My Journey

Hello there, I’m really glad you’ve come to my blog. If you have the time and the interest, I would be happy to share with you my journey so far and hopefully, you might benefit from my experiences (good or bad).

Brief Introduction

I was born in Singapore and have lived and worked here all my life. I’m in the midst of my forties and have a small family that includes a supportive wife, 2 young kids (a girl and a boy). Both my kids are in pre-school at the time of writing.

Everybody’s got a different starting point in the lottery of life and mine is not an extraordinary story, in my view, but it is still a journey which probably is more valuable when shared with others who could benefit from it. I’m going to break it down into 3 parts; the years before I knew what financial stuff is and never thought once why I should bother; then the crucial moment when I learned the hard way that financial literacy is really important; finally, how that changed my life and the steps I took towards building my financial knowledge.

Pre-Financial Literacy

Growing up in Singapore is a great privilege. As a country, it offers enough stability and social mobility for people to make the best of it in their life. Like many, we’re brought up to believe that hard work and the intellect you are born with will dictate how well you do in life. Meritocracy is commonly drilled into each citizen since young. So I tried to work as hard as I know since young and for what I lack in the ability to excel academically by gift, I compensated a lot with grit and sweat, but with limited success, I would admit.

So seeing my limitations, I took a different route to most of my friends. I was fortunately offered an opportunity to be sponsored by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and they supported me financially to gain my Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. I then repaid in service with the RSAF for six years which I worked as an Airforce Personnel maintaining military aircraft. While in service, I continued to pay heed to the advice that hard work could lead you to a better life. So while dedicated to my work, I also pursued an interest in IT (it was just before the Tech bubble) and took up night classes for an Advanced Diploma in Business Information Systems. It was really challenging juggling work and studies, which I’m sure many would agree. Upon graduating, I was also completing my obligation to the military. When I was discharged, I immediately pursued my goal of getting my tertiary education in Australia. I was fortunate to be able to get into the school of my choice and to live on my own for a year and a half in Melbourne. It was very much what I thought was the kind of education I needed, enjoyed and excelled. My outlook on life and what I supposed it will hold for my career going forward was at its peak, for after graduating with a Bachelor in Information Systems from a top school in Australia, University of Melbourne, I felt confident that this must be the pinnacle of my education which I never dreamt I was capable of achieving given my poor track record.

It all came crashing after I returned to Singapore with hopes and dreams. The worst turn of events came as I lost my father to illness only a few months since coming back home. I was at once in grief but also had the realization that I am now the sole breadwinner for the family. I have at this point used up all my funds which I saved painstakingly over the 6 years working for my education and living expenses overseas. Luckily, I also found work with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and started at the junior level as a Systems Executive. My family including my father was not what you would describe as financially savvy, but we were not too foolish as well luckily. With only a few hundred in savings, my father did not leave a will, did not buy any insurance (he doesn’t believe in it says my mum) and was servicing a mortgage loan. This all fell on me. Unlucky, but that is life. I did not wish to turn to relatives and friends so at this juncture, I was simply living paycheck to paycheck with more and more pressure and stress piling on as I had bills and my father’s debts to pay off. When there were any contingencies, I found myself literally scrounging for loose change around the house and breaking my coin banks to supplement what I need to pay. It went on for awhile this way as I accepted my fate, but then came to a point when I realized that this cannot go on. So everyone will have that one moment of realization right? For me, it was this which I remember vividly to this day…..

I was driving my father’s car one day. The car finances weighed on me for awhile as it was a long legal proceeding to get his estate under rightful administration. Until then, big portions of my pay goes to paying the auto loan. As I was driving along an expressway still constantly worrying about daily expenses, the car suddenly lost all power and glided to a halt. The first thoughts that came to me weren’t what I thought the problem was, I wasn’t thinking of my safety while being stuck in the middle of an expressway or planning how I should get help. My mind was just a blank and the only in the question ringing in my head is “where am I going to get money to repair this and how much it will cost?!” and all the money questions….. it was an unexpected emergency. My whole core has been affected just because I have not planned for such an event and was in a poor financial state. I would say this is the starting point for me. My desire, commitment and resolve to never let myself come to this juncture again is what brought me to where I am today. I was already on the cusp of my thirties.

Start of Financial Literacy

I remember just before leaving for Melbourne to further my studies, I chanced upon an old army mate I met in the beginning of my military career. My platoon mate was also leaving the military and was probably embarking into the financial industry. He shared with me eloquently the Cashflow Quadrant by a Robert Kiyosaki. He deserves a lot of credit for he did a great job and therefore it stuck with me. (I lost touch with this good mate of mine and if I get a chance and if he is reading this please contact me as I would love to thank him.)

In the depths of my poorly managed financial state, I went back to reflect on how I was able to do so much better in my later years excelling in the military, and my studies (late bloomer you may call it). But I credit it to my sudden habit and interest to start reading up on any subject voraciously for me to then be able to excel in it (no rocket science right?). So to get my finances in order, I picked up the books on financial management and I remembered my friend introducing me the importance on financial literacy through Robert Kiyosaki’s writing. I read a few of his books and applied them as I went along.

Things started to change for the better. I soon found myself able to reduce my liabilities where possible and tried to save up as much as I could to look out for the right opportunities. I started getting really interested in stocks and I opened a trading account with a broker and started trading without enough knowledge. Needless to say, I got burnt really bad and was looking at a 4-figure debt accumulated through careless and misinformed trading strategies. I was to blame and was glad that my broker stopped my account before I could sabotage myself further. I structured a plan to repay the deficit and was taking that time to go back to what I should have done in the first place….. read up more! This is when I set aside a knowledge fund for myself, $50 a month to buy any book that would benefit me and improve my knowledge whether in financial literacy or investing. No more speculating and gambling for me!

Financial Literacy and Stability

After reading up many books and absorbing a lot of valuable knowledge from the internet,  I started to invest in stocks again but in a very disciplined manner. I rationalized that value investing was more suitable for me and spent all my focus studying and practicing it to the best I can. I never stopped learning and tweaking my investment philosophy, tools, and mindset. I believed that it is not about the profits or the money you make, but what is important is the systems and processes that you’ve built up to find and invest in the right stocks that will lead you to financial stability.

Today, my financial situation has greatly improved since the time I started. The reason in my view is the discipline I built into the following (in no particular order):

  • manage my finances,
  • build and invest in my portfolio,
  • build and invest in my career.

As a result, I have progressed effectively in the profession that I found myself in, thereby allowing me the opportunity to build a strong career. I believe in staying in an organization for as long as it is meaningful, so I have knuckled down for almost 10 years in SIA before leaving for BHP Billiton which I stayed for 7 years. These very enjoyable years working at these fantastic companies have allowed me to widen that gap between income and expense, which means I managed to grow my income as much as I could while I strive to keep my expenses as low as practical even as I settle down and build a family all on my own. I kept my spending realistic without sacrificing some of the luxuries such as vacations with loved ones, spending time with people you love and enriching your life with extraordinary experiences. Could I have lived more prudently and cut out these to reach comfortable levels financially sooner? Sure, but such opportunity costs are the sands of time that can never be reversed. Smell the roses along the way if you can. With whatever excess that I can put aside, I diligently invested my funds carefully and grew them steadily through building a strong portfolio in Singapore and US stocks through the many cycles in the market since 2002 to 2017. As a value investor, I do look for stocks that are undervalued and have an indefinite holding period until it is near or over my valuation analysis. What I like is I have enjoyed every bit of the investment process that I am certain that I will want to continue doing this for as long as I can. I am eager to learn more and even more passionate about sharing what I have learned.

Today, I am driving just a humble but reliable car that I bought during the 2008-9 financial crisis when it was the cheapest moment to own a car (for Singapore at least!), which is fully paid for now (Yay!). I am living in an HDB apartment (Singapore public housing) that is now mortgage-free with the money we saved (Yay!). I have diligently built up a nest egg over the years that will help my family weather the storms for at least a year or more. My insurance coverage for my family and myself is adequate for any event, should any accidents, terminal illness or death was to befall us. My affairs are also in order so that my estate will be efficiently and effectively distributed to the ones I hold dear. Looking forward, I bought a private apartment after careful financial planning. We are now waiting to move into this new and bigger private apartment to accommodate our bigger family. I have just reached forty-ish at this stage with still more life ahead of me if fate would allow me to live to average life expectancy. Not discounting the luck I have had over many aspects because I know there surely are others (readers) out there that have far worse starting points and opportunities that I have. But I could also turn out far worse had I not grabbed my opportunities and make what I can of it. So, I guess I could be allowed to feel slightly proud of myself with where I have arrived at now in this part of my journey given where I started. I could also be hopeful in the years ahead if I keep doing what I do (which I enjoy) and keep learning as I go.

However, it’s not something to feel satisfied for there is a lesson I learned through my reading.

“The observation of the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments or to admire a man’s happiness that may yet, in the course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with all variety of future; and him only to whom the divinity has [guaranteed] continued happiness until the end we may call happy.” – Story of King Croesus (credit Nassim Nicholas Taleb, extracted from his book “Fooled by Randomness”)

This is the response by Solon (the wisest man) in an apocryphal story retold from ancient Greece in which King Croesus (the richest man) is making a futile attempt to get Solon to agree that the former’s wealth and success mean he must be the happiest. To me, it really means don’t get too cocky before the fat lady sings. So I won’t say that there will be no more financial worries for me, and I will be the first to admit there is still more to learn and a lot to do to maintain or improve my situation even more in the years ahead.

As I look back, it has been a wonderful ride and I am still enjoying it. I am really excited and looking forward to my journey whatever lies ahead. But for now, I have decided to pay it forward with this simple blog as I found myself passionate about sharing what I know, what worked for me, and what didn’t work so well, in order for others to benefit from it. I sincerely hope this sharing has been a little bit inspiring at least.

Thanks for reading up to here. Where you can go from here is to:

  1. Read the articles I’ve put up in Finance & Economics. This is where I will continue to put up informative articles of what I think was hugely important for my education and so could benefit those who wish to get some fundamental knowledge and insights related to value investing, financial literacy and trading. They could be a bit longer than normal posts, but trust me that it should be worth it.
  2. Inspire and enrich yourself in your journey with some of the quotes that really resonated with me. This is in the Enrichment section.
  3. Check out the Booklist that played a big part in my financial education. I will share with you my favorites and which are the ones I would recommend for beginners.
  4. Feel free to use the resources under the Tools section. These are the resources that I used and still use today. They are incredibly useful for anybody who is looking for the tools that could be really useful for those on the same journey as I am. Here, you will also find the like-minded communities which I gather and exchange any ideas in the topic of financial literacy. As the saying goes, every person is on the same journey but what makes the difference is who has a better map (or compass, whatever tool you feel you need) or company.