The 2012 Cheerfulegg Review

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joka2000/80198350/sizes/m/in/photostream/All the blogs in the world are reviewing 2012 at the moment. In summary, the world didn’t end, Obama got re-elected, the Euro crisis didn’t blow up, and most importantly, Singapore saw a record number of sex scandals. And they said Singaporeans don’t have enough sex.

So I thought it’d be a good time to do a little personal review of my own. I got this idea off Chris Guillebeau’s framework on annual reviews, which he cites as probably the best decision he’s made in terms of working towards multiple goals simultaneously (He’s probably one of the most successful bloggers around, so there’s definitely something going on there).

So this post is the first of a 2-part series on annual reviews. In this post, I’ll review 2012 and what it meant for cheerfulegg.com and for parts of my own life. I’m basing it off Chris’ methodology, and if you haven’t done a 2012 review of your own yet, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

It involves answering 2 questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Yeah, I know it sounds like one of those corny-ass “After-Action Reviews” that your company is so fond of doing – I thought it was pretty lame when I first read it too. But after spending an entire day reflecting on it, I got pretty surprised by the results.

So – enough preamble.  Let’s get started.

What went well this year?

(Please don’t take this section as a bragfest. I try to be as objective and transparent as possible in any reflection and including both the good and bad stuff)

*I grew and developed cheerfulegg.com to a level that I’m pretty happy with for its one-year existence. It’s probably one of my proudest accomplishments of 2012. An idea of what this blog has managed to achieve in the past year:

  1. 71 new posts, to grand total of 77 posts since it started in Dec 2011.
  2. A post that got featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed section, generating a record 16,000+ views for that month, and 220+ WordPress followers.
  3. A brand new “cheerfulegg.com” domain name
  4. A cheerfulegg VIP list, which grew to 85 subscribers within a couple of months
  5. Being accepted on blog aggregators theFinance.sg and PaperBlog.com

* I developed, followed, and refined a personal finance system. Writing a book about it really helped because it forced me to solidify the ideas. It isn’t perfect yet, but it’s at a point where I’m about 80-90% satisfied. Will be sharing more of it in some publications that I’m working on.

  1. I apologize if some of you were confused by my previous posts about multiple saving and spending accounts, sometimes with different names and purposes, etc.  It was all part of a process of trying it out and making improvements to make the final version simpler and more effective for everyone. Sometimes I just had to write about it here in order to crystalize the idea.

* I successfully achieved my saving and investing goals, entirely thanks to a system of automation I set up to take care of everything.

* I introduced fixed income and Singapore asset classes into my portfolio, adding a further level of diversification. Contemplating if I should add gold in the coming year (Its historical real returns aren’t the best, but it might be a good diversifier. Check out this blog for more details. I’m still thinking about it though).

*The markets have also been pretty kind to my portfolio this year, which was really encouraging for my first full calendar year in sticking with a passive, indexed-based investment style, which has worked out pretty well thus far.

 What didn’t go so well this year?

* I severely underestimated the effort required to write a book. After spending the best part of August – November writing for three nights a week, I had a 82-page first draft, which was about 60% of my planned book. And I hated it.

It’s not terrible, but it certainly fell short of the vision I had for it as something fresh, engaging and different from the other “how to get your personal finances in order” books.  I’m still going to finish writing it, but I’m now humbled by the effort and the dedication a project like this requires. In the meantime, I’m headed back to the drawing board and I’m only going to ship it to you once I’m satisfied with it.

* I attempted to start some freelancing projects, which pretty much fell through because I couldn’t find an idea that suited me, or that I had enough time for.

* I got fatter this year. Fareals. A combination a dropping metabolic rate, a new job rotation that required me to sit at my desk for longer hours, and my focus on cheerfulegg.com and the book resulted in some serious weight gain. An exercise plan for 2013 is definitely in order. I also definitely didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked.

* I made a conscious decision to give up dance, at least for now, even though it was my entire life just 2 years back. I’ve been pursuing it as a passion for 12 years now, but I really  want to pursue new adventures with this blog and the book. With a full-time day job, it’s pretty much impossible to commit to writing AND dance at the same time after office hours. Still though, I get that twinge of longing whenever I watch YouTube videos.

 Possible goals for next year

I’ll talk more about these after I’ve finalized my plans for 2013, but 2 things that are definitely in the works are:

* Going back to the drawing board to redefine the book, interviewing people to really understand them and coming up with fresh, new ideas. Check out my room wall at the moment:

Ideation

* I now know that this is going be an ongoing process, and it might take several months or more than a year before I see some results. However, this isn’t going to stop me from shipping some stuff out for everyone who’s been waiting patiently for it.

* In the interim, I’m working on pushing out 2 mini-products in 2013 – which are a lot less complex, but still pretty damn awesome. Stay tuned for those 🙂

Happy 2013 everyone!

How to Kick Ass This Christmas

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gimmeahug/4209857179/sizes/m/in/photostream/There’s a scene in Jurassic Park (which is my all-time favorite movie btw, sooo awesome) where the owner of the park, John Hammond, gives a tour of the velociraptor pen to a bunch of visitors. You don’t actually get to see the raptors – they’re hidden by thick foliage – but you do see a poor cow, strapped to a harness, slowly being lowered into the pen.

And then you see the thick foliage shaking vigorously, and hear the distressed cries of the dying cow over the unearthly shrieks of the raptors and watch the horrified looks of the visitors, and then… silence. The harness is extracted from the pen and you realize that it’s reduced to tattered little pieces of cloth.

Jurassic Mall

That’s kind of like what the mall was like yesterday. I went down to Raffles City to meet a friend for dinner, and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong place because it literally looked like feeding time at Jurassic Park. First, the place looked like it got hit by a meteor. There was stuff everywhere, and hordes of panicked crowds running around. Ryan from MoneySmart tells us that this is actually a devious psychological tactic to get us to buy more. (“Messy” is usually associated with “cheap”, even though the actual price will probably be your first-born child)

Then there were all these macho dudes all wandering into jewelry and bag shops looking slightly dazed, trying to figure out what to get for their girlfriends. One by one, they were picked off by sly-looking salespeople circling them like sharks before convincing them to buy another overpriced bag/necklace/diamond ring.

And there were the ubiquitous Christmas carols like, everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong – I love carols – but it gets really trying when you hear a pseudo-jazz band butcher Jingle Bell Rock for the 273rd time. Nobody else seemed to mind because they were too busy climbing over each other to claw their way to the sale rack at Robinson’s. They made the Jurassic Park velociraptors look like a bunch of fluffy little bunnies.

Have Yourself a Merry Overconsumerist Christmas

Christmas used to be awesome, dude. It used to be so full of anticipation and magic and laughter and joy. But those damn malls crept into the place where they store the Christmas love and decided to destroy the crap out of it. They taught us that we don’t need love and joy during Christmas; what we need is an iPad so we can play Angry Birds on a wide screen at home instead of spending time with our families.

The problem, as blogger Johnny B Truant points out, is that Christmas has become about forced consumerism, where we kid each other into buying things that none of us would normally bother to get for ourselves. Like I shower all year round with a $10 bottle of shower gel, I don’t actually need that $70 Body Shop gift pack consisting of Shea Shower Cream, Body Scrub and Beautifying Oil, topped off with an Ultra Fine Lily (what the heck is an “Ultra Fine Lily” anyway?).

And then I’ve got to reciprocate and risk my life battling the Jungles of Orchard Road to get you an ugly tie that you will probably never wear, except maybe at your funeral.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

But dude, I hear you say, it’s the thought that counts.

But as Truant mentions in the same blogpost, if it’s the thought that’s so important, why do we have to spend a whole bunch of money to buy stuff? That isn’t thinking, it’s buying.

The stuff that I love most comes really cheap, or absolutely free. Like lunch with good company (we can split the bill). Or watching old movies in bed. Or playing Taboo while drinking cheap beer and eating Red Rock Deli chips. Or a chillaxed Saturday morning run. Or a $4 iPhone case. Or helping to repost or retweet my blogposts if you’ve found them useful. 🙂

Love from friends and family, comfort food, and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped you out in some tiny way. That’s really all I need, and it wouldn’t change even if I had a million bucks.

How to Celebrate Christmas, FaReals

1. Let’s forget the malls and the stores this year, and the obligatory Secret Santa game where everyone gets weird generic gifts. Instead, use the money and throw your family/friends an awesome dinner party, a potluck, or a games night (copious amounts of alcohol optional, but definitely recommended).

2. Do something that you’ve never done before. My girlfriend couldn’t think of anything she wanted this year, so I’m offering to cook her dinner (which is a helluva big deal to me because I never cook. Hey, stop judging, I gotta start somewhere.)

Okay that’s just the basic – I’m sure some of you are already awesome like that. But if you really want to step it up this year…

1. Talk to your friends and family, or send out an email or a Facebook post. Tell them not to give you any gifts, but instead donate they money they would have spent to a cause you support like Project: Flight. (Started by fellow Penn alum Albert Pak!)

2. Do something awesome and make it fun. Today, I heard about a kid who spent $600 bucks buying ice cream for foreign workers in Singapore who might be spending Christmas away from their families. And how awesome is it to be Ice Cream-Giving Santa Dude for a day?

Your awesome project doesn’t even have to involve moolah – you could do something entirely silly like Improv Everywhere’s High Five Escalator. It’s not going to change the world, but at least you’ll be giving people a little sliver of happiness, which is what Christmas is really all about. 🙂

Think about it, and go DO it. Merry Christmas everyone!

The Ultimate Guide on What To Do With Your Year-End Bonus

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/muppethouse/341714428/sizes/m/in/photostream/So last week, I had surgery to remove TWO of my wisdom teeth – one on each side. Now, if you’ve ever had your wisdom teeth extracted, you’ll know that the operation is relatively painless, but the aftermath hurts like a b****. Seriously. Try stuffing 2 golf balls in your mouth and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like. Owtch.

On the bright side, it left me with a surprisingly long SEVEN-DAY medical leave from work (Though I spent the first half of it writhing in pain). Pain or no pain, a weeklong break from work is awesome. I caught up on my sleep, reorganized my room, and watched like 20 episodes of Modern Family (which is awesome btw, go watch it).

How to Handle Unexpected (Nice) Surprises

A weeklong break from work is a nice surprise, and so is the other great institution of a regular job: the year-end bonus (or “13-month bonus” as it’s commonly known in Singapore).

It feels pretty damn awesome to receive a year-end bonus, even though it’s not really a true “bonus” per se. So what are you going to do with your year-end bonus this year? Here are 5 possible options:

1. Spend it – What most consumer sheep will do. “Ooh extra money! Time to buy an iPad/massage chair/goat NOMNOMNOMNOM” (coupled with crazed look in their eyes)

2. Save it – What most people will do with the remainder after they’ve purchased said iPad/massage chair/goat. Be sure to take your shopping home in a cab – the possibility of upcoming bus fare increases might leave you with a remainder of maybe $4.70.

3. Sock it into a tax-sheltered SRS account – What very few people will do but could save you hundreds of dollars in taxes next year, depending on your tax rate.

4. Invest it – What old uncles will do (also with crazed looks in their eyes)

5. All of the above – what I think you should do.

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicubunuphotos/5296305774/sizes/m/in/photostream/This is what your bonus will look like if SMRT increases its bus fares

The All Of The Above Option

There’s really no reason why you should limit yourself to one or two choices with your year-end bonus. Instead, see your bonus as a way to give a boost to everything that will improve your life. Here’s how I’m allocating my year-end bonus this year:

1. Spend 10% of it on whatever I want – In true L’Oreal wisdom: “Because I’m worth it.”

2. Save 45% of it by adding it to the house downpayment fund

3. Sock 45% of it into my SRS account. Ta-dahhh: instant tax savings!

4. Invest the amount in the SRS account in a portfolio of sensible index ETFs

The great thing about this formula is that it lets me resist the temptation of overspending, meets my dual objectives of saving and investing, AND it saves me money on taxes next year to boot. Awesomesauce.

Do It Now

Most people get really ambitious when it comes to planning their time and money. We plan to use our time to get through our to-do lists, and we plan to save and invest our money.

But our plans inadvertently break down once time and money unexpectedly fall into our laps. Instead, we’ll spend our medical leave watching Modern Family, and squander our year-end bonuses on iPads which will probably become obsolete in 6-9 months.

Don’t make the same mistake as the other consumer sheep. Make a decision on the percentage of your bonus that you’re going to spend/save/invest. Then transfer the amounts to the relevant accounts immediately. If you’re reading this outside, set a reminder to do this once you get home. And if you’re home, do it now. If you put this off till later, you’ll run the risk of it disappearing mysteriously. Seriously. Do it now.

Are you done?

Okay, now you can go reward yourself with a couple of episodes of Modern Family. 😉

Why You Should Never Be Jealous

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brennuskrux/3356833255/sizes/m/in/photostream/Hola! So sorry for being MIA for the past couple of weeks. It’s the usual November workplace crunch, and I’ve been occupied with a ton of work including, among other things, emceeing my company’s World Marketing Conference – a glitzy 2-day event attended by senior management and hundreds of overseas sales and marketing staff. Here’s what was running through my mind right before the event started:

Emcee-ing W.M.C

I’m standing in the middle of the stage, microphone clasped in my sweaty palms, bright spotlights training on me like police searchlights on a trapped prisoner. In front of me sits a sea of hundreds of business-suited men and women, murmuring in anticipation. My CEO in the front row looks expectantly at me and frowns.

I’m nervous because I’ve never emceed a formal event before, let alone one as huge of a scale as this. Backstage, I silently pray that my scripted jokes wouldn’t be met with stony silence. One screw-up, one waver in my voice, could affect my reputation for years to come. It’s like freakin’ high school all over again.

But then again, no one knows better. Just by looking at me, no one can tell that the only emceeing experience I’ve ever had is hosting my baby cousin’s birthday party. And so I get a stunning revelation:

Just fake it.

I take a deep breath, smile my biggest smile, and start talking. The delivery goes well. My colleagues congratulate me afterwards. No one could tell I was nervous as hell. One of the big bosses slaps me on my shoulder and tells me to get ready for more emceeing gigs. I may not ever be as good as a professional, but I can totally fake a performance that’s good enough.

How Do They Afford All This?

My successful attempt at faking got me thinking about how everyone goes through life wearing masks and faking something.

Whenever I hit the clubs, I can’t help but observe the dudes sitting at the VIP tables. They’d be surrounded by other rich-looking, beautiful people, as if they just stepped out of a Like A G6 music video. Just like me, they’d probably be dressed in a casual shirt and jeans, but their shirts are $400 apiece from Armani and mine are $40 from the sale rack at Uniqlo. They’d be downing champagne by the bottle, while I’d be chilling with my bottle of Tiger Beer. Once the night is over, they’d be driving home in their Porches or Maseratis, while I’d be stumbling to find a cab (or a Night Rider bus if I’m not too tipsy).

For a brief moment, I’d think to myself: “How do they afford all this?” I’d start to wonder what they do for a living, and how awesome it must be to be them.

Wealth – The Easiest Thing To Fake

And then I remind myself that I’m simply jumping to conclusions. What if they’re faking it, just like how I was faking my prowess as an emcee? After all, wealth is the easiest thing to fake. Blow a couple of months’ salary on clothes and drinks, and anyone can look like a superstar.

The truth is, I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know if they’re prudent in their spending, or if they spend every cent they earn. I don’t know if they earn thousands of dollars in passive income, or if they lie awake worrying about how they’ll keep up their lifestyles. I don’t know if they have a rock solid portfolio, or if they’re so deeply in debt that even their enormous paychecks can’t make a dent in their credit card bills.

Redirecting the Moolah

And then I remind myself about just how much I’ve been pouring into my savings and investments, month after month, without fail. No wonder I haven’t bought a new pair of jeans in 4 years – I’ve been too busy shoveling cash into index ETFs and building up a downpayment fund so I don’t have to take on too much mortgage debt.

No wonder I can’t afford to celebrate the end of the year with five bottles of champagne, because I’d much rather set aside a few hundred dollars every month for travel, funding trips like my $3,500 West Coast vacation. It’s not that I can’t afford to spend on nice clothes and drinks, I just choose to put my money towards things that I value much more: freedom and experiences.

Lots of people fake their wealth. But without looking at their audited personal financial statements, there’s really no way to tell if they’re the real deal, or if it’s just a well-polished illusion. We simply can’t make assumptions just by looking at people.

So keep that in mind the next time you watch an emcee on stage, or catch yourself getting jealous of that well-dressed dude at the VIP table. They might just be faking it. 😉