Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 5 Internet Sites I Visit

I thought that after sharing what investment books we read, it might also be interesting to know what are the top 5 internet sites one frequents.

Here are my top 5 sites which I visit (not in any order of preference):

1. Facebook

Needless to say, facebook is one of the top sites I use. I don't really play the games but I just use it to keep updated on what people around me have been up to. Sometimes, when I don't really know what to surf on the net, I just go on facebook as people tend to put interesting links there.

2. STOMP

Yes, Singapore's very own STOMP. It is just tabloidy kind of stuff and I read it more for entertainment purposes.

3. DBS Internet Banking

To carry out my banking.

4. ESPN Soccernet

To catch up with my soccer news.

5. Youtube

I have loaded my favorite music videos on it. So I just go there for my daily dose of music.

So here are my top 5 sites, what's yours?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Everyone has a Story to Tell

Stories are powerful. And the beauty of it is that each of us has a different story to tell. Even the same events witnessed by different people are told differently.

What stories do I have to tell?

Many. But are they interesting enough? And what should I tell since there are so many?

It is kindergarten. I am catching a ride from my neighbour's Mum. We attend the same kindergarten and it is quite often that I catch a ride from them. On this day, I get into the car first. Thinking that he would go in from the other side, I proceed to close the door.

Unfortunately, he doesn't go in from the other side. He uses his hand to stop the door but the door slams on his fingers. He screams in pain and starts crying out. His mum inspects his fingers and says it is alright. But that doesn't stop him from being angry with me. And I am too afraid to say sorry. He ignores me for the rest of the day.

Why do I even remember an event like this?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Investment Books to Recommend

Every now and then, I get queries from readers on what books do I recommend that they read.

It is really hard to recommend books to read. After all, there are tons of investment books out there and they all cover a wide range of topics. Some teach you how to invest in stocks, some commodities, some real estate, some forex, etc, etc.

Basically, whoever has made money in a certain trade is sure to start writing a book and recommending to everyone to follow in his footsteps. And that is why Warren Buffet writes about stocks and Jim Rogers writes about commodities. I am sure some other real estate tycoon has made his money from real estate and will write about investing in real estate.

Are these good books? Some are, some are not. You have to discern for yourself whether the rules apply and whether you need to contextualise it to suit our environment.

Nonetheless, here are some of the books that I have read:

1. Capital Ideas
2. Random Walk Down Wall Street
3. Millionaire Next Door
4. Rich Dad Poor Dad
5. Retire Young, Retire Rich
6. Hot Commodities

Of course the books written by Warren Buffet and other investment greats are also worth reading.

But reading is one thing...............applying it in real life is a whole different playing field.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great Weekend - $200 in Dividends

One of the real estate investment trusts (REITs) just gave out dividends 2 days back. Received a nice lovely sum of $200. Not a lot but enough for me to buy a few items for myself that I like.

I have also received over USD$250 from selling some adspace on my blogs. This is still stuck in my paypal account as I have no idea how to transfer it out to my bank account yet.

The weekend has been great thus far. Lots of lazing around and trying to figure out what I want to get out of my life. Been thinking about this a little more the past few weeks.

Today is a hot day so we are staying indoors most probably. The family is taking its afternoon nap but I do hope to be able to go out and get some fresh air, clear my head, and get myself all geared up for the new week ahead.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Regrets of the Dying

I read this wonderful post of my Google Reader and decided it was worth sharing with all. Start living the life that you want to and stop having any regrets! Do let me know what you think and share with all on which regret you want to rid yourself of by commenting on this post below.

For me, it is the first. I wish I'd have the courage to live a life true to myself. I hope that I do not die with such a regret in my heart - that I feared to pursue my dreams because of other's expectations

=============

Bronnie Ware works in pallitative care -- with patients near the end of their life. In this post, she writes powerfully about the the top regrets that have surfaced again and again from her patients on their death beds. I've pasted the list of five below.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.


2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.


3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.


4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Diversifying Streams of Income - Passivity the Key

I have been trying to diversify the various streams of income that I currently get.

I have my earned income from my 9 to 5 job. This is the most hard earned income as I literally have to work hard to earn it. Any day I stop going to work means that I stop earning money literally. In this time and age with the retirement age set at 62, I need to find some kind of work that will allow me to work beyond the official retirement age.

I have dividends from my stocks and real estate investment trusts (REITs). Sold off my Canadian Royalty Trusts (Canroys) some time back so I no longer am able to get those monthly cheques which were wonderful to get.

Online ad revenue has also been kind to me as I have managed to sell certain spaces on my blogs for cool sums of money. It is sometimes quite amazing how I have managed to diversify the various streams of income. From relying solely on Adsense to other alternative sources.

I have been toying the idea of starting a business but still do not have a concrete idea what to sell. It needs to be something really easy to set up and which requires minimum effort on my part. It doesn't have to bring in much, maybe just few dollars a month.

What I realised is this: Once I open up another stream of income, I become surer of myself and somehow will be able to slowly turn on the taps and increase that stream till it turns out to be a sizeable stream.

I will keep all updated once I have managed to seek out that additional source of passive income.

Stay tune!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Act of Giving

A few days ago, I ran a $10 donation contest to ask readers to suggest charities that I could give to and I would reward them by donating $10 to the charity that they mention.

Lately, I have been thinking about philantrophy and how I could incorporate it into my life or maybe even incorporate it into part of my family's legacy. This was after reading the news about the Khoo's family donation to NUHS.

The act of giving is something mysterious and lovely at the same time. Personally, I have found that giving away my money to charities makes me feel that all my work is not in vain. At least I am helping someone who is needy.

Meaning of Philanthropy

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." - Winston Churchill, British prime minister (1874-1965)

The word "philanthropy" is derived from the Greek word philos (love) and anthropos (mankind). Loosely translated, it means "love for mankind". The act of philanthropy can thus be generally defined as the giving of one's money, time, information, goods and services, voice or influence to the general improvement of the well-being of humanity.

If you have given away things before, you ought to understand that there is a certain joy that can be derived from giving.

How much to Give?

How much one should give is dependent on many factors. Giving money away can sometimes be as complicated as making money! Here are some general guidelines when it comes to giving:

1. Know your income level and how long you wish to continue giving. No point giving away everything till you go broke. You should find a level that is comfortable enough. You can't match the millions that the rich are giving away, but surely a few dollars can be spared? While some people might choose to make monthly contributions to their charity of choice, others prefer to make only one-off donations. This all boils down to preference and comfort level.

2. Identify areas you are passionate in. Giving is much easier if you are giving to an area you are passionate in. If you like children, donating to a children's charity makes sense. The key idea is to donate to causes which you believe in and are passionate about.

3. Read up, Track progress, Be clear about expectations. There are just so many charities out there. Just the other day, I learnt about this new charity called the Rainbow Club. I have never heard of it before had I not started the blog post asking readers for suggestions. This goes to show that there are so many organisations out there and it might be worthwhile to read up more, track each of these organisation to see what they are doing differently from the rest and also tailor your expectations on how your money will be put to good use.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

$10 Donation Contest - Pick Your Favorite Charity

Many months back, I had a free $50 giveaway contest where I gave away $50 to the 50th person who commented on a post. You can find the free $50 contest here.

I decided to start a donation contest today.

The thing is that you won't be winning a single dollar. Rather, it will be the charity of your choice that wins the money.

Just drop a short comment on this post and let me know which charity is worth giving and why you personally think so. I will pick the best comment and donate the $10 to that charity. Of course, I will not be able to proof that I did so but you can just trust me =)

Or you can ask MusicWhiz who won the $50 contest to testify that I really gave him $50 the last time I held such a contest.

So simple rules. Just comment on this post the charity of your choice and why you think that charity deserves the money. Who knows, I might even consider giving to that charity on a more regular basis. And some of the readers of this blog might do so too =)

Let's start the ball rolling!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simplifying My Life - Email Detoxification

I am trying to simplify my life. I find that I have way too many emails to read and that is perhaps worsened by the fact that lots of spam mail have been coming in as I have subscribed to various forums before.

Just the other day, I went through all my spam mail and basically unsubscribed myself from all future mailing lists. Now, my email inbox registers at least 10 less emails per day. That is a great deal to me as I only check my non-work related email account like once in a week. So that basically means a grand total of 70 emails less to scroll thru each time I log on during the weekends.

All this is just part of my effort to try to simplify my life and to get the unimportant things out of the way leaving me with quality time to pursue the goals that I want.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Does Donate Button Work?

Does putting a DONATE button on the blog help? I cannot help but notice that many people have placed donate buttons on their blog to ask readers to support them in their blogging efforts. In fact, some bloggers say that they have actually managed to get donations from certain generous readers.

I thought it would be pretty cool to try it out so I have just placed a donate button on the top right of this blog.

Hopefully some generous soul will donate to me some money to buy me a cup of coffee?

Wonder whether anyone else out there has tried putting a donate button before and whether anyone did donate any money?

Perhaps I will wait for one month and report my findings. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Retirement Planning

Are you planning to retire? Is the fear of retirement bothering you night and day? Are you sure about your retirement planning and whether you have enough savings?

Well, these are some of the most common questions that one might ask oneself several times while planning for retirement. Retirement can be said to be the phase of life where a person leaves or losses his employment or professional identity forever. In fact, I have even read newspaper articles that suggest retirement as a concept is actually fairly new in our human history. Afterall, people in the past used to work as long as they were able to. There was no such thing as a retirement age!

I shudder at the thought of retirement. Afterall, I find it hard to imagine sitting at home having nothing to do. Yet I can't help notice the trend that these days, older people are increasingly moving towards semi retirement by reducing daily or weekly work hours before they actually go into full retirement. I have seen many real life examples. Others have even gone a step further and taken a more radical approach - by suggesting that one can go on mini-retirements throughout one's life. (Read the 4 Hour Work Week and you will know what I am talking about)

In today's world with its ever increasing cost of living, it is hard to imagine somebody retiring and totally stopping work and not drawing an income. How certain can one be that he will not outlive his or her savings? Based on the average life expectancy of Singaporeans, I think the average male or female will live to age 80. But that is being average and if one happens to be above average, you could possibly be living till 90 or even 100! What if you had only enough savings for 10 years or 20 years and retired at the age of 60. You will be too old to find employment then!

There are in fact some employment opportunities out there that allows for flexi work arrangements for the elderly. Singapore is also introducing a Re-employment Act to make employers offer older employees some kind of employment even after the official retirement age. In the future, it is not hard to imagine that elderly folks can work from home as they have easy access to the computer and internet.

For me, I believe I will try to work for as long as I can. I have changed my thinking about retirement a few times in my life. In the past, I wanted to retire as early as possible. Now, I see retirement as something that I want to avoid. If I can find something that I love to do, I don't mind doing it for the rest of my life!

It is useful to note this: Your retirement age is not fixed by law; in fact it’s fixed by your potential and willingness to work. In short, a retirement that makes your retired life fun loving and worthwhile is the best retirement plan that one can have. In fact, I would not call it retirement at all but rather active ageing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting Married - Steps to Take

I realised that a frequent question I get from people is how much savings one needs to get married. I am not that old but I guess being married- being a person that has walked down that path, makes me a qualified individual.

Or perhaps people know that I am a person who likes to plan ahead and seems to have everything under control. And that is why they ask me for advice.

Recently, when browsing through the IMSavvy site, I realised that it was one of the discussion topics too. So I guess I will chip in to the many opinions out there. But perhaps a better way is to tell you my story.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
I decided to get married when I found the right person. Of course, it is a commitment that one takes as you never ever know whether there might be someone out there in the world who might be prettier, or better suited for you. But one does not have time to meet all members of the opposite sex in the world so you take the leap of faith.

Having known my girlfriend then for sometime, I decided that enough was enough and I was ready to settle down. It was getting tiring to just date without anything to hold us or bind us together.

So I sat my girlfriend down and asked her how much we needed to get married. (Yes, I know it is not romantic at all). But for most guys, I guess this is the preparatory stage before the actual proposal. You just want to make sure that the both of you have sufficient resources to hold a wedding. buy a house, buy some furniture and if possible, go for a nice honeymoon.

Of course, on 2nd thoughts, I should have just bought a ring and proposed straight up, then do the planning later on. But like I told you before, I am really a planner kind of person. And it simply did not make sense to hide my plans from my girlfriend. (okay, i admit that I am not romantic)

Well, the conversation went well and she actually got excited. I think she was just happy that I was actually thinking of settling down. We did our math on a rough sheet of paper which I grabbed and listed down item by item the things that we had to pay for. In fact, she kept that sheet of paper and we still have that piece of paper as a sort of memory.

In short, we added up every single item we could think of that we needed and tallied the total bill. We then forecasted how long it would take us to save that amount of money.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Now came the savings part.

As we were both working and literally quite fresh out of university, we basically were able to save quite a bit each month as long as we did not splurge on unnecessary stuff.

So it was actually quite workable. And we realised that we needed less than 1 year to save up for marriage. In this manner, we sort of revealed our finances to one another.

Good thing: we both did not have any debt.

Bad thing: we would be in debt the moment we got married as we wanted to buy our own place.

But that did not deter us and basically, we continued to save up fervently. Of course, I eventually did propose, buying the ring with a hidden stash of cash that I did not reveal to her at the start =)

Were there fights? Well...not really. We really stuck to the budget as the wedding day draw nearer. We tried to keep to the budget for most of the items and I am glad that such detailed budgeting helped solve a lot of the problems I believe couples face. As the budget was worked out by the both of us, we gauge all prices quoted to us based on what we have budgeted for. Anything too expensive...sorry...we looked for a lower quote. If there was anything that happened to be cheaper..then good..we saved some money.

The few months before the actual wedding was really a mad frenzy. Each weekend was spent trying to buy some item or furniture for our new home. The credit card bills came in fast and furious and it was not uncommon to be signing off thousands of dollars in a single shopping spree. But like I said, we stuck strictly to what we budgeted for.

I still remember that there were times I had to call up the credit card company to ask them to temporarily increase my credit limit so that I could pay for the big items. In fact, I have never ever spent money like that in my entire life before. Thinking back on it, I guess it is a phase that everyone has to go thru especially if you are getting your own place to live in. Furniture after all can be very expensive.

In fact, the renovations were the most expensive item that we budgeted for. But we decided that it was worthwhile to spend that money as we will want our home to be a nice and comfy place to live in.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We counted down the months. As each month drew closer, our bank accounts got more and more depleted. It can really be quite stressful at times to realise that you are spending almost all your savings just to set up a home with somebody else. It was during this period that I really could see the sacrifices that my parents have made.

(I actually went further and started planning for life together and calculating our recurrent expenditure when we would move out of our parent's place and live in our own flat. It was then that I realised the amount my parents have been paying in terms for water, electricity, cable, etc over the twenty years of my existence. The amount they have spent on me must be lots!!!). Love you Mum and Dad!

* * * * * * * * * * * *
D-day arrived. It happened quickly and before I knew it, we were off to our honeymoon. When we returned home, we looked at the damage that the wedding had done to our finances, shrugged it off and decided that it was worthwhile. We did not spend a lot but it was still quite a substantial bit.

Nevertheless, because we did not spend our entire savings, we were able to start off our married life with a sure footing. (For example, even after our wedding and paying for all the bills, we still had 6 months of expenditure as an emergency fund set aside with room to spare)

Getting married is an expensive affair. It can be cheap if you want it to. But the best thing one can do is to sit down with your partner and work out the sums. Create a detailed budget and see whether some things are good to have and really necessary. The most important thing is open communication.

I hope this post has been useful for those who are planning to get married.

The writer has been married only once in his life. He does not plan to get married again. He thinks that weddings can actually be a lot cheaper if couples are willing to take the unconventional path of not having a huge celebration that Asians are so fond of doing. Perhaps a bbq or buffet will suffice in the future?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

5 Secrets For Sustainable Spending

Spending sustainably comes down to living within one's means. Living beyond this may mean a lower standard of living in the future, as debts need to be serviced. Some sacrifices initially may actually mean a higher level of spending can be sustained in the future. This is much more preferable to being at risk of debt collection

Make a Budget

Old habits die hard, so it's worth fostering good habits early on. This starts with making a budget. One should set aside sufficient funds to handle standard expenses, like rent or mortgage repayments, credit card payments, car repayments, car running costs, council rates, electricity, water, other utilities and the like. Additional funds should be allocated for unexpected expenses like car repairs.

Hopefully there are still some funds left over. The remainder should be split between current discretionary spending and future savings for a rainy day. One needs to enjoy life and spending for enjoyment is part of this, but it needs to be kept in check. As long as one can consistently allocate even a small amount of funds to be saved, then one is on the right track.

Investments

Allocating savings into an investment fund is a good way to save for the future. Long term stock market returns of around 10% per annum are well above average deposit rates, and well above the inflation rate. Consistently adding savings to such a fund is a positive way to build up a nest egg. What has this got to do with spending you may ask? As your investments start to perform, the investor bears fruit in the form of managed fund distributions or dividends, and capital growth.

Spending From Surplus

These dividends, distributions, or profits taken on an investment can be allocated to spending. The difference to standard spending is that one is spending from a surplus. The investment can be left to continue to grow and provide further distributions in the same way that a tree continues to bear fruit. Re-investing distributions should mean even greater distributions (and hence even greater spending capacity) in the future. Continuing to regularly allocate savings to such investments will also enhance this capacity.

Save First, Spend Later

The strategy above admittedly does require a little sacrifice at the outset. One needs to curtail immediate spending for the benefit of future spending. The alternative of going into debt is a poor option. If consumer spending is financed by debt, then this debt acts as a restricter on future spending.

Credit can indeed boost spending, but this does have a limit. The more one spends on credit, the more future income one is then forced to apportion to paying off debt. Importantly, getting into the habit of spending more than one earns can make breaking this habit very difficult.

Purchase Outright

For all but the most expensive items (like a property!), one should really be able to save up funds to purchase them. It may be tempting to go out and buy the latest Plasma TV on credit, but waiting and saving will mean no interest payments, and the TV will also probably be cheaper by that time!

No one wants to have to negotiate debt repayments with debt recovery companies. Keep control of your finances by following the above steps to sustainable spending. Stick to a budget, and allocate some funds to savings and investments, so that future spending is worry free and enjoyable.

[This is a guest post]

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saving for Child's Education

After many months of saving, I am glad to say that the amount in my child's POSBKids Savings Account has reached a nice tidy sum of $3,600. I have basically been putting all the red packet money that he has been receiving into his bank account. (For those who live overseas, the Chinese have a custom of giving these red packets which are filled with money for occasions like Chinese New Year, birthdays, etc).

So all these money has come in handy. Unfortunately, if I do a straight line projection, it shows that I will still be severely short of the $50,000 that I hope to accumulate by the time my child hits the age of 18/20.


Sagrada Familia at Barcelona




I read the news recently about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona being restored and how the first mass is going to be conducted there. I remember travelling to Barcelona sometime back and took some pictures of the Sagrada Familia. It is really an impressive looking building. Too bad the pictures I took had all these hovering cranes around the building as they were still working at restoring it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Deepavali

Happy Deepavali to all my readers.

It is a rainy day and it helps that it is a public holiday so we can all sleep in. Wanted to go to a park or a beach but since it was raining, we decided to stay home.

I bought breakfast back for the family. Nice yummy food. Comfort food in fact. Nice hot coffee from the coffee shop, wanton mee, carrot cake and chui kui. Yummy!

Going to tuck in now, and catch up on my soccer news which I have missed for the past one week.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Standing Out from the Crowd

Everyday I board the MRT, I cannot help but notice how packed it is. But more importantly, I can't help but notice how small I am in this world.

The MRT is filled with people dressed in their office wear, all geared up to go to work. Some of them look confident. Others look tired.

When I look out of the MRT, there are blocks and blocks of HDB flats. Each block probably containing close around 1000 residents. And I am but an insignificant person living in one of those flats.

It makes me wonder how different I am from each of these individuals. How do I make myself stand out from the crowd? Am I a better person compared to the person standing next to me? How do I differentiate myself from all the other people around me? In short, what are the skills and experience I need to acquire to ensure that I stand out from the rest of the crowd?

Of course, there are the days when I just can't be bothered and resign myself to fate that there are probably zillions of people who are much better than me in every aspect. And perhaps, I should just be contented to live my quiet and peaceful life... Not to seek fame and fortune but to live a quiet and happy life with my family.

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