the index’s returns.

The Dow, for instance, added Intel Corp. (INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in late 1999, near the height of the dot-com bubble, only to see both crater over the subsequent year. It would take until 2014 for MSFT and INTC to regain their debut Dow levels.

The most recent Dow addition is Apple (AAPL), which replaced AT&T (T) in March of 2015. Since then, Apple is down 6 percent and AT&T shares are up 24 percent.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says companies aren’t added to the index because their stock looks attractive. “We’re not picking stocks that we think are definitely going to go up. I know one guy who can’t pick stocks, and that’s me,” Blitzer says.

“With the Dow we’re looking for large, solid, stable companies,” he says. “Most of them if not all of them are household names, people know who they are, and it’s traditionally blue-chip companies.”

5. Just a Psychological Level

Finally: traders just like to see big, round numbers with lots of zeros after them, and investors do too. Crossing a level like Dow 20,000 has no fundamental importance, but technical and short-term traders, as well as trading algorithms, may put some stock in it.

Over time, we’ll be hitting a lot of these psychological marks, says Jon Ulin, a certified financial planner and managing principal of Ulin & Co. Wealth Management, a branch office of LPL Financial in Boca Raton, Florida.

“Since World War II, the Dow Jones index has averaged about 9 percent per year and will continue to do so hitting new highs over time. Just with a meager 7.2 percent annualized return, we should be ringing in a 40,000 Dow by 2027,” Ulin says.

It’s been 44 years since the Dow first hit 1,000 in 1972. If it takes 44 years for the next Dow 20-bagger, we’ll be ringing in Dow 400,000 in 2060 (which will be another election year).

 

 

 

 

Written by John Divine of U.S. News & World Report

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Is This 100-year Old Indicator Suggesting Market Strength?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow) gained for the sixth consecutive day yesterday and closed at a new all-time high for the third straight day. The Dow Jones Transports (Transports), meanwhile, had another big day yesterday and has been one of the top performers since the election. The Dow and Transports will forever be linked, as they are the two components to Dow Theory. Charles Dow created the Dow Theory in the late 1800’s, and it revolves around needing confirmation from both industrial and transports before establishing market direction. Think about it—if both the industrial and transports are strong, this likely suggests an improving economy. The flip side is if both are going lower, the economy is weakening.

Another way to look at the relationship between the two indexes is to compare them on a relative strength chart. When the ratio of the Transportation Index to the Dow increases, this means that transports are outperforming. We have found that when this ratio on a weekly chart moves above its 40-week simple moving average for more than three weeks, stocks tend to move higher over the next year. This signal triggered recently; the last time it happened was in late 2012, right before a huge equity rally in 2013.

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Looking at historical data going back to 1979, this signal triggered 20 times. Take note, we removed the two largest recessions over the past 20 years, as we don’t see any signs of a coming recession. The S&P 500 gained more than 9% on average six months later and was higher 80% of the time. Going out a full year, the S&P 500 has been up more than 16% on average and higher all 20 times.

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Could this newfound strength from the transports be telling us the economy could be set for strong improvement as we head into 2017? It very well could be, and this could be another reason to expect the equity bull market could possibly continue as well.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment.The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide or be construed as providing specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual security. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. Because of its narrow focus, specialty sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies. The S&P 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries. The Dow Jones Industrial Average Index is comprised of U.S.-listed stocks of companies that produce other (non-transportation and nonutility) goods and services. The Dow Jones Industrial Averages are maintained by editors of The Wall Street Journal. While the stock selection process is somewhat subjective, a stock typically is added only if the company has an excellent reputation, demonstrates sustained growth, is of interest to a large number of investors, and accurately represents the market sectors covered by the average. The Dow Jones averages are unique in that they are price weighted; therefore, their component weightings are affected only by changes in the stocks’ prices. This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial LLC.

World Markets Suddenly Facing a Summer of Trouble and Strife

© Provided by CNBC
© Provided by CNBC

It’s approaching that time of year when market activity typically slows, as traders and central bankers alike depart for long holidays.

But this summer is shaping up to be anything but quiet for markets, with Greece at a cross roads, stocks in China nose diving and rising uncertainty about the timing of a U.S. interest rate rise.

“Summers are always difficult in the markets, but every summer turns out to be interesting and there’s so much going on this summer,” Bill Blain, a strategist at Mint Partners in London, told CNBC on Friday.

While the crisis in Greece, which holds a referendum this Sunday on whether or not to accept creditor-proposed bailout terms, is likely to be the trigger for near-term volatility, markets have much bigger fish to fry in the weeks to ahead.

Take for instance the slide in Chinese stock markets, which is fuelling concerns about the outlook for the world’s second biggest economy.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index, which had risen as much as 113 percent between November and a peak in June, has collapsed, sliding almost 30 percent.

“It’s not Greece but China we should be concerned about,” said Blain. “The correction that we’re seeing in stocks is fascinating and the fact that the authorities are clearly nervous should make markets nervous,” he said, referring to measures taken this week by Beijing to shore up the battered equity market.

Fed up with Fed?

Analysts said uncertainty about the timing of a rise in U.S. interest rates was another key reason to keep traders on edge over the summer months, with Thursday’s softer-than-expected June jobs data prompting a re-think on the rate outlook.

“I think the biggest risk is not so much Greece; not so much China (stocks), which is in a dramatic move but is pretty localised, I think it is the Fed and the U.S. economy,” Giles Keating, the global head of research for private banking and wealth management at Credit Suisse, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Friday.

The timing of the Fed’s first rate hike since 2006 and the pace of subsequent monetary tightening is viewed as one of the biggest risks to global markets – from emerging markets, which are seen among the most vulnerable to a rise in risk aversion, to bond markets, which have already seen heavy selling.

Slim Feriani, CEO of MENA Capital, said that while Greece was a concern, Fed policy was a bigger worry for markets.

“The bigger cloud hanging over markets in general in the next 6-12 months is the Fed and what they do and when,” he said from a fund forum in Monaco earlier this week.

Blain at Mint Partners said there was no reason for the Fed to hike rates soon, as there was no pressure on the economy yet. He suggested that “perhaps a lot of the stock market upside has been overdone.”

The tech-heavy Nasdaq  (.IXIC) hit a record high in June, while the broader S&P 500  (.SPX) closed at about 2,077 points on Thursday – about 2.5 percent off a record high hit in May.

Uncertainty surrounding Greece meanwhile is unlikely to go away, with Sunday’s shock referendum suggesting the country will remain a source of market volatility in the weeks ahead, analysts said.

Greece this week became the first advanced economy to default on a loan from the International Monetary Fund and its worsening financial crisis has fuelled fears that it will become the first country to leave the euro zone.

If Greek voters back the creditors’ bailout plan—which the anti-austerity government has recommended they reject—Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has made it clear he will quit.

“There is a view that we’re going to get this referendum result on Monday morning and that will explain everything,” Blain said.

“All the referendum will do is start the next phase of negotiations and the crisis continues. If we get a ‘yes’ vote, we could be dealing with a new government as it looks inevitable the government could fall — so there lots of things for markets to worry about.”

Written by Dhara Ranasinghe of CNBC

(Source: CNBC)