Less Stuff, More Happiness

Decided to start a regular series called Ted Thursdays, where I’ll share some of my favorite Ted.com videos every week. If you haven’t already checked out or heard of Ted, maybe you should stop watching porn and start doing something meaningful online.

I -love- Ted.com. I use their app to watch videos on the long-ass bus/subway ride to work as a way to get thinking, to get motivated, or just laugh my ass off (much to the annoyance of other grumpy sleepy commuters).

Today’s Ted talk is a short, 5-minute video on how having less stuff could lead to more happiness. (Or the deliciously simple ” <=> “) Graham highlights three ways you could make this work:

1. Edit Ruthlessly

2. Think Small

3. Make Multifunctional

While this is meant to apply more toward design principles, I don’t see why we can’t use it in life. Yesterday, I got a helluva frustrated because a computer glitch caused a ton of emails, that I had carefully sorted and archived over the past year, to be spat out, unsorted, back into my inbox. A quick glance through made me realize that I will never, ever reread or use 98% of them, yet I was spending hours and hours archiving and sorting them out every day. A simple solution: that little button marked “DELETE”. At first, I was a little apprehensive at the prospect of deleting something potentially important, but who am I kidding – if it was THAT important, there will be other ways of retrieving it, without wasting precious hours archiving things I will never use. It’s an invigorating feeling to delete 1,463 emails at a go. You should try it.

This New Year, take the opportunity to ruthlessly cut the junk that’s been building up in your physical and digital property. As you’re faced with new stuff, give yourself a bias to delete rather than to store. You’ll free up some mental capacity and get re-invigorated to start doing something REALLY great. Here’s to a less cluttered, happier, new year 🙂

(PS: Yes – I’m fully aware that today is actually Friday. I fell asleep, exhausted, after a night out with friends on Thursday. A dude’s gotta live, okay?)

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The Lowdown on Low Rates

An amendment to my previous post (thanks Sharon!) – just found out that DBS/POSB slashed their interest rates to a pathetic 0.05% for their regular savings accounts, and 0.2%-0.25% p.a for a MySavings account. To give you an idea about how painful that is, consider that $1,000 saved at a 0.05% interest rate, compounded monthly for 10 years, would give you a grand total of …. $1,005. Owtch.

It’s actually hardly surprising that banks are cutting their rates to pretty much zero in light of the current economic environment. And while I could bore you with my thoughtful analysis of why interest rates are near zero, (peppering my speech with words like “current economic environment”), I’ll just give you the lowdown on what you should, and should not do.

What you SHOULD do:

1. Stick to your guns. You’re not going to get rich just by saving, but good saving habits are the first step to getting your ass out of the poor house. Just like how the first step to losing weight is to STOP EATING THOSE DAMN TASTY MCDONALD’S BURGERS, the first step to getting rich is to stop spending your money on useless crap. Your account, while not earning very much in interest, serves as a protective commitment device to prevent you from making stupid spending mistakes. There’s a certain psychological advantage in keeping your saved money separate from the account meant for your daily expenses: you’re less likely to spend it.

2.  Use your account as a short-term savings account, saving for large expenditures that are less than a year away. This is actually what I primarily use my POSB MySavings account for – so I always have a stash that I can spend on vacations, parties, gifts, weddings (not mine), and random weekend trips, absolutely guilt-free.  Get your system to keep shoveling $100 into your savings account every month, and at the end of the year you’re likely to have enough moolah to spend lavishly on Christmas, or reward yourself with a trip.

3. If you’re a savvier saver, you could possibly look into some insurance-linked savings plans, CDs, bonds, etc. But I’ll blog more about those another day. But if you’re going down this route, be damn sure that you don’t need the money within the next 5 – 20 years. (what about your house? or wedding? or investments?)

(Side note: I have a separate long-term savings account, earning a higher rate of interest where I park most of my money that’s not meant to be splurged within the year. But I’ll talk more about why the hell I bother to maintain three bank accounts in another post)

What you SHOULDN’T do:

1. Don’t be tempted to switch to another bank offering an interest rate that’s 0.02% higher than the one you’ve got. Honestly, it’s not worth the trouble. Your subway ride to the other bank is probably going to cost you more than the additional interest you’re going to earn. Interest rates are constantly adjusted by banks. They’re low now because all the other banks’ rates are low. When the Federal Reserve in America decides to raise their interest rates, the rest of the world will follow suit and your bank will be forced to raise its rates in order to keep its customers. So hang in there.

2. Don’t be tempted to dump all your savings into some foreign currency term deposit. I’m seeing lots of ads these days touting everyone to convert their Singapore dollars into Australian dollars, offering interest rates of 5% and above. Sure, you could possibly make some money if you’re willing to take some risk, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s risk-free just because it’s a term deposit. If the Australian dollar falls against the Singapore dollar, you could actually lose more than what you earned in interest. I learned this the hard way back in college when I transferred most of my savings to my US bank account, only to see the Greenback fall spectacularly by like 30% or something. (Luckily, I was too drunk to notice).

In short, it sucks for savers that interest rates have fallen, but don’t let that steer you away from your plan. Saving is just one part of the equation – it prevents you from spending on dumb things, and it’s a necessary prerequisite for all that other good stuff that WILL make you rich. Keep it steady!

Save Your Bonus

Okay it might be a little late for this, but if you haven’t spent a bomb on your Christmas presents yet, read on.

There’s a reason why the government wants most Singaporean companies to pay out their Annual Wage Supplement (AWS), more commonly known as the 13-month bonus, in December. SO YOU CAN PAY IT RIGHT BACK INTO THE ECONOMY BY SPENDING IT ON STUPID PRESENTS THAT NO ONE REALLY LIKES. Okay, I kid. I’m all for giving presents and letting a little loose during the festive season. (So what if your mom will never ever use that waffle maker you bought her – it’s the thought that counts, right?) But I’d like to highlight that this insidious little trick actually causes you to spend a lot more than you otherwise would during Christmas. So because it’s Christmas, I’ll tell you how to get around that psychological barrier, afford to buy your presents, AND still get rich by saving most of it.

This is how most people think: “Wow an extra $3,000! I just got paid like 2 weeks ago, I’m getting paid today, AND I’m getting paid in 2 weeks?! I’m RICH bitchessss. I could totally afford to buy all my Christmas presents now, and still have money left over to get me that iPad I really want so I can play Angry Birds on a big screen” Don’t get caught up in the hype. It’s a dirty little psychological trick that the entire system plays to get you to spend more during Christmas, leaving you poor and part of the 99% of the population who will never get rich, while our GDP, and the corresponding salaries of our bosses and ministers which are tied to that GDP, get fatter and fatter. (I’m a big proponent of taking charge of your own wealth and not blaming or relying on any government policy to get you out of poverty. But more on that at another time)

News flash, people – that 13-month bonus that you got isn’t actually a real “bonus”, it’s part of your hard-earned, blood sweat and tears, salary. Most companies calculate your monthly wage based on a 28-day month, but of course most months have more than 28 days. When you add up all the “extra” days each month for an entire year, you get… 29 days, which is why companies are obligated to pay you that extra month’s worth of salary.  (I know this doesn’t apply to ALL companies in Singapore – some of you lucky bastards get paid a higher salary each month, without that 13-month bonus) So don’t be treating that extra cash in your bank account like money fallen from the sky, you EARNED that shizz through working all those extra days in the year!

Here’s what I do to get around that dirty little psychological trick.

1. First, I plan in advance how much I want to spend this Christmas. Say I want to spend like $1,200 in gifts and dinners and parties all that jazz. Like literally everything, including cab fares from my parties, Secret Santa gift exchanges, everything. That means I have to save $100 every month in order to afford it.

2. I then set up a savings system that automatically goes into my account every month after my salary gets paid, pulls out that $100 and deposits it into a separate short-term savings account that I absolutely do not touch until December comes around. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I use POSB’s MySavings account because it’s simple, free, and there are no charges to transferring the money when I need it. (I’ll write a bit more about automating your finances in another post)

3. When my 13-month “bonus” gets credited into my account, I take 90% of that and transfer that straight into my long-term savings account, which is meant for a future downpayment for a house, retirement, wedding, whatever. (I literally never make withdrawals from that account until I have to spend it for that long-term goal) Why 90%? Because, let’s face it – we’re all human and it’s hard as hell to resist the temptation to blow some of it on some stupid expensive item that you’ve always wanted. So I keep 10% of that and I go wild with it, guilt-free.

4. Once all that is done and December rolls around, I now have that $1,200 I saved up, and an extra 10% of my bonus (assuming your salary is $3,000 – the median salary in Singapore – that would give you an extra $300), which is ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FRICKIN DOLLARS to make all my Christmas dreams come true.

You can now afford to go wild at Christmas without feeling guilty, with minimal sacrifice (seriously, how hard is it to save an extra $100 bucks every month?), AND you’re consciously saving up for the long term, keeping yourself in the running to make yourself rich. Now THAT’S a real Christmas dream.

Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂

To-Do or Not To-Do

So I’m a huge fan of productivity hacks – partly because I work in a Large Faceless Corporation and am subject to the usual administrative nightmares that face employees of Large Faceless Corporations (in case any of my colleagues are reading this, I actually like my job. Seriously, I do. But more on that later). But yes – productivity hacks – I’ve found a few that have actually made a real difference in getting more stuff done, with less stress, and time to catch a movie after I knock off. I expect to be blogging more about them in due course, but today I’ll start with one of my favorites: the old-fashioned To-Do list.

Now I can hear all of you groaning at my complete lack of creativity (I mean, seriously, I call my To-Do list a “To-Do” list.. I don’t have any bright ideas when it comes to names). But hear me out. I’ve seen enough colleagues (and bosses) go through each day, using their friggin inbox as a to-do list. They check their emails (or blackberries) 10 times an hour, thinking that every email that pops up requires their immediate attention. And every task that is emailed to them is treated with equal priority, on a first-come-first-served basis. It doesn’t matter if the email is an instruction to finish a Really Important Report that could earn their company millions if actioned on immediately, or a reminder to send out the invitations for the upcoming Christmas party. It pops into their inbox, they spend two hours crafting that perfect Christmas invitation and send it out, only to find that they don’t have enough time to do that Really Important Report and they stay back till 10pm to do it, wondering why the hell they never have enough time to do anything.

Screw all that. I recommend doing up a To-Do list, listing just ONE major thing that you have to do tomorrow, and probably 5-6 minor things that need your attention, but really aren’t that urgent/important. The major task at the top of your To-Do list should be that one thing that actually matters, that adds directly to your core functions and values, that will impress your bosses and get you promoted if you do it well, that when completed will solve 80% of your worries. It may change from day-to-day, but for any particular day you should only have one of those items to tackle. If you have more than one, decide which is the more urgent one and tackle that one first. The other 5-6 items are for things that you owe other people but nobody would die if you didn’t give it to them immediately, or just those annoying little things that you need to get out of the way but don’t really help anybody except to cover someone else’s administrative ass.

That one major item on my To-Do list gets the priority of my attention, and that’s the one I start off with first the following day, probably spending up to 40% or 50% of my day on. You may have different working habits, but I’m the most efficient and clear-minded in the morning, buzzing with caffeine, so that’s how I treat that item most effectively. Once that’s out of the way, or at least partially done and can wait till the next day, I don’t have to worry about it anymore and can focus on working my way through all the small annoying tasks. I usually save that for after lunch, when I’m sleepy as hell and couldn’t care less about sending one-line emails to get annoying colleagues off my back.

And here’s the catch – you’ve got to do your To-Do at the end of the day, right before you leave the office. Leave about 15 mins at the end of the day to consolidate your thoughts, and come up with your To-Do list, no matter how much you just wanna slam your laptop shut and get the f*** out of there. It usually only takes me 5 mins or less, with the remaining 10 mins strategizing on which tasks I should tackle first. If you’re writing 20 items in there, you’re being too ambitious. Most people write their To-Do lists at the beginning of the day, but I’ve found that writing your To-Do list at the end of the day ensures that the day’s events are fresh in your mind, so you don’t have to spend time recalling them the next day, or worse, miss them out altogether. There’s also something very Zen about writing all those tasks out on paper, and psychologically leaving them there till the next day, so you’re not burdened with trying to remember them outside of the office.

And when you come back to the office the next day, it becomes a tactical matter of actually working your way through that list, rather than a matter of strategizing which ones you should pay attention to first, which can be pretty damn demoralizing the first thing in the morning. So you hit the ground running, doing actual work and getting stuff done, while secretly laughing at your colleagues who spend 40% of their day running around like headless chickens, wondering how the heck they’re gonna clear their bursting inboxes.

If you’ve tried this out, let me know how it works out for you 🙂

The Most Annoying Part of Starting a Blog: The Title

So I decided to start this blog like how I usually decide to do most things: on a lark. And I spent a good part of the past week trying to come up with an awesome title for it. I was still thinking about it and typing it down on my phone while getting my hair cut today (much to the annoyance of my barber).

The combinations I came up with:

coffeeandeggs.wordpress.com (some food blog not updated since 2009)
ramenandeggs.wordpress.com (available but too Asian)
crackedegg.wordpress.com (one of those one-post “Hello World!” entries)
scrambledeggs.wordpress.com (deleted by the owner – seriously, why would you delete a blog with such an awesome name)
sunnysideup.wordpress.com (an artsy egg blog not updated since 2009)
happyegg.wordpress.com (Another one of those one-post “Hello World!” entries.. seriously, what is it with these guys!)
explodingegg.wordpress.com (I actually really wanted this one, because I was almost killed by one. Shoutout to my friend Amber! But that’s another story… and yeah, it was already taken)

And finally.. this. Yes, you can tell I really like eggs. I like eggs cause they’re easy. And tasty. And they go with everything. And you can make them in all sorts of different styles. They’re fragile, easily cracked, and sometimes smelly.  Sometimes, there might be a chick in them. Kind of like life, if you think about it. (Okay, I admit I stretched that analogy just a little bit)

But most importantly, I have ’em to start my day off. They’re my favoritest breakfast in the world. In Singapore, where I live, we have this breakfast dish comprising of two hardboiled eggs, toast, and coffee. The eggs are served runny on a small plate, with soya sauce and pepper. They kind of look like this:

I know, it looks kinda gross but it’s delicious as hell. Whenever I have it, it’s like I’m starting the day off on a positive (and tasty) note. And that’s really the whole point, because starting is the most important thing to do. I could spend weeks thinking about that perfect name for my blog, or I could start with my first post and see where that takes me.

And now I have.