Friday, September 04, 2015

Reflection on my 50k savings journey

AK posted my old articles in his fb and reminded me that I need to keep stock of my 50k savings challenge. While I kept good records intra-year, I wasn’t really paying attention to how I did inter-years, so I thought this is a good time to check back on my savings record since I started 7 years ago.

It was way back in 2009 when I started my 50k savings challenge. If it’s not for AK who posted some of the old articles in his facebook, I wouldn’t have remembered that it was THAT long ago. I still remembered that it was on a dare that I started this. I was chatting with someone on my cbox and somehow it went on to challenging each other to save up 50k for the year 2009. This was the post that started it all.

Back then, I was trying very hard to save 150k within a 3 years period for a property, wedding and possibly a car. There is a motive and there is a desire to do it, and so I went on to do it. In the process of doing so, I had to rewire some of the limiting assumptions that I had lived with. I started working more on weekends and started working earlier and ending later. I started paying more attention to my cashflow and tracked every cent that came in and flowed out. Due to the re-wiring process, the first year in 2009 was the hardest for me. Subsequent years are easier than the first and it gets easier and easier as the process to saving and earn more began to take root in me. You can read about it here.

For the second year in 2010, I wasn’t complaining that much. Things are getting more and more familiar and I already had prior knowledge of how to do it. The third year of doing so in 2011 is the most relaxing of the three years. That was when I didn’t even have to consciously scrimp and save. So based on experience, it’ll take 24 hrs x 3 yrs x 365 days = 26,280 hours to master the habit of savings subconsciously. If we assume that we are using 1/3 of the time to consciously think about raising your savings, it’ll take 8,760 hours to do so, which is close enough to the cliché 10,000 hours of mastery by Gladwell’s book Outliers. If you’ve not spent 10,000 hours to think consciously and obsessively about savings, then you can’t complain that you tried hard enough.

In 2012 I didn’t hit the 50k target. If I recall correctly, I was having a ‘break’ and was kind of burnt out from working like a mad dog for the past 3 years. I think more importantly, my short term goal of saving 150k for my financial bombs had been fulfilled so I was taking it easy for the time. The feeling is like training hard for a marathon and you survived and finished the long arduous run. Then what happens? There’s a sudden emptiness in me and I was devoid of a reason to work as hard as before. I still managed to save 28k on paper for that year, though I probably spent a lot more as the financial bombs ‘exploded’. This is the purpose of saving up for the past 3 years, so it’s very well worth it.

The next two years are not very good though. On hindsight, 2012 and 2013 are the worst year in my tuition career. I was busy doing some business that subsequently folded (don’t ask). I don’t have a lot of students during that time, which is both a conscious decision and also I re-entered the tuition market at the wrong time and season. It was no surprise that I didn’t hit my target. I still saved 25k, but again, I probably spent more because of investment in the business, which I separated from my savings. Savings for me is strictly total income minus total expenses. Investment, either in business or stock market is not considered an expense. The students just didn’t stream in as much as I wanted to, so I had to rely on a lot of positivity to tide me through. I had great fun though because I kept myself busy with lots and lots of reading, and had a lot of time with my wife to be a local tourist visiting all the touristy places like Singapore Science centre, Botanic gardens, zoo etc. It was such a fantastic time and I felt totally, deeply and infinitely recharged and ready for my next career bull run which I will it to happen in the following year 2015. Ironically, 2012 and 2013 are the years where I felt the greatest conviction that I can survive in this career. If I can survive in the bear run in my career, which is the worst in nearly 10 years of my career, I can have the attitude and methods to survive any years. Financially these 2 years are disastrous, but spiritually and mentally, I think I’ve become a giant. Things picked up towards 2014, and I managed to pull off 50k savings.

2015 was exceptionally well. I think because of my long break in 2011 and 2012, I was still feeling that drive and motivation to push myself beyond my limiting beliefs. I had broken almost all the things that I thought I couldn’t – like having 12 hours lessons on weekends, with just 30 mins of meal time. And most importantly, I wasn’t as stressed as 2009 when I first started the savings challenge. I think this time round, I really want to do this. So far this year, it’s only around Sept and I had managed to accumulate 50k of savings. I still have around 2 months more to earn a decent income before I finish my peak season for the year and should be right on track to save 60k this year, again breaking my self-limiting beliefs. I don’t expect to repeat this feat in 2016, but hey, a year of savings earned is a year of savings earned. I’m not going to argue with that.

I think part of the reason why I am motivated again to start saving up is because I wanted to accumulate 240k to start several plans, which is listed down in detail here. Motivation is extremely important to understand why I defer enjoyment and defer spending. As I mature, I’m also very comfortable spending on what I need and want to spend on. Money is starting to become more a means rather than an end to itself. This is an extremely important breakthrough for me, because I think this is very sustainable in the long run. Again, on hindsight, I think the long break from 2012 to 2013 is extremely important for calibrating my internal drive and motivation. Everything happens for a reason, and it’s only in the future that we can decipher its intention and reason.

So, in summary:

2009 – 50k
2010 – 50k
2011 – 50k
2012 – 28k
2013 – 25k
2014 – 50k
2015 – aiming for 60k

Do take note that the above are just savings, which is strictly defined by my total expenses subtracted from my total income. Before you start jumping career, take note that I don’t have CPF so my savings are naturally higher than people who are employed since they have to contribute a part to their savings. These numbers are not as good as it appears.

When I started in 2009, I wasn't sure I can do this for 20 yrs. Now, I'm pretty sure I can do it. And not only will I hit it being single and living with my parents, I'm going to hit it, exceed it, and being married and living in my own flat, and with kids, with a lao pok car and with a healthy retirement fund and still find time to enjoy life with friends and family. I owe it to myself to fulfill my dreams and not just be contented to just build sandcastles in the air.


Createwealth8888 said...

For employees, many tend to overlook their CPF contributions (Er and Ee) as part of their saving when they are asked on their saving habits.

Over the years, due to high family expenses; most of my saving come from CPF contributions.

Anonymous said...


Great life story that all of us can learn from. Exceptional!

SS said...

Hello LP,

I applaud your grit and tenacity in hitting your savings target for the first three years. I am trying to save $50k every year too.

Expenses do pick up after you have a family with children. My major expenditures are my own insurance, my two children's insurance and my mortgage debt. Hope you are mentally prepared it.

All the best!

la papillion said...

Hi bro8888,

Agree. If employees count CPF contributions, which also include employer's contributions, my savings is not that great.

la papillion said...

Hi Frugal daddy,


la papillion said...

Hi SS,

Hope you succeed every year as well! I'm prepared mentally :) They say it'll be good if you allocate 1k per month. I think I can handle that amount as a household. Thanks for the advice!

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


I was reading in glee as I thought I have finally found the opening to kick sand in your face after so many years of waiting!

The smirk on my face turned into dismay once I reached your last paragraph...

Any fool can set goals and have a plan.

That's just a tool. A crutch, or training wheels for most.

Once an action has become a habit, part of our lifestyle, I won't be surprised one day you'll totally ditch this crutch.

Most people let their goal settings distract them from opportunities.

Glad you took the plunge during 2012/13 instead of blindly sticking to your goal of saving 50K per year ;)

Although it did not work out, we can also ask what if it had worked?

Well, now you know what to do and what not to do when the next opportunity appears!

And that's something those who bury their heads in their goals and plans may miss ;)

Unknown said...

"it’ll take 24 hrs x 3 yrs x 365 days = 26,280 hours to master the habit of savings subconsciously. If we assume that we are awake 1/3 of the time, it’ll take 8,760 hours to do so"

Wow, awake only 1/3 of the time? You must really love sleeping

la papillion said...


Haha, I'm a butterfly, if I don't do a metamorphsis every now and then, how can I fly from my caterpillar stage? LOL

But really, the failed business taught me a lot of things in teaching that I'm still using right now. It opened up a whole lot of emotional range that I can use to motivate/persuade/coax students, so while the outcome is not ideal, it's actually very educational for me.

And hor, why you always want to kick sand in my general direction? Haha!

la papillion said...

Hi Vikas,

Haha, my mistake! More like awake 2/3 of the time :) Thanks for spotting the mistake!

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


It's fine and dandy to be a paper general under blue sky conditions.

But to have conviction under fire, now we're talking!

It's Zen combat ;)

If I don't rub myself against a touchstone, how to know my gold content?

You think touchstones each to find?

B said...


You deserved this.

You worked as hard if not harder than the average employees out there, so I think whoever reading this hopefully does not feel like it's an easy feat to be in. You totally deserve this day because of effort and hard work. Everything else should and can wait.

la papillion said...


Haha, fire away then! Real steel is wrought from fire! LOL

la papillion said...

Hi B,

Wah, you flatter...I really hope nobody think it's easy and jump straight into my line of work. I think if you don't really like it, it'll be extremely painful. More good years and good health to come! :)

Rolf Suey said...

Hi LP,

It's great that u highlighted the fact that u r w/o cpf. Moreover if anyone has bonus, they will realize they have more Cpf on that month of bonus.

50k is a not an easy target for your profession, but this is discipline. To be able to do it for 5 yrs is sustainability!

Sometimes I will mention to my friends that ur salary if there r a sudden 30-40% jump do not be too happy yet. U need to sustain a regular yearly income of "that Amt" for 5 yrs at least then u r more or less there. Same for ur position or title in a company...

In other words, ur achievement is no longer randomness!

la papillion said...

Hi Rolf,

Thanks for your comment! But I'm not so assured as you are that my success is non-random. I experienced the feast/famine cycle every year and I know well enough that whatever income I had these last 2 bull runs are illusory, all ready to be taken away by the end of the year when my graduating student leaves. I can only stay competitive by doing my job better and also planning my students intake so that I have some cash flowing in during the drier months. There is nothing more humbling to start my income from scratch (ok lah, maybe 70% to 80% drop) every year and then having to work your way up before crumbling again towards the end of the year. The other thing that I'm doing is to generate another income stream from investments. I cannot be working at the pace I'm doing now forever even if I want to.

Your advice not to be happy until 5 yrs or more is good though :)

Ellaa William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellaa William said...

Hi LP,
Thanks for dropping by my blog and even shared with me that notification function on my blog doesn't work (I haven figured why yet haha).

But anyway, amazing job on your savings. And this is so belated but the first time I read about you was when I saw your comment in AK's blog about why he should buy into eldershield. I applaud your thinking on seeing it as helping those who have less.

More of you will make this society more inclusive. Keep it up!


la papillion said...

Hi Ellaa,

Thks for dropping by :)

Haha, that was so long ago :) I think AK need to be persuaded by things other than cost, since he is at a stage where most cost wouldn't matter. It helps that he is a good person - I'm glad he did the right thing :)

Anonymous said...

Still remember the days of your 50k challenge, but me thinks in 2015 it should be significantly higher... at minimum it should appreciate at the ideal inflation rate of 2% and that's assuming there are no "expectations inflation"!

Life sucks.