About lioyeo

Bathroom singer, hip-hop dancer, ramen crusader and financial hacker behind CheerfulEgg.com

You Only Live Once

credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49568889@N08/7684077336/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I’m a HUGE fan of Lonely Island. Came across this awesome music video titled YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, feat Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar (who?).

I love it because it makes fun of people who take risk a little too seriously (“Two words about furniture: KILLING MACHINES!!”).

But while we scoff at the idea that we should stop going to clubs because loud music is bad for your ears, it amazes me that so many young people adopt that very same mindset when it comes to investing.

Here’s an interesting thought: Investing in the stock market is risky in the short run, but it’s the safest investment you can have in the long run.

The stock market is risky in the short run

Let’s tackle the first half of that last para first. Check out the returns from the stock market’s five worst years, from Financial Ramblings:

  1. 1931, -52.7%
  2. 2008, -33.8%
  3. 1930, -33.8%
  4. 1937, -32.8%
  5. 1974, -27.6%

So yep, in the very short term, buying and holding stocks is risky. Based on what history tells us, you could lose as much as half of your portfolio in a single year – Investors sure as hell weren’t popping champagne in 1931.

But it kicks ass in the long run

But it’s a very different story when you’re holding stocks for long periods of time.

Jeremy Siegel (whose classes I used to crash in college to leech off his market insights – woot woot!) argued in Chapter 2 of his book Stocks for the Long Run, that with a sufficiently long holding period, stocks are actually less risky than bonds.

According to Wikipedia, “During 1802–2001, the worst 1-year returns for stocks and bonds were -38.6% and -21.9% respectively. However for a holding period of 10-years, the worst performance for stocks and bonds were -4.1% and -5.4%; and for a holding period of 20 years, stocks have always been profitable.” Bonds, however, once fell as much as -3% per year below inflation.

In short, Siegel found that if you held stocks for 17 years or more, you never lost money even in the worst case scenario. 

Okay, so critics might claim that his findings are way too optimistic, and that the stock market’s prosperity in the 20th century may not necessarily repeat itself. But what’s the alternative? Investing in scammy gold buyback schemes?

The truth is, based on any historical record so far, the safest, and best, long-term investment for most young people has clearly been a diversified portfolio of stocks. Yes, even after you account for the stock market crashes in the past couple of years.

Young Heart, Run Free

And therein lies the awesomeness of being young and sexy – as young people, we have the luxury of having enough time. Enough time for a long career of earning money ahead of us. Enough time to hold on to our stocks without worrying about their fluctuations in any given day/month/year, knowing fully well that in the long run, we’ll come out on top.

So please. Stop getting intimidated by the stories of banks failing, and quantitative easing, and Justin Bieber’s Twitter account getting hacked. These are all short run risks (especially if you’re Justin Bieber), which are irrelevant if you’re holding out for the long term.

Take a little bit of risk in the short run to enjoy some awesomeness in the long run.

You only live once.

Image credit: TheOnyxBirmingham

What Chinese New Year Blackjack Taught Me About Money

blackjackOkay, hypothetical scenario.

Imagine you’re on your honeymoon in Las Vegas, chilling in your swanky hotel room while your spouse is taking a shower. While checking out the minibar, you come across a $5 gaming chip in one of the drawers – the previous occupant must have mistakenly left it there.

You take the $5 chip and head downstairs to the roulette tables, where you bet it on your favorite number: 25. To your surprise, the ball lands on 25 and the dealer hands you $175. You decide to let your winnings ride by betting it on 25 again. Once again, the ball lands on 25 and your stash grows to $6,125. Taking this as a good sign, you bet it again and win, netting you $214,375.

You’re on a roll! You’re still in luck in the next round, which gives you $7.5 million dollars, more than what most people will ever earn in a lifetime. You bet it all on 25 again and amazingly, you now have $262 million, which makes you richer than Mitt Romney.

You decide to try your luck one last time. If it works, you’d be worth almost ten BILLION dollars. Sadly, this time the ball plops onto the number “00” with a sickening thud, and you lose all your winnings. You walk back to your hotel room and tell your spouse you were playing roulette downstairs. Your spouse asks how you did.

“Not bad,” you reply, “I only lost $5.”

The Great Chinese New Year Mystery

Sooooo…. What does a botched up roulette game have in common with Chinese New Year?

For most of us here in Singapore, Chinese New Year involves a helluva lot of eating, answering awkward questions about why you’re not married, and… gambling.

This year, I found myself wondering why Chinese New Year was such a popular time for gambling. Most of the time, I scoff at the hordes of people who frequent casinos and throw their hard-earned savings away. But whenever Chinese New Year rolls around, I find myself stumbling to blackjack games like a delirious addict on too much bak kwa.

After pondering over this curious dilemma for a couple of days, I had my conclusion: The culprit was the innocuous little ang bao.

(Side note: For my international friends who don’t know what “ang baos” are, they’re red envelopes filled with cash that your relatives give you during Chinese New Year while you’re still unmarried. #norushhere)

Mentally Accounting for Mental Accounting

Psychologically, receiving an ang bao has exactly the same effect as finding a $5 chip in your Las Vegas hotel room. Namely, they’re both “found” money, which inflicts this interesting psychological effect on you known as mental accounting.

Nope, mental accounting has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to multiply 17 x 32 in your head. Instead, it’s a psychological phenomenon that causes you to treat money differently depending on where it comes from, where it is kept, or how it is spent. So mental accounting posits that you’d treat $100 from an ang bao very differently from $100 you’ve worked hard to earn. Mental accounting causes you to spend $500 in your vacation allowance way more freely than you would for the same $500 in your savings account.

But mental accounting has a dark side too. It causes you to be flippant when you’re dealing with “surprise” or “additional” money, like your bonuses, or your gambling gains. Ever find yourself winning a hand at poker, and then aggressively calling or raising in subsequent rounds? That’s mental accounting at work, and it could easily work against you.

Two Systems to Prevent You From Getting Screwed

The strategy to prevent mental accounting from screwing with you is to set predefined systems, something I practice as much as possible. Go to all gambling games with two predefined rules: 1) a stop-loss and 2) a lock-in percentage.

Most people are familiar with a stop-loss, which is a predefined amount you’d be fine with losing. But few people implement a lock-in percentage, which kicks in once you start winning. For example, if I set a lock-in percentage of 20%, I pocket 20 cents for every dollar I win and don’t touch it for the remainder of the night. These rules have helped me to save hundreds of dollars over the past few years.

But the awesomeness of the lock-in percentage rule goes way beyond Chinese New Year blackjack games – Think about how you can apply it to your bonuses, allowances, inheritances, rewards, rebates, or any sort of “found” money you come across. For example, predefining a rule that states you’ll save 50% of your bonus will help you to save way more effectively than the average cubicle dweller who blows his entire bonus on dumb things to overcompensate for his sad, sad life.

When applied right, predefined rules could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars throughout your lifetime.

Psychology > Tips

Ask most people how they handle their personal finances, and they’d give you all sorts of tips and tactics like choosing the right credit cards or investing in some obscure growth stock.

However, while we don’t think of it often, it’s interesting how psychology has such a disproportionate influence on our ability to hold on to and grow money. A mastery of a couple of psychological principles could be way more effective than hundreds of money tips and tactics.

So remember this the next time you’re at a roulette table. Don’t say I didn’t do nothin’ for ya. 🙂

Footnote: Definition of mental accounting and casino example taken from “Why Smart People Make Dumb Money Decisions” (aff link) by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich

Image credit: Images_of_Money

An Epiphany From First Class

First Class

One of the best perks of my job is that I get to pretend to be a rich person.

Well, not all the time of course. Like I definitely did not feel rich these past 2 weeks: Staying late in the office, eating at my desk, slaving over Excel sheets till I started dreaming of VLOOKUP commands, and feeling absolutely miserable.

So I got really happy when I got to take a break from it all to fly First Class to Beijing for a work trip. I sipped a glass of champagne, slid down into the overly spacious fine-grained leather seat, and stared out into the setting sun. “I could get used to this life.” I thought, as the flight attendant poured me another glass of champagne.

Being Rich – Gangnam Style

Fast forward to two days later, I was back in Singapore and pretending to be rich again. This time, I was at the Turf Club, entertaining 20 clients who were rich enough to fly First and Business Class on a regular basis and splurge copious amounts of money betting on horses.

I got talking to one of our guests. She was elegant, Irish, and wore a lovely dress with a tasteful set of pearls. Her husband was a Managing Director in an MNC. I could tell she was actually rich (ie: not one of those executives who gain elite status on their company’s money), because she ordered a Coke instead of alcohol. Classy.

We were watching the horses being led out to the track, when she lamented, “I would love to be rich enough to own one of those horses and not have to work so I could train them every day!”

I stared at her as if Justin Bieber had just crawled out of her nostrils. I thought to myself, “Lady – You get to savor the champagne-filled heaven that is First Class every couple of weeks! And you think that you’re not rich enough???

The Law of Relativity

And then it struck me: Being rich is RELATIVE.

That is, relative to who you compare yourself to. When I was a penniless college student, I used to get jealous of alumni who had real jobs and were earning thousands of dollars a month. Now that I was one of them and wallowing in my Excel-induced state of misery, I found myself getting jealous of people who were earning tens of thousands of dollars a month and flying First Class on a regular basis. But they in turn were feeling jealous of other people whom they thought were richer than them. It was mind-boggling, but it made sense.

The truth is, being rich is just a state of mind.

It really doesn’t matter how much money you make or how big your bank account is. I’m not saying that we should all just be happy in poverty – everyone should strive towards a life where they’re not worrying about making ends meet. But it’s a waste of time and energy to feel jealous of someone else’s (perceived) material fortunes.

Instead, I challenge you to start feeling rich right now. Think about how lucky you are to have higher education when there are millions of people who don’t even make it to high school. Think about how great it feels to have the security of a regular job, three meals a day, and a bed to sleep in while others are struggling to make ends meet.

I know it sounds corny, but we often don’t notice how rich we really are.

First Class

Yesterday, I took my family out to lunch. The restaurant was half-empty, served cheap Chinese food, and there were no leather seats with mahogany trimmings or unlimited quantities of champagne.

But the food was tasty, the company was excellent, and my dad was gleeful as hell because the opposition party had just won the Punggol East by-election. I leaned back, patted my Chinese food-filled tummy, and savored how wonderful life was.

So who needs to pretend to be rich? I don’t. 🙂

Passive Investing: The Movie

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cheriejphotos/7158114527/sizes/m/in/photostream/It’s only 2 weeks into 2013 and I’m already swamped! These few weeks are absolutely packed for me, with work guzzling most of my brain fuel, and an upcoming work trip to Beijing. I’m also sticking with my 2013 goal schedule, as well as finding time to work on a free ebook (woot!) that will be making its way here soon, I promise!

So whenever life hits me with a gazillion things to do, I usually take things a little slower, kick back and do something chill like watch a movie. But because I’m a huge financial nerd, I get my kicks watching stuff like Passive Investing – an awesome 54-minute video on passive investing (duh) and why it rocks.

While there’re tons of books and articles written on the subject, I believe that this is the first time someone has made an entire documentary on it. The PF community has already been excitedly sharing it for a month or so now (yeah, I know, I’m a little late in the game.. my bad).

It features some of the biggest, badass (in a good way) names in the index investing industry, such as John Bogle, Kenneth French, William Sharpe, Burton Malkiel, and Rick Ferri. The production is pretty high quality, and there are summaries at the end of each chapter in case you get too distracted by the super strong British-newscaster accent.

So grab some popcorn, snuggle down on the couch, and enjoy 🙂

A caveat: While I agree with most of the concepts presented, I don’t fully agree with everything in the film. One of my biggest bugbears is their assertion that the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is the “mathematical foundation of passive investing.” I won’t go into a snooty academic diatribe about the the flaws of CAPM here, but it suffices to say that you don’t need CAPM to hold in order to show that passive investing is still the best way to invest for most people.

Other than that though, the film is excellent. I also love how they display all the logos of actively managed funds throughout the film, subtly dissing the crap out of them without actually naming any names. It’s a little more subtle than my usual practice of pointing and loudly jeering at fund management ads displayed on the subway, causing people around me to move slowly away from me and whisper under their breath. I can only assume that they must be talking about how wise I am.

If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about passive investing but aren’t inclined to read a book, you could totally start here. It could be the most profitable 54 minutes you’ve ever spent. 🙂

Image credit: cheriej

How To Make Everyone Jealous of How Awesome You Are

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/viccastelo/2582562265/sizes/m/in/photostream/So here’s the thing – I hate running in January. Nope, it’s got nothing to do with the weather – Singapore has only one climate all-year round: Hot and sweaty. Like the title of a porn movie. And it’s not because I don’t like exercising in general.

I hate running in January because there are way Too. Many. People.

Every time January 1st  rolls around, the track I usually frequent actually looks like a porn movie: filled with panting, sweaty people doing laps.

Most of these folks got up on January 1st and decided that they would change their lives just because the earth completed another orbit around the sun.

But like clockwork, the track gets pretty damn empty by the third week of January, leaving behind the same bunch of regulars. It’s like all the people who so spiritedly decided 2 weeks ago that they were “Gonna get a six pack!!!” suddenly got together and decided to go on strike. (Oh wait, it’s illegal to go on strike in Singapore…)

Resolutions are stupid.

Lots of people got up on the first day of 2013, got hit by a bolt of inspiration, and wrote down a bunch of resolutions: Get fitter, get richer, get promoted, be a better husband… etc etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people want to improve themselves. I blog all year round about living a rich life, and part of that rich life involves us being happier, healthier, and more productive.

But the sad truth is, very few people who make resolutions actually manage to keep them. That’s how gyms make money: they sell year-long gym memberships to people who make resolutions to “get fitter”, and then never actually show up after January.

Why are we so bad at keeping our resolutions?

Because resolutions are simply codewords for “wishes”. We envision this ideal, perfect person that we’d like to be, and believe that if we could only visualize it hard enough, we’d become that person. But wishes never got anyone anywhere.

Goals, not resolutions

Screw resolutions. Very few people actually benefit from them anyway.

Instead, let’s talk about something way more effective; something which I hinted at in part 1 of this series on annual reviews. Let’s talk about goals.

Okay, I know, “goals, not resolutions” sounds like some management B.S they teach you at MBA programs. But hear me out for a second here. Here’s the difference between a resolution and a goal:

Resolution: Get fitter

Goal: Run at least 2.4km every Wednesday, do at least 100 crunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and swim at least 40 laps on Saturday morning from 9-11 am. Track progress on weekly basis.

See the difference? A resolution is a wish. “I wish I was fitter.”

A goal is targeted, specific, and measurable. You either ran 2.4km or you didn’t. You either did 100 crunches or you didn’t. (nope, 99.5 doesn’t count either).

Goals hold you PERSONALLY responsible if you don’t complete them.

Resolution: Find a new programming job.

Goal: Get certified in C++ programming, schedule networking meetings with employees in software companies, source for 2 recommendations, apply to 2 jobs a month

It’s true that completing your goal may still mean that you don’t find another job. But who do you think is more likely to get hired: the guy who systematically works through his job hunt and networking checklist, or the guy who sits around thinking that he “should” start sending out resumes?

Most people don’t set goals for themselves. They prefer resolutions. Resolutions are easy, and resolutions won’t hold you accountable. But sadly, resolutions won’t help you move towards a rich life either.

But goals will.

How to set some kick-ass goals for 2013

Okay, let’s figure out how to set some awesome goals for 2013. I got this idea off Chris Gulliebeau’s blogpost on annual reviews, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s serious about doing anything awesome this year. You can read about his framework here, and download his goal-setting template here.

Essentially, good goals have 3 essential characteristics

  1. They focus on a specific behavior or action, not an outcome – So “focus more at work” isn’t a goal, but “sleep at least 7 hours a day” is.
  2. They have a deadline – I usually set a specific date (usually the end of a quarter) for mine
  3. They’re measurable – great goals have metrics that you can define and review regularly to determine if you’re succeeding.

So if you’ve already made the mistake of setting up some resolutions for yourself, do yourself a favor and turn them into goals instead. You’ll be more likely to complete them.

You can follow Chris’ framework on how to set your own goals, but in a nutshell, the steps are:

1. Define a few categories to split your goals into.

My categories this year are: Cheerfulegg, Health, Personal Finance, Career, Relationships, Spirituality and Learning. Some people, like Paula from Afford Anything find that having a long list of categories may cause them to lose focus. If that’s you, then feel free to limit it to just 2-3 categories. But I’ve personally found that it’s best to set goals for all aspects of life – striving towards one area while sacrificing the others has made me miserable in the past, so I’ve learnt that balance is usually the best formula.

2. While thinking of each category, think about 3-5 measurable goals for each.

For example, some of my goals under Cheerfulegg are:

  1. Create a free mini-product for loyal readers
  2. Convert cheerfulegg.com into a self-hosted domain
  3. Write book proposal and source for publishers

 3. Come up with a set of sub-actions 

This doesn’t have to be extremely detailed. For example, under the goal of “write a book proposal” I might include “ideate, organize, write first draft, share for feedback, edit, write second draft, etc”

4. Set a deadline for the completion of the project.

This should be a specific date. If you’re not sure, pick the end of a particular month.

 5. Finally, pick a set of metrics that you can use to track your progress.

For example, I might pick something like “number of pages written” or “number of peer reviews”

Dominate Your Goals In 2013

That’s it! If you think that this sounds like a helluva lot of work, well, it is. It took me a couple of days of reflection before I could come up with a list I was happy with, but it was definitely worth the effort.

Writing everything down will give you a clarity and focus that will be crucial to completing your goals, especially in the face of temptation. And hopefully, with a bit of luck, perseverance, and hard work, you’d be dominating your goals and kicking some ass in 2013. Good luck!

Image credit: kidgrifter

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. 😉

5 Surprising Truths About Investing in Real Estate

Singaporeans are absolutely crazy about property. Whenever I walk into a bookstore, I see shelves upon shelves of real estate investing books with pictures greasy men in business suits on the cover, wearing a big smile and screaming “I Got Rich Making Big Money Investing in Real Estate, AND YOU CAN TOO!!”

I hate those books. One day, I’m going to write a book with a naked picture of me on the cover, wearing nothing but a big smile and screaming “I Published a Book With A Picture of Me In a Birthday Suit, AND YOU CAN TOO!!” And I’m going to get the bookstores to stack ‘em right next to those damn real estate books.

I get really puzzled whenever I talk to someone my age about investing, and hear that they would rather “just invest in property”. Those greasy men in business suits can’t be that convincing, can they?

I’m probably going to piss off every single real estate agent in the world by writing this, but I can think of 5 reasons why real estate isn’t the best investment for young people:

1. Your first house isn’t an investment

Most people who buy a house more expensive than they can afford justify it by claiming that it’s an “investment”. Let’s be clear here – your first house is a place to live. It is NOT an investment. Even if your house rises in value along with every other house in the country, whatever you gained from selling your house would just go right back into purchasing another place to live in.

2. Property isn’t necessarily safer than the stock market

Most people think that property is “safer” that the stock market. But really, if you’re lumping ALL your savings into one house, how diversified is your investment portfolio, really? Compare that to investing in the Straits Times Index (STI), which immediately diversifies your investment into 30 stocks, each backed by a real, physical, blue-chip company.

By the way, you can lose money in real estate. Anyone remember 2008?

3. Property may not give you a better return than stocks

An SGX-led study showed that if you invested in Singapore property in 2001 and held it until 2010, you’d be worse off than if you had simply invested that same amount in the STI. Globally, stocks may or may not outpace real estate in any given year, but stocks have historically performed better than real estate over the long-term.

A New York Times article also described how real estate in the US has only barely managed to keep up with inflation, while stocks have risen comfortably above inflation for the past 200 years. As Yale economist Robert Shiller puts it, “from 1890 through 1990, the return of real estate was just about zero after inflation.”

4. Costs will destroy a large chunk of your returns

If someone bought a house for $250,000 and sold it 5 years later for $400,000, most people would think, “Great! I made $150,000!” But they failed to account for all the associated costs that go along with it: Taxes, agent fees, commissions, insurance, maintenance, stamp duties, renovation costs, furnishing, etc, which would add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to your monthly bill.

Let’s not forget the interest you’ll have to pay on the housing loan you took out, which is easily in the ballpark of tens of thousands of dollars. For Singaporeans, if you use your CPF to purchase a house, you’d have to pay back the amount you “borrowed” from CPF, PLUS INTEREST (It stands at 2.6% today, but it’ll rise once interest rates go up. I totally see the rationale of this policy from the government’s perspective, but am I the only one who thinks this is a crappy deal from an investing standpoint?).

The costs I pay for investing in a low-cost ETF? A commission of $25, and an annual expense ratio of 0.3% (For every $10,000 invested, that’s like thirty bucks).

5. Mortgages screw with your psyche

“Hey, let’s use other people’s money to get rich!”… is what most people would tell themselves before taking on a huge-ass mortgage.

Dude, a mortgage isn’t something to scoff at. It’s as full-fledged and serious a commitment as… marriage. Things change once you’ve got the ever-present threat of a monthly mortgage payment hanging over your head. You start to see things differently. Mortgages cause people to become way more risk-averse, and less likely to do things like finding a better job, starting their own business, and investing, even though those options may help them to become financially better off.

Think of it as a Big Buy – Not an investment

I’m not saying that real estate is a bad investment. You can make money from it if you already have 1) a house to live in, 2) lots of spare cash, and 3) a strong portfolio and are looking to diversify your investments.

But most young people don’t fall into this category. Instead, we should see our first property as a really, really, really large purchase rather than an investment. Think of it as a great way to build equity and start a family. But please don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re going to get rich from it. If you’re just starting out, you’d be better off focusing on building a sensible portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Agree/disagree? Leave a comment or send me an email at cheerfulegg [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re interested in publishing my birthday suited book cover.