Monday, April 21, 2014

MR loh!

I've recently finished the last leg of my national service, the much coveted MR (Mindef Reserve) parade. It has been a very long journey - 13 yrs to be exact - since I was enlisted as a recruit when I was just 18. Some of the people whom I've met when I was 18 was still with me when I went MR. Frightening thought, isn't it? How many 18 yrs do you have? I knew these people for half of my life! What's the feeling of MR? Is it like achieving financial independence or sending the last cheque to HDB because you're finally done with your housing loans?

It's a mix of feelings, actually. There's a tinge of sadness because I don't really mind reservist, especially when you get to enjoy a different pace of life. There's a certain simplicity in army life that I quite like, though I would never sign on as a career soldier because I don't think I'm suitable. There's also a feeling of accomplishment that I've finished this portion of life as a Singaporean male. This is something that not all the people can get to live through. I know how some people hated all things army, but it's still a sort of experience, isn't it? I'm glad I got to experience army life as a Singaporean male.

My unit is special - MR parade at marina floating platform

There's a few things that I'm grateful for in my 13 yrs of service to the nation:

1. Due to some changes in my unit that I'm posted to, I got to experience different sort of management under different commanding officers. I've been though one that is very pro micromanagement and information only flows one direction - from top to down. This is the unit that I've been with since NSF (national service full time) days and I don't really like them. Very rigid. Disciplined? Yes, but only when we need to show it when there are people around. I had a feeling that I always need to pretend that I'm busy so that I won't be 'arrowed' to do some nonsense work because I've finished my work faster than the rest.

Thankfully a small group of my friends got posted out when the former unit was disbanded. The management of this new unit is more hands off, preferring to let individual small groups take over command, while they follow a general orders from higher ups. Is it disciplined? Less so, but there's a great advantage to empowering people from bottoms up. The people in this unit is much more motivated. You see people volunteering to do shit jobs so that the majority can move on in their program schedule. You see people doing extra and giving feedback so that the unit can improve in future events. You even get unit pride so that you don't 'lose face' when doing unit's capability assessment test. Basically, I got a culture shock when I went in because nowhere in my army life had I seen such camaraderie and esprit de corp. This unit went on to get the best NS unit ever in Armour formation, and I'm proud to say that I'm one of their members.

There's life lessons to be learnt from this two opposing views from two different management teams, don't you think?

2. I'm extremely thankful that I have a group of friends that I've known for 18 yrs. When you knew someone that long, you no longer need any pretense. There's no need to talk about the weather and other trivial stuff because these kind of small talk had long gone stale in the first few years of knowing them. These are the people that I've gone through thick and thin with, both in terms of their waistline and also the kind of challenges faced when in service. You knew them so well that you know what they are going to do in the morning when they wake up (brush teeth first or change uniform first?), and who are the ones that will snore and the ones you can always count on for some chocolates or biscuits when you're outfield during exercise. They are perhaps the only group of people who have seen me in various state of undress. If I've not known them for 18 yrs, it would have been creepy. Very creepy.

They are the group of people that you would fight for. Never mind the lofty ideals of serving the nation - that's just pure propaganda. When you're deep in shit, you don't think about serving the nation. You think about not letting your buddies down.

It's great to know these guys.

3. I'm glad that I've been through NS. It's really an eye opening experience that I wish all people can get to experience. But you need to keep an open mind, otherwise everything that doesn't fit your 'normal' experiences will make you unhappy. Angry, even. My philosophy in life is to get as much experience as possible, and not necessarily the good ones only. Just as you need rain and sunshine to make a rainbow, you also need good and bad experience to enjoy life's rainbows. If you go through life like that, then everything is like an achievement waiting to be unlocked in the game of life.

Fired a real bullet from a real rifle - Achievement UNLOCKED.
Thrown a hand grenade without killing yourself - Achievement UNLOCKED.
Not having a proper shower for 14 days -Achievement UNLOCKED.
Shitted outfield? - LOCKED

It just adds on to the variety of experience that life offers. And no matter how much I complain when I'm actually in it, I'll miss those pesky mosquitoes in the jungle and peeing in the bushes, and eating combat rations. These are the things that you will remember in your life, because it's so different from routine.

The BMT recruits are marching out. We've finished out portion and are just watching the parade as a spectator. Kind of strange because this is the first I've watched it as a spectator. Usually just a participant marching.

As a great round up to the whole NSF to NS to MR experience, I've to participate in a big scale kind of MR parade where BMT (basic military training) newbie recruits are graduating to their next phase in their army life while older soldiers like us are graduating to a pure civilian life outside. Passing the honorable duty of defending the nation from one generation to another.

BMT recruits a celebrating their Passing Out Parade (POP). 12 more years to go, newbies.

Last parade of my life carrying a rifle, wearing skeleton battle order (SBO) and a beret and it had to rain. Heavily. Oh well...just take it and suck it up like a soldier.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

How to party a chaotic good character with a lawfully neutral one?

I read an interesting article from wall street journal by Charles Murray here. In his article, he wrote that punctuality, orderliness and thriftiness are the top three personal habits that may make or break your relationship with your other half. I totally agree. Usually these 3 things are the ones that me and my wife would argue about when we first started our journey together.

We're like polar opposites, so maybe that's why we are attracted to each other. There's something magical about being with someone who is quite opposite from you - all of us will end up having our horizons and experience expanded, if you can tolerate the initial upheaval of your 'system'.

In terms of punctuality, I'm the one who lives by the clock, while she's the one who don't keep time. If we have an appointment at 10am, I'll be ready at 9am, while she's just getting ready to be 'ready' at 9am. This causes much friction while we're dating because I seem to be always waiting for her. But after a long time, I think we're used to each other's sense of time. For me, time is absolute and immovable, while for her, time can be stretched. She has come to realise the value of being prepared ahead of time because of several experiences where she is almost late for some important functions. For me, I've learned to take it easy because even if I'm early, most of the time, the other party will be late anyway. No real harm is done.

Orderliness: In short, I'm the tidy one and she's the messy one. Every day, we'll be fighting a battle of order against chaos. She'll take out stuff from the drawers and leave it lying around, while I'll be busy keeping up to put it back in. It's quite comical and hilarious sometimes. I get energy from having things in a orderly  manner; she don't. After I explained to her, she compromised by keeping certain areas tidy while I keep my eyes closed on other areas. That works very well for us.

Thriftiness: I'm the thrifty, misery one and she's the spender, generous one. She can complain about me being tight about money but when it comes to making financial decisions, I'm the one with all the facts and data at hand and will guide or take her through. I can complain about her spending a lot of money but when it comes to giving, or charity, or helping others she'll take the lead and show me how to be hospitable. I think I can certainly learn a lot from her, just as she can from me.

Being with your polar opposite doesn't always turn out in a good way. Some marriages are broken because of irreconcilable differences. I can imagine how some people cannot embrace diversity and always insists that they are right. If that's the case, then finding someone closer to yourself might be easier to handle in terms of relationship issues. My alignment is lawfully neutral while hers is chaotic good. Not the perfect match alignment wise, but very very versatile in terms of party mix. I think because we mix around so often, I'm slowly changing to chaotic neutral while she's changing to lawfully good. Not a major change but certainly perceptible.

I think the key to a good party combination, regardless of alignment or personal habits, is to be empathetic. If you can put yourself in the shoes of others, you can be with (almost) anyone. Compromising doesn't mean that you're wrong, it just means that you value the relationship more than who's right and who's wrong.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What's good about owning a car?

I had a car for about 2 years now and I dare say it's one of the best things I've bought. This is in sharp contrast to other financial bloggers, who are mostly too quick to dismiss car expenditure as something frivolous and definitely under the category of "wants" and not "needs". I thought I should share what's so good about getting a car in Singapore, rather than just focusing on the dollars and cents, which is pretty much anyone who frowns upon owning a car will say.

Firstly, the bad stuff. Everyone knows that to own a car in Singapore, you need the ultra expensive COE, which entitles you to own a car for 10 years at a cost of about 70k these days, and that's not including the cost of the car. Definitely not cheap. The running cost of my car per month includes the following:

1. Season parking (about $70)
2. Parking at other places ($50)
3. Fuel ($230)
4. Insurance ($90)
5. Maintenance (about $60)

Total: $500 thereabout

So the running cost is about $500. I haven't added in the cost of getting the car yet. I don't think I want to spend anything more than 40k on a car, inclusive of COE. So that means I'm effectively priced out of buying a new car. I went to the second hand car market and got a car for 32k, and that car can still last me for 4.8 yrs before I need to scrap or renew my COE. I paid half of it in down payment and borrowed the rest, so effectively my total cost is about $34k. This is way within my budget, and I really think it's affordable for people who wants to get a car.

Total cost: $500 + $360 (installment for car loan) = $860

Let's just bump it up to $1k per month. I chose to pay 50% and borrow the rest, way before it's mandatory to do so. But think if you're not buying any flashy cars, getting 4 wheels that allows you to move from one place to another should cost around $1.2k per month, everything in. Since I'm sharing the cost with my wife, I think I need about 2-3 more classes to offset this expense. That's pretty alright - essentially I work more so that I can work easier, and that doesn't include other fringe benefits that I'll mention right away.

What's the good thing about owning a car then? I can't speak for everyone, but owning a car is great on several levels for me. Now obviously not everyone works in the same kind of work as me, so the experience for different people differ.

These are the good things about owning a car:

1. You can go to several places in one single trip. Often times, it's impromptu and not planned.

True, you can get a cab, but it's just not the same. Sometimes, thinking about all the hassle of getting a cab to this place, then another trip to another place just make it so troublesome. I ended up just going to one single place to do all my entertainment, groceries and shopping. It just severely restricts your range of mobility because of the hassle of public transport. You can't say I'm spoiled because my family never owned a car before and I've been taking public transport for the bulk of my life, whereas I only had a car for only 2 years. The 2 years is enough to convince me that I should have gotten a car sooner, not later.

2. Saves you lots of energy

Commuting by public transport is tiring and drains my energy level. In a normal workday, it's possible for me to change bus/mrt at least 3 times. It's much more tiring if I've to stand and jostle with the crowd during peak hours. At the end of the day, I'm totally dead from all the energy spent. I don't know about you, but spending my time jostling with crowd drains my energy tremendously. Maybe I'm an introvert, that's why. With a car, I'm relative still full of energy even at the end of my most tiring workday. I don't always get to drive (mostly, my wife drove), so I can compare the difference between taking public transport and a car.

3. Saves me lots of time

Having a car can half my travel time, usually more. A trip from my home to a student's place can take 1 hour. The bulk of the time taken is spent just waiting for the bus/mrt to come. I'll say about 20 mins can be spent just waiting. A longer wait is necessary if you have to change buses/trains. The second biggest time waster in public transport commuting is all the stopping. You have to get to A to B, but in between there are multiple stops for passengers to alight and board. That takes up a lot of time, especially during peak hours. The huge time saver for travelling by car means that I can pack another lesson or two in a day. I think that alone can justify the running cost of the car. I didn't even include taking assignments that is further away from home, but pays a lot more, and is only possible with a car.

I get it that people want to retire early, reach financial freedom, then do whatever they want to do with their lives. Perhaps work life is so terrible that any moment spent working to earn a living is a thought so terrible to stomach. But instead of living a life after retirement, you can also live a life while working towards retirement. A car is just one example where the intangible benefits far outweighs the cost - it might be any other things. Heck, the only reason why I didn't commit to buying one earlier is because I was so put off by the 1.2k per month expense. To this day, I regretted not getting it earlier. I could have spent the same money and got either a better car or a car that I can drive far longer before renewal of COE/scrap.

Don't be blinded by numerical value. Financial bloggers are, by definition, more conservative than the general public. My advice to all financial bloggers is this: Just live life a little. Being a little more risk taking is still less risky than most people, so chillax.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Which method of savings will you adopt?

I wonder how many people feel the same way that I did. Whenever I'm busy earning more money, I spend much less time outside shopping or eating at restaurants, so my income shot up and my spending shot down. This resulted in my savings rocketing skywards with a boost in earned income and a drop in expenditure. Conversely, when I'm more relaxed and have more free time because work winds down, I spend more despite my lack of income. So savings suffered a massive plunge.

Don't they warn that it never rains but pours? Well, I guess it's the same for my savings too. There's either huge savings, or there's very little of it. Maybe it's just an anomaly for those who are self-employed. I guess for salaried employees, there's very little variability in income. In fact, they have fixed pay but variable hours, so the busier they are, the less they earn on an hourly basis. Not good to be too busy, haha!

I know how to save more money. My way is not to save more by cutting down on expenditures. The reason is that I know that I'm not a spender. I know this is because I've been tracking my daily expenses for so many years. Cutting down on expenditure is a legit method of savings - I'm not denying that, but I dare say that it won't be the main driver in getting my savings up. I know that because I know myself by reviewing the records that I keep. The better way for me to grow my savings is to earn more money. This might not work too well for all, because there could be some people who would reward their hard work by spending more money. The net effect is just running harder on a treadmill - you run faster but you didn't move an inch forward.

I do know that if I spend more time earning money, I will have less time and inclination to spend money. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me. I think when you read about people saving more money through different ways, you got to figure out the best way that works for you. This will require you to know how you react in different situations. If you don't, then you got to experiment and give each method a try. You can't just take a general guideline and follow everything to the T, because you're ultimately not the person who came up with that guide. Whatever works for others might not work for you. And if that method is not suitable for you, you'll give up easily.

I know that my wife won't spend money that she can't see, so the best way for her to save up is to squirrel a part of her income away to some account that isn't easy to withdraw. If she can't see it, she won't spend it. There are also some people who live life dangerously - they save more if they are forced into situations they compels them to. For example, these type of people will buy a condo (regardless of whether they can afford it now), then go and find the money to upkeep it. It works for them tremendously, maybe because they can see why they are working and saving so hard for. If I do that, I'll probably lose sleep.

I'll leave you with this famous quote from Sun Tze- "Know your enemy, know yourself ; A hundred battles, a hundred victories". The biggest enemy towards building a healthy savings habit is yourself. Either from lack of self-knowledge or the inability to control yourself.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How to ride through the bicycle of life

I went for a course on learning how to ride a bicycle recently. The course last for 2 days and I just completed the course on Monday. It was great! The experience is well worth the money ($190 per person, including rental of bikes) and is further enhanced by the fact that I'm doing it together with my wife. Coincidentally, both of us didn't manage to learn how to ride a bicycle when we're younger. Kind of rare actually, considering that most people will learn how to ride one during their childhood, so what's the chances of finding a couple who both can't ride a bicycle? Practically zero, I bet.

Anyway, it's good to put yourself in the shoes of a humble newbie again. When we're good at something and we've been doing it again and again for a lot of times, we lost touch with something magical - the joy of doing something for the first time.

I learnt a few things that might be applicable to life in general.

Bullythebear learned how to cycle, and miraculously found how to
ride through the bicycle of life 

1. Learn how to move slower before you move faster

The coach removed all the paddles of the bicycle when we first started. The idea is to paddle by pushing your feet on the ground, so that you can control the bike and learn how to balance before you start paddling. It was such a simple strategy but I wondered why nobody told me that before. All the well meaning advice from people trying to teach me how to cycle is that I should paddle and move as fast as I can. But I never managed to put both feet on the paddles before the bicycle leaned way out of my control and I've to start again.

Trying to save a substantial amount? Try a smaller amount first. Trying to get a huge passive income? Try getting a smaller one first. A journey of a thousand miles begin with just one humble step.

2. Lean towards the side you're going to fall on

Again, another simple instruction that nobody had told me before. I had a preconceived idea that I must steer the bicycle away from the direction that my bicycle is leaning towards i.e. if the bicycle leans left, I must steer right. How wrong am I! I need to steer towards the direction that I'm falling so that my bicycle remains upright! Quite counter-intuitive, I must say.

Are you running away from your fears? Maybe you should face it head on instead.

3. To keep your balance, keep paddling

Once the basics of balancing without paddling is mastered, balancing and paddling at the same time becomes that bit easier. If you keep paddling, it'll be easier to maintain balance. How interesting! Another counter-intuitive action. You would have expected that by keeping still, you'll maintain stability, but who would know instinctively that by moving continuously, you'll also be able to keep your stability?

Next big project, learning how to ride a motorbike :)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Allocated 2 excess rights units for AIMSAMPI rights exercise

This post wraps up the entire episode about the rights exercise for AIMSAMPI Reit.

Before the counter went XR, I bought 6 lots of aims mother shares at 1.385. I didn't buy any nil-paid rights off the market. I'm entitled to 1050 shares of rights units, and I've fully subscribed and applied for excess rights units too. Today on 20th March 2014, I checked my CDP account and saw that I've a total of 8 lots. The refund is not in yet though. I'll probably see the refund into my bank account on 21st March. This means that:

1) I've successfully converted my 1050 shares of rights units into ordinary units at 1.08 per unit

2) I'm also allocated 950 shares of rights units at 1.08 per unit, rounding up my odd lots to 2 full lots

This brings my total average cost per shares, excluding brokerage, to be $1.30875. If inclusive of brokerage, it'll be $1.31262. Not a big deal right, considering that today's closing is $1.310. Well, I wanted to get into this for some time, so the rights brings me a good opportunity to enter at a good time. All in all, if you want to get into a reits with rights issue, the strategy of buying enough shares to reap the maximum number of excess rights units granted to you, is still a valid and good strategy.

Not such a good deal for existing holders of aims, I'm afraid - it's better for new comers like me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Need a seat? Just ask for it.

I was reading the news about Singapore being unkind and ungracious with interest. There's a lady reporter, being pregnant and feeling nauseous, wasn't offered a seat when she took the MRT. Even our top politicians are remarking on that.

I think that if you are in a restaurant, seated, and nobody comes up to you to take your orders, you should wave your hands wildly and call for attention. That will draw attention to yourself and people will come to service you. But why is it that when someone needs a seat on the MRT, then the person needing service have to wait for others to offer one to him/her? That's an interesting observation, no? I think we have to be a little proactive in what we want, rather than waiting for others to volunteer.

I think people everywhere generally practice polite inattention. You do that when a stranger enters a lift with you, so you look at everything except the person. You do that because you don't want to look like you are nosy and you just want to pretend that you're minding your own business, even if you're very curious. Well, I think the same thing happens in the MRT. When someone exhibits weird behaviour, like stripping naked, or sitting down on the floor, people generally practice polite inattention. You mind your own business.

If I'm needing a seat, I've to break this cultural barrier of polite inattention and the by-stander's effect (which means that in a crowd of strangers, everyone think everyone else will help, so in the end nobody helps). The best way to do is this:

Single out a person, tell him you're unwell and ask politely if it's okay for him/her to give up her seat for you. Giving a reason is important because that is generally more persuasive than just ordering people around. Being polite helps all the time. 

If you do that, and nobody helps you, then I will also conclude that Singapore are generally unkind and unhelpful. Until you try helping others to help yourself, I think it's a bit premature to say that others are unhelpful. There's a million reasons why others are not helping you, and one of the most compelling one is that they are giving you space to be 'weird' by practicing polite inattention. A celebrity might like Singapore precisely because nobody gives a hoot even if they know you're a celebrity. They might give a longer look at you, but generally leave you alone, unlike the paparazzi culture in other countries.

My stand is this: If you need help, and people volunteer to help you out, that's good and an ideal case. If you need help, and nobody volunteers, then you got to be proactive and seek the change that you want to see. Not everything needs a law in order to force certain good behaviour. Sometimes, all you need to do is just to ask.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Elderly folks getting bullish?

I noticed that quite a number of elderly folks wanted to put their money to better use. They realised over time, that the miserable interest offered by banks are not keeping up with the general rise in prices. This had been going on for some time after all. Perhaps they heard stories where their friends, or sons or daughters are making a good harvest from investing in the stock markets. Being in a bull market for 6 yrs is a pretty long time for people to think that the good times will last another 6 years. So, the elderly folks are naturally interested because everyone around them are making money but not themselves.

That is all well and good, but it's a little worrying. Usually the elderly folks are pretty conservative. Look at my own parents. They only put money into fixed deposits and perhaps the occasional savings plan offered by insurance companies (aka endowment plans). When I told them I can get better returns, they jumped immediately. They are still conservative in the sense that they don't want to lose any capital (actually who wants to lose any capital?), but they are also unconcerned that I'm investing in the stock markets to generate better returns to them. My in-laws? They had been asking their daughter whether it's good to invest in this or that because their colleagues or bosses had been making a good profit on certain counters. Generally, I find that the risk profile of the supposedly most conservative bunch of people are rising. If I'm a hound on the scent of greed in the market, I'm sure I can smell a whiff here and there now. Fear, the yin-yang twin of greed, is taking a holiday for now.

This doesn't mean that the market is going to crash soon. But I think everyone should be more cautious and on the look out for more signs of exuberance in the market. The good thing about experiencing through 2 bull markets is that you get to see things and how people react to them. All these forms subconscious cues, or a hunch, that perhaps the beginning of the end is near. I remembered reading news articles of young students, skipping school and wanting to become full time investors because they are earning such a good profit trading in the market. Who needs a degree and a job when they can earn a few thousands per day?

Just start squirreling excess income into your war chest. A market downturn is useless if you do not have the means to make use of it. So save up, do your usual things, and perhaps when an opportunity opens up in the future, we can all be thankful that we still have bullets to fire.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To remember, you have to suffer every now and then

People are funny; only when things that matters to them disappear, will they realise how much they lost.

Recently, I had a very bad bout of flu. It's so bad that I was quite immobilised for 2 days. On the 3rd and 4th day, I've no choice but to drag myself off bed and go to work. Thankfully, it's all over now and I'm fully recovered. But the illness did make me so happy that I'm healthy. Imagine suffering from some illness that isn't that readily recovered in 3-4 days. You probably can't imagine it because you have to go through it to know it. Even then, you have to go through it once every now and then to remember it. Such is the forgetfulness of humans.

The air quality is also getting worse. The haze comes early it seems. I just hope that it's not as bad as last year where all outdoor activities had to be stopped. Again, only when the air quality is bad would you realise how good it feels like to breath fresh sulfur free air.

I say it's good to suffer every now and then, if only that we can remember and empthasize with those who are suffering all the time. Knowing is not understanding; you must go through it to remember and hence to truly put yourself in the shoes of others.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Accepted, applied and paid for Rights Units!

Today I went to an ATM and exercised my rights units for AIMS AMP Capital Industrial Reits. I bought 6 lots, entitled to 1050 shares of rights units, applied 950 shares to round up my odd lots and also applied an additional amount for excess rights. All these rights entitled and applied are paid up in full (plus another $2 for the service fees) by the time I leave the ATM.

Again, the last date of exercising your rights units through ATM is 13th March 2014, 930pm. Don't miss that dateline. I've heard a horror story of someone who bought a lot of nil-paid rights off the market during the trading period, and forgot to exercise it. In the end, all the nil-paid rights expired worthless and nobody can save you. You can read this horror story here from Mr. Tan Kin Lian's blog post here.

At the end of the whole transaction, make sure you read the receipt issued. There are two important rows to check and double-check, and these are "Rights accepted" and "Excess Rts appl". Make sure that the "Rights accepted" is the exact number that you are entitled to, plus any nil-paid rights you bought off the market during the trading period. For example, if you have 6 lots like me, you'll be entitled to 1050 shares (6000*7/40 = 1050). If you didn't buy any nil paid rights off the market, then that's the amount you should have for "Rights accepted". If you also buy 3000 nil paid rights off market, then the total number of nil-paid rights you have is 4050 (1050 + 3000 = 4050). So make sure that your "Rights accepted" is 4050.

The "Excess Rts appl" refers to the excess rights that you applied. This one is less of a problem and wouldn't cause a catastrophic financial disaster if you press wrongly. Just press any amount that you want (provided you have the means to pay!). Minimally, you should apply enough shares to round off any odd lots. Anything above that is given lower priority, so it's up to your luck.

The timeline is as follows:

Expected date of issuance of rights units: 20th March 2014
Expected date for crediting of rights units in CDP and refund of money: 21st March 2014
Expected listing of rights units and trading of rights units as ordinary shares: 21st March 2014