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. 😉

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The New Psychology of Spending Money

So last weekend, I met up with a friend who’s kind of a huge foodie, like she wouldn’t think twice about dropping 200 bucks for a meal at a restaurant. She’s really fussy about her food, which I can never understand because I pretty much eat anything. Except papayas, they’re gross.

Anyways, this friend was thinking about checking out this flashy new Michelin Star restaurant that just opened. She was excitedly telling me about her plans, but abruptly stopped herself and said, “But you probably wouldn’t approve.”

I was a little taken aback. Why wouldn’t I approve? “Because you’re all about saving money and personal finance,” she retorted.

And then it struck me: Most people believe that “personal finance” and “spending money” are polar opposites. This couldn’t be further from the truth – I’ll tell you exactly why following a personal finance system means you can spend on what you love (and no, you don’t have to wait till you’re all white-haired and wrinkly).

The Toilet Paper Thief vs The Guy Who Spends On What He Loves

Let’s compare 2 friends – we’ll call them Mike and Paul. Mike is your typical frugal saver. He doesn’t have a personal finance system but he tries his best to save more. He cooks ramen at home to save money. He takes the bus instead of the subway so he can cut 10 cents per day on his trip to the office. He wears the same pair of jeans every time he goes out. When he goes travelling, he steals the toilet paper and soap from the hostels. He picks up 5-cent coins from the ground.

Paul doesn’t scrimp as much as Mike does. In fact, he spends on what he loves. Paul manages to do this because he has a kickass personal finance system: He’s automatically saving and investing pre-determined amounts every month. He’s automated his credit card and phone bills so he never has to worry about missing a payment. He’s set aside “Big Play” money for parties and vacations.

Once all that is done, Paul has a few hundred dollars left over each month which he can spend on the things he loves, no matter how much they cost: Clothes, meals, drinks, massages – in short, everything that makes it awesome to be young.

Paul doesn’t break a sweat if his cash runs out before the end of the month. He simply stays home, cooks, and reads a free book to pass the weekend. In a couple of days, he’ll receive his next monthly salary, automatically save/invest/pay off his bills, and with the amount of money left over, continue spending on the things he loves.

Who do you think leads a richer life?

Old Psychology vs New Psychology

Most people assume that just because I write about saving and investing, I’m one of those crotchey old personal finance dudes, hobbling around with a gin and tonic in one hand, nagging people to stop spending money. That’s the old psychology of spending money, the one that most clueless people mistakenly follow.

There’s a new psychology of spending money: If you’re faithfully following a personal finance system, you’re allowed to spend on anything you want with the money left over.

In the past 2 months, I’ve had a $325 dinner, went on a $3,505 vacation, bought a new Amazon Kindle, and last night, I paid as much as $14 for a beer (that last one was totally not worth it). I did all of the above absolutely guilt-free, because I’ve built, and followed, a personal finance system that takes care of my saving, investing and payments.

There’s a key difference between the following two statements:

Crotchy Personal Finance Dudes (like Mike): “I will never ever spend on a $200 dinner”

People who read Cheerfulegg.com (like Paul): “I’ll totally spend on a $200 dinner, as long as I can afford it after I’ve saved and invested.”

Which person would you rather be?

PS: Leave a comment or send me an email (cheerfulegg@gmail.com) on how you feel about spending money. What do you spend on and why? What is the one biggest thing you struggle with when it comes to spending? What would you like to learn from my blog to help you overcome it?

How To Get Rid of That Bulge In Your Pants

Yes… it’s a big one. And I confess that I walk around with it all day.

Honestly, if we could all just get rid of cash and pay with credit cards, like in this Visa ad, my wallet – and that bulge in my pants – could get a lot smaller (Insert snide comment about my manhood here). I have a love affair with credit cards – they’re compact, sexy, help you to rack up rebates, and build your credit score – which could save you tens of thousands of dollars if you ever take out a mortgage. Some people are irrationally scared of them (“them credit cards are the devil!”) only because they don’t understand how to deal with them. That’s stupid. Credit cards can totally work for you if you have a system that integrates them into your life.

So far, I’ve blogged about the essential credit card ingredients:
1. Set up automatic payments
2. Use cashback/rebate cards as much as possible
3. Limit your number of cards to 2 – 4

Today, I’m gonna talk about how to put all of ’em together into a system, so you never ever have to worry about credit card admin ever again.

The sexiest credit card system you’ll ever use

1. Decide on the single most important reward you’d like to get out of your credit card, and pick a card that offers it. We’ll call this your SEXY IMPORTANT CARD (SIC). They could be anything, but you have to pick just one:

  • Cashback – My personal fave, so I don’t have to figure out how to spend my points before they expire, and it’s like getting a discount for everything I buy.
  • Airline Miles – if you travel a lot
  • Random dining/shopping rewards

2. Channel 80-90% of your spending towards your SIC to maximize the rewards that are the most important to you. Literally try to spend everything on this card: wining and dining, shopping, toothpaste, major purchases and gifts, and Oompa-Loompa slaves.

3. Pick 1-3 other cards which will allow you to enjoy any exclusive credit card benefits not covered by your SIC. We’ll call these your AWESOME BENEFIT CARDS (ABCs):

    • 1 Visa and 1 MasterCard should work just fine for most people – I advocate having at least one of each because they’re the most general purpose and widely used, and you can take advantage of Visa-only or Mastercard-only promos if you come across them
    • I hardly ever charge anything to my ABCs. I keep them strictly to enjoy any exclusive card benefits that my SIC isn’t eligible for.
    • Don’t fall into the trap of opening too many new ABCs – read my post on limiting your number of cards.

4. Keep your ABCs active by directing a small, regular, recurring charge to each of them.

    • This could be as tiny as a monthly $5 magazine subscription. I have 2 ABCs –  I direct my $20/month phone bill to my Visa and my $100/month transport charge to my MasterCard.
    • The main idea is to keep your ABCs active – this lets the card companies know that you’re alive, which makes it easier for you to negotiate for fee waivers and credit limit raises when you need them.
    • More importantly, it builds your credit history – a long repayment history on these cards (even if it’s just $5 every month) will help to boost your credit score, as long as you pay them off on time every month.

5. Arrange for automatic payments for your SIC and your ABCs so you never miss a payment.

That’s it! This system will concentrate your spending on your SIC, accumulating rewards where it matters most to you. Your ABCs will give you the flexibility to enjoy whatever benefits that come your way which isn’t covered by your SIC. And automatic payments will ensure that you don’t have to deal with all the damn admin that comes along with paying those bills. (The only bit of admin that you do have to do is to check your monthly statements to ensure that there aren’t any suspicious charges like HOOKERS on it. But that shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes every month)

Sexy and you know it

Credit cards are getting more general purpose these days. Visa has a wave and go option. If you’re Singaporean, some cards double up as an EZ-Link card (to my overseas friends – what we use to ride our subways/buses). We might eventually not have to use cash in the future, and be like this guy: 

In the meantime, try my system out, and let me know if it helps you out. 🙂

How to To Save Free Money

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s that time of the year when the malls play annoying “dong-dong-dong-dong-chiaaanngggg” music, when Singapore gets a 2-day holiday (and China gets like 14), and we get to stuff our faces with pineapple tarts and abalone and those awesome prawn rolls. Oh, and single people get to receive some FREE cash money, handed to us in red packets (Singaporeans call those ‘ang pao’) by nice relatives, accompanied with the inevitable question “So… when are you getting married?” Oh, Asian relatives. Gotta love ’em. That awkward question aside, it’s helluva awesome to be getting free cash just for not being married.

Funny thing about free money – there’s been research in behavioral economics showing that people have a tendency to do something called “mental accounting” – meaning we tend to be less cautious with our winnings than we would with our earnings. That’s also the reason why lottery winners tend to end up bankrupt. Couple that with the tradition of 2 to 3 days of partying and informal gambling (Some explanation here – Chinese New Year turns the most frugal Singaporeans into hardcore highrollers, yelling ‘HUAT AH!!!’ while playing blackjack with their ang pao cash) and it’s no wonder that your newfound wealth disappears faster than a delicious plate of bak kwa. In fact, there was one year I found myself poorer than what I’d started out with, even though I’d been sitting on my ass receiving money all day. How the hell did that happen?

It’s simple – easily accessible money is easily spent. Transfer cash from your red packets to your wallet, and it’s gone. Think about another similar scenario: You’re out with your friends at dinner and it’s time to split the bill. You realize you don’t have any cash on you, so you card it and have everyone else pay you back in cash. You leave the restaurant with $200 bucks in your pocket… and promptly spend it all within the next 3 days. Sound familiar?

Easily accessible money is easily spent. Which is why I always advocate transferring your savings into a separate bank account so you can’t touch them. This year, don’t take the money out of your red packets. In fact, shove all your red packets into some deep dark corner (just make sure you can find them later). Keep ’em in there till the end of Chinese New Year, and chances are you’ll be helluva surprised at how much you managed to accumulate. Then take your newfound wealth to the bank and deposit it that same day. Think about it – it’s the perfect chance to boost your savings or use it as an initial investment into your stock portfolio (more on that later).

If you’re going to gamble, decide beforehand how much you’d be comfortable losing, draw it from an ATM, and go wild with it – but no more than that amount. Just like what you would do in a regular casino. That practice also gives you an unintended psychological advantage – Drawing your gambling funds from your bank account forces you to acknowledge that every bet affects your net worth, thereby making you less reckless, and more strategic (definitely a good thing for poker). Conversely, gambling with the ang pao money that literally fell into your lap makes you value it less, and hence more likely to lose it. (Again, notice that I’m not saying you should NEVER gamble. Part of being rich means that you can kick back, have fun, and blow some cash if you want to. Just be smart about it :)).

Sound like common sense? Of course. Everyone knows what they should be doing, but surprisingly few people actually go and do it. If you want to achieve anything great, like building up your hugeass bank account, start with the baby steps first. Once you get the small habits down, it becomes way easier to manage the larger sums of money that’ll be coming your way. Here’s wishing you an awesome (and wealthy) Year of the Dragon. HUAT AHHHH!!