Sunday, May 24, 2020

What I'm grateful about

The days just zoom past quickly during the lockdown. The hours are long but the days are fast. We're nearing the end of the official lockdown period but it seems that even after the official period, life is pretty much the same. We still can't go out to restaurants to eat, and still can't resume life in general before covid-19. And who knows how long this will last for?

It's good to have the right mindset when dealing with things beyond your control. But before that, we need to know what we can control. I'm still shoring up my reserves in case this last longer than next year, and that means holding more cash as emergency cash. Beyond that, with regards to the stability of future income, or even dividends income, we have to let go. Or rather, let it be

There are a few things that I'm grateful for, despite the circumstances:

1. There's still work that I can do online

I can understand that there are people whose work is affected. Even if they want to do it online, they also can't. My heart goes out to them. I think in these times, you will know if your work is just merely for paying the bills or does it serve other important purposes in life, like social needs and fulfilling some meaning in your life.

Stay at home can be fun too

2. Family and friends are well and healthy

There are no major health issues with important and significant people around me. Boredom perhaps, but it's a matter of perspectives. Beyond bread and butter issues, I think people do need to worry about their mental health. No point being well-fed, sheltered but mad. Maybe being an introvert helps a lot because I find that I'm perhaps more busy and productive than usual, as I do not have to be drained of energy by going out. I'm recharged by the things that drain other more outward-looking people (like my wife) haha! Introverts, the tide has turned!

3. Relationships are better

Let me explain. I see a lot of heartwarming things that I don't see often. Neighbours bringing some groceries to our household when they have extra. We, bringing some cooked food to others to help out. I'll source out jobs offerings to others who had lost their jobs, especially in the tourism/airport sector. Some of the parents of my students lost their jobs, so I also help out by offering lower rates for my tuition services. I mean, I do what I can within my capabilities, to see if I can make someone's life better during these hard times. I'm sure many others are doing the same too. There's something good out of this whole shitty situation, isn't it?

4. The important things distil out

Sometimes life is funny, in the sense that only when shit happens then you will realise what is most important to you. To find out what is most important, you just strip off things one by one and see how it feels like. This lockdown period is the best chance to do an accounting of what's important and what's good to have. 

I like to remember these strange times as being forced to be introspective. Will I worry about income? Sure, of course. But beyond a certain level of preparation, there's nothing much else I can do, and so I'll just concentrate on the things that I can do. 

Stay strong, stay united, Singapore.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Singlife accout or CIMB fastsaver

I recently signed up with the Singlife account. You can read about it from other blogger's reviews or from the actual site itself, but to me, it's essentially a savings account. Since I also have CIMB fast saver, I want to explore the decision tree to decide when to put extra funds into CIMB fastsaver or into Singlife account. In my analysis, I'm really going to ignore all the extras, like retrenchment benefits, insurance parts etc of the Singlife account. 

Here's the facts:

Singlife account:
First 10k - 2.5% pa
Next 90k - 1.0% pa
Thereafter - 0% pa

CIMB fast saver:
First 50k - 1.0% pa
Next 25k - 1.5% pa
Next 25k - 1.8% pa
Thereafter - 0.6% pa

Here's the calculations of the interest earned and interest % pa for both:

Singlife account:

CIMB fast saver:

I just did up the interest for the various banding. Straight away we can see that the interest we can get for CIMB is much more for greater amounts of principal put inside, but for smaller amount of principal, Singlife will be more worth it. There must be a point where if I put x amount in Singlife account and the same x amount in CIMB fastsave, the two interest will be the same. And I know x must be somewhere between 75k to 100k.

So, let x be an amount between 75k to 100k,

Amt of interest from Singlife acct: 10,000*0.025 + (x-10,000)*0.01 = 150 + 0.01x 

Amt of interest from CIMB fastsaver: 50,000*0.01 + 25,000*0.015 + (x-75,000)*0.018 = 0.018x - 475

Equating them:

150 + 0.01x = 0.018x - 475

So, x = $78,125

And thus my decision is clear:

To get the highest interest for the same amount of dollars:
I should put it in Singlife account if I have lesser than $78,125
I should put it in CIMB fast saver if I have more than $78,125

If I have exactly $78,125, then I should put it in Singlife account because of the little bit of insurance that I didn't take into account. Both have deposit insurance of up to $75k, so there should be some safety features built into this. 

Okay, now my decision flow is clearer.


How silly of me. In the pursuit of deciding either THIS or THAT is better, I forgot that the better solution is a blend of BOTH. Non-duality! Thanks to 15 hww and WGM for pointing this out to me. In light of that, the best solution is put money in both accounts, as shown:

First 10k - put in Singlife account for 2.5% pa - total interest: $250
Thereafter - put in CIMB fastsaver, preferably not more than 100k inside


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Changes in the post-covid Singapore

I wrote this piece in the early days of the virus. Back then, Singapore is still relatively unscathed. But about 1 month later, the infected cases keep shooting up and up. We're not in code red now, but effectively so. The whole of Singapore is under a controlled lockdown, termed euphemistically as a "circuit breaker". If I'm out in the streets, it feels like Chinese New year where all the stores are shuttered and there's not a lot of people walking around. Except we don't have that festive feel in the air. It's quite bad, and I've never experienced anything like this in my life. I thought I've lived through SARS but this is probably much worse than SARS. 

There are quite a few changes in my current lifestyle. First of all, all face to face work is halted for a month (I'm fully expecting it to be extended to 2 months actually) and I have to switch my work online. Most parents and students are fine, so in that sense, I'm lucky enough to still have my work income. My wife is not as lucky. She has quite a few cancellations in her work and being self-employed like me, she will have to bear through it all in stride. We can be down, but never out, so I recommended her to upgrade her skills and do what we can do survive through this period, and hopefully come out even stronger.

The second major change is my exercise routine. Since I can't go to the gym and I don't want to place my family at risk, I've kick-started my home exercise plan. I started to wake up like 6am and do some bodyweight training, like pullups, pushups, squats, situps and some biceps curls. I usually don't wake up so early, but since it's really hard to exercise with a young kid running around at home, I have to do what I have to do. So far it's been great, and I managed to throw in a 10 min meditation sit down too. I haven't really done sit down meditation for a long time, so it's been good. I hope these exercises will not just help to maintain my health but also, more importantly, to keep me sane. As an introvert, I can tank relatively long periods of time at home, but I still have to take care of my mental health. Both physical exercises and meditation should do the trick to ward off the generally negative outlook so ubiquitous nowadays. 

The third major change is my young son is not going to child-care for the time being because of the closure, so I have to spend a lot more time with him to entertain him. As a young kid, he has a lot of excess energy. Recently, I set up a shuttle run course for him so we just run along the hallway of my home, collecting soft toys at each end of the hallway to 'rescue' them from the 'fire'. It's tiring, but he is laughing his head off, so I think it's worth it. The big difference between SARS period back in 2003 is that I don't have as many responsibilities as I have right now. My family is not a potential liability to drag me down. Instead, they are my pillar of support to prop me up. It's all about the framing. 

Every year I try to do something a bit different to increase my productivity or to focus on the neglected areas in my life. Recently, I subscribed to a book summary site to distil the important points for easy digestion. To be honest, I used to look down on such sites because I find it is like cheating, so I'm a bit slow to adopt this. Now I wonder why I didn't sign up earlier. I am still reading books from cover to cover, but with the book summary site, I am getting a lot more pointers to increase my knowledge horizontally (but not so much in-depth or vertically). To make sure I get the best bang for my buck, I wrote down summaries of those summaries, including a short reflection on how those books can apply to my life. I think all these things I made allows more knowledge to be retained. Already, I applied some of the great stuff I've learnt from reading those book summaries, like waking up early (the book I read says 5am, but I think it's more realistic to wake up at 6am for me), non-violent way of communication, starting meditation again...  I look forward to seeing the changes in me by the end of the year.

I might add that I'm going to the gym since the start of the year 2020, but I think that path is kind of derailed for the time being. It's okay, we fall but we pick ourselves up again and continue moving forward.

Investment wise, I froze the accumulation of war chest from dividends and work income. This means that I stop contributing to my war chest from any income source, at least for the time being. The reason is so that I can channel the money towards emergency funds. I already increased the emergency funds from the pre-covid era of 3 months expenses to pre-"code orange" of 1 year, to the planned post-"circuit breaker" emergency funds of 1.5 yrs to 2 yrs expenses. This will be the defensive part of my strategy, to make sure that I survive this no matter what. No point trying to gun for an all-out offence when a blow to my base can cripple me. I will keep adjusting the emergency funds and war chest allocation as the situation evolves. 

At one point in the last month, my war chest was used up nearly 30 to 40%, but I changed the components of the portfolio and sold off some positions, adding in the profits back to the war chest, so now I'm about 95% replenished. My view is that there will be a downturn soon, hence I'm trading off the positions I bought previously as the market went down. If I'm wrong, I'll buy again when the uptrend is established. If I'm right, I'll buy the downturn with my replenished war chest. Either way is good for me. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

War strategy in a bear market

The recent market meltdown prompted me to re-organise what I classify as emergency cash and war-chest and better fencing of cash and cash equivalents. This comes about as I increased my emergency cash from 3 months of expenses to 12 months. By doing so, I'll fence up more cash that I can't touch for investment, hence the exercise to really look into this.

I have various issues of Singapore savings bonds (SSB), as well as Frasers 3.65% bond and Azalea bond. I decided to classify those under emergency cash. The SSB can be redeemed at par value, and while the two bonds that I held had their prices falling from their highs (Frasers went below par even), I think they are still safe storage of emergency cash. Unlikely for them to do a Hyflux on me, again.

 After accounting for the switch in portfolio counters, I realised I've spent about 15% of my war-chest in a week or two of buying. In this kind of climate, you can buy something and have it fall 10% the following day or so. Crazy times. How does one cope with this? Just be 'delusional', in the sense that you keep thinking the market will return to its formal glory, that this will all pass eventually, that the enterprising human spirit will somehow get you over this and that a few years down the road you'll be wondering why you are even fussing over this minor hump on the road.

I think I've experienced a few crashes in my investing journey so this is not going to be any different. The first few I've 'wasted' it by not being emotionally steady, and/or didn't have enough cash, so I'm determined to make the best out of this. I've some support groups - people who share the same philosophy in money management - so they helped a lot to allay whatever fears in buying up while others are fleeing. Grateful for that. I've seen enough people who made it out of market crashes like this, emerging from the ashes of their portfolio with their net-worth doubled or tripled, to believe in it, so I'll try my best to emulate them.

That said, hope still has to be tempered with ground-level reality and practicality. I must survive all these in order to have a chance to thrive later when all these are over. The top 2 priorities are really health and job security. If that fails, all else fails.

How to spend the remaining war-chest? I think the problem can be split into how much and how long. STI has fallen about 27% from the last peak to the last close, while SP500 is down 20% and HSI about 28% down. Most often, crashes recover after about 30% down. Rarely does it do a 50 to 60% crash and then once in a lifetime, you might see a more than 85% crash. I think based on past history, we should spend the bulk of our war chest preparing for the 30% to 50% crash, rather than the world-changing 85% crash. I think when it comes to that, nobody is really prepared for that. If that comes, there will be more things to worry about survival than about thriving. That should settle the part about how much.

How long then? History shows that it can take 1 to 3 yrs for the bear market to play out from peak to trough. Counting the last peak for STI to be in May 2018, we're about slightly less than 2 yrs right now in Mar 2020. Perhaps it'll end by 2021, in about a year's time. That correlates to what PM Lee said about how long the coronavirus will play out. I wouldn't take it so literally to be exactly 1 year, but that should give a helicopter view of how fast to deploy.

Take care of your health, and prosper.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Am I prepared?

Back in 2003/2004, there is the SARS outbreak. Back then, I just started work and didn't think too much of the possibility of getting infected. That's stupid and reckless of me, but now I have too much to lose. I can see people are avoiding shopping malls and restaurants are mostly empty even during the weekend peak dinner crowd. You can practically walk into a restaurant and see that there are more staff than customers during peak hours. It's that bad.

In this post, I'll like to focus on the things I'm doing to protect myself. My chief concerns are:

1) My family's health
2) My work income
3) My financial status

1) Family's health

The current Wuhan corona virus is still largely unknown, but it seems from official statistics that it is highly infectious but with low mortality rate. Thank goodness for that. I'll rather take my chances with this than another strain with low infectious rates and extremely high mortality rate. Ultimately, mask or not, it just depends on our immunity system to survive.

As 2020 started, I did 3 things that helps a lot regarding health. Firstly, me and my wife had been going to the gym almost everyday. 30 mins of intense cardio really does help a lot, I feel. That should do for the exercise part of keeping healthy. Secondly, every gym day, we had almost carb free salad for lunch. That's the diet part of keeping healthy. Thirdly, I started doing cold showers. I read from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss (Wim Hof/Tony Robbins section) that having cold showers can boost the immunity system and willpower, among other things. Been doing it for 3 weeks, not bad, will continue doing so.

Other than that, I didn't join the groceries store run, nor the mask buying queues to avoid crowds. I did go out to shopping malls now because it's largely empty. My mum prepares some herbal concoction for us to drink, and hopefully all these measures will help. Not necessarily in preventing us from getting infected, but to recover swiftly once infected.

2) My work income

I'm a private tutor. Students come over to my place for lessons, so I'm potentially exposed to a higher chance of infection that most people I guess. I accept that. From the start of the pandemic in China, I've already anticipated that parents will stop and cancel lessons. Just last week, I had two cancellations. I think primary school tutors will be hit more severely than me, not to mention those running group lessons. I think we just need one cluster to form in schools and that's it. Back in SARS period, primary school was stopped for about 3 weeks, secondary schools about 2 weeks and JC about 1 week. Why? JC students can die is it? It's about the immunity system - those who are elderly and very young have weaker immunity system, making them more susceptible to infections.

What happens if the situation gets worse and tuition stops? I have a plan B. I got a webcam from a good friend, got my wacom drawing tablet/digital pen and an online whiteboard with video conferencing/chat capabilities ready. I've also asked for permission from students and parents in case the situation warrants it. And so now we wait.

3) My financial status

What if I've no active income for a stretch of say 1 year? Can I take the hit?
Yes - my CPF has enough to last me 1 yr of mortgage payment, which is my biggest expense and greatest worry. I'll transfer more warchest to emergency cash too, so I can tide over more than 1 yr if needed.

What if I've no active income for 1 yr and I'm hospitalised? Can I take the hit?
Yes - hospitalisation plans are still in place and I've enough funds to cover any deductibles/co-insurance. Same for all my family members. Insurance plans also cover ICU should that need arises. If there are worse scenario I've not imagined, there's also a reserve battalion of Singapore savings bond, equivalent to 6 months of monthly expenses, waiting for me.

I took account of all my liquid cash, minus 1 year of monthly expenses, and the remaining is my war chest. It's still good enough to fire substantially, so that's good. My plan, as always, is to survive first, then thrive. And I'm determined to thrive.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bought another insurance policy

Recently I bought another insurance policy - it's called a gym membership. I've been walking/running for nearly a year already, doing it quite consistently for 5 days a week, so I'm quite sure signing up for a gym membership will be a good insurance policy to guard against future health issues.

I signed up with the ActiveSG membership first, and following the instructions, I got a credit of $100. This was an initiative set up in 2014 to encourage Singaporeans to live a healthier lifestyle. I know I'm a bit late in claiming the credits, but better late than never. For off peak gym membership, the free credits will allow me to use the gym for more than a year for free. Anyway, it's not that important since it's one of the cheapest rates in town at $40 per 6 months. Hard to beat at this price range.

Even as my body is aching from all the physical exertions, I think this should be a great start in 2020 to boost up my health sphere even further. I'm not getting any younger, and I need to take responsibility to make sure I stay healthy for my kid. While an actual insurance policy is reactive in nature (it helps only after some health issues had happened), doing more exercise will certainly help in being preemptive (preventing or delaying some health issues from happening). Can't control what might happen in the future, but the least I can do is to build a good base when I am still able to.

Seems like I have a lot of things on my hands. Need to exercise, need to read, need to practice on piano, need to work, need to have family time, haha

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

DBS multiplier account NERFED

It's the first day of the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium and I received some news that DBS is going to nerf their multiplier account. I first heard it from Kyith (here) and the new changes, which will take effect from 1st Feb 2020 is listed here.

The major changes are that instead of dividends being under the "Investment" category, it is now grouped under a new "Income" category, which combines both the salary credit component together with all dividends received. This sucks because now, most people will have one less category to fight for the highest interest of 3.8%. I really don't want to get into some long term commitment, like buying a regular savings plan or DCA into sti etf, for something that is short term and fickle like the terms and conditions for the DBS multiplier account. I guess I'll have to contend with less interest.

The other major change is that the higher interest for the salary credit + transactions in 1 category is now applied up to a new cap of 25k only, down from the current 50k. It's not clear what they meant by this.

I take the liberty to include two scenario. But first, this is what is like currently (click if it's too small to zoom in):

This is what I think it'll be like after the changes to the cap from 50k to 25k:

Scenario 1

This is what I think it could be if they are kinder:

Scenario 2
Scenario 1 will introduce 2 tiers, first tier of 25k, next tier of 25k, then final tier of 50k. For this scenario, if you hit 3 categories including the new income category, and you also hit the max transactions per month of 30k and above, you'll get a blended interest of 2.79% pa ([2.08*25 + 3.50*25]/50 = 2.79) for the first 50k.

Initially it's 3.50% for first 50k, so that's a drop of $145/mth to $116/mth after 1st Feb. Say bye bye to the next 50k unless you buy their insurance and investment, which I am very repulsed to do so.

I don't think they are going to be kind so screw scenario 2. Ironically, in my mind, I just wanted to do scenario 2, until I actually do out the jpg to realise that it's too nice to have scenario 1 where there is a first 25k tier, next 25k tier, and final 50k and above tier.

Maybe just bloody buy their stocks and get a dividend of more than 5% pa lol

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 list of books read

I managed to read 52 books this year despite a heavier than usual work schedule. What did I sacrifice to read more? Nothing that I would have missed anyway. Instead of logging on to social media apps (I deleted them), and reading short news articles from websites, I just used my handphone to read ebooks. My reading habits had changed a little since I had a kid because I couldn't sit down and read for extended hours, so a handphone with an ebook reading app would be more than sufficient to occupy those waiting times that pop up every now and then.

Of the 52 books, 19 of them are fiction - that's about 36%. Some people don't read fiction at all, which is like me in the past. I'm quite a late adopter of fiction. These days, I can't tell for sure which is fiction and which isn't, frankly. The 19 fictional books that I said earlier in this paragraph, I had to do some interpretation myself.

Here's the list of the books I've read:

52) The end of absence - Michael Harris
51) Surrounded by Idiots - Thomas Erikson
50) Everything is F*cked - Mark Manson
49) The Rosie result - Graeme Simsion
48) The Redemption of Time - Baoshu
47) Permanent Record - Edward Snowden
46) Gulp - Mary Roach
45) Montauk Project - Preston B. Nichols / Peter Moon
44) Ball lightning - Liu Cixin
43) Uncle Hitler - Alfred Nestor
42) Efficiency - Wall Street Playboys
41) How to raise successful people - Esther Wojcicki
40) Death's End - Liu Cixin
39) The Dark Forest - Liu Cixin
38) The Three-Body problem - Liu Cixin
37) Educated - Tara Westover
36) Band of brothers - Stephen E Ambrose
35) The whole-brain child - Daniel J. Siegel
34) Miniatures - John Scalzi
33) Total recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger
32) The paper menagerie and other stories - Ken Liu
31) Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman
30) The Compound Effect - Darren Hardy
29) Broken Stars - Ken Liu
28) The great cholesterol myth - Jonny Bowden
27) Lies my doctor told me - Ken D. Berry
26) Ms Bixby's last day - John David Anderson
25) Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
24) Thinking in Bets - Annie Duke
23) HIIT explained - James Driver
22) Solitude - Michael Harris
21) American Gods - Neil Gaiman
20) Leaders eat last - Simon Sinek
19) The Time paradox - Philip Zimbardo / John Boyd
18) The Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis
17) The hour between dog and wolf - John Coates
16) Hero - R.A. Salvatore
15) Crash course - Kim Bearden
14) The Singapore Blue Chips - Nandini Vijayaraghavan & Umesh Desai
13) Little soldiers - Lenora Chu
12) Flatland - Edwin. A. Abbott
11) The Pianist - Wladyslaw Szpilman
10) Keep calm and mother on - Pauline Loh
9) Archmage - R.A. Salvatore
8) How to write a sentence - Stanley Fish
7) The smartest kids in the world - Amanda Ripley
6) Laws of Human Nature - Robert Greene
5) Maths learning difficulties, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia - Steve Chinn
4) Head on - John Scalzi
3) Shoe Dog - Phil Knight
2) Neither Civil nor Servant - Peh Shing Huei
1) Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf - R.A. Salvatore

I'll try to shorten the huge list into just 5 books that I would recommend to people who are following my book list.

1. Neither Civil Nor Servant - Peh Shing Huei

This is a book about Philip Yeo, one of the important people who built up Singapore as we know today. He was in various portfolio, including the set up known as ST engineering today, EDB, SPRING, ASTAR etc. He is an engineer, first of all, and someone who can be relied on to solve problems, even if it means breaking a few rules and knocking a few heads on the way there! It is a thoroughly joyful read if only to see how much problems Singapore is saddled with in those important years after independence and trying too hard to survive. I don't know why, but as I get older, I wanted to find out more about this home that I've been living for so many years. I will read this along with Goh Chok Tong's and Lee Kuan Yew's books, just to have a good overall grounding of the history straight from the horses' mouth. Even though he is one of the greats in Singapore who managed to push things through, I think working for him will be a nightmare.

2. Little Soldiers - Lenora Chu

This book is highly recommended by me. It's about how a pair of Chinese parents who migrated to the US, had a daughter who is raised in the US and essentially an American and then going on to have kids who are subsequently back in China again for their education. One complete cycle. It talks about how the education system is like in China, and always in contrast to other nations, specifically in the US. This book is interesting to me because it makes me think about the good and the bad in each system, the straitjacket authoritarian Chinese education system vs the laissez-faire self-directed play to learn style in most Western education system. This book is so interesting that I passed it to my wife to read. And she agrees, which is rare. Personally, I think my style of teaching is more towards China's disciplinarian no-nonsense stuff, while my wife is more towards the Western play-learning style. Between us, hopefully, our kid will get the best of both worlds, haha

3. The Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis

I like all books by Michael Lewis. Okay, to be honest, most books. I don't like his "The New New Things: A Silicon Valley story", but this book is not like that. "The Fifth Risk" talks about the things that we can't imagine that will harm us. Sounds a little like the concept of black swan, isn't it? I think I can divide this book in two parts. The first part being how US president Donald Trump came unexpectedly into a position of power and started, should we say, commercializing the works of different agencies. The heads of these government agencies get replaced by his loyalists, who started upending the good work done by previous officeholders. Maybe 'destroying' is a better word than 'upending'. The second part talks about the weather, and how using big data released for free by the Obama Administration had made prediction less of a random guess. Guess what? It's no longer for free now that the head of the country is changed. Like the other books he wrote, Michael Lewis has a knack of making you interested in things that you are not even remotely interested in the first place.

4. The Time Paradox - Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd

A very insightful book that introduces a new model of thinking for me. We are all familiar with the MBTI test on our personality, but what if our personality is based on time? The authors introduce 6 time perspectives - past positive (focuses on past tradition, values history and cultural inheritance), past negative (focuses on past negative events), present-hedonistic (life of the party, epicurean, love new and fun things), present-fatalistic (believes nothing can change fate), futuristic (sets goals, do month-end accounting, punctual, hates wasting time) and transcendental-future (believes in reincarnation, life after death, karma). The rest of the chapters is about how the different people - pasts, presents and futures - handle different things. I believe financial bloggers are mostly futures, while lifestyle bloggers are mostly present-hedonistic. A lot of messages are preached by the futures for the futures, so for example to prevent teenage pregnancies (the majority are the presents), the advice is to use contraceptives or abstain. The advice works for the future, but they are not the ones needing advice, which is why such campaigns have limited effectiveness. Wow, that really introduces another model to think about things. I highly recommend this book to another who is interested in psychology. By the way, Philip Zimbardo is the researcher behind the infamous Stanford prison experiment, of how our behaviour changes when we just put on a new uniform and change our environment.

5. How To Raise Successful People - Esther Wojcicki

Adopt TRICK principles - Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness in kids. Each of the chapters in the book talks about the 5 characteristics that successful kids should have, with plenty of examples of how she did it herself. The author had raised several kids who are all very prominent and useful members of their community. I think she is also a good teacher with very strong principles that happened to be spot on after researchers found out years later. Very good read on parenting. If you have kids and is interested in parenting, this is the book to read.

Special mentions

Usually, I don't recommend fiction, because our tastes are seldom the same. But if you're even remotely interested in sci-fi, then you should read Chinese sci-fi. That is the new genre that kept me captivated to no end this year. The original text are in Chinese (read it in its original form if you dare), but is translated by Ken Liu, who is himself a sci-fi writer of quiet renown. It's really fantastic. I would say the works of Liu Cixin rivals that of the greats in the Western world, like Issac Asimov, John Scalzi, Robert Heinlein etc etc

Read the Three-body problem saga by Liu Cixin (LCX) and Baoshu in the following order (as recommended by Unintelligent Nerd), and I guarantee you'll be mind blown by one of the greatest epic science fiction that spreads across thousands and thousands of years.

1. The Three-Body problem - LCX
2. The Dark Forest - LCX
3. Death's End - LCX
4. Ball lightning - LCX
5. The Redemption of Time - Baoshu

Monday, December 16, 2019

Fighting the clutter

Today, I saw the shelves of stuff that I had in my room but had not even touched them for years, and I realised that I had too many stuff. I did a wardrobe clean up a few months ago, and I'm still benefiting from the reduction in clothes. Physical clean up seems to clear my mind too, so I certainly want to repeat the same thing, but this time to my room.

My goal this time is to reduce the number of things I had by 50%. I'm not going to count item by item, but a rough guide would mean that every two drawers I tidied up, I should have one empty drawer at the end of the exercise. That means for every 2 items, I item had to be thrown away or gifted to others.

I started today and so far, I think the results are quite good. I did clear out 2 empty drawers. What did I throw away?

1. Sentimental things like gifts that are given to me by students. This used to be hard, which is the reason why I kept it for years on end. But today, it's not that emotional for me to hold on. I just want to reduce my material possessions. I mean, seriously reduce it.

2. Stationery - goodness..I've kept tonnes and tonnes of whiteboard markers, highlighters, magic pens... most of which are all dried up after keeping for more than 5 yrs without touching them. Why buy them if I am not going to use them, you ask? I didn't buy them, it was given to me by other people. I kept it for so long only because I want to remember the gift. But alas, all these will pass.

3. This last item is not something that I threw away. It was just disorganized, to the point that I can't find the item, hence they are not used. I put them back to their own grouping now, so things are sort of better now.

That took me about 2 hours and I think I'm only 10% done. The hard part is yet to come, which is to sort out the whole stacks of papers and files. Most of them are worksheets. In the past, I used to go to student's place so I have to prepare and print the worksheets on hand. I've not touched those worksheets for years since I have digitalized them and kept as soft copy to print as and when needed. But first I have to sort out which are the ones that are not digitalized yet. Settling this will settle about 50% of the clutter I have in my room, I believe.

The other major problem area is that boxes of tech gadgets that I kept. It could be from games (back when games are still shipped in nice boxes and manual, instead of ubiquitous digital copies these days), computer paraphernalia and mobile phones. This should form another 40% of the clutter in my room. I will likely keep a small part of them but throw out the rest. I know I've not touched them for years, but still, the sentimental part of me makes it hard to let go. Maybe another few years will do the trick.

Clutter feels like a stormy sea to me. Raging, chaotic, a force of destruction

Clearing stuff is only half the battle, the other half will maintenance. I've thought of a system to prevent stuff from cluttering again:

1. Don't buy unnecessary stuff. Absolutely no decorative items for me. Books will have to be in digital ebook format, rather than actual physical books. No choice.

2. Don't hoard things. Some things are cheaper to buy in bulk - I get it. But that doesn't mean I have to get until my whole drawer is full of it, and that I have to take years to finish using. This is usually not an issue for me since I prefer my cash to be liquid rather than stuck in inventory.

3. Throw away the boxes or cartons of stuff that I buy. I tend to keep those, thinking that if there is a need to return, I can do so easily. Perhaps that only happens 1 time out of 10 years? I'll throw them away after 2-3 weeks because if it's still okay by then, it should be okay. This extends to paper bags too. I really hate shopping centres during the festive season. I bought a Moleskine organiser from Tangs yesterday and they gave me a very nice carrier with all the Christmasy feel. I hate them. I want to throw but my wife will resist. Next time, I should strive not to even take it.

4. Sort out the things you brought/bought from outside into your home immediately. If not, it'll be there for weeks, then months, then years. This follows my mailbox letters organising system. Every letter I get will be acted upon immediately. If it's bills, I either put a reminder or pay them on the same day. If it's notification, I will read and act on it or archived for future use. If it's an advertisement, it will not even be brought into my home. If it's stocks related, like company annual reports (god, I hate those), I will browse through them and throw them out. If I can opt not to have it, I will.

I believe I can do this in less than 2 weeks, just before the new year 2020 is up. And what a great way to start the new year with a lot of space and room to breathe, and for new possibilities to happen.

Updates: From now on, this blog will not be spread by me in any way. I do not wish to hide it by keeping it private, yet I do not see the point of it being popular and well-read anymore. Gone are the days that I'll keep it circulated in my social media to get more people to know. It had been fun and I've earned a few cups of coffee and tea during that time, but I think it's time to move on to the next phase. Similar to my own journey towards financial freedom, this blog will also mirror that journey to be quiet, contemplative and reflective of my internal journey. I've been writing, on and off, since 2006 and I've no intention to stop. Perhaps there'll be more 'off' than 'on' these days, but I'll be around. Have great health, great relationship and great wealth.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Reflection of the year 2019

I promised that I will write a bit more in-depth about the year 2019, qualitatively instead of quantitatively. I shall attempt it here. It's always good to reflect on what had happened in this year, learn from the lessons and make new mistakes in the future. I last made a self-reflection for the year 2018 here. I'll try to give a grade for different themes. My grading matrix is like this: 4 categories, namely Finance, Mind, Body and Spirit. Here goes:

This year my networth increases by about 100k, boosted by higher active income. I had quite a good year with more group lessons, so my income got boosted more than average. On the investment front, STI is up pretty much and as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Time-weighted returns is a modest 11.8% vs STI's 6.62%. Okay lah. At this stage, I'm more interested in accumulating enough capital to have a high potential dividend income to prepare for the future when I have to scale down on my active work. The current target is 500k investible cash plus the invested amount. I've a shortfall of about 120k, so I think I should be able to reach that target in 2 to 3 years. If the stock market crashed 50%, then it's a different story of course, haha

Without really tracking closely, I also realised that my dividends from companies + all interest-bearing accounts + income from non-active work, adds up to about 1.2k per month. That is the goal that I had set like 5 yrs ago. Even after subtracting some income that I think are non-recurring, it is still about 1k per month. This means that the plan that I had started 5 yrs ago is starting to bear fruit. I'm very happy about that. 1k per month is about the mortgage (for my half) that I had to pay per month, so it's a huge load off my mind since it is the single biggest debt, and hence worry, that I have currently.

Finance: 10/10

This year I read a lot of books and discovered a new genre to delve into. At present, I had read 50 books, so I should be able to come close to my target of 52 books. I read more because, in the earlier part of the year, I borrowed a lot more physical books from the library in order to show my son that reading is something enjoyable and it's what we do at home. From the book tearing enfant terrible earlier in the year, he progressed to someone who will pick a book up on his own, flips through the pages and tries to read aloud (like us when we are reading to him). I think it's a terrific improvement in that aspect.

The new genre that I discovered this year is Chinese Sci-fi, particularly the works of Ken Liu and Liu Cixin. Mind-blown. I'll do a proper post on the books I've read in the near future, and will also recommend some of the better books from the whole list.

I started learning the piano this year too. I've always said that I wanted to learn how to play the piano, but my 'excuse' is that I'll wait till my son wants to learn so that I can learn together with him. One day, I asked myself what is stopping me from learning right now? Nothing. So I went ahead to buy a weighted digital piano, signed up for Udemy, and started learning. It's slightly more than 1 month already and I'm practising every day for about an hour, regardless of how sucky I am. Learning something new is quite a good experience since it puts me in beginner mode. Very humbling experience.

Mind: 10/10

This year, after Chinese New Year, I bought a Fitbit charge 3 and started exercising every morning, unless I'm ill or otherwise occupied. I've been keeping to that routine for nearly 10 months and I think it is sustainable. It's the longest near-continuous exercising regime that I had ever begun, and I think it's a great start. If I'm sick, I'll just walk for an hour. I started reading up on HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and started incorporating some of it in my exercise too. If you see me cheong-ing up and down a hill in Bedok Reservoir in the morning, it could be me. Hence, this year, I've never felt fitter and more able to run after my kid when we are out. Feels very good. This is probably a life-changing experience for me, and I'm glad to have taken this step.

Started sending my son to childcare earlier this year and was soon introduced to the vicious cycle of illness. It goes like this: son gets flu bug from school, passes around to us, son recovers and goes back to school, we recovered, repeat again and again. Went to take a flu shot for the entire family, and things got so much better. Also took a miracle medication called Clarityne that relieves a lot of symptoms from flu so that I can continue to function properly despite being ill. Being able to function well in spite of illness is part of the routine for self-employed, so carrying it over to the caretaking of my child is just natural. Clarityne is an antihistamine that relieves flu-like symptoms. I wish I knew it earlier lol

I also got infected with Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HFMD) too. In fact, my whole family got it. Thankfully mine isn't that bad. I'll give myself a 9, mainly for the introduction of a sustainable exercise routine.

Body: 9/10

I've stopped doing sitting down meditation for a few years now. These days, if I need to, I'll walk and practice mindfulness. It's a very nice experience and helps to clear my head, especially during stressful period. The interesting thing I've discovered is that even playing on the piano is a great activity to practice mindfulness. It is like I went into a flow and didn't realise an hour has passed. During frustrating practice sessions, I practised on noticing such emotions arising. The only thing that I can't really control well enough yet is when I start recording myself on the piano. During normal practise I'm okay, but when the record button is pressed, things start to go haywire. I start to overthink or just get anxious. I need to work more on that because the skills are transferable and I think it's a great way to practice working under duress.

There's an interesting observation that I noticed about myself. One day, my wife and I are out in a fast-food restaurant. She accidentally spilt the whole lemon tea drink onto me. My whole pants are completely drenched. I noticed that there is a flash of surprise and then anger but it quickly morphed into acceptance. My wife was apologetic but I found the whole situation a bit humorous. It was a strange experience for me because I noticed I didn't react much to that external event, and it didn't affect my mood at all. I think a few years ago, I might have a totally different reaction.

Good progress, I think.

Spirit: 10/10

Attack of Takashi castle - SUCCESS!

Overall, I think 2019 is a great year for me. I lived a lot in this year and will continue to be grateful for what I have and the people around me. In this week alone, I had to send 2 people to the ICU. One is my elderly neighbour, who is in because of severe intestinal pain after a trip to Malaysia. He ended up having to cut away nearly half his entire small intestine out because of inflammation. The other is a family friend who suddenly developed many red rashes all over and had his airway constricted. Both are still under observation in ICU but I think the critical life-threatening period is over. Health is like a bear market - when it crashes, it is sudden and unexpected, often with severe consequences.

In the journey towards financial independence, we often hedge against a longer life, more than our money can last. Remember to hedge against plenty of money, more than our lives can last. Live a little. Appreciate the people around you. Be grateful. Don't regret.

May the new year 2020 be filled with great health, great relationship and great wealth. In that order of importance.