Category Archives: Personal Development

Articles about personal development

How to approach your student loan repayment (or any other debt)?

I came across a forum post talking about student loan repayment, the writer is asking for people to partner with him and held him accountable for his own student loan repayment schedule. I paid off my student loan last year, below are some of the things I think will help you if you are setting goal to pay off your student loan.

1. Calculate how much money do you need to pay back

This is the first and most obvious thing to get clear with before you start any repayment. Go to your online banking account, pull out your bank statement, call your bank to confirm the outstanding balance of your loan. Don’t try to do any of the steps below before you completed this step.

2. Set your mind on a target date with timeline & plan

Nothing get done until you get serious. Setting a target is not enough to achieve what you want to achieve, and this apply to your journey of student loan repayment too. After getting know how much you need to pay back to the bank, draw up a repayment schedule that is suitable for you. Be a bit more aggressive on the schedule by looking at your disposable income. For example, if you are able to fork  out $500 every month to repay your student loan, set a goal to fork out another $100-$200 every month for the same purpose. This might give you a little pressure but this is also a good opportunity for you to learn how to spend your money effectively and efficiently to support your life.

3. Do it together

Depends on your preference, you can invite your friend who are also have the same desire to pay off their student loan to embark on this journey together with you. Accountability to another person will ensure your chance of success because it give you a reminder every time you want to spend money on unnecessary stuff. You and your buddies also can encourage each other during this challenging period.

4. Take up second job

This is optional I would say. If you have a promising job, I suggest your give your 100% in that job and performs the best you can be at that job. However, after said that, take up a second job does few things that beneficent to your repayment target. Firstly, it will give you some extra income to put into your loan repayment and speed up the process. Secondly, you might be able to learn some new skills in second job that compliment your main job. Third benefit is not related to loan repayment, you might be making new friends on the job and expand your network.

5. Live frugal but comfortable life

Although I think this go without saying but I will mention here anyway. Frugal means different thing to different people, so I won’t be defining how should you live then be considered frugal. Bottom line is you are comfortable with the life style and spending habit you chose and willing to responsible for the outcome without blaming other people when you are unable to achieve your goals.

Other considerations

Well, we can always expect the unexpected to happen in life…

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Filed under Debt, Personal Development

4 lessons I learn from playing RISK

1. You can choose the best strategy, but the outcome will still depends a bit on luck

I spent a lot of time on the RISK game and kind of figured out the best strategy to win the game at its hardest level. However, the strategy only INCREASED your chance of winning, not GUARANTEE your victory. It is the same as our strategy for early retirement, you might be saving 50% of your salary, optimise your spending and invest the difference, but the end result sometime still depends on how the economic is performing. This is especially true when we are just starting to execute our early retirement strategy.

2. Someone at some point of time will disrupt your plan.

RISK is an interesting game, because you are facing 6 others opponent at the start of the game, you might have some plan in mind but someone at some point of time will disrupt your plan. While you on the way to conquer Africa, some computer player will attack you at your weakest link to break your occupation of that region.

Interestingly, it is similar scenario to whether we are talking about eating healthy or saving money. Imagine 5 friends having a gathering, if 4 of them is watching their spending closely and the remaining one just spend his money like no tomorrow, the 4 person won’t criticise the spending person. But if the trend reverse, interesting conversation start to happen, the 4 spending person will start saying things like “I rather spend a bit more money to enjoy myself” or “What is the point of saving so much if you cannot enjoy your life?”.

3. If you cannot join them, beat them!

In the game of RISK, since I am playing with computer, there is no way for me to convince the computer to join me for my game, the only way for me to survive and thrive is to beat all my opponent during the game. However, in real life, you should try your best to convert people around you to join you in your early retirement journey, bring out your best argument by living happily without spending all your earning at the end of the month.

4. Things will get easier and easier once you pass the initial phase.

In the game of RISK, once you passed the initial fighting phase and occupy one of the region, things get easier. Your supply of army at each round increased, your chance of victory increasing by each round. In the journey of early retirement, your job get easier and easier once you build your first passive income source. As your passive income increase,  your freedom increase.

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Filed under Passive Income, Personal Development

Be Responsible

I would like share a small story:

One day, a bird is resting beside a man lying on beach. The man just saw the bird fly from the roof top of the three storey holiday resort and landed on the beach. So the man ask the bird how did it managed to do that? The bird answered the man saying it just jump off the roof top and start swing its wing, the rest just happened naturally.

The next day, the man climb up to the roof top and jump down from there while swing his arm trying to fly like the bird. Obviously that never happened and the man broke his leg when landed on the ground. While suffering in pain, the man did not forget to curse and swear the bird for introduce him flying, and the people walking past him thought he is crazy and no one dare to come near him and help him with his injury.

Moral of the story? Please judge yourself before you make any decision and please be responsible after made the decision.

Our daily live experience can teach us many things if you are really paying attention to the things happening in your life. Today I would like to talk about responsibility. Many of us don’t want to be responsible for the decision we made, it is always other people fault that we don’t earn enough, we are too fat or we fall sick easily. But if we really think about it, did we define a amount that is considered enough for our situation or are we chasing a moving income target? We are complaining that our weight keep increasing and our muscle percentage keep dropping while eating ice cream. We sleep late, eating junk food and blaming the weather when we fall sick.

So I believe we as individual and our society as a whole need to be more responsible.

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How To Change Your Life, One Step At A Time.

We are all afraid to change, change means risk, danger, uncertainty or even perish since ancient time. In modern time, we gained more control over our life from risk of weather, animal, change of season or lack of food source. Our food production is now abundant, enough for every human being on this planet, but unfortunately very unevenly distributed.

Change is difficult, we don’t know how to get started to change our life to the better although most of us want it. But wants alone is not enough, only action bring changes. If you want to be healthier, don’t start running 5km tomorrow morning, instead spend 5 minutes walking if this is the first time in 5 years you are doing exercise. If you want to be better at work, spend more time learn about your job, get to know what is required to complete the job quickly and perfectly. If you want to have a better family relationship, make time for your family. Plan an outing with your family away from work and all other commitment, talk to them during the trip, pay attention to them during normal days, spend time celebrate special event with them instead of staring at the computer screen in the office.

However, talking is cheap. Anyone can write some thing on the internet like this post to tell you to change, but only you yourself hold the power to change your life to the better, one step at a time. My life has completely changed for the past few years, it took me many years to slowly improve my life for the better. Paid off student loan, bought a house, accumulate saving, started a blog, learning new skills at work, drafted a plan for early retirement, all this take time and effort to commit to it. And I am glad I took the steps and effort to complete all those goal.

I won’t tell you to set a goal or write down your goal and past all over your house and the place you will pass by daily. I believe there is always one thing that is always on your mind and that thing would be the most important and most suitable goal to chase for. For me, I don’t achieved all those thing on the above in one step. At any point of time, my focus is laser sharp, I would focus only on one goal unless that goal can be accomplished automatically like paying off student loan. During my paying off period, I basically did not have to put in much effort, I still maintain my usual spending habit and work my job. The only difference is I channeled my money toward clear off that debt. During buying house  period, thing is a little bit different. There is research to be done, where and what kind of house are we looking for, is there any new launch happening in the location we are aiming for? If there is, is the price point right for our budget? How big is the house we want to go for? What are the options available and which developer is reliable? All this question need to be answered before we can made one of the most decision in life, buy a house.

It is still a long way before I can see the early retirement light at the end of the rat race tunnel, now I am focusing on become the best employee I can be and fight for the highest income I can get. No matter how impatient I am now, I still maintain my pace and changing my life, one step at a time.

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What does retirement means to me

I am born in year 1981, age 33 this year. There is a term used to describe people born in my birth year, Generation Y. For me I believe it is just a convenient way to categorise people when organising a marketing/sales promotion event. People in every generation is still mainly influence by the macro economic situation they are in  during their living, for people live in wartime, survival is the mostly talk topic, how to create food and fulfil our needs with minimum resource was not deem as cheap skate but a virtue.

People who grow and live in time when there is no war but stable economic year by year have much different mindset. Working for decades to enjoys life for a few years or months is the norm in that generation, people mostly stay in one company for decades, collect their pension after decades and start enjoying life.

We who are living in unstable(some call it dynamic) economic environment has a much different inspiration. Many of us won’t be staying in one company for decades, maybe not even years. We are in the greatest time but also in the worst time in the history. Every few years come a financial crisis, every financial crisis bring about lay-offs, retrenchment and at the same time bring about some great investing opportunity. Our society has divided between those has and those has-not. It is not longer young people that remain working and old people who are retired. We see more and more young people(some early 30s) retire in their own term and we see more and more elderly are forced to work beyond traditional retirement age,  maybe even till their death.

In order to survive and prosper in today society, we need to figure out how does the money system works. Saving without investment obviously does not solve our retirement puzzles these days. With the inflation remains high and strong, our saving can easily be eaten up with our knowing . There are a few traditional ways in investment, namely stock market, real estate and business(I meant run your own business here). In order to survive and retire in our generation, it has became mandatory for us to invest our money wisely. Stock market has become the favourite of the investor(in loose term) due to its lower barrier of entry compare to real estate and business. However it does not means it is easy to master the art and science of invest in stock market.

In most simple term, buying a stock is buying a piece of a company. You casting a vote of confidence into the company of your choice, betting that it will earn a profit and share with you that pool of money it earned from its operation. If you are determined enough, consistently putting money into stock market and buy some large corporation stock for long term can bring you great return. After certain number of years, the return/dividends from your stock holding will exceed your annual expense. By this time, we enter the door of financial freedom, we take back our time, we can decide what we want to do with our day. I believe everyone will be a even more efficient and effective worker if it is their choice to spend their time in office rather in the park.

Having the choice to do the things that you find it meaningful is the most important benefit I like to have in my retirement period.

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Don’t retire early

Every now and then when I talk to people about this blog and the idea of early retirement, the positive people would maybe excited for about 5 seconds before they told me it is impossible to achieve early retirement in our generation. Actually, if their idea of retirement meant inactivity or doing nothing at all, they are almost correct. Because even thought I haven’t achieve the financial side of freedom to early retirement, I knew that even I manage to get my investment to support my expense in future, I won’t be sitting around doing nothing either.

I am 32 years old this years, let say I get my investment up and running to support me financially in 10 years time, I will be 42 years. By then I am still relatively young in the society, and I will have much more knowledge and energy to serve the society so I don’t think I will be sitting around at home and reading newspaper and watching TV all day long. The thing is the definition of retirement in today world should change, it should not means inactivity or expiry of a person, it should be a member of society gain his time freedom to pursue important things in his life. It could be his family, traveling plan, social activity, his job(yes, there are people love their job and doesn’t celebrate every Friday and blue every Monday) or just serving his community.

Also, I think early retirement or not, we all on the journey of  life. Even you think you are going to work for a much longer time because some choices you made in the past, there is nothing to be sad about. We all have our own way to contribute to this society, some of us done it with our job, some of us volunteer, some of us run a business to provide goods and services and some of us taking care of our family. It doesn’t means that early retiree is better than you because they can retire earlier than you, it simply means that they made the decision earlier and decided to make it works for them.

There are sacrifice to make, things to set aside, events to miss in this journey. You are the only one can answer whether are all this effort worth it? Are you really ready to commit to this goal? Remember, it is not only the big ticket item you need to be mindful, you have to be really looking all area of your life to make it works.

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Filed under Passive Income, Personal Development

Living like a student?

Most of us had student life, it was the best part of our part. That was the time when we were young and energetic, full of ideas and with all kind of possibilities. That was also the time we have no income, depend on our parent for daily needs, watch out for our spending and plan months ahead just to get a concern ticket or a trip to the town.

Seriously, I like those years. I like those years where we were less financially educated but we are causing less damage to our financial self. I like those years where resources were so scarce for us (parent weren’t rich), but we used our creative mind and hard work to earn our reward. We were fearless, we were hardworking and we were ambitious. We worked our tail off for something out of interest or passion, not money, we don’t spend money on unfulfilling stuff because we were busy working and chasing our dream.

Fast forward 10 years, everything changed. Most of us had been through the ultimate test of life called career. Career is a abstract word, an idea this society want to push into our head. And most of the time, how successful you are in your chosen career is measure by how much money you make in this particular career. At this point of life, you have the most earning power of your life, you felt compelled to reward yourself after all the job well done, you stopped watching every little spending in your life because it just doesn’t worth your time. You have money but you don’t have (enough)time for the things you like to do, the people you like to spending time with and read the book you have been wanting to read.

Sometime I wonder is this the life I want for the rest of my life? Working hard to earn the dollars and spend them all in the next moment, then repeat this cycle. Or should I work hard to earn the dollars and ask them to work even harder to produce more of themselves to serve me?

Either path is a choice, it is a choice we all have to make and we all had made in our daily life. Every time you make a decision, you are making that choice, no good or bad, it is just a choice. As I always said, there is no problem, only project, there is no failure, only feedback.

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Things I Am Doing Now To Speed Up My Retirement

Early retirement require careful planning and strict implementation of that plan. Every event along the journey has the potential to screw up your progress and set you back a few more years behind your retirement schedule. One of the key is how much are you spending each month, as a percentage of your monthly income, so I have been carefully doing several things which I thought might helps me speed up the process.

1. Keeping as little stuff as I can

I owns very little stuff, maybe less than 100 items if I excluded my books. My weakest link in stuff ownership always lie with books, I am currently in the process of transfer my books into electronic copy to clear up the storage space in my room. I have pretty much cleared out stuff that I didn’t use for the past 6 months and still looking at a few items that I used in the past 3 months.

This declutter activity is quite tedious, you will need to dig out things that you didn’t know were still there and making decision to continue store them or discard them. Another better option might be share them out on the freecycle site, a man trash might be another man treasure, you never know.

Throwing out stuff is difficult, it represented a decision you made in the past, an item you exchanged it with your hard earned money or maybe a sweet memory you shared with the people you loved. Throwing stuff feel like admitting that you made a mistake in the past, wasted a resource from the earth or destroy a sweet memory. In my opinion, by not throwing/giving out those stuff, you are making a bigger mistake. Souvenir that remind you of a sweet memory can be an exception here, other than that you should evaluate every item you owns in term of cost and benefit. Is this item giving more benefit than it cost me? Remember an item not only cost you a physical space but also a memory space in your mind. The less you owns, the less you need to worry about.

By keeping as little stuff as I can also helps me to make careful decision when buying a new item. More consideration and cooling off time was given to myself before I take out my money and bring home another new item.

Of course this is a personal choice, some people will keep stuff they used at least once for the past 6 months and some people will keep up to a year. Just make sure you have a adequate amount of stuff that don’t put too much stress on you.

2. Use a cheap cell phone plan

My personal cell phone plan is dirt cheap. I owns a Nokia phone which I bought for SGD 49, and I used a prepaid plan on this phone. A top up of SGD 20 give me about a month of usage, and the phone battery last me 2-4 days on a single charge depends on my usage. I never into smart phone although I does owns one smart phone for business purposes. It is mainly for instant chatting, checking email and making call.

Cell phone plan is a tricky one because it is a monthly expense and it is not fixed for most of the people, especially for the post paid customer. Small monthly expense always sneak out from people sight because they are small, not as obvious like big expense like mortgage or car loan. But consider this, a monthly expense of 50 dollars will needs an investment of 12,000 dollars with 5% return to support. How many of us has 12,000 dollars saved? And how many of us has them in an investment with 5% return? I would think that most of us are on the other side of the game, we carry a monthly expense of 30 dollars here, 60 dollars instead.

Choose a cheaper cell phone plan, it will do you good long term. 🙂

3. Get a cheap hobby

I confess, my hobby is not very cheap. Every year or so I need to buy a new pair of basketball shoe, that will be about 100 dollars, every week I spent 4-5 dollars on the rental of the court, I spent about 60 dollars on basketball and countless of energy on the game. But you no need to follow my footstep, you can do better than me actually. There are tons of free or almost free hobby you can take up.

Let’ start with the almost free hobbies first. One of them is reading, reading the books you borrowed from the library. It is not entirely free because you do need to pay to get your membership card done. But I think that investment is worthwhile, you get to entertain,educate yourself this way with very little money. Like to read exciting/romantic/mystery story? There are a bunch of fiction selection lying in the library waiting for you to pick them up. Like to build/knit/repair/learn something? I am sure you too can find a book teaching you what you want from the library.

If you are sport enthusiast, I bet you have no problem to invest some money to up your game a little bit. But it is always wise to evaluate your level before commit a sum of money into the latest sport gear. If you are not a professional badminton player, whether a racket weights 85g or 86g might not be an issue to you, and if you are not a competitive cyclist, a normal mountain bike would be fine for your weekly cycling trip. My point is, don’t overspend on equipment before you ever reach that level of competency, it is a waste of money. If you just want to get a little exercise, just walk. Walking should be the least costly hobby I can think of. If your budget allow, buy a pair of sport shoe for your walking session.

4. Buy enough clothing

I don’t really shop for clothes, except an occasionally trip to buy some working clothes. Most of the casual clothes I have now has lasted me for several years, some ever 10 over years. The key term here is enough, enough is different for everyone. For me, I keep 3 sets of working clothes, about 10 set of T-shirt/polo-T/short pant for casual wear. My working set cost me about 100 dollars a set, so there is about 300 dollars. I don’t keep number on my casual wear since most of them came from some many years ago, I guess my cost on owning them should be very low by now, probably less than 2 dollars per year per piece.

5. Go car free

This is really a no brainer if you are living in Singapore. With the price of the COE skyrocketing, it is making less and less sense to owns a car here. The cost of owning a car here is equivalent owning a house in Malaysia, if you are open to the idea of retire outside of Singapore, buying a car here is a no no no. Public transport here is not great, but it is decent. It still done its primary job of transporting people from one side of the island to the other. If you want to explore certain part of the island that is inaccessible by public transport (where are those place anyway?), there are enough supply of taxi that can fulfill you wants.

Remember you are not only save money going car free, you also reduce the pressure on the earth because there is less resources being pull out from the earth to build that car and less petrol is burnt to push that giant metal box you could have bought.

6. Watch less TV

or play less computer game. TV and computer game are like addiction, their obvious purpose is to entertain and deep down you know it is an addiction that you cannot just switch it off as you wish. I play no computer game nowadays, I don’t get much entertainment from staring at a screen and try to move my finger fast enough to kill some monster.

TV can be a good tool to spread message to the mass but I think it has gone bad in quality. Its sole purpose now will be getting more viewership to sell the ads at more expensive price. TV program nowadays do whatever it take to get people to stare at that screen, I saw inappropriate scenes in a cartoon show, more and more mindless program to shut down our creative mind and advertisements that try to sell us stuff.

I don’t know but I believe there might be a force somewhere try to glue us to the sofa to watch the TV after our working hour, try to prevent us from come up with new business ideas or inventing new stuff that might change our life. It is in their best interest for us to just be comfortable with our life, work for 30-40 years and buy product from them at the same period of time.

So, if you want to make some changes to your life, the first thing you need to cut down is your time spent on TV.

7. Maintain/repair things

I don’t have many things to maintain since I don’t really owns that many things. One thing I have proudly maintain for the past 5 years is my back bag, I bought it since 26 April 2008. For the past 5 years, it needed two maintenance action because 2 parts of the main zip came loose. I pulled out my thread and needle and stitch them back as shown as below.

IMAG0111 IMAG0112 IMAG0113

 

I am glad that I have not many things to maintain or repair, I guess this is added benefit from owning small amount of stuff. ^^

 

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3 Lessons I Learnt From My Retrenchment

I was let go by my company on 10 July 2013. So for the past few weeks I have been busy with looking for a new job. I was landed a new job with more interesting job scope and more opportunities. During the process, I learnt a few lessons that I think it is valuable and I shared all them below.

Be prepared.

As I always said, I have been very happy in my previous job and I never thought I will be retrenched before I achieve my retirement. It might sounds silly to you but that was really what I was thinking then. I was thinking technical job should be quite stable, as long as I have the skills and I am fulfilling my duty, I should be pretty safe from retrenchment. I escaped the previous one so there is no reason why I cannot escape this one.

So, I was pretty much not prepared when I was let go by the company. My resume was not updated, my job site accounts have been sitting in spider web for the past three years and I don’t even have a LinkedIn account. So I quickly setup my LinkedIn account and start adding people like crazy everyday for every possible opportunity.

I also start pull out the resume I have not been touching for the past three years and updated it with my job experience in previous company. As I was writing, I realized I have the most stuff to write for the past three years compare to the previous five years. In this three years, I learnt a lot of technical knowledge, gathering requirement from customers, provide them dedicate and fast service when the issue is a product bug. But it is still a challenge for me to put all those down in words so I seek help from my colleague to help me check on my grammar, the descriptive words I should use and format that is best for reading( Most resume actually didn’t get read, and those which get read only have 6 seconds to impress the reader).

It is important to always be prepared for incident like job loss.

Be diligent.

Job hunting in some way very similar to the real hunting. You need to have the skill to make your weapon and fire them, but you also have to shoot at enough number of animals before you can get your preferred result. I have the skills from my previous job and I know they are valuable in the market. But it is still very important for me to go to market every day, talk to market people about the current situation and try for every possible position that is related to my skill. I have also applied to other positions that I know I will look really stupid if I was asked in for an interview, but I applied it anyway. It is a process I must go through, treat them as practice, and just keep going.

Be open

If there is job opportunity for you to try something new and learn new skill, take it. It is never too late or old to learn something new. In IT line, everything is changing very fast and anything you learn one or two years ago might not be relevant anymore. So no matter you are trying something new or stay with your old specialization, you have to keep learning. If your job is purely technical, enhance your technical skill till you are the go to person whenever your customer needs some technical advice. If your job is more toward sales/marketing, build that relationship and trust between your customer and you.

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3 Things You Can Do In 5 Minutes That Improve Your Finance Immediately

I see finance as the most challenging part in our retirement journey (maybe because I don’t have a million of them yet.) In our current world, we still need some money no matter how frugal you are because this is how the system works. Beside money, we are now lacking of time to do anything and I think I will just take 5 minutes of your time to share what I think can improve your finance.

1. Calculate your total net worth

Spend 5 minutes to calculate how much have you accumulated over all your working years so far. If you still have debt (student loan/credit card bill/mortgage/other loan), you might be in negative net worth. For me, this is an easy exercise because all I need to do now is to look at my bank account and I can know my net worth immediately. Being aware of how much money I have helps me make better purchase decision and also my progress towards my retirement number.

Things could be complicated if you holds much more investment tools than me, but isn’t that a good news?

2. Get a free/profitable hobby

My hobbies used to be very expensive (at least according to my current standard). I spent a lot of money on buying book (but not reading enough of them), I also spent a lot on sport equipment like sport shoe, badminton racket/string, roller blade although I only play badminton fortnightly, run maybe once a month and I don’t know how the roller blade works.

After I get to know the blog of early retirement extreme, I get a few ideas from the blog about creating free (or profitable) and enjoyable hobby. Nowadays I spent more time reading than buying books (library is a great source), making full use of my running shoe now (run 2-3 per week), starting a blog (this one, it cost some money but I view it as a investment for me to learn about how to manage a blog as a business).

3. Get started at financial education

Property, stock, business, antique, painting, etc… There are so many investment choices available on the market now and it is confusing for me. I first learn about index fund through Mr Money Mustache blog and Early Retirement Extreme blog, it sounds like a reasonable choice t me. But I also agree with what is written by Jacob on his ERE blog about investment, we should understand investment enough first before we put in our hard earned money into it.

I have received many recommendations of books and online course about investment from few forum posts I posted. You might want to check them out if you are interested.

Although I start this post with things you can do in 5 minutes that helps your finance but I think every item listed above require time and effort to learn. I think the time line for me will be 5 to 8 years based on my current saving rate.

Let me know what you think is the next important thing during your retirement after you have taken care of your finance.

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