Monday, September 14, 2015

One in three

In life there's a big C that we're all afraid of. Reportedly, one in three will get this. The statistics are quite grim if you look at the person to the left of you and to the right of you. Out of the three of you, it's eeni meeni miini moh, so we'll see who gets the hot potato.

The hot potato happen to fall upon my mum's lap. It happened quickly and the whole family rallied behind her to quickly sort out the problem. Within 2 weeks, after countless blood test and consultation, she went through a small operation to ascertain the spread and another bigger operation to get her womb removed, so she should be on the road to full recovery. Thereafter, it's yearly checkup for 5 yrs to make sure that she is cleared.

It sounds like a bad thing, but really, it's one of the best thing that can happen to any person, should you survive that is. Why do I say that?

1. Immediately, there's a 180 degree change in attitude. My mum always complained to me about how she's always taken for granted. But this is nothing an extended hospital stay and a serious illness cannot resolve. People started realising that once the help is absent, the status quo is changed and they themselves will have to step up to shoulder the burden in order to bring the status back to normality. It's the fact that people had to do things themselves that they never had to do it in the past that makes them think about how hard and difficult my mum had been silently doing without complains in the past. I think this is certainly a 'life-changing' experience for her. Maybe it's only for the short term because she's ill? We don't know, but at least my mum can be grateful that people are appreciative of her efforts now.

2. Love need not be expressed out in three words. If you listen hard and intently, and recognise the language of love, it is there. Love is when you see someone constantly by your side before the operation, reassuring you that things will go well. Love is when you stay beside the bedside waiting for hours while the anaesthetic wears off. Love is when you gently brush the hair off the face and whisper softly to the ears while lying on the bed half awake. Love is when you're surrounded by your family and friends, all eager to see that you're eating properly and ready to support you come what may. That is the language of love; it can be silent and very expressive, if you listen hard and intently.

3. An unfortunate incident is an opportunity to bring out the best in people. If things are fine, everything just goes on with their routine life. We should be grateful when things don't go our way, because we have the opportunity to change ourselves and we can all come ahead better from all these. There's the usual disputes between family members in my family. I think a serious illness puts all these in the correct perspective. How many years do we have here? Out of that, how many years do you want to be unhappy and sulky and be angry with each other? If you see the little things in a broader view, I think you'll see that everything is just a blip in our life. Treasure the good and the bad things that happened, because it gives you experiences.

See? It's not really that bad isn't it? And what do I learn out of all these?

1. Get the best h&s plan that you can afford. When one is ill, recovery of health is more urgent and the last thing you want to think about is whether you have to wait a longer period. My mum met some patients who had been caught inside the bureaucratic web and had been bouncing around places to places until the cancer spreads more extensively than necessary. Some of them are surprised she went through countless body checks, MRI scans and 2 ops within 1 week (plus another week for recovery from ops) while they had been waiting for years. It's unfair and it's unfortunate but there's just more patients waiting for more subsidized wards than less subsidized ones.

2. Have a positive mindset. Life is a big ironic play, with actors like you and me. When one is unafraid of death, the likelihood of death falls. When one lives inside a cage of worry and anxiety, sometimes the fear and the negative emotions just suck you in and spiral you downwards. What you can do, you do your best. What outcomes you cannot control, you let go. Letting go is not giving up. The difference lies in who the master and the slave is - the situation or yourself.

3. Be vulnerable and let others take care of you once a while. First you can let them appreciate you more, and secondly, you allow them to grow and wean off you. If you don't let go, they can't build the muscles for their eventual flight. We all have to part someday.

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.