Thursday, April 26, 2018

11 questions from Tribe of mentors

I'm about to start reading on Tim Ferriss's Tribe of Mentors. If Tools of titans is a great encyclopedia of self help knowledge, I think tribe of mentors wouldn't do much worse. Tim went ahead to ask several people the same 11 questions, which are listed down below. Since I haven't start reading, I thought I will try to answer them first so that I get more out of reading what others have to say. So, here's my answers to the 11 questions:

1, What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Without any doubt, the most given book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It's a children's book, and I love it because it has deep meaning for an adult to take home and reflect too. I've given it (together with my wife) to at least 3 different people. It just takes 5 mins to finish reading from cover to cover, but the lessons stay.

Which 3 books greatly influenced my life? This is a hard one for me, because I read so much. To just pick 3 is going to be really difficult, so I'll just pick the first 3 books that comes to mind. They are:

a. Trading for a living - Alexander Elder

It changes the way I look at charts. I'm still using the techniques first espoused in the book. I read this every now and then to refresh the knowledge.

b. E-squared - Pam Grout

Wow...this book changes the way I think about reality. How to convert thoughts to reality is what this book is about. It seems like pseudo science and magical mumbo jumbo, but I don't care. If it works for me, it's good enough for me.

c. The miracle of mindfulness - Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the first book that I've read about meditation and mindfulness. Greatly changes the way I handle my emotions and it profound effects on me. Even started a 30 days mediation practice that still affects me till now.

2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

The one thing that comes to mind is the Oral-B genius 8000 electric toothbrush I bought from Amazon during a discount. After shipping, it works out to be about $140, which I shared with my wife. It started as an experiment to see what is the fuss about electric toothbrush. I was against it in the past, because I thought it was such a waste of money. What can an electric toothbrush do that a normal sub $10 can't do? After using, I though it was the best thing I ever upgraded in my life. You don't spend $140 on an electric toothbrush, you spend $140 to have the feeling of having visited a dentist to wash your teeth every night.

3. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

A hard question for me. I was racking my brains to think of a major failure...then I thought of my stock investment 'failure'. I had my stint of value investing, went deep into longcheer thinking that it's a value buy, averaging all the way down until I capitalised and cut loss. What a loss it is. Looking back, it's just 20 to 25k max, but it was a lot of money to me back then and it's a big part of my networth. I went into depression, at a point even having weird thoughts about jumping off. It's that bad.

I self healed after a month or so of hating everything, especially myself. Work brought me out of the misery. No matter how angry and frustrated I was, I'm never angry with my students. They are innocent. So after every lessons, I felt a little better. It was then that I discovered work is more than about making money to me. As much as I am making a difference to my student's grades, they are also making a difference to me. It's an epiphany.

After that bout of depression, I grew much stronger mentally. I grew a lot more chillax about life and money especially.

4. If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it—metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions—what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

This is on my whatsapp profile for a while already:

"You may shoot me with your words,  You may cut me with your eyes,  You may kill me with your hatefulness,  But still, like air, I’ll rise."- Maya Angelou

It's a sort of resilient guai-lan-ness that I like. I strive on your negativity and your discouragement. There is a very strong motivation to prove naysayers wrong. But these days I'm not so angsty anymore haha

5. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

It has to be my blog called Bullythebear. From it, I derived so much things out of it that it's just ridiculous. Here's a list of what the site did for me:

a. Met a group of close like minded friends. Some of them I knew for over a decade already!
b. A place to crystallise my thoughts. I don't know what I know until I type it out and see for myself
c. Some cheap thrills like ad money that I collected over the years. Not a lot but still thankful
d. Opportunities opened up for me, like a few business ideas, recommendations for tutors etc
e. Tremendous improvement in writing skills and editing
f. Leads me to learn blog related things like digital art, image edition etc

I've been writing on this blog since 2006, so it's nearly 12 years of writing and finding my writing voice. Hands down one of the best thing I've done for myself.

6. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I have a little bolster that I've been using since I was a kid. It's still with me, and I still hug it to bed every night. I call it some name that I'm too embarrassed to say, so don't ask me. I love it because it's an 'old thing', and it reminds me of a lot of things. It's sort of like a memory time capsule, except it's soft and hug-able. And I've threatened a few people who wanted to throw it away.

7. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

I've a few systems that I've set up that greatly improves my workflow:

a. I'm a tutor. After each lesson, I will write what transpired during the lesson and the reflection, and putting it up on evernote. I used to do this by memory, only writing it fairly recently on my notebook and even more recently, 'upgraded' to put it on cloud via evernote. This way I can take it everywhere I go.

b. Started doing homework on charts using investingnote. I used to do it on an infrequent basis, but I ended up missing some of the things that fit my system. These days, I spend like 10 mins or less running through the whole watchlist, and put those under close watch for needed actions within a week. This means that during a week, I will just focus on those under close watch. It improves my workflow and lets me know what to do if it happens.

c. Writing a diary. I started this habit last April and had been jotting down my daily affairs almost every day since. I use an app on my handphone and I will take a few minutes just before I sleep to 'close off' for the day. Not sure what benefits it brings to me yet, but when I do, I'll let you know through an article. This is still an experimental habit to see if there's improvement in my life. Still work in progress.

8. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Advice: Unlearn everything you learn in school. Don't think that having theoretical knowledge beats practical skills. It doesn't. Be humble, be curious and learn how to take shit. Say yes to everything because you're not ready to know what's not a 'no' for you yet.

Advice to ignore: Go for passion over money. You need both, probably more of the latter than the former.

9. What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I'm a tutor. I've heard many people saying rote learning is bad. They should learn smart. It's bad recommendation because while we have all the information we want at our fingertips, if you don't memorise certain things, you won't be able to use them. I've students who don't want to memorise formulas, saying that there is a formula sheet given during exams. But if it's not in your mind, it's not going to get used, that's what I always tell them.

10. In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I've becoming better at saying no to projects that doesn't excite me and doesn't make me want to wake up in the middle of the night to think about it. If it's not hell yes, then it's a no. I get better at saying no because I realised that I'm at this age where I don't have to live other people's dreams and aspirations. It's time to live for myself. It might be a little selfish, but not now then when. There's also much more clarity in knowing what you want to do in your life.

11. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I think the first thing is to be aware that I'm actually losing focus. It's not always apparent. Once I know it, then it's much easier. I can either tell myself I will do it anyway because of constraints, or say that I will come back to it when I have more will power and energy. A lot of time and energy is wasted when I wasn't even aware that I'm not sort of just drifts along without that realization.

I don't ask questions to myself. Usually I'll just tell myself mentally, or voice it off silently, "Okay, I can do this, I can do this".

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Did you give away your equity freely?

I wanted to share this idea regarding child caring. The default way these days is for both parents to work while hiring a foreign domestic worker (or two) to take care of the kids. That is the most economic and financially savvy way. Hiring a domestic worker is much cheaper than going to infant care or child care, and have more utility. That is also the reason (I suspect) why my mum-in-law insists on wanting us to hire one. I vehemently refuse.

I seek to explain why here. But let us go to a separate domain of raising capital for companies first. I'll show you why knowing that stray bit of information is important in understanding my decision in not hiring a domestic helper.


There are two ways in which a company can raise capital. Either give up some ownership by selling equities or retain ownership by borrowing money using debt. Most companies do a mix between these two extremes because there are some advantages and disadvantages for doing so.

If a company raises capital by selling equities, they lose ownership in the process. Future profits might be more but the original owners will get a lesser cut out of it. On the other hand, they don't have to pay anything now (let's exclude the fees to raise the equities now to simplify matters). The 'payment' is taken from the potential future profits of the company, which may or may not materialise. The company essentially raises cash in the present by paying from their future. Examples of raising capital by issuing equities are issuing new shares, rights and ipo.

If a company raises capital by borrowing money, they lose money right now in the form of interest paid on the borrowed sum. On the other hand, they retain full ownership and they don't have to pay any potential future profits to their debtors as the interest is fixed at the time of borrowing. The company is essentially raising cash in the present by paying right now. Examples of raising capital by issuing debts are loans from banks and bonds.

I want to highlight that neither methods are superior in itself. It's all based on circumstances. However, there seems to be a bias against borrowing money. Well, don't be. Borrowing money is perfectly fine, especially if you didn't over leverage and have the means to pay off. Businesses borrowing money to earn a greater profit by taking on projects that they can't otherwise undertake, is perfectly normal.


There are two ways to do this. You can ask someone to do it or you can do it yourself. When I mean someone, I mean anyone other than the parents. It can be a foreign domestic helper, a nanny, your mum in law or any of those commercial child care services.

If you raise help by asking someone else, you are like a company issuing equity. You are giving up ownership of your child to them. That someone else have a claim on the future relational profits that came from taking care of your child. Some parents are afraid that their hired helper (or mum in law) is getting too close to their child, to the extent that they prefer to be with the helper rather than the parents. This is a good example of a future claim on relational profits. The disadvantage is that you can't control formation of habits and values because transmission of such things are formed through daily contact, and you had already given up ownership on this.

If you raise help by doing it yourself, you are like the company borrowing money by issuing debts. You have full ownership of your child, and what values and habits you want to inculcate. Any future relational profits will be yours to gain. The drawback is the time spent and the potential income lost from doing it yourself. That is the interest you have to pay for 'borrowing', but you retain full ownership of any relational profits (or losses) yourself.

Most parents do a mix between these two extremes. Some activities they choose to do it themselves, while others they choose to seek help. The actual percentage varies according to circumstances, just like how the companies will choose their own debt/equity ratio. I've seen extreme cases too, where a household hires a foreign domestic helper while both parent works. Maybe a grandma stays in to watch over things. This is nearly 100% equities already. Another extreme case is where father works, mum quits her job to be full time housewife. She takes care of home matters all by herself. That's like a 100% debts scenario, based on my definition.


This way of looking at child caring in household leads to interesting situations if we take the model of raising capital by companies to the extreme. Let's take a look at just one funny case.

Companies sometimes issue convertible bonds, so it's a mix between debt and equity. It's initially a bond paying fixed interest until a certain call date where the holders of the debt can convert it to equities, thus having a partial ownership of the company's future profit. If we extend the concept of convertible bonds to raising help in child care, then it's like a household hires a nanny to take care of the child, then after a period of time, marries the nanny into the family and thus the bond becomes an equity! Sacrilegious!

I'm sure readers can think of even more ridiculous application, so do share at the comments below.

I've seen a family with a household of 3 maids. One to cook, two to take care of household chores because the home is damn damn big. He is one of the bigshots of a media company living in the heart of Orchard road. Of course, this suaku Singaporean that is me is stunned like vegetable. Still yet to see a house filled with a harem of manga inspired 'maids'. That will be a sight to remember, haha


I work at home, so do my wife. Sometimes we have to go out for work, but that's just a few hours. My mum comes over to help out during the day, but leaves at night, so we take over the night duty. It's my wife who mainly handles the night part while I'm the backup because I have more work than her so I can't rest during the day time while she can (when my mum takes over). Selected activities are done by my mum while the rest are taken up by both of us. So, I'll say for my household, we're like 40% equities, 60% debts. Remember? Equities mean giving up ownership by asking for help, while debts mean retaining ownership by doing it yourself. So, I'm about 60% hands on and 40% outsourced.

My brother does quite the opposite from me. He hires help and outsourced the work to my mum who stays for about 6 years at his place. Both wife and himself are working full time, so it's a 100% equities for his household. I can see that the child is more attached to the helper and my mum, and there are periods of tension between my brother's wife and my mum because of this relational profits issue. They should have known better I suppose, because by issuing equities, they are giving away future relational profits to the very people who took care of the child. It's unavoidable - we like people more if they spend time more with us. Being a parent is not a right, it's something you have to spend time to grow into. Learning from this experience is also why I am a bit more cautious in giving away equity so freely.

Not wanting to hire help is a personal choice and personal preference. To be honest, I've seen families work well too with both parents working and the kids are taken care of by foreign domestic workers. But take note, usually the success cases I've seen are where the helpers are staying with the family for prolonged periods of time. 5 to 10 yrs? The helpers are not the come and go type. And there must be a family member at home together with the helper, so it's usually the grandma from either side of the parents. There is also a critical period too, usually before the kid enter primary school. Hence the first 6 years is the most important part of the kid where a lot of things are set right or failing which, it'll be hard to reverse.

Dad working + mum working + helper - family member at home = High chances of failure. Not going to take the chances after seeing what I see.


You are losing common sense if everything fulfills financial sense. These days, everything seems to be poisoned by financials. If it doesn't make sense economically, it's a bad decision. You weigh the decision of whether to have a child by looking at money. You weight the decision of buying a car by looking at money. You weigh the value of a university degree by looking at money. It's not wrong to make a decision by analyzing it financially; it's wrong if you make a decision only by analyzing it financially.

Look at a typical school based question. Container A has 10 kg of say milo powder selling at $4.50 each. Container B has 15 kg of the same milo powder selling at $7.50 each. The typical question is, which of the two containers should a fictitious person, say Mary, buy?

The unit price for container A is $0.45/kg, and that for container B is $0.50/kg. If you did not choose container A because it is cheaper per kg basis, I'm quite sure you'll be marked wrong. A more clever question is this: given that container A has a lower unit price, why should Mary buy container B instead?

a) Mary needed between 10 to 15 kg but not more than 18 kg, so 2 containers of A will be too much but one container of B is just enough

b) Mary needed the size of container B to store things

c) Container A has an expiry date that is nearer than container B

d) Mary likes the green colour of container B. She hates blue.

Must everything be in dollars and cents? That's just one perspective, isn't it?

Financially, it's better for both parents to work to earn the income, hire a foreign domestic helper with the earned income, take care of the kids and settle everything. In reality, it doesn't work as nicely as it should be. I've seen a lot of cases where the parents did not build a strong foundation with the kid, and when the kid starts to have behavioral issues (especially when they started school and mix around with others) and the parents start realising something is wrong. One of them, usually the mum, quits her job to oversee things, but it might be too late. If the parent did not reach a certain level of trust in the relationship, he or she can't start issuing advice. The kid just won't be able to accept. This is especially so for boys, because I think they are genetically programmed to rebel against his parents in order to forge his own sense of identity.

Parents, don't just be an ATM to your kid, please.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Wanted to share my thoughts on what is meant by FIRE. I've a disclaimer here - I've not read a single piece of literature on this subject matter and I'm simply deconstructing the word based on what I've read about the components and piecing it up together. So, if I'm wrong, don't get so hot and start flaming me and set me on fire for anyhow firing an article on fire.

FIRE does not mean financially indebted, retired early. It stands for financially independent, retire early. Let's break up into the two parts : financially independent and retire early.


Financially independent really just mean that you have an option not to work for money ever again. To be financially independent, we can go through 2 extreme models. Usually people take a path somewhere in between these 2 extremes. The 2 extremes are the networth method and the cash flow method.

The networth method is to have enough liquid assets after accounting for all debts, such that it can last you until you leave this place permanently. Let's say you know your annual expenses  and you project that you have 40 years from now till you expire. After taking into account inflation and money to pay off all your debts, you saved up 50 times your annual expenses. I think you are financially independent already. Most people can't do it this way, because the mathematics is just brutal. To pass the criteria, you either have to be an extremely high saver, be extremely low maintenance, have an extremely reduced life expiration date after retirement (either by delaying retirement age or die early), or all of the above.

It's not easy to do, but it's the most Conservative way because there's no reliance on any investment returns. Just hope that there won't be hyper inflation for extended periods of time and that the currency you saved in is still legal tender. But those are risk everyone will have to par take, not just you.

The other method to be financially independent is to go through the cash flow method. This means that whenever the income you generated passively, equals or exceeds your expenses, you are financially independent. There's a lot of negative connotation to the word 'passive', so let's elaborate on that. Passive does not mean lying on the beach, drinking cocktails while waiting for bags of money to drop at your lap. Passive means that you don't have to be actively present at the source where your money is made. Passive does not mean that there is no active involvement in the generation of income. It just means that you don't have to be there in order for the money to be made. With that out of the way, will the cashflow method be easier to achieve?

I think definitely much easier than the networth method. If I spend 3k a month, or 36k annually, and assuming I've a constant investment returns of 5% pa, I will just need 720k to fulfill the definition of being financially free, cashflow wise. On the other hand, if I'm doing the networth way, assuming I retire at age 60 and expire at age 90 (a good 30 yrs of life), I will need a comparatively larger amount of 1.08 million. And I haven't even included inflation.

But the relatively simpler status of being financially independent by the cash flow method has a drawback. It is very dependent on external  market factors, like the returns of your investments for example. I suspect people might hop between being financially independent and not financially independent in stretches of say 5 to 10 years. This method is obviously less conservative, unless u choose a very low investment returns, maybe to the tune of 2 to 3% pa, but correspondingly, the amount to cross the hurdle becomes larger. Interestingly, if you choose an increasingly lower investment returns, the cashflow method approaches the networth method. An investment return of 0% pa means that your passive income generated is simply the money you hide under the bed that u are withdrawing every month for your expenses. Not any different from the networth method.


To retire early, we must first know what is meant by early. Earlier than what? I think it's compared to the retirement age. Locally, that's like 65 years (maybe that is slowly being pushed later to 67 now, if it had not been done already). This means that as long as you are retired before age 65, you are considered early compared to others.

But is retire early the same as retired early? 'Retired' suggest the status is being forced onto you, while 'retire' suggest you actually force it on others. If you retire early, you force your boss to look for another replacement. If you are retired early, your boss forces you to look for another job. Crudely put, it's a matter of whether you got fucked or you fuck someone. Seldom do we see a situation where both the boss and the employee are on the same wavelength at the same time, with regards to the topic of early retirement

What are we retiring from? Not from life, hopefully, though it could be another morbid interpretation. Retire early from work most likely. Why retire early from work? Many reasons, and I list some below, non-exhaustively :

1) poor health, either personal or of closed ones
2) freedom to pursue other life goals
3) sucky work environment
4) for family

Because modern work entails being stuck in a work environment for maybe 70 to 80% of your waking hours, retirement from work means a lot of time is liberated to do other hopefully more interesting and worthy things. Unless, your work is interesting and worthy and pays reasonably well, so you don't mind spending close to 80% of your waking hours being stuck in a work environment. In fact, you might not even notice your environment, or the time spent, because you are constantly in a state of flow - that nice spot where challenge, skill and creativity all come together in a mass orgy that you can't help but stare continuously, oblivious to anything else.


To reach FIRE is quite different from just FI. It's like you have 250 for your PSLE and feeling quite good about yourself, until you realised that everyone gets around 265. To retire early and also to be financially independent is like the top of the food chain, the king predator. You have to be so good at personal finances, managing your investment returns and also likely having a good career paying top dollar while living like Diogenes. Simply put, it's not for everyone, and you don't have to jump on this bandwagon because everyone else wanted to do it.

To see how hard it is to achieve this, let's just use a simple example. Say u stop school at age 25, and wanted to retire early and be financially free at age 40. I'm a soothsayer so I know you will expire at age 85, so that's a good 45 years of life after retirement that had to be funded by 15 yrs of work life. You also have to feed yourself during the 15 yrs of working life, so during that precious 15 yrs of income generating period, you have to earn enough to feed yourself for 60 years. In other words, every 1 yr of work you'll have to save for 4 yrs of non-work. That's a 80% saving rate for the 15 yrs of work that you do. How many can save at 80% rate for 15 years?

I can, if I'm single, lives with my family, eat simply, and life simply. Harder to do with a family, esp in Singapore. Not impossible, just very hard to do. That's why I say it's the elite of elites that can truly reach FIRE.

Even though FIRE might be hard to achieve, but we can always strive to reach FI. Interestingly, in the past when FIRE is not known yet, it's just FF (financial freedom) or FI (financial independence) here and there. So I must conclude that the retire early part is a pretty new addition to the personal finance jargon. Who knows maybe in another 5 or 10 yrs, we will be seeing people wanting to get FIRED. What's FIRED? Financially Independent Retire Early Debtfree.

But wait...isn't the purpose of being financially independent to actually pursue what you want to do? And what happened to the independence part? How come after achieving FI or FIRE or FIRED, we are still following the conventions set up others? Isn't it jumping from one corporate rat race to another financially free rat race? I admit these are different races altogether but you are still a rat if you're racing with each other to an arbitrary end game, not set by yourself. When your choices and happiness are dictated by others, you are not free at all. At best, you are less chained but still chained nevertheless.


You'll notice that I never said I wanted to retire early, so that's never a goal of mine. I'm happily and purposefully driven in my job and will be happy to continue working as long as others would have me. But I do intend to reach financial independence years down the road. Maybe when I'm 55? It's also never a hard target, more like a personal milestone or achievement if I can do it. If I can't do it, so be it.

That's why I hate it when people start to do competitive financial goals. Oh, I saved 100k when I'm 25. Nah, that's nothing, I saved 200k when I'm 20. I'm better, I saved 300k when I'm just 5. If you find yourself doing that, you have to reflect whether this is what you want. Is it any different from running the corporate rat race that you're so dying to escape from? I realised I'm part of this game somehow, so I stopped putting up a single post on my savings every year. If I ever do, it's more for my personal accounting (so that I know how much I accumulated each other). We save what we can, so you don't have to know what's mine. If I cause you to feel red or green, please accept my sincere apologies. I was young and insensitive, and I do not know the repercussions of my actions.

I know I have good financial habits. I save every month and I don't have devastating bad financial habits. I spend my money purposefully most of the time and I don't deprive myself from getting the quality of life that I want throughout this journey.

If I can live life without worrying much about money because I am secure and knowledgeable about it, I think I have already achieved what I set out to do - financial freedom.