Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Running Experiment

In preparation to the free travel coming up in the June 2013, I am thinking can I reduce my transportation expense to the extreme, zero. So, my zero transportation cost plan run like this:

1. Wake up as usual time around 6 to 6.30am
2. Instead of doing my run in the morning, I switch it to early MRT ride. Cost incur: $0
3. Move my running schedule to evening time when I am off from work.
4. Run from office to home in the evening. Cost incur: $0

So, I opened up my internet browser and type in google maps to check the distance from my home to my office. The number came up to 14.2km, not bad but it is a bit out of my usual running distance. My usual running distance is about 3 to 5km and it took me about 25 to 40 minutes to complete that distance. I started to have doubt on this distance….

I started my experiment yesterday when I was going back home from the office. With just wallet, phone and water in my bag, I started my running journey home. The result was not great, I am almost punctured after 30 odd minutes of running. And it is close to impossible to run at Little India area because there is simply too many people there. After Little India, came a smooth journey from Boon Keng to Potong Pasir.

The up and down slope from Potong Pasir all the way till Serangoon slowed me down a lot. I was not out of breadth, my leg were too tired to carry on the journey. Every MRT station suddenly look so tempting and attractive every time I ran pass them. I keep thinking to myself, “what a stupid idea to conduct this kind of experiment, I should just take out my Ez link and take the bus or ride the MRT.” Luckily there is another voice keep reminding me that I should finish this goal since there is no pain or discomfort encountered.

So, step by step I ran through that 14.2km from office to my home, it took me 1 hour and 56 minutes to complete the journey. Surprisingly, I was not very thirsty when I completed the journey, I guessed that 500ml water I brought along with me for the 14.2km was enough to hydrate my body. I drank 2 more glass of plain water last night to make sure the body have enough water.

Another thing I noticed when I woke up this morning is my body and leg was pretty much recovered. There is still a bit tiredness and laziness to get up (who isn’t?) but it was very much manageable. I clocked another 4.27km this evening so I think I am pretty much on my way to complete my 150km ran by the end of the year goal (actually I think I can increase this goal).

While it was manageable for me, I don’t recommend everyone go try this experiment, I for one will reduce the size of the experiment. My future plan for this will be:

1. Wake up as usual time around 6 to 6.30am
2. Instead of doing my run in the morning, I switch it to early MRT ride. Cost incur: $0
3. Move my running schedule to evening time when I am off from work.
4. Run about 5km in the evening, either align earlier or run 5km first. Cost incur: $some

This plan will not reduce the transportation cost to $0, it will cut at least 50% and more so when my fitness level increase. My main concern still with the time spent on this activity, with normal transportation, I spent about 1 hour to get home by bus/MRT. I was thinking if I can get home by leg in 1 hour and 30 minutes, it might worthwhile to do this because I usually spend about half an hour exercise anyway. Hopefully this plan will eventually build up my stamina and strength to improve my timing.

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A Financial Question That Cannot Solve With Financial Solution

If you shop around credit card market frequent enough, you will see many balance transfer offer from the banks. The basic idea of balance transfer is help you “save” on the interest you might need to pay on the balance you have in your credit card. Instead of label bank as evil money sucking machine, let us focus on the problem itself, why is the balance there in the first place.

I have been reading a lot of personal finance blog when I was searching for ways to clear my student loan and have received many ways to manage debts. Some suggested paying off the smallest loan first, some suggested paying off the loan with the highest interest rate. They all are decent advice that either make emotional sense or financial sense after you incurred the debt. What are missing is why are we in those debt in the first place.

Lack of information
I made my first loan commitment decision when I was 21 years old. The loan application form came together with my university admission form. The offer was an good opportunity for me at that time to receive tertiary education and secure a better future. I was able to complete my education with that loan in 3 years and went into job market with a degree scroll in my hand.

What I am missing when I graduated from the school was student loan also a form of debt, it bears interest rate and costing me more than $100 a month when I was paying $200 per month to the bank. I was ignorant and totally ignoring the fact that “$200 per month” is costing me a lot in long run. At the same time I received advice from relative and friend saying student loan is good debt and since its interest rate is so low, there is no rush to pay off that loan. This definitely not a good advice among all the advices I received over the year.

Back to the credit card balance scenario, I believe most of the people have realized what credit card offered was not free money, it bears interest rate and the interest rate is very high, up to 28%. We should view it as a convenient tool to pay for our purchase rather than free money from bank. Making just the minimum payment per month is not acceptable at all because with the finance charge and future purchase you are going to make, it will cost you three arms and four legs to pay off that debt.

So, if you are feeling you are not getting ahead in your debt management, it might be helpful to filter the information you receive and really plan something that working for you and you only. But I think the universal solution to debt is always pay it off as fast as possible and no excuse should be made.

Brainwashed by marketing
We are all influenced by marketing at various level and I believed nobody can escaped from it. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the product presented to us really helps us in the long term or it just give us a sense of excitement for 3 days before we get bored of it.

I experienced this process with my iPad 2 purchased 10 months ago. It gave me maybe up to a week of excitement for owning it and I rarely use it nowadays because I mostly works my stuff on my laptop. I believed I am not the only one who with this experience because I read so many buyer remorse review on the web and from my friend.

It is very difficult to avoid marketing or advertisement in today world. They are everywhere wherever you go. One of the method I like to use now is delay my purchase decision. Put the items you intend to buy into a wish list and wait for 3 days (or whatever numbers of days that works for you). If your desire and justification is still strong after 3 days, and you have fully understand the benefit from that product, it should worth your money and effort.

Lack of planning
Things happens. If we view our life as a long period of time, things happens. It might be an accident, illness, job loss or opportunity. Whatever it is, it require fund, sometimes a lot of fund. Insurance in this case is a must for all of us (unless you are so poor that you don’t ever know where your next meal is). The idea of insurance is to insure us against financial disaster we are unable to take it. For example major illness or serious accident that take away our ability to work and costing us a huge amount of money.

Other than insurance, an emergency fund should be save up to handle any less intense incident happens in life. For example job loss or some other unexpected family expense. The size of the emergency fund vary among each individual due to different lifestyle but a fund with size equals to 6 months of your salary should be enough yo tide you over those unexpected incident.

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How A Team Works

Recently, I keep hearing the word team work, in my professional life and my private life. So, I got interested to observe how a successful works and this opportunity came just when I am ready. I just came back from a basketball game and brought back some points with me how a successful teaworks.

1.  Common goal
There must be a common goal for the team. Normally it is victory for a basketball team, a deal for the sales team, a group of performing students for the teachers or a group of happy customer for a restaurant. The reason why I say normally is because it can be very difficult sometimes to decide on the common goal. Everyone has their own agenda and the common goal that the top level people set might not be engaging so well with the people from a lower level. Ever in a simpler situation like a basketball game, everyone had different purpose. Victory might not be the common goal, might it is a social gathering or just an occasion for a weekly exercise.

So, common goal is the first step.

2. What is in for me
Next, we need to consider what is the trigger for each member in the team. Using the basketball team example, it might be the feeling of winning that motive the team member or the bonding that attract the team members.

One of the things I observed is the people in charge seems to think that people will just come together and work together to achieve the team goal. It never happen. There is a need for someone in the team that communicate the benefit every player can get if the team goal is achieved.

3. Sharing information
This part came naturally when a team is forming up. Sharing or exchange of information would start among the team member. I have played basketball for almost 18 years now, but every time I still can learn something from each individual on the game, be it their technique, their organisation skill or their drive to win.

Exchange of information have the benefit of equip the team members with the knowledge or technique they didn’t know before. Sharing information like how to recover after a game or how to do a pick and roll during the game can be very useful because sometime a team member will just present it at another angle that we didn’t know before.

4. Communicate frequently
During the game, frequent communication is very important. It serve as a link between each team member knowing how well is the team doing. A simple reminder shouting who should be in charge of which opponent is useful to ensure every member in the team knowing what should they do during the game.

Frequent communication also helps the team members to get to know each other better. By knowing personality, playing style of another person is helpful during the game because you will expect less surprise from him and you will know how to work with him to win the game.

5. Review
Review after the game give us an opportunity to look at the mistakes we made during the game. What strategy or tactic that is causing our mistake or failure? Is it because the players were still new as a team to fully understand each other? Or is it because there is some conflict among the players? This is a good time to talk about all this while preparing for the next game.

So, how’s your team performing?

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Pick Up Your Phone

I just read the a post from Yaro Starak at his Entrepreneurs-Journey blog sharing about his feeling during the last 22 months of his mum time  on our planet. It is a very good sharing and I urge you go to his blog and read the full content. You can click on the link above or click here to go to this post.

I must say initially I was not expecting that title to pop up on my feed reader when I opened up it because Entrepreneurs Journey is a blog focusing on making money blogging. I was not a frequent reader of Yaro’s blog until recently I started this blog. Yaro is an expert in the blogging business and he is running a few coaching program teaching people how to make money online. I am truly benefited from his sharing and teaching.

I wrote this post with the intention to share my feeling after reading Yaro sharing but I realized I can’t really describe how I feel, so I decided to share a story about a little boy grown up in a small fishing village of Malaysia.

The day is 14 March 1981, a small little boy born into this world in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He is showered with love and caring since small and his childhood memory is filled with joy and happiness. No doubt there are time when he was beaten and upset because his misbehavior but it was his mother way to instill education and value to this little boy. Blessed with a small little slightly intelligent brain, this little boy was able to pass through his primary, secondary and tertiary education and did not disappoint the people he love.

8 years into his working years now, this little boys has learned many lesson from classroom and from life. It was a cheerful and fun filled journey along the way. What he want to do now is pick up his phone and call his mum just to tell her he is going back home this weekend.

So, have you called your mum/dad today?

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How To Be An Average People

I must say this is a very weird topic to write about, I am going to talk about how to become an average people in this post. It is so weird because I am a normal guy myself and I guess most of my readers fall in this category too. So, what do I going to write in this post?

I am not a wise old man in case this is your first time visting this blog and you can see my photo in my about me page. What I like to share here are some observations of life of a average people.

9 to 5, until 65?
Interestingly, this is not consider a bad deal anymore because there are a lot more of people might need to work from 9 to 6, until 76. I believe this is motivated more by lack of financial strength rather than the love of their job.

Being an employee myself, I can’t say I totally understand how boss think, but one thing I quite sure is always on boss mind would be “how can I make my staff work their best?”. And I truly believe a person who works not because they need to but choose to is a more productive person. Not every “retired” person would be more productive but I like to believe that the percentage would be higher in this category.

Enjoy while you can, like there is no tomorrow
I ever met some friends (mostly youngster) who told me life is to be enjoyed, not for suffering. I agreed with their statement but I think my interpretation of that statement is different from theirs. One of the most commonly complain I hear from people about engaging in some hobby is those hobby spend too much money and they would like to avoid that. On the other side of the conversation, I heard people saying what’s the point saving up the money, what if tomorrow is the end of the world? I believed they link saving money to hardship which I think is a myth. I met people online and offline all the time enjoying their life with a very low budget by modern living standard. They practice frugality in life, enjoy free hobby and make full use of their time to do meaningful thing for themselves and community.

Buy a expensive house
I don’t own a house and I don’t claim myself as a property expert because I am not. It is just scary when I heard people bought a house that cost them majority of their income every month for 30 years, and that is from the combined income of a couple. For those with the financial power to choose, do choose a house that is not costing you arm and leg every month and limit your potential to retire earlier rather than later.

Buy everything you can buy
I am a fan of early retirement extreme idea. It is about building skills to reduce expense and increase your chance of surviving in a poor economy. You don’t be so extreme like Jacob, but you can use some creativity before you make any purchase. Can you buy equivalent with cheaper price? Can you make one yourself? Can you get it free?

Treat debt as a normal part of life
Before I took a serious look at my financial situation, I heard advice from friends and relative that student loan is common, I should just take my time to pay it off since the interest rate is so low. My thinking changed after read through Mr Money Mustache blog post that talk about debt emergency. I start to focus to pay off my student loan as fast as possible by cutting down non-essential expense and put all those money toward my debt.

Consumer debt is another monster in this category. Nowadays I am amused by the ads saying “Own this or that as low as $XXX per month!” or “$0 for the first three months, X% after that.” I think when you bought something or own something, mean you bought it or own it. Ownership don’t come at $XXX per month but $XXXX per item.

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How Do I Enjoy Life

I went to cinema last night with my sister to watch the movie “Saving General Yang”. It has been a very long time since I last went to a cinema. I have cut down a lot on TV these few years because I don’t find it interesting anymore to sit in front of a bright screen and brainwash by either commercial advertisement that tell you your life is not complete without their product.

Movie remains one of my favorite entertainment choice after my first encounter with it when I was 19 years old. And because of the fierce competition from various source, movie nowadays is improving in quality every single months. However, not all the movie get to earn my money, actually quite a small amount of movie that I paid money for the privilege to watch in cinema. I guess it is also because the topic that involves history does not sell that good so I have less choice to make here.

So, by saying all these, I like to bring out some points which I think it is important when we choose our entertainment activity.

Choose What You Enjoy
If you think I am saying the obvious, think again. Do you have moment where you just do something out of boredom? Watch a movie even when all the review you read saying this is a boring show? Or worse you didn’t read any review but because the timing of that movie is now? Ever buy a lot of junk food to accompany you while you sink yourself into the sofa and getting ready to be brainwash by TV?

Being saying all this, I am a loser to all those above sometimes. I watched some really boring movie when I am bored, I ate tons of junk food when I have nothing to do, or don’t feel like move. So, be alert when the boredom attack coming your way, it cost you your health and your wealth.

Review Your Choice
There will be moment when we review our expense at the end of the month, we realized we have overspent again that month. It is not big deal, we can always learn something from it. This is the best time to review the choice you made during the month, what went wrong, what was right. Is there a way to transform that expensive hobby of mine to a cheaper option or even make it free or profitable? What are the good choice you made this month that enhance and speed up your journey to retirement?

Enjoy The Moment
I not sure about you, but I think we human has take multitasking to a whole level nowadays even myself. When I am walking on the road, stand in MRT/bus, I saw people reading book/playing game while listen to music and talk to friend. That is a lot of action going on but it also mean we are not paying attention. It is not surprise to me, consider the scarce time we have nowadays. But to truly enjoy the thing we are doing, we need to really focus on the moment and pay attention to the person you are with or the things you are playing with.

So, how many other windows have you opened when you are reading this post? ^^

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3 Mistakes That Delay Your Retirement

I define retirement not as a period when I just lying on the bed all day long and do nothing. I believe with enough financial resource to support our daily expense, we can perform even better in our daily job and other activities that interest us.

However, there are some common mistakes I believed we all made before that delay our retirement:

1. Never Take The Time To Plan Your Retirement
Modern people are busy people. We all have our own commitment that need our attention everyday. It could be childcare, house work, project at work or a whole day meeting and conference call. By the time we reach home, we are exhausted and financial planning (thinking) is the last thing on mind. We just want to lie down in the sofa and continue the show from last night. TV is not all evil if we know how to enjoy it, but if we start to spend few hours a day on it and ignore the more important but not urgent matter like planning for future, it does not sounds like a good deal to me.

2. Never Seek Help
As the society and industry getting more and more complicated, it is not practical if we try to do everything by ourselves. It is important for us to learn more life skill to reduce expense but sometime advice from experienced people can be priceless. Seeking advice from people who has done what you are planning to do is a shortcut to achieve what you want.

3. Never Take It Seriously
I must say this is the single most important success factor in whatever we want to do in life. There is no need to strictly restrict every pleasure in your life when you are on your way to retirement but you have to take it seriously after you decided your plan. Every effort should be made to cut down on your expense, learn how to increase your income, find a free hobby or even communicate your thinking to your spouse.

I believed there are people managed to retire early even when they made all these mistakes above but they should be considered as exception rather than rules. For the rest of us, the room for mistake would be much smaller and a thought through plan is definitely helpful here.

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A Very Small List Of Saving Tips

1. Start an exchange network or join one
Everyone of us has some skills that other people don’t have. You might be good at repair water pipe but sucks at computer. Why don’t you trade your skills with them?

2. Use the library
Library in Singapore is very well developed, contains many resources for your consumption. Use it to slash your spending on  books, video or newspaper.

3. Take part in lucky draw
Take part in lucky draw from the free newspaper like Today or my paper. Get some free entertainment from the marketing budget of those big corporation.

4. Join freecycle Singapore
Singapore Freecycle (TM) Network is a place for people to give out their stuff which has no use for them.

5. Sell your old stuff
Sell off your untouched stuff for past 1 year to get some cash.

6. Create or join a babysitting support group
It might be a logistic challenge to get a reliable and trustable baby sitter for your baby. If you can create a support group among a few friends or family, that might be a solution.

7. Car sharing
It might be make more economic and environmental sense if a group of people can share a car when they are heading to same destination.

8. Have a pot luck party
Get each of your friend bring one dish for everyone.

9. Brew your own drink
Be it alcohol or coffee, I think you can find plenty of guide around the net teaching you how to do this cheaply.

10. Cut down on driving
Singapore is not that big.

11. Cycle more
Again, Singapore is really not that big.

12. Up the temperature of your air con
Do your best, I know Singapore is hot.

13. Create your own cleaning product
It is really not that hard to do this. My mum do this all the time.

14. Line dry the clothes
Save some electricity, save some money.

15. Buy groceries from cheaper place
I think you know where yo go.

16. Use internet if you are making long distance call
If you have not idea how to so this, google for VOIP

17. Cut down on TV
Device that designed to waste your time, waste your money.

18. Study the tax rules
You never know what are you missing if you never check.

19. Check out credit offer
They are literally giving out money now.

20. Complain
Complain to get a refund or exchange with a extra thrown in if you received poor service.

21. Own less stuff
You will need less space and money managing your stuff if they can fit into 1-2 suitcase.

22. Eat healthy, be healthy
Choose healthy food, move around a bit every day.

23. Learn how to fix your stuff
Be it car, bicycle, TV, kitchen, etc….

24. Buy enough clothes
Not less, not more.

25. Shop online for clothes
Compare, and you might get a better deal.

26. Inherit toy from friends
I guess this make some sense since most toy will be out dated within few months.

27. Subscribe to free trial
Emphasis is on free, unsubscribe after the trial.

28. Go open source
Software want to be free!

29. Exercise at park
And you can use the equipment there, free of charge.

30. Get bargain by book your holiday earlier
Air ticket that bought 1 year ago can be really dirt cheap.

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How To Simplify Your Life

I was walking home from bus stop just now, and because of the time, there are not many people walking on the street. So I start brainstorming what can I put onto my blog tonight. But I didn’t manage to come up with any brilliant idea during the journey home. So, I just keep walking while enjoy the mild breeze along the street. Then an idea struck me, why don’t I just write about simplifying our life. I realized one of the things we need to do regularly on our journey to early retirement is simplify our life. Our time and energy are limited, it will be unsustainable for us to pursue too many thing in life and the best thing in life normally just a few and won’t cost you much money to get them. So how do we organize our life?

 

Identify Core Activities

First of all, we need to identify that few core activities that contribute to most of our happiness. This should be easy because we tend to spend most of our time doing this few activities. For me it will be reading, badminton, basketball, and meet up with friend/colleague for meal.

Try not to list your TV watching habit as one of the activity, because this activity really does not bring much benefit to you in my view. When you sit down in front of the TV, your body shut down, your mind slow down, and you start to engage yourself into the TV drama that showing some fake life of those actor/actress. In between the drama you get to “enjoy” those free commercial by various company that try to sell you things you don’t need. With all the 0% installment plan shown on the TV and those free credit that lying around your house, you will stack up your debt bill till 2 buildings high in no time.

Also, based on a research done on the Australia population, compare to a person who don’t watch TV, a person who watch 6 hours of TV a day can expect to have 5 years cut off from their life. It literally meant you will live 5 years less and we are not ever counting the time and money you spent while watching TV.

 

Choose A Few

Make your choice from the list above; choose a few activities that match your expected return (happiness, cost, time). In this phase, you might want to cut down a few that cost you too much but without much return. For example, I seldom attend gathering that involved drinking unless it is a company event. To me, drinking is not an activity that brings me a lot of enjoyment; it is always the attending crowd that interests me. Interesting people are more important than expensive wine. But by all means choose that one that cost you the most if it brings you the most value because you are supposed to enjoy life in your journey to early retirement and not suffer along the way.

 

Review

If you cannot let go any of the activities you listed, then don’t do it. You just need to cut down on those with lower return to you. For example, maybe you enjoy playing squash but playing it 3-4 days week is too much of a commitment either to your body or to your time. So, maybe you want to consider cut it down to once or twice a week. Also, you can review the list in term of money needed for each activity. Although happiness is the number one consideration during your review, you can still consider making some adjustment to each activity on the list to cut down on your spending.

Consider add in one exercise into your daily routine, it will not need to be an intense workout, just a slow walk with you dog (if you have one) will do. And the time needed is just 20 minutes to half an hour. I think a daily half hour investment into your health should be a reasonable and wise choice for you.

Lastly, check out this video below, it contain some interesting information you might be interested to know:

 

How many hours have you walked today?

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What Will You Do If Money Is Not A Problem

If money is not a problem to me now, I will spend most of my time cooking meal, baking cake and reading book.

With this much time on hand, I can start off my reading with my history collection, which is collecting dust in my bookshelves now. History has been my favorite subject since school time (although this interest didn’t help me get a good history score). I still keep my history textbook from secondary school today and I will read it once in a while when I feel bored.

And I will spend my time inventing new recipe for cake, it has been a long time since I last bake cake when I was 20 years old (I am 32 this year). I still remember the joy from successfully baked a cake at that time, I done that for almost 2 months before I was admitted into university. I still remembered how terrified my mum face was that time because I was bringing back average 2 cakes back home daily. It was a simple time full of freedom

University time was tough for me, with financial and study expectation on me, I don’t have much time to enjoy this 2 hobbies I like. There are just too many event and lesson that needed my attention during that period of my life. 8 years into working life now, life has been pretty stable now, experiencing the normal life cycle of earning and paying bill. For now, money still a big issue for me now since I am still trying to pay off my student loan as fast as possible.

Beside my regular job, I also start this blog to record down my various ideas and experience in personal development and my thoughts on early retirement. There are many blogs online talking about the similar stuff and I learned from them a lot about setting priority, setting goals, live a simple life and how to be more productive at work.

Lastly, thanks for your attention to finish reading this post. So, what will you do if money is not a problem to you now?

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