Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New clothes for BullyTheBear

It's time to change a new template for bullythebear.

It had been 5 years since I've last changed a new template, so I guess the time is ripe for another change. This change will make the 3rd major change since I started since blog. As always, it'll be dark themed. So if you're waiting for Bullythebear to have a white based theme, haha, wait longer! I think darker themes is easier on the eyes when reading, at least to me. Since the current template had been with us for 5 years, I guess that there'll be more resistance. But as always, trust that the change is good, if you can be patient and grow to like the new changes, as you've always had done so in the past :)

These days, more people are reading off hand phones and tablets, rather than desktop and laptop. The on-the-go kind of mobility means that the template got to have less loading time and also be able to fit aesthetically into the palm size screen of tablet and hand phones. For the current template, I always have to scroll horizontally, if not the fonts are too small to read comfortably on the handphone. I'm not sure if I'm the only one to have this problem, but no one had complained to me about it before. The usual complaints are that the screen/fonts contrast are too weak, so it makes reading the words hard. Well, I'll try my best to make the contrast a little better, but it'll never have that strong in-your-face contrast of white background against black fonts for white themed templates - something I really hate reading on.

The usual elements of bullythebear will be there, like the cbox, some nuffnang ad elements (lesser and hopefully less intrusive) and some ads that I designed. I'm not so hard up about ads anymore. Financial bloggers earn peanuts from ads anyway, so let's not kid ourselves. Obviously, I'll have to change the colour themes of the cbox to make it more suitable for the new template, but I think a lot of regulars will complain too, haha! 5 yrs is a long time to grow attach to something that I check everyday :)

For records sake, I'll be putting screenshots of the current template here. It's good to see how far we've come to by looking at previous post.

Huat well and prosper :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tightening my belt in December

As December approaches, I'll be careful to monitor my mental health for signs of depression. Why? I think I'm sort of a workaholic. Work fulfills me, not just in terms of the obvious financial gains that I will get, but also it's therapeutic to me. I cannot recall the countless times that doing my work (tutoring) makes me feel better. As year end approaches, I get 'retrenched'. Whatever amount of salary that I accumulated from the start of the year by getting more assignments gets blown away. I start off the new year with much reduced pay and I work my way upwards, before the dreaded winter months wipe it off again.

December is also a period of time where people get informed of their year end bonuses. Generally it's a festive month for them as the hard earned bonuses makes them spend a little on themselves and their families. For me? It's a month of tightening my belt. My income probably become less than 1k during the winter months - not even sufficient to offset my fixed expenses of 3.5k. Usually it's not a problem but this year is bad due to a variety of reasons that I don't wish to explain, hence there's little excess from the good months to tide over the winter months.

"It's time to tank behind a shield and wait for the harsh months to pass"
Pic by zgul-osr1113 from deviant art

As I've less work and more time at hand, I usually take the quieter period to think about whether this is the kind of life that I want to be in, or is it time to do something different. Always it's the same few thoughts:

1. Have faith - Think positively and fulfilling work will come your way. So much so that I will have to reject some of them because I don't have time to take them up.

2. Have a break - I've been working hard for the months leading up to my winter months, so relax and give myself a hiatus before cheonging again for the coming new year. I rest now so that I can walk further later.

3. Have a life - Work, though it seems like play to me, is fulfilling but there are other aspects to life as well that can be equally fulfilling. I take this opportunity to experience life, spend more time with loved ones, exercise hard, sleep late, devour tonnes of books and play games that I wouldn't have the time/energy to do in my peak months.

I guess ten years being a full time tutor already allowed me to understand what it is like to be in this business. I voluntarily choose to have no paid leave, no paternity leave (if I have a kid), no bonus, no CPF employers contribution, no medical benefits, no chance to travel overseas, no colleagues, no career track, no company functions, no fanciful resumes and no corporate titles. Instead, what I do have is a lot more free time, a meaningful work that doesn't even feel like work, and a goddamnit will to survive years of seasonal retrenchment and pick myself up again and again.

Time to sit tight in the winter months and wait for the robins to appear.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Desktop productivity tools

I'm always very interested in improving my workflow. I don't own a laptop and most of my work is done on a desktop pc. For me, a non-cluttered pc desktop, a non-cluttered physical desktop, a clean and aesthetic software and stationery that boosts my productivity are paramount before I start something heavy (and possibly dreary). Take it as a planned procrastination, but that's how I gear up my momentum before I dive into something big.

I'll list down some of the programs that I use very often to improve my productivity. In no order of importance, here's my best 5:

I've written extensively about this software that aids in managing and tracking my personal finance here. Having used for for 2 months now, I'm still very pleased with how it cut short so much of my time keying in my expenses. It comes with an android / iOS app that syncs with the desktop version. I foresee myself using this for a very long time.

This is those clean up program that everyone should have. It does a couple of functions like optimizing your memory usage, cleaning up temp files and clearing all those broken shortcuts and invalid registry - in other words, it boost your pc performance. You know, after a few years of using your laptop or pc, it starts to slow down as more junk are added. Without clearing them frequently, it slows down to a crawl and even opening a browser or a doc will take ages. This is what you need.

3. Fences

I started using this recently and shared it on my facebook too. This is a fantastic piece of software, especially for people who likes to save downloads onto their desktop (and who don't?). It helps to compartmentalize the shortcuts and saved files into neat little, well, fences, so that you can sort them out. I've a 'Follow up' fence and a 'To be sorted' fence that I dump my new downloads into, so that I can sort them out later when I've the time. It even have a function where you can create multiple 'home-screens', like in your handphone, so that you can scroll horizontal left and right. In this way, you'll end up with multiple desktop, so to speak. Most important find of the year for me.

4. Snagit

I've been using this software for years. It's a screen capture program that allows you to, well, capture screen shots. There are so many ways to capture screenshots, like capturing vertically scrollable web pages, windows, even video clips. After capturing, you be launched into their editor, where you can annotate and add in small pictures or highlights, changing the resolution etc. Lastly, you can also change the file type to be saved, like pdf, jpeg etc. Good for putting those stock charts and drawing trend lines.

Adobe reader is one of the worst pdf readers because it's so slow. After changing to this, pdf files open up so much faster. They also allow you to annotate and add comments (depends on the version), something that is not possible on the free version of adobe reader. To think that I've been stuck on adobe reader for so long! If you don't like this, there are other free and better software than adobe reader. Stop using that bloaty software for your own sake!

This is not an advertorial and I don't get paid for promoting these. These are some software that works for me, and by hopefully for you too. I hope you'll find some of these helpful. If you do, please let me know. Share some of your best productivity tools with me too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The relative size of your problems

"To be successful in life is to continuously be defeated by bigger and bigger things".

I was just showering when I suddenly remembered that phrase I've read it from somewhere. I tried googling it but couldn't find anything remotely close to it. Doesn't matter. I think this phrase ties in with two blog posts that I've written many years ago here and here, about growing bigger than your problems so that the problems that you had seems like flies buzzing around you instead of dragons - a mere annoyance rather than a fiery death-threatening problem.

In other words, the bigger your problem is and the smaller your annoyance, it means that you've grown bigger and correspondingly, your problem smaller. Congrats! Challenges that seem like mountains years ago are now dwarfed by your growing size. But there's a Chinese saying that goes like this: There's always a taller mountain. So to be successful, you have to grow bigger, again! That's why if we're continuously defeated by bigger and bigger things, it's a sure sign that we've outgrown ourselves. On the flip side, if you find that the problems that are causing you severe stress seems to be getting smaller in nature, I think you're getting smaller in size. That's the road to a lifetime of misery and depression.

So how do we grow bigger than our problems?

1. Always push your limits. If you don't test your limits, you can never push beyond your comfort zone. In investing, there's always Buffett fans saying that we should not invest beyond our circle of competence. But have you asked how you even get that circle of competence in the first place? You certainly don't get born with one.

2. Don't be afraid to try new experiences. Black swans work both ways. You want low probability events with huge consequences to act in your favour. The best way to do this is to expose yourself to things that you're too afraid to try.

3. Be comfortable with failure. If I'm an employer, I'll look for someone with track records of failing and picking himself up again. Then I'll know for sure that the person had gone through the trials of fire and survived. If you're looking for someone with the best track record, you never know if he can handle failure and how he'll respond to it. Better look for a proven survivor than a unproven one.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My plan for my wife when I pass away

While having lunch in a subway outlet, me and my wife started talking about something morbid. It's about our plans for each other when we pass away prematurely, like within the next few years. It wasn't a morbid topic for me though. I thought that we should talk about such issues so that we have a feel for each other's plan. In the eventuality that we pass away, we can do so in peace with the knowledge that the other party is well taken care off. That's the important part - to leave peacefully and to know that whoever we leave behind is well taken care off, at least financially.

When I pass away,

1. All the outstanding mortgage payments to HDB will be paid up for. That's like $450k we're talking about.

2. The death benefits from my insurance depends on how I pass away. If it's before 2023, it'll be $275k in total. If it's accidental death and I'm younger than 64 yrs old, it'll be $350k. If none of the above, it'll be $250k. Since we're talking about dying in the immediate future, let's just treat it as $275k.

I think my wife will have no problem taking care of the car loan which is about 10k. I haven't even included my bank accounts, stock portfolio and CPF money to the whole equation, but I'm pretty sure my parents and wife is well taken care financially. That's very good. But money isn't always the only problem that needs to be taken care of. Actually emotional and mental health is just as important.

With that in mind, I even thought out a plan for her:

1. With all the money left, she should just let it sit in the bank for a while and not touch it for at least 6 months to a year. This is the cooling off period to make sure that she don't use the money emotionally.

2. The 5 room HDB that we're currently staying is too big for her needs. She should not sell it but rent it out at maybe 2 to 3k if it's after 5 years of minimum occupation period. If it's before 5 years, ask her parents to stay over at my home and rent out her parent's home. This will free up cash to take care of her parents and also to generate positive cash flow for her own retirement.

3. Look for investment opportunities in the stock market or property investing. This will require the help and advice of my good bullythebear friends, whom she also keeps in constant contact. I'm sure she'll have the best advice from them. Get a small property if necessary, pay off enough as down payment to make sure that the rental from the HDB can cover a big percentage of the mortgage of the new property. This will ensure that in the event that the property market is not good after the purchase, she'll have enough to pay off the mortgage monthly without breaking a sweat.

4. Ask her immediate supervisor for a pay raise. If they refuse, just leave them and concentrate on those work that is satisfying for her. She probably don't have to work so hard for money anymore, so she should find something she likes to do to earn some income. Maybe like just work for 2 or 3 days in a week. No stress.

5. Use the time freed up to take care of her health by going to exercise more often, eat more healthily and bring herself and her parents/my parents overseas to enjoy life.

6. Find herself a good husband if she can, to take care of her.

Good plan? With all these 'morbid' thoughts in mind, I think I'll treasure my time here with her more.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The advice from an economist lecturer

This is an interesting story that I heard, the source of which I will not mention to protect the people involved.

There is an economics lecturer in a university, and we shall call him John. He is middle age, with adult kids. The kids had migrated over to Australia for reasons unknown to me, but he's still staying here in Singapore, earning a more than decent living working part time as a lecturer. The other part time work that he's doing is that of a land lord. He didn't say much, but it's reasonable to deduce that he is semi retired and had reached a certain degree of financial freedom so that he can quit his job and still maintain the same standard of living as before.

I'm not sure how many properties he had, but it should be more than 1 and that excludes the residential property that he's living in now. He had many advice for the young people he taught and some of the financial advice he mention are listed below:

1. You should buy a private property as soon as you can. Suppose an affordable property cost $1 million and you need a down payment of 20%, that is easily 200 k.

2. You should study lesser and go out to work early so that you can earn the first drop of capital to start investing. Investing, together with hard savings, will make it possible to get that down payment of 200k to begin your financial freedom journey.

Okay. Decent advice to young people (in fact, to all people) trying to make a decent living here in Singapore. But when asked whether the opportunities that enabled him to buy several properties, and reach financial independence way before the standard retirement age of 65, are still available to young people these days, not withstanding all the property cooling measures and the very recent measures by the G to clam down on the high household debts, he said a thoughtful no.

On the first point, 200k is quite impossible for a young person to amass in a short time at all. Say, that a person can save 25k a year, or slightly more than 2k a month, that would be possible after 8 yrs. But 2k a month savings on a salary of what - 3 to 3.5k? It's going to be a tough 8 years. Make it very lean and very tough 8 years. If you're a non-graduate, it's going to be like running in the Gobi desert for 8 years. Barefooted.

Oh yeah. Just like that. Running barefooted in the desert.

On the sheer difficulty of young people even getting that first bucket of money, John proposed that getting married is the key to young couples amassing enough capital to make the first down payment. 200k is difficult for 1 person? Maybe 100k is much more manageable for each unit of a couple. To save 100k, that's about saving 12k a year or 1k a month for about 8.5 years.

That's pure savings, with zero elements in investing. John mentioned that the money saved should be invested in safe, recession proof stocks (he mentioned a supermarket chain). Hmm, I would think STI might prove to be a better bet if you want to be invested in something robust. I worked it out a spreadsheet, injecting capital of 12k per year and investing all in a suitable STI fund that gives a returns of 3%. In about 8 years, you'll get your 100k. But of course there's a risk that you might end up with something lower than 100k because you have to sell it when it's not doing so well at the end of 8 years.

In other words, investing in the stock market when you need a property in 8 years might not be such a guaranteed thing that John mentioned. By investing in the stock market, based on my spreadsheet, 96k of the 100k is through pure savings (12k per year over 8 yrs = 96k), while the remaining 4k is your returns from investing. 4k! I might as well save 1k per month over 4 months - it's much more guaranteed and certainly less stressful!

In other words, it's not easy.

An interesting wrap up to this is that John regrets that his parents had sent him to school overseas. They might had better investment returns if they had used that tuition fees to buy a property. Again, totally agreed, but isn't that looking back on the rose tinted, fantasy laced view from the rear mirror? He even suggested that young people should study less and go to the workforce earlier so that they can amass that all important first bucket of gold.

Alas, things are not so simple. If you're not decently educated, chances are you'll not have a decent pay, which makes everything downstream much harder. To tell the next generation to follow the recipe of your success that happened in the past is too much of a prediction for me. In my parent's time, they see the highly educated doing office work and getting very good pay, so they advised us to study hard and get a good job in the future. A future that (most likely) our parent's generation do not possess because they are not highly educated. When it comes down to our generation, we teach our children not to study so hard because the rich are those towkays who are not highly educated but they have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We tell them it's okay not to be good in studies and should go start a business if and when they can in order to secure a good future. A future that (most likely) we do not possess because we are too highly educated and had too much to lose if we start a business.

What's the next generation going to advice the future generations?

Date: 12-Nov-2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Paying down your debts or invest the cash?

If you have spare cash, would you dump it to make a partial payment of your mortgage loans or would you invest it so that you can generate more returns? Sooner or later, I think that's the question that you will have to face in your life. The philosophy and the baggage that you carry with you will determine which decision you'll make.

Let's put in the context. I used HDB's loans with interest of 2.6% pa, spanning over 30 yrs. My monthly mortgage, all paid in cash since I have no or little CPF, is about 2k. Each year, based on the monthly mortgage payment of 2k, I would have paid a sum of $24k (2k per month x 12 months). Me and my wife had saved up $24k and I was wondering if it's good to make a partial repayment of our loans. Since the loan is by HDB, there isn't any penalty for early repayments for loans, so this is quite unlike most private bank loans. I guess even bank loans have their own terms and conditions, so penalty for early repayment is not a given; it depends on the contract you've signed on.

Pay down your debts or invest it?

Effectively, if I were to make a partial repayment, that means I'm paying a total of $48k this year - twice as much as I'm obligated to. What's good and bad about this? The good thing is that if I maintain this yearly, I can shorten my remaining 27.5 yrs loan to just 11 yrs. There is going to be huge interest savings in this. The bad thing is that I'll have less cash available for investments. This is especially true for me because I pay off in cash, not using CPF. In other words, I have a higher opportunity cost than if someone pays off in CPF (yes, I know CPF earns 2.5% interest pa and cash inherently has near 0%). What kinds of investments are we talking about? Not just restricted to stocks, but also property.

I've blogged before that I would take the middle path. I would pay off a big portion in the form of partial repayment in my early years of the loan period, until the monthly mortgage becomes 'manageable', before conserving the cash and reserve it for investments/property etc. I've changed the plan a little though. Initially I wanted to make partial repayments and choose the option that allows me to reduce the monthly mortgage instead of the option that reduces the mortgage loan duration. I didn't take into account the fact that the paper work involved for both of them differ. There's a whole lot of paper work that needs to be done to reduce the monthly payment, like changing the GIRO amount, writing in to HDB etc etc. Nah, too much trouble. I'll just tweak my plan to reduce the loan duration initially. When it makes a substantial difference then I'll switch to reducing my monthly mortgage amount.

Anyway, it's not as if all these is going to end in 2-3 yrs. It's more likely going to be an arduous 10 to 15 yrs. Long journey to go, so no point being caught up in paper work every year. Maybe after the 5th year of such repayments, I'll review and see if it makes sense to reduce the monthly amount.

Interest that you owe to others is guaranteed. Investment returns are not. I guess we have to make a compromise between these two.

* After putting in the extra cash of 24k, I noted that I've shaved off 2.5 years off my 30 yrs loan period. A future payment of 1 yr equates to 2.5 yrs of savings from future payments. Hmm, depending on inflation, it might or might not be worth it.

Date: 7-Nov-2013