Monday, December 28, 2015

Goodbye 2015!

I hope this old train breaks down
Then I could take a walk around
And, see what there is to see

You don't know nothing
But you don't need to know
The wisdom's in the trees
Not the glass windows
You cant stop wishing
If you don't let go

I've posted this song before. This is a more chillstep version of a song that I used to listen throughout my backpacking days when I was younger. It is just a happy tune that brings back all my carefree memories as a vagabond in faraway lands in forgotten cities. It reminds me that if you want to do something, just go out and do it.

I started working in 2013 where I didn't take a holiday because I had just came back from my graduation trip and also because it was only my first year. In 2014 I went to Hong Kong and Bali, while this year I went to Beijing/Seoul and also New Zealand.

As you can guess, I'll be going away on a holiday. Where to? You'll get an update once I'm back. This is actually going to be the first time I spend the New Year in a different country. I don't think I've ever done that before. Strange, isn't it?

I do love travelling, especially on trips like this where I get to reunite with my overseas friends and just have a lazy chill holiday. That said though, after travelling so much, I don't think I could just "retire and travel the world". That's like the clique answer that 99% of people will give you, which I find pretty odd since most people go overseas on tour and spend most of their time in the hotel or tour bus anyway. Sure, travelling once in a while is good to add some spice to life, but I couldn't do it forever. While it is a temporary escape, travelling actually helps me to appreciate my normal day-to-day life a lot more.

While I am still young and without obligations, I will always push myself to do things that I will probably regret not doing once I'm much older. I know that I want to see the world, so I carefully plan and make sure those things happen.

Some people make things happen. Other people watch things happen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Juz some Chartz and Shizz

Too Long, Don't Wanna Read: In 2016, (other people say) bonds up (ergo bond yields down), stocks down.

In this "new-normal" world that we live in, I think far too many people excel in copy-pasting cookie cutter strategies that have been churning out money over the past few years. The fact of the matter is, as long as you went long (pun intended) on pretty much anything in the current (debatable) bull market, you would've made money. In fact, that's exactly how people have been making money for decades - being long in a bull market.

However, what is going to determine the future winners and losers (not stocks or asset classes, but individuals) will not be what they did in the past. It would be how they manage what will happen in the future. When I talk about risk management, a lot of people look slightly dumbfounded to me. "Hey buddy, I've diversified, all right?". But diversification is NOT the hail mary of all risk management. Sitting in cash and having "inflation erode away your purchasing power" (which is hardly the truth or painful in the world of deflation that we are living in) is viewed by many as laziness or cowardice for having inaction. I say, deciding to hold cash itself is a risk management decision. Cash is an asset class, so this is asset class diversification in play here, which is different from index ETFs which diversify after an asset class has been selected. Breaking it down even further, how do you want to hold your "cash"? In fixed deposits? In multiple currencies? In several banks to the SDIC limit?

Do you average down with losers? Or do you sell them off and all-in at the "bottom"? Anyone who imposes one strategy as better than the other clearly does not take into account that all individuals are different. Can one emotionally bear to realize such losses? Can one overcome fear and dump it all back in? Can one sleep knowing they are holding onto stocks that are dropping every day? There is no ONE way, but clearly certain paths have different pros and cons, which different people can use to suit their style and excel with one way compared to another.

When I talk about risk management, it isn't about your specific investment. It's about having a framework in your LIFE that can deal with a variety of risks, which could then in turn affect your financial portfolio. You bought a great LONG-TERM stock that is currently suffering TEMPORARY price depression? Fantastic, if you don't need to liquidate it. If you're out of a job and you don't have an emergency fund, it doesn't matter if you can see guru insight and can see future stock prices, you need to liquidate at a loss to feed yourself. 

I don't know what 2016 will bring, and neither does anyone else. I can only make logical (in my mind, debatable) guesses and position myself to be ready to handle the most likely environments to achieve the best outcomes for me.

Just like how watching a live screening of your favourite soccer team doesn't increase their odds of winning, owning and hoping for your investment to go up isn't a very good strategy either. Your investment does not know that you own it. All Singaporean men lose their "eye-power" special abilities once they finish NS, so refreshing your portfolio every 5 minutes will not make it go up.

Stocks and bonds can go up or down, in fact they do that on a daily basis. It doesn't matter what they do. It only matters what you do.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Singapore Savings Bond: Dec 2015 Review, Feb 2016 Preview

Hey everybody, here's my monthly post on the SSB closing and the forecast for next month. I'm trying to streamline my posts to make them more condensed and info-packed in a regular structure, so it's both easier for readers to quickly digest the article and for me to pump them out on a regular basis.

Last month I previewed my guess for the Jan 2016 SSB, and I also made commentary on the take-up rate of the previous Dec 2016 issue.

First up is the news regarding the 2016 issues. This news actually came out on 1st Dec as an MAS presser, but of course next to nobody reads this and I was away on reservist so I didn't comment on it either. Basically, an SSB will be issued every month of 2016 with $300 million for the Jan issue. While it is a HUGE drop from the $1,200 million that they were offering in 2015, the SSB take up rate has been... pathetic, and that's putting it nicely.

For the December 2015 SSB, a pathetic $40 million was taken up. That's 3% odd of the entire $1,200 million open to issue! Compared to the Oct and Nov issue, which were somewhat respectable, the demand for SSBs is seriously... pathetic. I keep using that word, but I find it hard to find other synonyms for this. So even with the reduced $300 million being offered, there is plenty of capacity for people who are interested in subscibing for the SSB. I think it will be very many years before people will need to re-educate themselves on the bidding and allotment process IF demand ever exceeds supply. That's a big if. It looks highly highly unlikely in the near future.

As expected, without any inversion presenting itself, MAS has played nicely and given us the tightest variance of the actual SSB compared to interest rates of the benchmarks. Unequivocally, the Jan issue was in all ways better than the Dec issue. I hope anyone that have read my article and followed my logic decided to postpone their subscription for the Dec issue and applied for the January issue instead. It's almost a 10bps advantage across the entire curve.

Anyway, moving onto the next SSB, we use the same old-fashioned method of looking up the data from MAS and constructing the table below. As a refresher, the current month's rates are used as a proxy for the issue in 2 months time. (Dec 2015 rates are used for the Feb 2016 issue)

With 18 out of 22 data points available for this estimate, I think that this is quite reasonably accurate. However, you might notice a trend of dropping rates, so I wouldn't be surprised if we end the month with average yields lower than expected. I would hazard a guess of 0.95 / 1 / 1.90 / 2.45 as the final yields.

Basically, we are on set to have weak 5 and 10 year yields on this issue, on par with the Dec 2015 issue. We are also looking at weak 1 and 2 year yields, on par with the maiden Oct 2015 issue. If I had to opine, I would think that this is overall one of the weakest issues set to be issued.

I will be subscribing for the current Jan 2016 issue for the pretty attractive short term rates and acceptable long term rates. I would very likely be giving the upcoming Feb 2016 issue a pass.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

#GivingWeek 2015 Update

This is the update from my previous post at the start of the month.

Anyway, this is just me showing my accountability that I do what I said I'll do.

I found out that the SGGives website which I used the previous year is actually closing down to make way for, which make sense since they needn't be 2 websites that essentially do the same thing. The website feels a lot more laggy though, it did take me quite a long time to browse through and finally donate.

I have a friend that volunteers weekly out of pure kindness, so sometimes I feel horrible that I'm not doing anything more for society. Donating kind of feels like the least effort way of contributing.

But then again, I have come across an article, which I can't find, but I roughly remember the gist of. In it, it explored how there are some groups of people who do their part for the community without volunteering at all. How do they do it? They opt and work for the highest paying job that they can get, live a frugal and simple life, and donate the bulk of it to charity. They also pinpoint their funds to the charities that are the most "effective" in using the donations to make an impact as well.

While this might sound like a very impersonal and sterile way to contribute to society, they do make some points. Firstly, most volunteers are horrible at what they are volunteering for. Second, most volunteers would likely be more productive doing something else other than volunteering. Essentially, this is pretty much a time and revenue maximization problem.

Why volunteer for a day if you can instead earn tons of money and use that money for more impact, like for example, to cover the expenses of having 10 much-more-efficient volunteers? The main reason I suppose is the reduced feelings of being happily charitable because of the distance between the donor and the "frontlines".

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not dissing volunteer work at all. I'm just bringing forth a less accepted form of thinking with regards to charity work and donations.

Anyway, that was a rather long rambling about nothing financial at all.

It's Christmas Eve and I wish everyone Happy Holidays! Have a great end of the year everybody!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Secret 10% Cashback Credit Card!!!

Don't say I got lobang I don't share hor.

I got top secret info about probably the most sick rebate credit cash that Singapore will see!

Unlike how the OCBC Frank had their perks REDUCED (yes, I forever hold this grudge after letting me taste the forbidden sweet water of 6% rebates), CIMB is re-vamping both their rebate cards to dole out whooping 10% rebates!

Here are the important things to note:

  • These changes only come into effect Jan 2016
  • You need to make 8 transactions of $30 each for that month
  • Total minimum spending of $500 per month 
  • Rebate cap of $60
  • The categories are different for each card
    • MasterCard: Travel, Health, Beauty & Wellness
    • Visa: Wine & Dine, Online Transactions in Foreign Currencies

The $500 monthly minimum spending seems to be the spending sweet spot that all credit cards try to aim for, so this isn't really a problem. Almost all cashback cards with a decent amount of cashback require this hoop to jump through.

However, a bummer in my opinion is the requirement for 8 transactions of $30 minimum each. I barely make 8 transactions a month, now they all have to be over $30? But, there is a loophole that I can see, which is going up to the cashier and asking them nicely to help you split up your bill and charge your card twice, or several times (ie. breaking a $100 meal into 2 X $50 transactions). Of course, not all restaurants will be so nice to do this, though I think that many would oblige.

The 2nd bummer is the online transaction.... in foreign currency? Okay, seriously. Who buys shit online in a different currency? And how often do people do that? This is a total dud in my opinion. Pretty worthless.

I do think that the Visa card is better because I do occasionally eat out, so it is a category that I would most definitely spend in and I can rake back in my cashback dollars. I find it hard to see how the MasterCard would be useful, since Travel transactions tend to be large in dollar value, but low in frequency, as well as health, beauty & wellness. It doesn't seem like they thought of their MasterCard strategy well.

The last negative to note is that they still have their unlimited cashback on whatever, but it has dropped from the decent 0.5% to the super basic rate of 0.2%. Almost all other "cashback" cards offer between 0.2% to 0.3% on general spending without fulfilling any requirements, so this "perk" is nothing special to shout about. 

The best "latent" cashback cards which starts from the very first dollar, and with the possibility of more cashback if you jump through certain hoops are now:

  • SCB Manhatten: 0.5% up to 3%
  • ANZ Optimum: 1% up to 5% (my personal pick)
  • AMEX Cashback: 5% for 1st 3 months, then 1.5%

Personally, even though this 10% cashback is extremely attractive and lucrative, I would caution people to be very, very, very sure about their spending habits if they want to get this card to take advantage of this absurdly high cashback. People need to be very clear about the T&Cs, especially for the category that they are spending for, and if they make enough frequent, semi-sized transactions to hit the 8 transactions of $30 required.

For people that usually eat out, I think that this could possibly be great for them!


Friday, December 18, 2015

OCBC Property Report

This is just a quick post about a property report by OCBC which I just read.

To quickly summarize, they are forecasting a price drop over the next 2 years of about 10% due to oversupply and rising interest rates. Interestingly they are explicit to point out that although they do see removal of government policies given a deep enough correction, that would not be the all-clear sign and the trend would still be a bear market.

I have to agree with them on that point, which of course real estate agents would not like to hear. Many people believe that the government policy has been the overriding cockblock to rising property prices, but I don't think so. I think it was just the finishing blow. Removing the easing wouldn't restart the bull market, neither would snapping your fingers. However, it does set the stage and prepare the property market to recovery once the bear has finished its run.

Their chart about which policies could be eased is very good in my opinion. I do think that the TDSR will be here to stay, and that is actually the main limitation for most people, as it should be.

Personally, I don't see the problem with ABSD and I would prefer if the SSD was even stricter and longer so that it will prevent speculation and reflect real consumption. But that's just me, and I'm slightly mad.

While OCBC notes that high-end property prices in Singapore is showing "value" relative to mass market, I postulate that the mass market segment is still slightly batshit crazy. Recent launches of MM private homes is $1400 psf. Zhun bo? Can I raise my hand now to interject that there are plenty of freehold property that is under $1000 psf? As an investor, I don't see how such property would be a good investment. The argument is different as a homeowner. Just how much are you willing to prepay for your housing expenses?

I still find that a lot of people are confused about property as an investment or an expense.

Anyway, I do believe more firmly now that we are in for more exciting times in the property market. And as you know, I only get excited when I see things are going down.

My own place by end of 2017? Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

GMGH's Young Working Adult Financial Starter Kit

I have juniors and friends who are just starting to join the working world and I realized that many of them have absolutely no clue when it finally comes to taking over their own personal financial matters from "mummy and daddy".

I'd just like to share my personal opinion of what I would consider a pretty decent beginner's "Starter Kit" for people joining the workforce. Sure, it's definitely basic, but that's because it is meant to be. Are there better alternatives? Yes, but of course those advanced players should feel free to go straight for an "Expansion Pack" if this is too basic.

GMGH's Financial Starter Kit
POSB eSavings
CIMB FastSaver
POSB GO! Debit Card

Optional Extras
Income over $18,000 - 1a: BOC F1RST Visa
Income over $30,000 - 1b: CIMB Visa Signature Card

Okay explanation time, so why do I suggest these?

POSB eSavings (link)

For those that really really bochap, DBS owns POSB, which combined together has the densest (in my totally unresearched opinion) ATM and branch network across Singapore. DBS/POSB is also one of the 3 local big boys, which means that they are able to help you with a wide range of uniquely Singaporean financial quirks, such as, but not limited to:
  • opening an SRS account
  • opening and linking a CDP account (to buy stocks and bonds)
  • applying for IPOs
  • purchase of SSB and SGS (government issued bonds)
  • opening of CPF-IS accounts

This is not to say that other banks cannot or will not provide such services in the future, but it's nice knowing that your bank is quite deeply connected and rooted to Singapore, so in a sense, you are already "future-proofed".

However, I have only so far been talking about what POSB can offer as a bank, but why the eSavings account specifically? 

It has a low minimum of $500 balance before a fall-below fee is charged, which is a pretty darn good way to force you to have at the very least, $500 of emergency cash that you can access. Other than this, the account is essentially free and comes with easy access to all the services that the bank can provide, of course, only if you are eligible for those services.

CIMB FastSaver (link)

It is ALWAYS a good idea to separate work and play. Although your POSB account has the word "Savings" in it, in reality you ought to be using it more as a current account with a quick and easy $500 buffer that you can dip into (and immediately top up if you do so). All other money should be transferred to this little bad boy.

Once this CIMB account has $1000, it will be generating a very generous 1% interest rate with no special monthly conditions to meet and hoops to jump through. That's right, 1% on cash that you can withdraw anytime you like. This is NOT a shitty fixed deposit. It's a high yielding cash savings account.

CIMB is part of the local FAST network which means transferring money between CIMB and POSB is very fast and very easy. CIMB is also a good stepping stone to other basic+ products and they are known for having rather attractive fixed deposit promotions, while DBS is notorious for not giving a flying fish about deposits.

Having a dual-bank set-up like this helps to control spending and saving by making them more distinctly separate. It also allows you to access a wider ranger of products and you can even pit both banks against each other for other things, like loan comparisons and such. Another perk in my opinion is that each account is covered by the SDIC, which means your deposits at each bank are covered for up to $50,000. That is pretty reassuring, isn't it?

POSB GO! Debit Card (link)

No, you do not get to immediately dip your hands into a credit card - yet.

Having a debit card is a fantastic stepping stone to introduce the technologically backward students to the adult world of non-cash payments. A debit card in a sense can be better than a credit card because it restricts you to only spend money that you have. Essentially in the future when one upgrades to a credit card, they should use it exactly as if it was a debit card - spending only what they can immediately pay off, and then pay it off immediately in full when the amount is due.

This POSB GO! debit card is pretty nice because it gives a flat 0.3% rebate on all spending. Yes, that is absolutely right. Instead of constantly going to the ATM to withdraw money, carry around wads of cash, deal with change and - omg - small coins, you can just pay by card. Not only is the transaction smoother in most cases (unless they are having a machine or network problem), but your statement will also help you keep an electronic account of your expenditure as well.

Oh, did I mention that the GO! card is also your ATM card? And it has a NETS FlashPay wallet too, so it can replace your EZ-Link and be your transportation card too!

So with the POSB GO! debit card, you can make retail payments by NETS or MasterCard payment (0.3% rebate for using MasterCard). If the machine doesn't work, you can drop by any DBS/POSB ATM and withdraw cash using the same card. If you are doing online shopping, you can pay by eNETS (sometimes it can be cheaper) or by MasterCard. With the NETS FlashPay wallet, you basically get an upgraded EZ-Link card which can be used for transportation, as well as making miscellaneous payments for a lot of small stuff. I make almost all my payments at McDonalds or 7-11 with my FlashPay card.

Plus, it's free. Throw away that useless basic bank ATM card and use this instead.

Basically, this is a pretty darn useful card which introduces you to the world of cashless payments. The only thing it is lacking are the credit card "promotions" and even bigger rebates offered by other cards. Again, this is just a basic suggestion. Credit cards are even easier to open and close compared to bank accounts, so bouncing around and finding the best card to suit your lifestyle and spending is always open in the future.

[Optional Extra] BOC F1RST Visa Credit Card (link)

If you are drawing a salary of more than $18,000, I would bring forward the BOC F1RST Visa Credit Card as THE beginner's credit card to get. Why?

Well, firstly it has one of the lowest minimum income hurdles to pass to be eligible for a credit card. Most credit cards require a minimum $30,000 annual income and not everybody makes that amount.

The card comes with a standard 2-year annual fee waiver, so you don't need to worry about paying for a credit card. NEVER pay for a credit card. Set a reminder to go off in 23 months, then haggle with the bank for waivers or just cancel your card. In 2 year's time, who knows what other cards are being offered and what else you might be eligible to have and would upgrade to instead?

The credit card has a double-edged credit limit of $500. This means that your credit card spending is always capped to prevent you from going on a crazy shopping spree, but it does limit how big of a purchase you can stick on your card and your overall monthly spending. Personally, I think it is a good thing, especially since this is your first credit card. Beginners should not drink from the Forbidden Well of Endless Credit unless they know what they are doing. If you play with fire as an idiot, you'll get burnt. Like an idiot.

The card gives a flat 0.5% rebate on all purchases, which is marginally better than 0.3%, but hey, it's free and it's better than nothing, so why not?

I had to admit that their bank tie-ups and promotions for the card aren't that great at all, but hey, who cares? The key to using a credit card smartly is not to buy cheap things on discounts and promotions that you DON'T need. They key is to use your credit card and shift your purchases from cash to card and enjoy a cash rebate on it, as well as some convenience to boot.

Finally, I won't lie to you about it, but not all machines will take debit cards. This is especially true if you are travelling overseas. Having your POSB GO! MasterCard debit card and this BOC F1RST Visa credit card should allow you to be able to handle 95% of merchants, both local and overseas!

[Optional Extra] CIMB Visa Signature Card (link)

For people with spiffy $30,000 jobs, congratulations and welcome to the credit card club where you can prostitute yourself to banks and cards that offer you the best promotions. Don't be shy, just use whichever card benefits you the most. Just remember that you should use it like a debit card, not a credit card. However, this is the card that I would throw at most people if I was the supreme financial dictator.

First off, this card is... FREE FOR LIFE. Yes, that's absolutely correct. If you get this card, you never need to worry about ridiculous credit card annual fees and making that awkward "waive or cancel my card" empty threat to the poor bank employee on the other end.

The card also have a flat 0.5% rebate on all purchases, which is just great. Why can't other cards be this simple and straightforward too?

The upside lies in the possible 3.8% rebate that you can get in certain spending categories if you hit $500 spending a month over at least 3 transactions. Book a flight and hotel online and pay for the taxi ride to the airport with Visa PayWave. Boom, immediately 3 transactions on the card which would probably be over $500 and you just got a 3.8% discount on your holiday. If you plan your purchases well, you should be able to group up your spending into certain months so you can hit the $500 minimum spend a get the 3.8% rebate. If you normally make over the counter retail purchases, consider either paying with PayWave or moving some of those "commodities" over to the online shopping realm and claim the 3.8% rebate on them.

The final tip is to always volunteer to pay the bill first when dining out with friends. Most people are just lazy to pick up the tab first and then chase down people for their share, but my experience so far has been very positive. With just a few meals, if the group is large enough, you can hit your $500 minimum spend easily! People that prefer to pay in cash usually OVER pay you and don't want any "small change" back, while people that ibank transfer the money usually round up the amount so they don't feel so cheapskate by transferring exactly to the cent. And then you also get a 3.8% rebate on THEIR spending. Fantastic.

This CIMB Visa Signature card is really a great stepping stone to how other credit cards work and the hoops that they make you jump through to qualify for extra goodies. If you can't manage to "up your game" using this rather simple and straightforward card, don't even try and think of getting something like the UOB ONE account + credit card combo, it would just be too confusing.

Similar to the BOC F1RST card that I suggested as an alternative, this card is a Visa, which means coupled with your MasterCard, you can pretty much take on the world at this point of time, considering that you don't have a fixed, low credit limit to hold you back.


Like I started out saying, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to picking out the right financial products for your life.

Having 2 bank accounts and a MasterCard and Visa is the minimum that I would advise, because it almost completely opens up the range of services that one can access and enjoy.

A lot of people only look at numbers, like account interest rates and the credit card rebate %, but they either miss out or have trouble analyzing the qualitative factors of the different financial products.

On top of looking for the best "numbers" out there, a huge consideration that I would say is often overlooked is the overall convenience and ease of use of the financial products and how they come into play to make your life easier.

For example, travelling knowing that you have cards that can be used overseas, give you a slight rebate and also allows you to draw money directly out of international ATMs give you a piece of mind that is hard to put a price on. For a traveller like me, I treasure this piece of mind a lot. 

This post is made in December 2015. I'm sure in the future, financial products will change, come and go. The overarching point of this post is not that specific financial products are awesome, but it is that financial products need to be compared relative to each other, and also in an absolute sense to what they can directly offer to benefit you. In a few years from now, these products might not exist, but hopefully my logic walking you through will help you ascertain what are some of the factors to considering when looking at bank accounts and credit cards of the future.

Now go forth and conquer the world!

Monday, December 14, 2015

I'm Back!

Wow, it's been a long time!

I was away for quite a while, but it wasn't for a holiday like most people would expect. Actually, I was away for reservist! Well, that just means that I still do have a year-end holiday coming up. Aww yeah.

Since I've been away, the market has become a lot more interesting. Let's be honest, shall we? The default "everything is awesome" mode was getting pretty boring. Watching the S&P play ping-pong with the 2100 for months has been mind-numbing. Where's that "multi-year breakout pattern" that's supposed to rocket the stock market out of previous highs? Now who knows if it can even stay afloat above 2000? As you all know, I'm short and I'm hoping for carnage and chaos. I'm sitting in decent profits now, but I'm still deliberating if I should close my position. I think things can get worse, but let's just see.

Oil has been crashing. $35 oil, well I'll be damned, but more so for anyone in the oil business, hahaha. Keppel and SembCorp are teasing me again. Should I increase my positions? I'm already quite hefty at 25%, but oh well it looks great to me. No guts no glory. Of course, no brain same story.

The rest of the SGX is languishing. "Taper tantrum" in happening in the emerging market, as so-called market experts would call it. Whatever the case, things are looking tasty to me. In fact, my lack of capital deployment in the past few months is just pent up buying demand. I love buying red. Just this morning I did some "online shopping".

The new SSB is out and it was close to what I predicted. I will be doing a follow-up post on that soon, hopefully.

Precious metals are flirting with new lows and have been hovering around $1080 for a long time. Is a washout coming? Or is it rather just setting the stage for a massive spike?

I still want to talk about online privacy and security (2 different things). Probably not a lot of people care about this since it doesn't really have anything to do with money, but oh well.

Bitcoin (which I have newfound fascination of) have rocketed from $350 to $450 in a matter of 2 weeks. Hopefully I can find the time and energy to talk about bitcoin in the future, as well as give a perspective from someone in Singapore.

Finally, the last thing that is on everyone's mind is the December "rate hike", which as always, I remain contrarian and say that there will not be a rate hike. Or if there is, we will pretty much almost immediately go back to zero. You can believe whatever macrofuckingprudential bullshit that Yellen pulls out of her ass, and that's your own prerogative. To me, they are just S&P-dependent. S&P up, okay can raise rates. S&P down, oh shit, more QE. Have I been reading too much fringe news? Maybe, but they make quite a bit of sense and their logic is a lot better than "BUY STAWKS, COZ STAWKS ALWAYZ GO UP".

Anyway, it's good to be back and writing on my blog. I've had a serious build up of thoughts that I had to release and just having this outlet and doing up this short post has relieved me of that stress.

I've got plenty of things to write about and tons of things to do, but no worries, all in due course.

I'm leaving now, don't miss me, xoxo

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#GivingWeek 2015: GMGH Annual Charity Donation

This week is #GivingWeek. #GivingWeek is organized by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, but shoutout to TurtleInvestor for informing me about this so I can incorporate it into my post.

#GivingWeek aims to encourage people to engage in 3 activities: Volunteering, Donating or Fundraising. Personally, I will be donating money. If you have any reservations about making a donation, perhaps knowing that there is a special SG50 300% tax deduction this year on your donations might help push you over the fence and be the encouragement you need to take action.

Similar to what I did last year, I plan to donate all my blog advertisement earnings to charity, as well as match it one-for-one and top up to round up the final donation amount.

The amount of AdSense earnings that I have this year is: $323.40
Add my personal donation of matching it one-for-one is: $646.80
Rounding the amount up to the nearest $10 for easy contribution is: $650

Not having my own domain and hosting is a real money saver too, so that is maybe about a hundred dollars a year that I'm saving using the free blogging service by Google.

Last year I made my donation through the SGGives portal and I eventually donated to 16 IPCs that were eligible for an additional one-for-one matching by ComChest.

This year, I think #GivingWeek will be trying to push their own website portal to make donations which seems very similar to the SGGives portal. I will still be looking for those charities that qualify for the ComChest matching to double my impact. I have not identified the charities that I am planning to give to yet because there are so many, but I should be making my donation before Christmas this year.

Please look forward to the follow-up post in the coming weeks! The next part of my post is about how I reconcile my support for capitalism and meritocracy with charity.


Having money isn't a crime to the society

One of the few ires about being an Asian financial blogger is swimming against the tide of taboo that is embedded in our culture, which is that money shouldn't be talked about openly. However, since financial bloggers implicitly do so, apparently it is suddenly okay for observers to tell us what we should do or should not do with our money.

There is a certain notion that people who like to talk about finance are capitalist pigs with no hearts. All we apparently think about is how we can amass more fortune by allegedly screwing over other people. Apparently, we are also ungrateful for the society that we live in that have enabled us to be financially successful. Those who are successful and on the top could have only got there by stepping on other people along the way. Since we are so focused on becoming millionaires, we need to pinch and save ever penny that we can get our hands on and we don't have any human decency to spare a thought for the less fortunate or those in need.

Sure, you can think that, but I don't believe so. That seems to be more like the logic of a sour person who is frustrated with their own lives instead, especially if they keep on making comparisons to others. Everything is everybody else's fault and they are just perfect. Pfft. They are just projecting their own problems onto other people.

Karma and "Fairness"

I have friends from different religious backgrounds and I also have friends who do not follow any religion. However, quite universally between my friends who are religious and those who are not, they all seem believe in a simplified version Karma, which is "Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people", or "What goes around, comes around".

I know this might come to a shock to most people, but I do not believe in Karma. I don't think that anybody is keeping score and hatching a devious plan to "balance" out the bad, or even reward the good. It is a great way to encourage more positive social behaviour, but I just don't see how that works in any sort of semi-practical way (I admit, it could be argued that it is much too complicated for my feeble mind to understand).

However, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate or understand Karma. It is a great way of thinking. One of the things that I do believe in is that people should treat other people the way they would hope to be treated. The notable difference here is that just because I treat other people nicely, it does not mean that I myself would be treated nicely by others. It's a two-street and I only control one direction.

Is life "fair"? Obviously it is not, and I don't think it can ever be fair. Whether we should strive for fairness is a different debate altogether.

Capitalism and Meritocracy

My non-belief of Karma and my support of capitalism and meritocracy surely conflicts with the idea of charity then, does it not? Surely someone that thinks there is no such thing as divine retribution and also thinks that what people have got is somehow a culmination of what they deserve can't possibly care about others, right?

I believe that individuals or groups of private owners (capitalism) is the best form of economic system that we have so far because the rewards that it offers (money) is a pretty effective motivational tool for most people. The capitalist system also allows socialism to exist in pockets within its ecosystem, but not the other way around. The best example that I can think of are not-for-profit (different from non-profit) co-op credit unions that provides services to their members, such as easier loan approvals at lower interest rates. (FYI, I am a member of a co-op and there are many co-ops in Singapore, but that's a different story for a different day.)

To me, meritocracy seems like something that follows after a system of capitalism has been established. When there is a sense of ownership over assets, which people will then accordingly maintain and look after, it allows meritocracy to thrive. People now have ownership over their own skills and time. Between two people with similar skills, the one who clocks in more hours will get the better reward. Between two people clocking in the same hours, the one who has superior skills will get better rewarded. This isn't rocket science and I think this is pretty much the closest we can get to a universal agreement about the concept of fairness (but like I said, life ISN'T fair). Rewarding people who cultivate and improve their skills and are willing to spend more hours working to produce a final product - be it a good or service - is a good way to motivate them to continue their good performance, and also offers peers a glimpse of what their futures could be. Meritocracy would not exist without capitalism, because people would not be recognized for the different levels of skill and time committed.

I believe that the "skilled and hardworking" should be rewarded the most. This is different from being "skilled" or being "hardworking". Working 12 hours a day on a farm sure is a bitch and it is hard work, but try convincing anyone that a farmer should earn more money than a doctor (not talking about drug farmers). Yes, I took the 2 extremes, but that is just to make the point clear. Hard work counts for nothing if you're not applying that hard work well. Hard work is extremely overrated. I wish people would stop saying, "if you work hard, anything is possible" because it clearly isn't. If you have a smart plan and have realistic steps and actually work to complete those steps (note: no mention of hard work), you can achieve your goals. "Hard work" is too simplistic of a concept. It propagates the fallacy that all you need to do to achieve your dreams is to do it more times. Harder. Faster. Sheer insanity.

Being such a cynic and, so far up to now, heartless, how is it possible for charity to reasonably exist without conflicting with everything else that I support and believe in?

Fitting in the concept of Charity to help those who cannot help themselves

Firstly, let's acknowledge one thing. In a capitalist system, poor people DO exist. In fact, in any economic system there will always be some people who are poor and some people who are rich. The existence of a lower class is not proof of a flawed economic system, because show me a system where there isn't any distinction? Show me a system where poverty doesn't exist. Or at least justify your stance why poor people should not exist!

I believe that we were all dealt difference cards in life to begin with. To think that a son of a billionaire and the average person have the same opportunities and privileges in life is naive. Of course the son of a billionaire is starting the race way ahead of everybody else. Born in a rich family? Great, put in half the effort and get the same outcome. Born into a poor family? Unfortunately, you need to work twice as hard to get the same outcome. Ain't nobody said that life was going to be fair.

However, the world that we live in now isn't so unforgiving and harsh as that and I think that's a good thing. I believe that people who are handicapped just because of the luck of the draw should not be penalized and have no social mobility. Many governments are already "equalizing" the playing field to their own perceived notion of what is "fair" and what is not. I don't necessarily think that this is a bad thing. If the system is already stacked against them to fail before they even start, that to me is not something that I would like to see in the society that I live in. People should be able to determine to at least some degree to how they want their lives to pan out, rather than it already being predisposed from birth. But I'm also not saying that anyone can be Bill Gates.

Personal obligation to give to Charity

With many of my readers below the age of 40, giving to charity is a very confusing thought. Almost nobody is prepared for retirement yet. There are bills to pay, family to look after and raise. How can money be spent on others when there isn't enough for yourself yet? That's a great question. If you can't afford it, don't give to charity. Nobody is forcing you to give to charity, especially if you don't have enough for yourself. Look after yourself first.

However, the next question is... how much is enough that you feel comfortable parting away with some of the excess? After you buy a car? After scrapping the Japanese car for a continental one? Buying a second car? Upgraded to a condo? 2nd property? Overseas property in Malaysia / Thailand? And then London? How much stuff and money do you need so that you are comfortable to give some excess to charity? If the answer is that it is never enough, perhaps now might be a good time to realistically think about what it is in life that drives you and what do you what to achieve in life. If not having a yacht and the latest Apple gadgets makes you unhappy, you have way bigger problems in life then "Should I give to charity?".

Perhaps I have come to this conclusion rather early in life, but I figured out how to be happy, what I want in life to be happy, what steps I need to complete to work my way there and I'm doing it. I'm not just talking about doing it, I am actually doing it. With the ground already broken and I can see the work in progress being done, I'm quite confident that I know how things would end up for me. Sure, nothing in the future is confirmed, but I give myself pretty good probability that I'm going to end up in a comfortable situation. And that means that I will have some excess that I can afford to part with.

It's hard to say whether in the future as I become more successful, my lifestyle would also accordingly move up and my "needs" gets upgraded along the way. Personally, I hope it doesn't, but there really isn't anything wrong if it does. You've got the money in the bank, you want to buy a Rolex watch and that would make you happy? Go do it. I'm not advocating a lifestyle of selling all your worldly possessions and living simply and in the rough. I'm not advocating any lifestyle at all. I'm just verbalizing why my views on how seemingly conflicting topics can exist is a framework harmoniously.

As long as you can answer the question, "How much is enough?", you would be in a good position to examine your current status to see if you are suitable to donate to charities. If you know how much is enough, and you don't have enough yet, don't worry about it, next time maybe. If you don't know how much is enough, by default, it is never enough. But that's just my thinking about it.


I should wrap up my thoughts because what I wrote is a rather big web of ideas that are all over the place. I think that if you want to be happy, you need to look at yourself, not other people. If giving to charity makes you happy, give to charity. If giving to charity makes you miserable, don't give to charity. The tough part is figuring out if you'll actually be happy or unhappy!

Just like my non-Karmic belief that I cannot control how other people treat me, but I can only control how I treat others, I believe that all you can do is be the change that you wish to see in the world. Whether or not that change does eventually come about, that is beyond our control. But it is a bit comforting knowing that you at least did something instead of nothing.

PS. I'll be away for the next 2 weeks.