Help Me Pick My Title (And More)

So everyone I meet these days has been asking me how my book writing’s been going. So I’d just like to let everyone know right now that it’s been friggin’ awesome.

I blame peer pressure. It started out as a spur-of-the-moment declaration at an Awesome Anonymous meeting to write a small, simple ebook. It has since grown into plans for a full-fledged, analogy packed, complete guide that aims to change people’s lives (or at the very least, get their finances sorted out so they can focus on changing their own lives and the lives of others).

I’m so psyched that I’ve spent at least 3 nights a week working on the book for the past 3 months or so. I’ll blog more on my progress in the weeks/months to come, but first, I’ll need your help to help me decide on 3 things: The title, the subtitle, and the pitch.

I came up with these after going through the results from the recent survey, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Do they stand out for you and make you want to read more? Do they sound as scammy as “How to Get Rich By Becoming Wealthy Making Big Money in Real Estate”? If you saw the title in a bookstore, would you pick it up and/or buy it?

I’ve been blogging free financial advice for close to a year now, and I hope that I’ve helped you out at least a tiny bit in your personal finances. So I’d be super duper grateful if you could take 5 minutes to help me out too. 🙂

This is really important to me, so be brutally honest. Let me know if this is awesome, or if you have a totally different idea on how I should approach this. Leave a comment, or you can email me at cheerfulegg@gmail.com.

Ok, Let’s do this:

The Title

I’d like the title to be something eye-catching and different from the other sleazy investment books out there. I couldn’t really think of a better title other than the subcaption of my blog: Hatch a Rich Life. The word “hatch” is meant to speak to people who’re just starting out in their personal finances, while “rich life” is the eventual goal.

The Subtitle

I’ve got three options for the stuff that’s supposed to go with the main title. I.e:

Hatch a Rich Life: _____;________

Deciding on the subtitle might help if you take a look at the pitch first to get an idea of what the book is about (scroll down). And yes, I know that I use the word “sexy” and “awesome” a lot. I just wanted to convey that the book is targeted at an audience who’s a little cooler than crabby 50-year old men who spend all their time quibbling about “call options” and “stock warrants”. Not that I have anything against 50-year old men..

Subtitle 1. Build A Simple, Sexy, Self-Run Personal Finance System in 5 Weeks

Subtitle 2. A Personal Finance System For Young Sexy Singaporeans

Subtitle 3. A Simple, Sexy, Self-Run Personal Finance System for Young Singaporeans

Pitch

Think of this as what you’d read on the inside flap of the book. I’ll be using this to tell people what the book is about, and why it’ll be awesome for them.

Imagine waking up on a sunny Saturday morning to find that your robot slaves have been working hard for you while you slept. They’ve built up your savings account, paid off your credit card bills, saved you money in taxes, and invested your money into your early retirement portfolio, all without you lifting a finger. With your system taking care of all that boring “financey” stuff, you can now focus on taking over the world, cooking breakfast for mum and dad or… going back to sleep. Life is good.

Forget arbitrary financial advice and random stock tips. Hatch a Rich Life is a 5-week program to master your money and turn your financial life into a system – a simple, low-maintenance system that will put you way ahead of your friends on the path to a rich life.

I’ll cover the surprising truth on why most young Singaporeans are getting poorer every day. I’ll reveal exactly what you should save for and the most effective way to do it. You’ll discover the freedom of spending on the things you love without feeling guilty. You’ll learn how to dominate Wall Street professionals when it comes to investing. And finally, you’ll learn how to integrate everything into a set of autopilot systems that won’t take more than 15 minutes a year to maintain – leaving you time to focus on living an awesome, rich, life.

That’s It For Now!

Okay, that’s pretty much it for now. Again, please be brutally honest and let me know if this is something that speaks to you. Is this what you’d like to read about? Leave me a comment / email me. I’d love to hear from you 🙂

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Using Systems to Dominate Learning (And Anything Else)

The MIT Challenge

Recently read a guest post by blogger Scott Young, who stunned the world by doing the impossible. Scott completed MIT’s notoriously difficult Computer Science curriculum, which usually takes bright MIT students four years to finish, in one year. Watch the TED talk on his MIT Challenge here:

To do this, Scott adopted a carefully constructed learning system that let him compress the concepts of a 4-year education into a short span of time. This wasn’t simply a matter of cramming for exams. Scott not only passed all the exams but also completed all the programming projects, which require a deep understanding of the material. How did he do it?

First, he watched all the lectures online to get a birds-eye view of the material. By watching the video lectures at 1.5x-2x the normal speed, he managed to go through a semester’s worth of lectures in a couple of days.

Next, he spent a lot more time developing insight and drawing connections. He’d first take a piece of paper and write the concept that he was trying to understand at the top. He then wrote out his own explanation, as if he was teaching it to someone else. When he came to a gap in his knowledge, he’d go back to the textbook or find it online. In this way, he systematically filled in all the knowledge gaps until he had a deep, complete, understanding of the material.

Third, he went through practice problems with the solution key in hand. He’d check his work question-by-question, getting immediate feedback for every question he did. Compared to other students who might have to wait weeks before they got back their graded assignments, Scott’s system gave him a tight feedback loop which dramatically improved his effectiveness.

As Scott wrote in a guest post describing his journey: “…the method you use to learn matters a lot. Deeper levels of processing and spaced repetition can, in some cases, double your efficiency (emphasis mine). Indeed, the research in deliberate practice shows us that without the right method, learning can plateau forever.”

In short, Scott wasn’t studying harder; he was using a system to study smarter.

The Power Of Systems

Scott’s MIT Challenge forms the premise of the book I’m currently working on: That adopting the right systems can help you to achieve much, much more than the average individual.

You can use systems to create a desirable habit, deliver happiness to people, get fitter, be more productive, negotiate better.. pretty much anything you want to achieve in life.

Most people don’t know how to improve their own lives because they rely solely on “trying harder”. How many of us make New Years resolutions to go to the gym more often, only to fail miserably before February comes around? How many of us resolve to be more productive at work, but end up online shopping and Facebook stalking before lunchtime? And how many of us resolve to saving and investing more this year, only to have all our extra cash wiped out by a year-end vacation?

Instead of trying harder, applying systems is infinitely more effective. Here’s why:

1. Systems remove the need for “willpower”

The trouble with willpower is that it’s easy to lose steam. We burn out. John Tierney, coauthor of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, describes willpower as a finite resource that runs out just as easily as a fuel in your car tank. Systems, on the other hand, take control away from you. They force you onto a certain path so that you don’t have to use willpower. It sounds counterintuitive, but we’re more likely to be successful at something when we are willing to hand over control to a system.

2. Systems are much simpler to follow 

If you’re trying to lose weight, think about the barrage of information out there on weight management. Hundreds of articles and blogs give handy “tips” and nuggets of advice, but they’re often conflicting and confusing. A system, on the other hand, is based on rules. Step 1, 2, 3. Go to a personal trainer and he’ll tell you exactly what you need to eat, how to exercise, and all that jazz. You don’t have to think – all you need to do is stick to the system, and you’ll succeed.

3. Systems are smarter

Think about Scott Young’s system for accelerated learning. It’s a simple formula, but it’ll save you a lot of time and effort when it comes to studying. Think about how much easier it is to set up a GIRO standing instruction that automatically helps you to save every month, instead of putting in time and effort to “save harder”. Finding the right system can help you to do things a lot more efficiently and effectively than most people.

Viewing the world from a systems perspective

Systems are effective, more so than many of us realize. That’s the premise of this blog, as well as the upcoming book. So far, I’ve showed you how to use systems to improve your savings and investments, find the right types of insurance, and spend more efficiently on the things you love. The book will delve a little more deeply into the psychology of saving, spending and investing, and will describe more detail on the systems that will help you tackle your personal finances.

You start to see things differently once you look at life from a systems perspective. Large challenges suddenly don’t seem so daunting anymore, and possibilities start to open up.  Are there any problems that you’re currently stumped by, but could possibly be solved by applying a system? I’d love to hear from you, even if you haven’t found a solution yet. Leave a comment, or send me an email at cheerfulegg@gmail.com.

Cheers 🙂

Travel For Lower Cost Than Low-Cost

Read a great article by Christopher Elliot today, titled Ridiculous or Not? Low-Cost Airlines That Cost More. It gave the example of how Southwest, one of the most popular low-cost airlines in America, sometimes has higher fares than full service carriers like US Airways. It gets away with this because it labels itself as a “low-cost” airline, so people generally make assumptions that it’s cheaper than the rest and don’t bother doing their research.

The lesson here is that we should always do our research, and never make assumptions. Full-service carriers regularly do promotions that can make themselves cheaper, or just slightly more expensive, than low-cost carriers. Some tips to get a cheaper fare:

1. Sign up for an airline / travel agent’s newsletter to get wind of new promotions

2. Travel during traditional lull periods – avoid peak seasons like summer or Christmas holidays

3. Research carriers that don’t have a strong presence in the country you’re flying from – they’re more likely to drop their fares to grab hold of more passengers since they don’t have a home ground advantage.

4. Book your ticket in advance. Seats go on sale as early as a year in advance, and that’s one of the cheapest times to buy. Prices generally climb when you get closer to the departure date.

5. Check the news for any big carriers operating into a country for the first time. It’s likely that the other carriers will drop their fares because of the increased competition.

How to Hide Money Like a Criminal Mastermind

Let’s do a little role play. You are an international criminal mastermind, wanted by the authorities in 14 countries. Your crime ring has prospered, earning you an obscene amount of money. You could buy over a small country (or attend a Mitt Romney fundraiser) if you wanted to. You’ve also covered your tracks well. The police have got nothing on you, so they’re targeting the easiest piece of evidence they can find – your money.

Tipped off by your trusty financial advisor, you move your money in small parts to a secret bank account in the Cayman Islands. By the time the police crack open your “official” bank accounts, they can’t find anything to charge you with. So once again, you escape scott-free… and tax-free.

The awesomeness of tax-advantaged accounts

Death and taxes are the only 2 sure things in life (That, and the fact that you can never find your keys when you’re late for work on Monday morning).

You can’t escape the first, but you can totally lower the second… legally. You may not have a secret Cayman Islands bank account, but the governments of the world, in their benevolence, have offered the next best thing: tax-advantaged accounts.

I’ll talk about tax-advantaged accounts for Singaporeans, or people living in Singapore, in this post. Americans, you already have more than enough information out there on your tax-advantage accounts – Google it. (Hint: Sign up for a 401k and contribute enough to max out your employer match. You guys are so lucky).

Singaporeans – you have a little-known account called a Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS). The SRS is sort of like a beautiful exotic girl who’s been hidden on an island. She’s got a weird-sounding name, not many people have heard of her, but she’s got huge… benefits.

The photographer claims that the girl just *happened* to walk into the shot and he just *happened* to press the shutter. Honest!

Why the SRS is awesome

1. It gives you tax-benefits

Think of the SRS as your own secret tax-free bank account for you to stash a whole bunch of moolah in. Every dollar you contribute into that bank account reduces your taxable income by a dollar.

So if your tax rate is 7%, contributing $12,750 a year effectively saves you $892.50 in taxes every year. Ta-dahhhh, you just earned your next weekend getaway vacation! You’re welcome.

It’s purely voluntary, meaning that you can contribute any amount you like, up to a cap of $12,750 a year (Yeah, the government realizes how awesome this is too, so they’ve gotta put a limit on how much you can screw them over by not paying taxes).

 2. It boosts your investments

What are you gonna do with all that money you’ve put into it? Don’t be a kuku and just leave it sitting there (remember my post on Don’t Save For Retirement?). Instead, invest it – preferably in a couple of index-based ETFs – and let your money grow absolutely tax-free.

There’s also a hidden benefit to investing that cash. By not paying $893 in taxes, that means that you’ve earned a guaranteed 7% return on your $12,750 for that year (ie: if you invested that $12,750, your investment would have had to grow by approximately 7% just to match the tax savings).

If you can resist the temptation to withdraw your investments till you’re 62, you’ll only be taxed for 50% of the prevailing tax rate. That may seem annoying at first, but ask yourself:

Would you rather pay 1) a 10% tax on $100,000, or 2) a 5% tax on $1,600,000? (Hint: The answer is option 2).

Sure, option 2 entails you paying more in taxes, but it also means that you have ONE POINT FIVE MILLION DOLLARS to play with after tax. Paying more tax is a good thing – it means you’re richer. By not paying tax initially and deferring it till the end, you’re effectively allowing your whole amount of cash to work harder for you. 

3. It’s flexible on withdrawals

Unlike CPF, you’re allowed to withdraw your cash pretty much anytime you like.  It’s meant to be kept till you’re retired, but if you really need the cash before you’re 62 you’ll have to pay a 5% penalty and get taxed for 100% of the rate (The penalty is waived if it’s withdrawn in the event of death or medical cases). It’s annoying to have to pay those, but at least you still get access to it if you really need it for an emergency.

“What are we gonna do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night Pinky… Try to open a TAX-ADVANTAGED ACCOUNT!”

How to set up your own criminal mastermind account

1. Contact any one of the three local banks (DBS / OCBC / UOB) to set up an SRS account. If you already have another savings account with those banks, you probably won’t even need to visit the branch – just download the application form from their websites. If you’re Singaporean, all you need is a copy of your NRIC.

2. You won’t even need to make a claim in your annual tax return – it’ll be automatically done for you through your SRS operator. Yay to #FirstWorldAwesomeness 🙂

3. If you’re a foreigner living in Singapore, the contribution cap is different, but all of the above apply to you too. You’ll also have to submit an annual IRAS declaration form.

And finally…

Congratulations – you’ve now embarked on your journey towards being a world-class, financially-savvy criminal mastermind. So if you’ve got nothing to do tonight, maybe you can try to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

21 Ways Rich People Think Differently

I usually hate Yahoo! Finance, but occasionally they’ll post an article with a grain of truth (or in this case, 21 grains of truth).

It’s titled 21 Ways Rich People Think Differently. I love articles that focus on the psychology of being rich, because hatching a rich life is more about mindset than a bunch of “33 tips to save money” or some scammy investment strategy. You should check out the article for the full details, but here are the 21 ways in summary (with my comments thrown in whenever I couldn’t resist):

1. Average people think MONEY is the root of all evil. Rich people believe POVERTY is the root of all evil.

2. Average people think selfishness is a vice. Rich people think selfishness is a virtue.

3. Average people have a lottery mentality. Rich people have an action mentality.

4. Average people think the road to riches is paved with formal education. Rich people believe in acquiring specific knowledge.

5. Average people long for the good old days. Rich people dream of the future.

6. Average people see money through the eyes of emotion. Rich people think about money logically.

7. Average people earn money doing things they don’t love. Rich people follow their passion. <;;– I don't quite agree with this one. Check out Cal Newport's article on Fast Company, as well as his new book So Good They Can’t Ignore You

8. Average people set low expectations so they’re never disappointed. Rich people are up for the challenge.

9. Average people believe you have to DO something to get rich. Rich people believe you have to BE something to get rich. <;;– Again, the whole idea of psychology trumping a bunch of tips

10. Average people believe you need money to make money. Rich people use other people’s money. <;;– Also don't fully agree with this statement. Most investment advisors will advocate the whole "Good Debt, Bad Debt" argument, but I've seen how leverage can destroy a person.

11. Average people believe the markets are driven by logic and strategy. Rich people know they’re driven by emotion and greed.

12. Average people live beyond their means. Rich people live below theirs.

13. Average people teach their children how to survive. Rich people teach their kids to get rich.

14. Average people let money stress them out. Rich people find peace of mind in wealth.

15. Average people would rather be entertained than educated. Rich people would rather be educated than entertained. <;;– Yeah, you should be reading as much as you can. But more on books like I Will Teach You To Be Rich rather than Twilight.

16. Average people think rich people are snobs. Rich people just want to surround themselves with like-minded people. <;;– I'd also hesitate to jump to this conclusion. I've been reading The Millionaire Next Door, where the author Thomas Stanley shows that the average millionaire is a 54 year-old blue-collar business owner living in a modest neighborhood. He doesn’t look like a millionaire, and he certainly doesn’t hang out with Paris Hilton.

17. Average people focus on saving. Rich people focus on earning.

18. Average people play it safe with money. Rich people know when to take risks.

19. Average people love to be comfortable. Rich people find comfort in uncertainty.

20. Average people never make the connection between money and health. Rich people know money can save your life.

21. Average people believe they must choose between a great family and being rich. Rich people know you can have it all.

Annoying Ads

Some of you may have noticed ads appearing at the bottom of some of my posts recently.

Let me assure you that I haven’t signed up for some scammy advertising revenue-sharing service. I would never do that to you – I think they’re gross too.

The ads actually come from WordPress. According to WordPress, they only run them in limited places, and they don’t show ads to logged-in readers.

I don’t think they’ll bother people very much, but let me know if they really spoil your reading experience. There’s a chance I might be migrating to a self-hosted blog soon, so that should help to remove the ads.

Don’t Save For Retirement

It is close to midnight on December 29, 1972, and Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 is making its final approach to Miami International Airport. 163 passengers are onboard, most hoping to enjoy their new year in sunny Miami.

As it approaches the airport, the landing wheels are lowered and locked into position. At this point, the captain notices something amiss: the green light linked to the landing wheels has failed to light up. This could mean one of two things: Either the wheels have failed to lock into position, or the light is faulty. The pilots report the situation to Air Traffic Control, who orders the plane to circle back and try their descent again.

At this point, the pilot and co-pilot fixate on the light. They take it out of its fitting, blow on it to remove dust, and try to jam it back. Their conversation goes back and forth as they try to figure out what the fault is. They become so fixated on the light, that they fail to notice the 300-pound gorilla in their midst.

The gorilla, in this case, is the fact that their autopilot is disengaged and that they are rapidly losing altitude. They don’t notice that they are dropping rapidly because it is a moonless night and they can’t see the horizon. The altitude warning alarm rings through the cockpit and the altitude meter is dropping crazily, though neither pilot notices. They are too fixated on the light. Only when the aircraft is 7 seconds to impact, do the pilots realize that something is very wrong. They take evasive action, but it’s too late. The plane crashes, killing 101 people.

Crash investigators later found that the wheels had indeed locked into place – it was the light that was faulty. “The crash occurred due to the failure of a $12 piece of kit,” one journalist pointed out. However, the true cause of the crash was deeper than that – it was the pilots’ fixation on one particular problem, which blinded them from the true danger they were in.*

*story taken from Bounce by Matthew Syed

What other gorillas are you failing to see in your life?

Like the pilots who were overfocused on the green landing gear light, most people are fixated on one goal when it comes to personal finance: retirement. They believe that in order to retire, they need to hoard as much cash as possible, starting now. But they fail to realize the huge gorilla charging towards their bank accounts: inflation.

Two posts ago, I wrote about how inflation would slowly but surely destroy the buying power of your savings. If you’re young, letting your cash sit in your bank account (or in your fixed deposits / CPF / mattress) is like putting it in a nest of termites: it’ll eventually get eaten up.

So here’s my advice when it comes to inflation: Don’t save for retirement.

Say what?

Hear me out for a second. If you’re young and wild and free, there are other, more important things you should be focusing your attention on. Instead of saving up for “retirement” and getting a lot less bang for your buck, there are three more useful things you should be directing your money towards:

1.Save for assets

The best way to tackle the inflation gorilla is to put your money into assets that will grow faster than inflation: Stocks and real estate. Stocks are the most accessible because they don’t require a huge cash outlay, they’re easy to understand, and if you live in Singapore, they’re tax-free. Woot woot! Real estate is pretty nifty too, if you can afford the huge downpayment (or if you can’t afford the huge downpayment, you can also look into REITs – more on that later).

The biggest bonus of all is that if you plough your cash into assets that exceed inflation, you will, in fact, be prepping yourself for retirement.

2. Save for life chapters

Here, I’m talking about big, life chapters that you were planning on spending on regardless of what happens. I’m talking about your wedding, your first house, and your daughter’s upcoming college fees. If any of these are going to be happening within the next 10 years, then you should be saving up for them. Don’t act as if you didn’t know they were coming: If you know you’ll be getting married in 3 years, you should be saving up for your hypothetical $30,000 banquet and $15,000 ring… now.

A caveat: I’m not talking about cars, or vacations, or that new washing machine, that you “know” you’re going to spend on anyway. I’m talking about the big, necessary, life chapters here, people.

3. Save for emergencies

Sh*t happens. You’ll need cash to deal with it. If something bad happens, (like losing your job) the last thing you want is to be dipping into your investments to pay for your meals. If you don’t have an emergency fund of 3 months of income parked in an easily accessible bank account, then you should totally start saving up for one now.

In short…

Don’t bother saving for retirement – inflation will render your efforts futile. Other than cash set aside for emergencies and stuff you’re going to spend on within the next 10 years, everything else should be directed towards assets – Assets that keep pace with inflation. If an insurance agent / banker tries to sell you a fancy schmancy 50-year savings plan, run as fast as you can.

Don’t get too fixated on the wrong things. Just because personal finance “experts” tell you that you should be saving for retirement, doesn’t mean that you should be blindly stuffing cash into a bank account. Keep an eye out for the inflation gorilla in your midst, and take action to deal with it.

PS: the topic for this post came from a friend who replied to my previous post on spending money. To everyone reading this, keep the comments coming! They totally give me the inspiration for future blog posts.

As a young person, what do you think about the 3 ways you should be putting your money towards, instead of saving for retirement? Leave a comment, or drop me an email at cheerfulegg@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you soon 🙂