Tuesday, September 27, 2011

3/4 year reflections and planning

There's a few things that needs to be done before I can open up my classes at home and start on a brand new chapter for my career. I thought it'll be good to list it down both as a checklist for myself and also to bounce off ideas from others who knew me from this blog. Let's begin.

1. Set up the physically infrastructure for the classroom.

As it is now, I've already set up a separate room from my new old flat. That would be the place to work for the next couple of years - an home office if you will. The class room has a wall and a half full of cabinets and shelvings, so I think that's enough space to put in the stuff and I needed for my work, perhaps with extra for my personal stuff too. It'll look something like this,  but not quite, because the flooring is of a darker colour then shown in this realistic computer rendered picture from my interior designer.

It should look bright and energetic. The green colour is specifically selected as a sort of colour therapy in education. I've read up some of this pseudo science regarding colours - orange and yellow is mainly for kids, green can be for teenage students (which is the bulk of my students) and blue is for hyper active students. I think green is the right colour to choose. A tad too neon bright for me, but still good. Keeping fingers crossed.

What needs to be done are the furniture for the room. I think a group size of 4-6 is big enough because I don't think I want to have so many students in one group. It's not going to be very efficient because everyone's learning pace is different, so I got to personalize the tuition for everyone in the group. Going to be kind of difficult if the class size is too big. Let's stick with that for now and adjust on the go a few years later. I'll be checking out Sungei Kadut very soon to see if there's suitable furniture for a group of 4-6 students. Not yet decided on whether to have a big table where people around it or individual small tables. Got to think it through.

2. Revamping my website.

I've a rather neglected website for tuition purpose. Neglected because I didn't really put in much effort to either promote it or utilise it properly. That's going to change. A few things needed to be revamped:

a. Logo - that can come a bit later. Eventually going to start getting some notes/guidebooks/assessment books on my own, so a logo should be a good place to start on. That's just too many things that needed attention, so this would not be the main priority for me right now. The main focus is to get things started, and I can adjust from there onwards. I simply cannot wait for conditions to be perfect before I begin, otherwise I might never begin.

b. Getting testimonials from parents / students. Since I do my business from word-of-mouth alone, testimonials are important to me. But I haven't been pursuing them! Got to start getting written testimonials from existing and past students. Nothing fanciful, just a short paragraph detailing their experiences (both good and bad) with me. They can write their results if they want, but I'm not going to insist. I don't want to go into showing statistics on how many percentage of my students get A1. You can force a student to get A but they might hate the subject forever. Nah, it's too much of a burden to bear for their lifetime hatred for any particular subjects that I teach.

3. Namecards

In the past, I am rather fearful of getting too many students because I only have limited time to work. I don't like to disappoint people by rejecting them, so I didn't go all out to market myself. In truth, I didn't market myself at all. It's through the much appreciated support of students and parents that I manage to find students every year. Now that I've got the capacity to take in more people, it's time to go aggressive in the marketing of my business. I got to print out some name cards to distribute. A small batch of maybe 200 to begin with might be a great idea. Eventually when I've the time to design a logo or ask someone to do it for me, I'll begin a larger print. Sourcing out some quirky designs from websites online. I found something nice for SGD 100 (inclusive of shipping), so might go along with that. Perhaps I'll check out local shops too. But the problem with local shops are that their designs are pretty sucky (forgive me, I've been to a few and they disappoint). Perhaps someone might recommend me someone trusted?

4. Read up on marketing

I've no background on marketing before. But after reading Adam Khoo's book, "Secrets of Building a multi-million dollar business", I've an inkling. Probably need to read up on some of the marketing strategies and techniques. No point being a good teacher if nobody gets to know about it right?

Many many things to do in the coming few months. Firstly, I've got to settle this batch of students. Their exams are drawing nearer and nearer and the drums of war are already beating hard. After that, I'll take a short break to clear my mind for the new year ahead and begin working on all these. Lots of work to be done.


After much research following the various comments, I confirmed the 'maximum 3 students' rule given by URA/HDB. Here's the verdict:

Ok, so be it. 3 students max at any one time. Shouldn't be a problem at all, as I do not intend to make the class size big anyway. For all other people who's following my pathway, there you go - the official statement.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 50k game

I've hit my target of 50k for this year 2011, and I'm ahead of schedule by a month. I remembered when I started this 'insane' savings program in 2009, I was struggling each month to hit the required amount. I had to consciously and subconsciously remind myself that I need to put in that bit more effort and to push that bit harder to put in more hours in my work to get that bit more just to hit the savings target for the month, before starting all over again for the following month. I did that until I reached the amount of 50k. It was really a struggle in the first year.

In my second yr 2010, it was much easier. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had done it before, hence I know the mechanics and means to achieve the same thing. The first year was the hardest because it taught me a few good lessons regarding sustainability of my effort and the importance of planning ahead to restrict the number of graduating students (those taking O'lvls and A'lvls) I had in a year. I realised that I can push myself up to a certain limit before I start to get annoyed because of a lack of proper rest and simply just a lack of off-time from work. In the first year, I geared up to the max because I wasn't certain I could keep to my target (I intend to hit my target, no matter what). The result? Periods of moodiness and mild depression. I learnt from my lessons and applied to year 2 - 2010. I didn't push myself to the limit and it was the year that I first started taking planned breaks from work. There are times that I hit my monthly savings target in that year, so as a reward for myself, I took a day off or cancelled my classes. I realised this little break off work makes me more happy than the amount of money that it can bring me, should I chose to work. The subtle change in how I value my time makes a very important change in my life. This journey is a life long journey, hence I mustn't burn out prematurely.

The second important lesson I learnt in yr 2 - 2010 - is that of having a quota for the number of graduating students I have for any particular year. The main reason is that these days, the exams start in the afternoon, so by the time the students come back home from school, it's nearly evening time. There's simply not enough time for me to go around and help those needed ones (most students I took are not the As students, so most of them needed some last minute psycho-ing and just some general revision before exams to sooth their nerves). I'll feel guilty for not being able to be there when they needed my help and encouragement most, especially when I know I can make a difference. The other reason is that by maximizing the number of graduating students, the following year I'll have less recurring students, hence there could be a drastic drop in income. Remember that towards the end of each year, I'll be 'retrenched' and I'll have to work hard to enjoy the same salary that I had the year before. I'm trying to remove this sort of limitations by having group lessons in the future, which would satisfy both my financial need to earn money and my desire to reach out to as many people as I can handle. That would be a great way to solve this problem.

Going forward, yr 3 - 2011 - is the most relaxing year to save my 50k. Coming from me, 'relaxing' had to be taken with a pinch of salt. I still had to work 7 days a week, I still have to work when I don't want to work and I still have to teach students that I don't want to teach. So what's the difference? The mindset changes everything. It's just plain ol' good savings habits that I developed over the years. I'm so used to saving this amount of money that I don't have to track my savings so conscientiously. Years of tracking my expenses and income made me so aware of my peak income months and peak expense months (usually those months where I had to pay off lump sum items for the year, like insurance) that I don't have to track it so carefully. I know if I do this amount of work, I can 'agar agar' save this amount of money. Hence without caring whether I had hit my savings target for this month and that, it actually relieves the pressure off me, thus making it much more relaxing this year. It's like a dance routine that  I had been practicing for 3 yrs.  Even blind folded,  I can feel the beat of the music internally and my well rehearsed muscle memory moves my body rhythmically with the melody. It's a dance that I can do again and again and again.

But no, this is not how it should be done. I die in peace and become alive in war. It's time to move on to new grounds and break new limits. As such, the new target of 100k couldn't have come at a better timing. Oh I do have a lot of motivation to save that amount. It's like a game to me., a dance if you will.  I play my savings game hard and I play it seriously, because I know that if I succeed, the rewards are not the amount of money that I can use, it's the satisfaction and the comfort of knowing that I can do what is seemingly impossible. I might not be able to do it by next year, but who knows until I've tried.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reduction in interest for banks

It would seem that the banks to not want our money at all, because they had reduced the interest rates across the board. The majority of my cash is found in posb and standard chartered bank account, hence I only showed these two. For readers with other bank accounts, you might want to check out. I think it's quite uniform across the board.


Effective date: 14th October 2011


Effective date: 1st Sep 2011

Does it make a difference to you? It doesn't make much difference to me, since I don't have the bulk of my networth in cash. Used to have a lot more cash of course, but had been paying for my renovation and furnishing. The bulk of my cash used to be in MMF, which at last count, gives an annualised rate of around 0.42% to 0.46% (depending on how you count it). However, with the recent drop in interest across the board for both savings and fixed deposit accounts, I think the returns for MMF will also drop further. 

That goes to show that one needs to know about investment these days. You simply CANNOT survive on fixed deposit or worse - savings account. You've got to dirty your hands in the market because the consequence of not doing so can be quite dire.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Credit card management

Recently, I've been spending big amount of money - swiping here and there, signing here and there. It's all because of the renovation work being done in my resale flat, so there's a lot of one off expenses that I need to settle during this period of time. While the main contract work is paid by cheque (it'll be excellent if they would accept credit, haha), the rest of the fixtures and furnishings are paid for separately by credit or cash. Hence I need to do some background work on which card to utilize in order to maximize the cash rebates or other benefits dished out by the various cards that I have.

It's interesting how not too long ago, I had been complaining that the credit card companies are biased against self employed people like me. But I realised that after you've proved yourself capable of bearing debts, they will be more likely to give you credit. That's the way banks do their business I suppose - giving more credit to people who are already in debt, haha! Anyway, I've the POSB everyday card, SCB's Manhattan card that I've recently received, Citi rewards visa and Citi dividend card and lastly, though not a credit card, SCB's Xtra saver debit card. The main card I'm using is POSB everyday card. I've even tied my ez-link card to it to enjoy the 'cheat code' so that I can save time and get paid  for doing automatic ez-reloading feature.

Usually, because of the low frequency of my spending patterns, I don't bother with the rebates. What's 0.3% or 0.5% if I'm spending like $50? It doesn't really add up much. I don't have a home yet and neither do I drive, so the rebates that really matter (those 5% on groceries and 15% on petrol) do not matter to me. However, since I'm going to be spending perhaps 4 digit figure per swipe of the card for furnishings and furniture, I've to do some credit card management.

Here's a list of the major benefits of each card that I own. I didn't put in the Citi rewards visa because I'm primarily concerned with getting cash benefits instead of points. I also didn't include many finer detail that doesn't concern me at present, specifically like groceries and petrol rebates.

Beary ge recommended me the SCB's Manhattan card, which I've applied and received and maxed out my benefits. It used to be much better, but the last change to the benefit structure removed some of the goodness. Nevertheless, still one of the best cash rebate cards around. Since the cashback cap is $200 per quarter, that means a maximum spending of $4,000 will get you there. I've already maxed that out with a recent purchase of some fixtures, so I won't be using that card anytime soon. I think the Manhattan card is excellent for purchase of big ticket items. You can even do some tricks to get $200 per quarter by doing some advanced payment of certain things. There are blogs that teaches you to do that, just search around.

The one that I'm using as my main credit card - POSB everyday card, is good for purchases of items from Watsons and carrefour, both of which I'm not a big fan of. Thus, the only benefit is the 0.3% rebate under the category of 'all else'. 0.3% rebate means for every $1000, you get $3. This is not going to be a big deal if you spend less than $1k, which is why I don't even bother to find out the various rebates offered by the different credit cards initially. But for the everyday card, it doesn't come with a cap for the rebates, neither do you have to wait for 3 month before the rebate money is sent to you. The cash rebate will be credited to you once you spent the money. Whether I get the rebate now or 3 months later is not a big concern to me though.

I think that I'm under utilizing my Citi dividend card. I realised (today) that they offer a 2% rebate on all restaurants. Not sure if I'm reading this wrongly, but 2% rebate is much better than the 0.3% rebate that I use to pay for restaurants bills using the everyday card. A restaurant bill of say $60 for 2 person will get a rebate of $1.20 using the citi dividend card, whereas it's only $0.18 using everyday card. And that's not including the more places where there's a discount using the citi bank credit cards in the first place. Knowing this, I'm definitely going to swipe the dividend card when dining next time. There's a cap of $800 per year for the cash rebates though and a minimum of $50 per quarter before you can cash the money out.

Lastly, the debit card from SCB's xtra savers account. This is really a wonderful cash rebate card. Depending on the amount of money you have inside the account, you'll have different strata for cash rebates. I'm going to top up my money inside the account to go beyond 50k to enjoy the 3% rebates. There's a monthly cashback limit of $300, so if I have 50k or above inside the account, the maximum I can spend inside there is $10,000. That's a tall task in a normal month, but these few months are not normal at all.

So this is the plan for the purchase of the fixtures and furnishings. For the first $4k spending, I will max out the quarterly cashback for the SCB's Manhattan card to $200. Then for the next $10k spending, it'll be using the Xtra saver debit card, subject to a cashback rebate of $300 per month. If I do not have enough cash to pay straight, I'll use Citi dividend card to get a 0.5% rebate on any amount spend (up to a cap of 160k - amount that is way out of my spending budget). Alternatively, as long as there's a 6k and above balance in the xtra savers account, I should use the xtra savers debit card to get 2% rebate on any spending, up to 15k a month because of the monthly cap of $300. Of course, one would have to know exactly how much had been spent on which card - information that is easily available since I tracked my expenses closely on a per transaction basis.

On more normal months where I do not have such huge expenses, I would probably be using more of the citi dividend card for restaurants instead of everyday card now. If I do not require credit and I have more than 50k in my xtra savers account, I'll use the xtra saver debit card. I doubt in a normal month, I can spend enough to hit the monthly cap or the quarterly cap anyway, haha!

Let me go transfer money into my xtra savers account to reach 50k now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You have nothing to lose but your chains

I was just chatting with a few others in the cbox yesterday when I was reminded of how important it is to recognise and acknowledge one's self limiting beliefs. Recognising and acknowledging that it's a problem is probably the first step towards doing something (as opposed to just talking) about the problem. After all, if you do not see that there is a problem, you won't spend an iota of brain power to solve it. In other words, after much talking, it's back to square one if you don't think that it's a problem.

I immediately thought of the times when I first started out as a full time private tutor. You cannot believe how many nay-sayers there are that told me I should be getting a proper job. My parents are also saying that I should be getting a full time job until they sort of gave up a few years ago. External factors aside, I think the most important thing about this whole episode is how I handle my self limiting beliefs that hinders my earning power. Here's a list of them and how I managed to break every one of them:

1. I cannot charge more than $22 per hour because some person whom I trusted told me that the going rate is $22/hr. I justified to myself that I'm paid this low because I was a 'newbie' and I wasn't experienced, even though I'm a graduate with a good class honors.

This anchoring effect took me several years to 'correct'. I realised that I was justifying my low pay not because I wasn't experienced or whatever, it's simply because I am not confident enough to charge a high rate. That is stopping me from getting a higher pay even though I was working a lot of hours. I remembered that I was trying to find out how many students I had to take in order to get 5k per month. At 22/hr, I needed  114 students, or 16 two-hour lessons per day, which is impossible. I back calculated to find out what's my maximum income (based on my many self imposed restrictions on working hours) - it's around 2.7k per month. Not exactly a very good amount these days.

This woke me up from the 'dream'. I immediately took action to correct this and never looked back since. With the higher per hour rate, I eliminated a lot of other problems (no payment of fees, disciplinary problems, very low motivation students, low referral rates...) that comes together with the low pay.

2. I cannot work during dinner time because students need to have dinner. I need to have dinner too, so I don't work during normal dinner time. I cannot work late at night because students need to sleep early to prepare for school the next day and I can't get public transport back to my home. Night is also 'rest' time for normal working people, so I don't work after dinner time. I don't work on weekends too because I needed a break.

SO MANY restrictions on myself, all SELF IMPOSED. Because of my need to eat dinner at the proper time and to have a weekend like a proper working adult, I was depriving myself of working hours. Coupled with the low pay, I wasn't basically just part timing this thing instead of doing it full time. What do I do during the non-working hours? Doing lessons plans and preparing for work - things that do not pay me but I deemed important in order to justify my tuition fees, however meager that amount is at that time. As mentioned, it took several years to correct that problem. I simply wasn't out to earn a living. It is like I'm trying to learn how to swim by trying to read a lot about swimming. In fact, I was doing anything BUT teaching. The moment I realised that these is a major problem and that these are just excuses, I leap frogged my earnings multiple times. It isn't that I'm selling my soul or passion for money - no! In a poor man's mind, it's either this or that. You can either have passion or you can have money, but not both. In a rich man's mind, you're always thinking how to be rich and passionate about your job. In fact, the more passionate about your job, the more money you can make AND the more money you get out of your job, the more passionate you are about it (up to a certain limit of course, but I wasn't anywhere near that limit back then).

3. I cannot take too many students because during exams period, when they needed help, I won't be able to spare the time needed to help them. 

In civil engineering, I learnt about queuing theory. In a queue, there is always someone waiting. If you're waiting for a bus, that's because the transport authorities think that it's more worthwhile for passengers to wait for a bus, instead of having many more buses waiting for passengers to arrive. If you're waiting in a long queue to buy a product, it's because the company thinks that it's more worthwhile for the consumers to wait to buy their products, rather than having more products in store waiting for consumers to come buy them. There's always someone waiting!

AND I happen to be on the wrong side of the queue back then! I was waiting for students to come to me. I was at their beckon because I was having so much free time and not enough income, so once they gave me their timing for the lessons, I'll just say yes. That gives me low bargaining power. These days, I'm packed to the brim with students, so the tables are turned and the students are waiting for a free slot to meet me instead. Again, I'm surprised how many other seemingly non-related problems I eliminated by switching the queuing party. Once the students realised that I'm more busy, they started not to waste my time - they get more motivated to do whatever stuff and ask me the really important things during lessons (because they might not get to see me as and when they are free). People think that a busy tutor must be a good one (not a bad assumption but not necessarily true) and I get more referrals. Students quality gets better since I not only handle the really unmotivated students but I get highly motivated ones. I get more satisfaction from teaching motivated students and I get paid more. Everybody wins.

It's so surprising how a bottle neck problem, once identified and rectified, can solve several other problems downstream. Likewise, it's important to know that one or two major limiting beliefs are causing ALL your other problems. It can be stopping you from a breakthrough in your career, a happy marriage life, a good income and on and on. So, instead of spending energy coming up with one thousand and one reasons why you CANNOT make something happen, just think of ONE good way HOW to make something happen.  This is much more useful and practical since you're the only person who can dig yourself out of the shit hole that you've found yourself in.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Divestment of Cache

Not too long ago, I divested Cache Logistic. I thought my entry and exit are pretty well done, so I clipped an image of the chart showing the day and price that I got in and out to remind myself of the finer detail of this wonderful trade. An excellent entry should be complemented by an equally excellent exit.

Entry date: 16th March

Bullish divergence on MACD on daily chart with the price breaking the downtrend line. I absolutely love this kind of set up and will most likely trade whenever I see such patterns. I also like the sharp spike in FI, which signifies a capitulation of sorts. This is not true when FI spikes up instead.. Somehow the chartnexus chart incorporated the dividend into the chart, so the lowest point of the chart is 0.882, which is my entry point after taking into the dividends received till to date. Entry on the lowest price of a white candle. Fortune must have looked this way when I bought it.

Exit date: 1st Sept

A big A is generated, perhaps will be followed by a B and eventually a C. It's good to reduce positions when it's in phase B. If not, might have to ride it all the way back down below the price of A. I saw a significant top around 4th Aug, with a price of 0.98, so thought it might be a good idea to sell off at that level. It happens to hit that level and I got out of my position. Exit on the highest point of the day's range. Doubly lucky!

Will look forward to getting back this counter.

Monday, September 05, 2011

My new handphone!

Avid readers of my blog would have noticed the slower pace of posting in bullythebear. That's because of the hectic seasonal nature of my work, so it's really tiring to sit down and type out a post instead of relaxing by reading a book or stoning in front of the computer watching streaming movies. But let's talk about spending money today, haha!

I just got a new handphone not too long ago. Every two years you'll see a post on me buying a handphone, so do allow me to do a little tech review here. I've been eyeing the Samsung Galaxy S2 for quite some time before really sinking down the money to buy it. For a two year plan, you'll have to fork out 400-500 bucks to get a new one from telco. The good thing is that I waited 1 month between being ineligible to buy and actually buying it to 'think it through', so the price dropped from nearly 500 for a new year plan to $398. All the better for me, of course! I needed some time to think it through because I'm not sure if this is actually worth it. 400-500 can be the price of a tablet or even a laptop. But I figured that I really wanted a handphone that doubles up as a miniature computer so that it's portable.

Rule #1: Give yourself a waiting period before purchasing big items to cool off your impulsive desires. This will give you time to decide if you really want it or it's just a way to fill up some emotional gaps in your life.

With the price tag of around 400-500 for a handphone, it is as good as an iphone. I've mentioned in the cbox that iphone is used by commoners (go ahead and flame me!). Whenever someone whips out a smartphone on trains or buses, it's bound to be an iphone. So that really shows the popularity of apple products and their immense branding. However, I did some asking around and researching around and decided for myself that android is a better operating system for me. It helps also that most of the usable apps in android are free of charge too, even those that needs paying in the apple apps store (stark example: whatsapp $0.99 in apple store vs whatsapp FREE in android market). Nothing beats free right? The samsung phone is cheaper, faster, more spacious and has a bigger screen compared to iphone, but some people still wants an iphone, haha :)

Rule #2: The most popular choice might not be the best choice for you. If you want to follow others like lemmings down the cliff, go ahead.

The deal breaker for me is that I've earned enough money besides my normal income especially for the purpose of replacing my aging handphone. I was doing some trading on iphones earlier this year and earned around 1k for my effort. I've blogged about this in the past - if I want to buy an item for 1k, I'll earn extra 2k besides my usual income so as to 'grow' bigger than my problem and act as an incentive to save even more. It reinforces the 'growing bigger' and 'spending within your means by growing your means' concepts, which I think is another way to look at things for me.

Rule #3: Before you plonk down your cash to buy the latest gadgets for yourself, earn two dollars for every dollar that you're going to spend on that gadget. This will reinforce the concept that you have to grow bigger than your problem and also to live within your means, not by saving more, but by earning more.

I'll write some reviews for the apps that I've downloaded from the android apps store that works for me. Stay tuned for these apps review!