Monthly Archives: March 2013

6 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before You Plan For Your Early Retirement

The idea of early retirement seems foreign to lot of people around me. They either never heard of it before or don’t believe it can be done. Not surprisingly, most of my young friend never heard of that idea, and most of my mature friends do not believe it can be done.

Flipping through my life so far, I saw a clear pattern how the “system” want us to live our life, I concludes them into the 9 items as below:

1. Get a student loan
2. Get a degree
3. Get a job
4. Get a house (it is really a mortgage)
5. Get a /some credit cards
6. (Maybe) get a partner
7. (Maybe) raise a kid
8. Get a lot of stuff
9. Get frustrated with life

Most of us have our own share from the list above. Some of us might have the opportunity to obtain a degree, so they avoided item 1 and 2. Some of us might choose to be single and skip item 6 and 7. But I think most of us still take up item 3, 4 and 8, and hopefully not 9.

So, what should we do? Do you want to follow the trend and receive item 9 as your final gift at the end of your career life or you willing to make some changes now to avoid that?

Before the change, there are some questions I took out from the book “ Early Retirement Extreme” which I think we need to ponder them ourselves.

1. Are you completely happy with your life?

Are you completely happy with your life? Person who has a perfect life style rarely embraces the idea of change (I also don’t see why will they do so). But, how about you? Any part of your life you are not happy with? A boring job that doesn’t give you the sense of fulfillment? Lack of time to spend with your partner or your children? Give it some thought.

2. Do you want to live on a solid foundation?

Are you making your end meet every month? Struggles though your bill at the end of every month? Are you worried about your future? If you want to live on a solid foundation, you will have to build it yourself (or with your partner). Many people started their career life not on a solid foundation; it usually started with a student loan and as the time go by, more and more debt commitment (a new car every few years, or a expensive designer bag every quarter) stack up on their back, and these are the same people that complain they can never retire. But this is not you; you will take up responsibility of your financial future by tracks expense, clear your debt, and make investment.

3. Do you want to start a business?

What is your passion? Do you have some interest that you have no time to pursue? Are you care about certain group of people in the society and you like to do more for them? Do you have a business idea that you think it will benefit many people?

With a solid financial foundation, you can focus on building your business without worry about the day-to-day expense is piling up. If you business manage to take off, it is even better. You benefit more people by bringing a beneficial product to the market, strengthen your own financial tower and give others an opportunity to build theirs.

4. Do you dream of doing instead having things?

Do you own a lot of stuff right now? Do you still feel the excitement when you made that purchase now? How long does that excitement lasts? Do you want to spend your life paying off that 30 years mortgage and leave nothing behind after your finite time in this world?

Does your job help you on your inspiration to do something or build something for the world? Will it help if you can have more time to do the thing you want, whatever it is?

5. Do you believe life is an adventure?

I will say most of us lead quite a predictable or boring lifestyle. 5 days a week, we wake up in the morning, rush through the peak hour traffic, finish up as much work as we can at office, totally out of energy by the end of the day.

Do you think life is an adventure? Do you want to build something based on your creativity? Young people nowadays are getting creative in designing their life; they don’t opt in to the traditional retirement planning anymore. They started a creative business; build up online income stream to support themselves rather than working for decades.

6. Do you want to make a difference?

There are a lot of problem in out society right now. Whatever haven been discovered so far is just a tip of the iceberg. Society needs more people to take part in caring for our disadvantaged group, reduce wastage of food and lower down the level of pollution.

Do you have issue that you care about but unable to contribute more because you were drag down by your financial commitment or your spending habit?
Conclusion:

So, what do your think? Do you think you want to start planning for your own early retirement now? I hope I have given you enough belief in the idea of early retirement in this post and enough courage to take this path of less traveled.

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The Only Number You Need To Pay Attention To If You Want To Retire Early

So, during my journey to early retirement, we talked about tracking spending, earning extra income, reduce your spending and calculate how much does your life worth. But amazingly, there is only one number that you need to pay attention to if you want to retire early (as soon as immediately!!!).

What is the magical number am I talking about here? That is your saving rate, which means the percentage of your income you are saving up. Before we talk about how many percent you should be saving, let start with some basic first.

Simple Math of Emergency Fund

If you are saving 10% of your income (no many people saving this much), you will need to work 9 years before you can take one year off (either voluntarily or not). If you raise your saving rate to 20%, you only need 4 years of work to take one year off. If you are really frugal and save 75% of your salary, one year of work will give you 3 years of off time.

By now, you might be thinking “chey! Another nagging blog post asking me to save as much as I can to enjoy delayed gratification later, I also knew that!” Interestingly no, that is not my suggestion here. Retirement planning should be unique to different individual and only you yourself know what is important to you and what is the price are you willing to pay for it (in term of money or time).

You can easily get all the hard, cold calculation on the web telling you how many years you will have to work before retire if you are having certain saving rate (one of them is here, you will need to scroll down to see the table).

What I am proposing to you is ignore those numbers first, put aside all the calculation, and look at these few area of your life which I think is more important to you right now:

 

Job (The activity you do to get paid)

I will assume most of you will be still working for money and your job is taking up most of your waking time. The question you need to ask yourself when you embark this journey to early retirement is “Am I running away from something (your job) I hate or am I fighting toward something I want?” I hope you can see the difference here.

Although the result of both motivation might be the same (retirement) but the end point can be quite different. In order to determine your motivation, you can play this “now what” game.

It is very simple, image you have now retired, ask yourself the question “now what?”.  If you can come up with more than one answer and they are not consists of “I finally don’t have to do XXXX now” or “Finally I can quit XXXX now”, you are doing fine.

 

Family

Early retirement is a gift, a gift you can give to yourself if you work really hard toward it. But don’t forget you are not alone along the journey, your parent is with you, you might find a partner, raise a baby.

Depends on your value, it might be perfectly ok for you to delay your retirement because you want to give your children the best (and most of the time also the most expensive) education he/she can get.

 

Yourself

You are the center of all this, of course you need to consider you own needs and wants. You will have to fulfill your own needs and wants before you can provide for someone you love, this is not selfish.

Life is unpredictable, although you can retire under 3 years if you save 90% of your income but important point is will you enjoy the journey along the way? Will 17 years of working and 50% saving rate sound more reasonable to you?

You call.

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A Very Simple Early Retirement Plan

Although I am still in the debt-paying phase of my early retirement journey, I am constantly searching for profitable investment opportunity that is simple enough for me to take advantage when I am done with current phase and moving into investment phase. Some ideas were given to me through word of mouth, newspaper and blog:

Property

Property market in Singapore is really booming for the past few years where we see a price increase up to 2-3 times of the original selling price. And this is happening all over the island and no one know when will the party ends. Increasing property price create an investment opportunity but the high property price also means a higher barrier for normal people to invest.

Stock

Stock is the second thing come to mind when people are talking about income generating asset. If you want to buy stock in Singapore, you will need a CDP account and a broker account. I have both of them but somehow I does not feel comfortable to link my money with the fate of one single company.

Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)

I read it first on Mr Money Mustache, after that on Tan Kin Lian blog and then Jim’s blog. You don’t link your money with the fate of one single company but the top 30 in the Singapore. No doubt there is always chance that all 30 companies fails, but admittedly they should have lower chance to fail together. One of the good things about ETF is the lower expense ratio (basically means your cost of investment) compare to the regular fund, usually less than 1% per annum.

For Singapore, I found 2 available ETF, which are SPDR Straits Times Index ETF and Nikko AM Singapore Straits Times Index ETF.  They both are having an expense ratio of about 0.3% per annum. Based on what I understood from their website, this two ETF will replicate as closely as possible the performance of Straits Times Index and can be traded like any share on Singapore Exchange. Everything seems ok with this investment except I can’t find any information about their dividend payout.

 

Ok, I think my very simple early retirement plan is getting really complex by now. With so many investment choices lying around Singapore, it seems early retirement was not so far ahead and beyond the reach of normal people like us.

So, here is what my current early retirement plan look like:

  1. Control Spending (I think I have done pretty good in this area)
  2. Clear Debt (Still working on this, 4 more months to go!!!)
  3. Invest in one of the STI ETF mentioned above (or maybe both).
  4. Keep searching for ways to builds income stream that does not require my attention (at least not full attention) after initial setup.

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How I Lived With One Dollar A Day For A Year In Singapore?

I think there are only 2 groups of people that will be interested in this post:

  1. People who like to know how did I make it.
  2. People who like to know how did I fail that.

I would like to apologize to the people from group one; actually I didn’t succeed in this challenge. I planned, I tried, and I failed. But the process to challenge myself to live this lifestyle taught me a few things about frugal living and I thought I could share it here.

In case you don’t know, I got this idea from a book written by an ordinary English teacher called Kath Kelly. The book’s title is “How I Lived A Year On Just A Pound A Day”.

The ideas I get from the book is that, it is not about limiting your choice when you embracing a new, more frugal lifestyle (from whatever life style you are having now), it is about exploring more choice you can make to your life style that enhance your enjoyment. If you are into frugal living, you might be able to relate yourself to the people in the story.

Ok, let talk about what did I learnt from the book:

Choose a cheap or free hobby

Now, this is a tricky choice and I don’t suggest you go and drop all your hobby and start spend all your time reading book in library or go walk at the park (although this two are quite a good candidate for the discussion here). The most important consideration I like to put out here is “ Are you getting the equal benefit from the money you spent on your hobby?

For example, you love badminton and you are currently joining a badminton group that played twice a week in the sport hall nearby your house. Is the money you paid for the right to play in the group worthwhile for you? Are you felling satisfied with the return you are getting? If the answer is fantastic, don’t change anything. We do want to retire early but not retire miserably.

What I am suggesting here is if you are having some hobby that costs you quite a lot of money (again, only you know how much is this) but it didn’t give you the enjoyment you are expecting, drop that hobby, choose another one. If that is a group hobby, it might be trickier. You can try convincing your group member to switch together with you but this might not works every single time.

Cycle (it means exercise) more frequently

Ok, if you are already a training freak that workout twice a day, every single day, you need to slow down. I am talking to the people who took 2 hours to think whether should they go out and run for half an hour. If you fall into this group of people, you might want to stop thinking and start running. Cycling and walking are pretty good choices if you are not exercise regularly.

But, remember that you just need adequate amount of exercise to maintain your fitness level, and over train actually do more harm to you than help. I am currently exercise every other day, my session includes 2-3km of running plus some push up and squat (with just body weight).

Maintain friendship

Human evolves over time, so does their spending. We used to be contended with just prata on our plate, ice milo on our side and we can chat away the night without feeling cheap. But somehow all this changed when we start working; we now need at least a restaurant for meet up because “it’s been long time since we last met”.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in the book; I think Kath and her friend did a picnic at the beach after she came back from France (Yes, she travelled to France when she is on a pound a day budget). They also tried things like museum opening, school fun trip and sometime they gather at library (I guess there is a noise allowed section in UK library?)

Be creative, think about what activity you can do with your friend that does not costs you a lot of money. I tried chatting with friend at coffee shop for 2 hours, that was a good night. I tried gathered with friend at beach and playing card the whole afternoon, which was a good time spent.

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How To Monitor Your Journey To Early Retirement?

Ok, you track your spending closely, avoid accidental expense, clear your debt, reduce spending using the “real” hourly pay tactic. Now, you want more, you want more indication that you are on the correct path to early retirement.

It turns out there is such tool, and you have probably seen it before. That’s right, it a chart. What I am going to introduce in this post is a simple chart I used to chart my financial progress.

Being a technical person, I used Excel sheet to do this task for me and this is how my chart look like after 6 years of feeding her my number:

My Chart for 6 years

My Chart for 6 years

There are only 3 numbers you need to fill in every month in this chart:

Your Total Income:
My method is a bit different from the “Your Money Or Your Life” book; total income in my definition includes your saving from previous month plus your total income this month.

Your Total Expense:
You can copy this number from expense tab of your expense-tracking sheet (if you don’t know what is that, read this post).

Your Investment Gain:
This is the part where you fill in your monthly investment gain. If you are getting paid yearly from your investment, divide it by 12 and enter the number here.

So, what are the benefits having such a tool? Why would anyone want to monitor another chart when they already done a good job previously?

To me, there are 2 benefits:

Clarity
By using a chart like this, it gives me an overall view of how is I doing financially. I am not having any guesswork when I want to check my progress, I just open up my chart and everything that I need to know is there.

Joy
To me, looking at all those lines on the chart is already a joy, especially when there is a upward trend in my saving line while my expense line remains low and flat.

So, I hope I have convinced you the importance of having a chart to monitor your progress and also the benefit it can brings you. You can download it here or look for it in my resources page.

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What life lesson did a Chinese guy learned from a 3 hours long Indian movie?

Indian movies have been my favorite entertainment choice since I was still a small boy although I never understand what are the actor and actress talking about (actually I do understand what are they talking about through the Malay/English subtitle).

The general skeleton of Indian movie I have watched over the years is:

– There is a charming but poor male leading role.

– There is a beautiful but poor female leading role.

– There is a rich, powerful and evil man.

– The male and female leads fall in love with each other.

– The rich man takes away the poor girl.

– The male lead rescues the girl from the evil rich man.

– They live happily ever after

Until today, the scenes when the lead actor and actress dancing with the people on the street (and I meant all the people on the street) still give me a lot of entertainment value.

However, beside the entertainment value, there are some life lesson that are presented indirectly in those Indian movie I watched over the years:

1. If you want to change your environment, you have to be the changes you want to be.

In one of the Indian movie I watched before, the story is about how a little boy grow up to become a successful scientist under a father who hates Mathematics (until today I still don’t know why the father hate Mathematics so much…).

Born to a poor family, he has to work part time at young age to support the family and at the same time support his own education. There are scenes where the father literally throws away his book because the money he is bringing back is not enough for the father’s alcohol consumption. The movie goes on to show how the boy struggle through his way, promoting himself to tertiary education and became a successful scientist.

Although I used a movie as a example here to prove my point, but I think it make certain sense to you that we all encountered difficulty during different phase of our life. You struggled to pass the exam when you are in the school, you compete with others for that job you landed, and you fight with others for that promotion you have been aiming too. In every situation, the person who needs most transformation is you. You are the one need to make the changes, you have to study that book, you need to practice that job-hunting skill, and you need to show your skill.

2. The society is not darker; it is every man for himself.

I believed human are not born good or bad, we are born to be selfish. If you look at the baby, they are the most demanding human being and the most talented negotiator. Baby knows how to use tear and voice to attract attention, and they will not hesitate to snatch that biscuit in your hand if they are hungry. So, it is about survival, not good or bad.

3. Celebrate every little success you achieved.

In the Indian movie, you will see many scenes where the actors dance with the crowd. That scene can happen in the first meeting between leading actor and actress or that little boy received his university admission letter. I believed this brings out a very positive message where we should celebrate every little success in our life, and I believed positive energy brings more positive event to our life.

Not too long ago, I accompanied my mum to her check up session. When I was digging out coin from my pocket to pay for the bus fare, I realized I am short of 10 cents. Just when I was going to ask my mum for 10 cents, I saw a tiny little 10 cents was lying on the bus floor. And the good luck was not ended there, after we alighted the bus, we found another 10 cents lying on the floor, that day we received 20 cents.

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How Much Does Your Life Worth?

“Your Money Or Your Life” is one of the personal finance books I read during my undergraduate time. The ideas outlined in the book were new and interesting to me during that time, particularly the ideas of “real” hourly pay and life energy.

If you haven’t read that book, you might be asking what the hell is “real” hourly pay? Is there a “fake” hourly pay? Well, let read on and see whether the answer will surprise you.

The idea of “real” hourly pay is simple; it basically means you need to consider your extra expense and time you incur when you are holding a job when you are calculating your hourly pay.

For example, if you are getting $1,600 a month, working 20 days per month, 8 hours per day, you might come to the conclusion that:

Hourly Pay = $1,600 / (20 X 8 hours)

= $10 per hour

1.) Traveling: 2 hours per day, 40 hours a month

When calculating your “real” hourly rate, you will need to consider the time and money spent due to you holding a job. For example:

Unless you are the minority who are working from home, you will spend some time every workday travel from your house to your work place. Assuming you spend 2 hours per day traveling to and fro your workplace.

2.) Business attire: $100 per month

Obviously you won’t be wearing your T-shirt and short pant to impress your boss and client when you are climbing the corporate ladder. So, let’s assume that you buy a decent business attire every 2 months, and that cost you $200.

3.) Business lunch: $4 a day, $80 a month

Let’s face it, packed lunch at workplace are more expensive than your home cook meal. And we are not even considering the health issue involved if you can only get junk food for lunch around your workplace. Let’s assume that you spend $4 more a day if you buy your lunch from workplace, and in a month, it is $80.

4.) Relaxation: 1 hour and $5 a day

So, you finally finish your work, you sit through the peak hour traffic jam, and step into your house. Are you coming home more energized that the morning and all ready to spend quality time with the family or you are insanely busy at workplace today and you need a beer/popcorn/cake/TV to relax yourself first?

I am guessing here, let just say you spend one hour and five dollars a day to relax yourself after work, which is 20hours and 100 dollars in a month.

5.) Work related sickness: $100, 10 hours per month

Do you have any work-related sickness either physically or emotionally that require long-term treatment? Let’s assume you spend $100 and 10 hours a month to treat or prevent work-related sickness.

6.) Others: $100, 20 hours per month

Any other expense that you think is work-related in your situation? Childcare? Laundry? Housekeeping? Car maintenance? Time spent on fighting with your partner due to stress at work? Everyone’s situation is different and you will have to find out yourself what other expense (either time or money) that occurs because of you holding a job. For the ease of calculation here, I will pick an arbitrary number of $100 and 20 hours per month.

So, now let’s calculate your “real” hourly pay:

Monthly pay: $1,600

Working hours: 160 hours

Traveling: 40 hours per month

Attire: $100 per month

Lunch: $80 per month

Relaxation: $100, 20 hours per month

Sickness: $100, 10 hours per month

Others: $100, 20 hours per month

The “real” working hours = 160 + 40 + 20 + 10 + 20

= 250 hours

The “real” monthly pay = $ 1,600 – $100 – $80 – $100 – $100 – $100

= $1120

The “real” hourly pay = $1120 / 250

= $4.48 per hour

So, here you are, your “real” hourly pay you are getting now. Is it less than what you expected or more than what you expected? The idea you need to keep in mind here is remember every time you spend $4.48, one hour of your life energy investment is gone forever. I bet you will think twice next time when you see that fancy smartphone that cost you 40 hours of your life!

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How To Earn Money From Credit Card

From the past 2 years, banks have started offering their credit card to consumer with some cash credit thrown in. Consumers need to fulfill certain condition to enjoy that cash credit, normally that involves consumer to complete a successful transaction within the first month of the card got approved.

What is cash credit? In simplest term, they are free money that banks deposit into your credit card account after you met certain condition they set. The amount of cash credited into your account depends on which bank offer you took on, it could be $40, $50, $80 or even $160.

Some of you might ask, why are the banks giving out free money? It doesn’t make business sense and is there any gimmick or marketing plot behind this offer? I don’t have the numbers to back me up, but I believed the banks has run their number before this promotion and they knew what kind of revenue/profit each credit card holder would generate for them.

What I am more concerned is how can I benefit from all these offers? It turns out pretty simple, I took up the offers from MayBank, Standard Chartered Bank, ANZ Bank and HSBC Bank, they have offered $50,$40,$160 and $80 worth of cash credit to me after I fulfill the conditions:

  1. Completed at least one transaction of certain amount ($1 to $40 depends on the offer) within the first month of the card got approved.
  2. Hold the card for a certain period of time (9 months to 1 years, depends on the offer) before you phone in your card cancellation request.

Different bank has different offer, I recommend you go check out their offer on their website and see if you see something you like. It is by far the easiest way I found to earn some extra money.

Note: However, if you knew that you cannot control your spending once you get on hold of a new credit card and mostly likely end up accumulate credit card debt, then the recommendation above does not apply to you yet. The first thing you should learn is how to reduce your spending while increase your happiness.

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How To Clear Your Debt Quickly?

//An old post of mine, a lot of things can happen in 3 years. ^^

Debt, the word that I believed most of us doesn’t like its existence in our life (unless you are the fan of “Good Debt, Bad Debt” and you are obviously holding a lot of good debt).

What I am going to talk about in this post is bad debt/consumer debt. This category of debt includes credit card debt (swipe your card, buy that 48 inches LCD TV now, the discount only last 3 more seconds!!!), car loan (buy the biggest car you can afford that impress your friend and get stuck in traffic jam every morning during peak hour….), student loan (this loan category is a tricky one, it can be a good or bad investment, and I will put my thought on it later).

Face Your Debt

Obviously, the first step in clearing your debt would be know and acknowledge your debt situation. Consolidate the amount you owed on each debt category from the highest interest rate to the lowest. Remember not to put any emotion when you are doing this activity, there is no point to put the blame on yourself on the past mistake you made, what you should be focus now is make the decision to correct that mistake.

Pay The Highest Interest Loan First

There are many suggestions floating around the Internet on how to prioritize your debt repayment. Some suggests you pay off the debt with the smallest amount to build up the momentum, and there is others suggest you to pay off the debt with highest interest rate. To me, the second suggestion made much more sense and that forms my debt repayment plan.

I am focusing on paying off my highest interest debt (student loan with an annual interest rate of 4.75%). I am holding a minor credit card bill right now but I am not so concern with it because it is a 0% installment plan. I just have to make sure I make the payment every month and I am safe.

Prevent The Leak

Fortunately, my spending habit was already quite frugal, I don’t pay interest on my credit card bill (there are not many product that target single guy), I don’t own a car (you don’t really need to own a car in Singapore and here is why), I cook my own lunch, cycle to work, sleep earlier (this not only helps your body to have adequate rest but also make your wallet thicker since you have less time doing shopping).

The initial amount of my loan is about SGD$15,000 each (Yes, I took up two loan to finance my study). I paid off a grand total of SGD$8,000 in the first 7 years after my graduation (July 2005 to July 2012) and that left me with a balance of SGD$22,000 in July 2012. And I decided to get serious to pay off that loan, I monitor my spending closely, increase my income when opportunity arises, cut down on unnecessary spending, grows my saving.

5 months later, I reached my first milestone in paying off my student loan, I paid off one of the two student loan on me and I am now officially down with just one student loan with the amount of SGD$11,000 (annual interested = 4.75%).

Get Serious

From that little story of mine, I would like to bring up my point in clearing debt quickly, which is get serious. If you are in a debt situation, no matter is it a credit card debt, a car loan, a student loan or even a housing mortgage, it is a debt that bank charge you interest every single day, it should be the first item on your priority list. You should not be in dilemma when choosing between your new fancy smartphone and your debt repayment; there is no point on deciding where to put your furniture when you house is on fire!!! Put out that fire of debt that is burning your early retirement house first before you decide what investment furniture you want to put in the house.

While you are on the way to clear your debt, help yourself by not taking up even more debt, especially credit card debt (this is by far the easiest way for an individual to acquire a consumer debt, just swipe your card and you are $2,000 in debt immediately…).

Also, don’t let those balance transfer deal confuse you. It didn’t make you debt go away, it merely change the ownership of your debt. You still need to know your debt amount, get serious in pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Balance transfer is just a short term solution to help you avoid incurs high interest (up to 28%)on your credit card. If you are currently paying 24-28% plus other charges on your credit card debt, then it might make sense for you to jump around the balance transfer deal while you are working to raise the fund needed to pay off those debts.

So here are the few things I think we need to know to clear debt quickly. The things outlined in this post might be proved too simplified or too complex for your situation, please leave your comment in the comment section if you came across with some great idea on clearing the debt.

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Caution! How to avoid accidental expense in your spending plan?

One thing you might encounter during the process of tracking expense is there are always unexpected expense pop up and disrupt your spending plan (insurance premium, car maintenance, income tax, property tax, etc.…).

However, if you look into those spending closely, it might not be a unexpected expense. Did it appear before during the last 3 months? Last 6 months? Or during the same time period last year?

Yearly payabl bills are the most neglected bill category when we are consolidating our spending because it don’t happen frequently in our daily live and it easily slip out of our mind. This can cause frustration when you are trying to calculate your monthly spending if you didn’t pay attention to it.

There are few ways to accommodate this type of expense into your calculation of your monthly spending:

  1. Divide that yearly payable bill into 12 equals amount and add it into your monthly spending plan. Prepare in advance every month for this expense.
  2. Keep a payment schedule of all the yearly payable bills to avoid unexpected spending situation from happening.
  3. Reduce the numbers of yearly payable bills to simplify your spending plan, the simpler the better.

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