Monday, January 16, 2017

Personal finances when transitioning from single-hood to being married.

Ok, today's article is to simply tie up a loose end from the talk. We failed to address the question directly from a question in the audience who asked us how our personal finance changed when we transitioned from single-hood to marriage.

Theoretical answer

I will first share a theoretical answer because it is more likely to be experienced by a reader. In the presentation I shared a table which showed that households becoming more economically efficient as the number of family members increase.

If you transition from a 4 person household to a 2 person household of a married couple, you are likely going to experience a 33% increase  in expenses. However, if you are already living alone as a single person, you may experience a reduction of 20% as you find more efficient ways to spend your money as a couple.

Personal answer

I was borderline financially independent when I got married, getting around $2k+ dividends a month but spending about $1200-$1500 as a single man. Me and my wife stayed with my parents for quite a number of years and we both worked then.

The only major change was that every month, I channelled an extra $1500 into a joint account to build a dividends portfolio for my family.

The first major change to my personal finances was the time we bought a weekend car for $28,000 which meant that I had to pay road taxes every year.

When my daughter was born, it was financially a non-event as accumulated dividends paid for almost everything and everything else was settled by the matching I made to the Child Development Account.

It was good to farm 100% of my earned income into the stock market and pay for everything from dividends payouts.

The only stressful event was getting my first mortgage because I was already transitioning out of a job by then and now I have property taxes and conservancy fees. My CPF can still last me about 3-4 years, but setting aside the dividends equivalent to the mortgage value is stressful even although I am currently investing that amount too to push my dividends up even further.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tools for Titans #38 : The value of "I Don't Understand"

Luis Von Ahn is a computer science professor and the CEO of Duolingo, one of the more efficient ways to pick up a new language.

His section has two key ideas :

a) The value of "I don't understand"

Luis had a Phd advisor who kept insisting that he did not understand what Luis was trying to say when he was developing the CAPTCHA system. Eventually, it was revealed that his advisor was simply employing a tactic to get Luis to think deeper about the problem he was facing with.

Blogger Scott Young is an advocate for a learning approach known as the Feynman Technique which basically forces you to explain concepts that you learn in plain English. If you find that your ideas are expressed in jargon, it is possible that you really do not understand the material yourself.

The kay to mastery to is to be be able to explain something to an untrained lay-person. This is something which I should aspire to on this blog although we're still quite far from that ideal.

b) Build startups outside Silicon Valley

The second idea is that Luis prefers to build startups outside Silicon Valley. By sticking to areas like Pittsburgh, the companies which Luis run tend to have a lower turnover rate as he wants to be the only game in town.

Generally if you go for a strategy like this, you will also face a lower concentration of tech professionals so I am not too sure whether it will always work in practice. It might have the benefit of attracting folks who are into lifestyle design as one of the negative issues faced by places like Silicon Valley is that the cost of real estate escalates faster than average income growth.

Which is why a Singapore rentier should always subtly support government initiatives in Ayer Rajah Crescent because while the direct beneficiaries are engineering and technology professionals, the real beneficiaries are the owners of real estate.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tool for Titans #37 : Put the Big Stones into the Jar First

This section is on the father of Progressive House Music DJ Kaskade who was nominated for the Grammys five times. After reading this short section twice, I have no idea why this is in the wealth section.

Anyway, I'm just going to talk about that famous metaphor where the professor asks the university students to put rocks of different sizes into a jar. If you put the smallest rocks into the jar first, there would be insufficient space to put the large rocks later. Instead, the optimal approach to maximise the use of the jar would be to put the largest rocks into the jar first before the smaller rocks. This maximises the use of the jar and you can even put some sand into jar later on.

While this is a good metaphor to advise people to make room for their biggest priorities, the folks in their 20s will not even know the size of the rocks before they start prioritising which rocks to put into the jar first.

Are are limits to how far a good metaphor can go in assisting us in life decisions.

I just had a meet-up with my buddies and just now we suddenly had this really candid conversation about what my buddies had originally planned to do about setting up a family when they were much younger.

The story began when we gossiped about a friend who supposed had his life planned out after junior college, he was supposed to have a stable job with the uniformed services and would be happily married in his early 20s. Life did not turn out his way because he had some pretty bad patches in his relationships and now completely turned off on the idea of marriage.

Then some other friend shared about his own initial goal of marrying young because he thought his life would be modelled after his dad. For other various reasons, he too, remains single today.

I am currently the only married guy in my usual group. When I was in university, marriage was the last thing on my mind (although I was a horny desperado in the later stages of University life which led to many misadventures and some  encounters which I may probably write about one day on this blog).

Furthermore, my dad married late for men in his generation, so I was fighting hard to marry later than he did ( which I did ), instinctively I wanted financial freedom as a single man before I took the plunge.

As an engineer in my 20s, I had no Culture in my life. I had no Art. A few years down the road, I would have a HP12C calculator. ( I soon learnt that if you have a HP12C and master reverse polish notation, you neither need Art nor Culture in Singapore. )

My obsession was money, playing Dungeons and Dragons and building a solid career.

After reading Robert Kiyosaki, I figured out that as a male without economic resources in my 20s, I basically had a Lan4 Ming4 Yi4 Tiao2 - A worthless life which I can throw into my career.

How did the family rock appear in my jar when I did not prioritise this early in my life ? Why do I even have kids today ?

Why do some couples pay me to listen to my advise on relationship and personal finance today ?

( Maybe they just want to listen to Thomas or Lionel. )

But the moral of story is that metaphors are great.

But having an Intention does not equate to an outcome.

Your large rocks can mutate into small rocks when your personal circumstances change.

And sometimes your jar just breaks and you need to get a new one to move on with life.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Money & Love Event : My take on the event

The one big talk for 2017 is over. Before I get back into finishing up law school, here are my thoughts on the event yesterday.

If I can redo the event all over again, I will make two changes to the programme.

First, I will work closer with SDN or ROM to find sponsorship and scale the event to invite a bigger audience. But we are still a bunch of financial bloggers who are trying to bring a new kind of seminar into this market. For our next event, I am pitching towards an event which is friendlier to sponsors so that we can do this on a larger scale and may even be able to pass on cost-savings to customers.

Second, I think a lady speaker would make our event so much better and so much more relatable to the women in the audience. We were initially expecting more husbands to show up but ended up with a balanced crowd. A woman's perspective would have added so much value last night.

We are now processing the feedback from the audience and more will be said over the next few days. One feedback is that we did not answer one question properly on how our finances changed when we transitioned from being single to being married.

That being said, I just thought I'd share what I liked the most about what the other speakers said. This is because for BigScribe events, the speaker is also part of the audience and I am listening to Thomas and Lional speak the first time last night :

a) 15WW / Thomas Zhuo

Thomas' presentation is really useful to me because it addresses many personal question I had for the past 20 years. There is always this arrangement I know that university students make with each other during their undergraduate days about settling down early and getting married upon graduation which I never understood because women wouldn't touch me with a 10 foot pole 20 years ago. How do these peeps know that their significant other is a the right one when they haven't even started earning money yet ?

Thomas' best idea is his justification for marrying early. When you marry at a younger age, you get the best subsidies and can obtain a cheaper mortgage since houses which appreciate with time. Marry later, and you might bust the income requirements to buy a HDB. Subsequently, the appreciation in the value of your real estate will exceed what many couples can save if they opt to live with their parents or remain single.

Of course, the caveat is that property goes up in value as they have done in the past.

b) Cheerfulegg / Lionel Yeo

The great thing about bloggers coming together is our different styles and I'm glad Lionel gave a very upbeat presentation on his approach towards managing his personal finances. If I'm Batman, Lionel is Superman. This blog channels fear and encourages gritty skepticism. Cheerfulegg channels hope and encourages moving towards a happy and fulfilled life.

Last night, Lionel distilled his ideas into a framework which made taking actionable steps very easy for listeners. Now I don't really want to discuss Lionel's entire framework because it is vary valuable and something which should only be shared if you can consult our paying customers, but I just want to share one really useful tip I learned from Lionel.

In my earlier books, I recommended employing a second savings account to assist in keeping a budget. When your salary arrives, decide on how much you want to save and immediately transfer that amount into this second account. This way you pay yourself first through a process I called salary truncation.

Lionel has a more sophisticated operation. He employs the OCBC 360 account which allows him to create many micro-accounts like Travel and Restaurants. OCBC 360 also let's him automate transfers from his main account a day after he receives his salary.

[ Note : OCBC does not pay me a single cent to say this ]

The ultimate benefit from such an expert move on automating your finance is the amount of mental stress it frees up so that you can live the life of your dreams.

What to expect in the future

BigScribe has now two fully sold out events and the feedback so far is that we somehow managed to the get the formula right. We will be conducting our meetings to see if we can conduct such events on a more regular basis and I have already pitched to the directors what I hope to do next.

If you like our events, please share with me what kind of things that you'd like us to talk about. Collectively our research and delivery capabilities are reasonably strong and you should not constrain yourself to simply investment content.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tools for Titans #36 : Some Quick Tips.

[ I am wrapping my work for today to go to the venue where I will be giving the talk later. Fortunately, today's article is very short. ]

Noah Kagan is the thirtieth employee of Facebook and the fourth employee of He is quite short on life philosophy but quite extensive on life hacks.

Just three ideas from him :

a) Increase your productivity

One instant way is to increase the speed of your mouse tracking. Another is to get a higher-end router.

b) Remove distractions

Facebook can be very distracting. One way is to use a Facebook newsfeed eradicator. I just shut off news I don't like.

c) The "+" trick in

Someone should try this and let me know whether it works.

Suppose your email is When signing up for a website like, try signing up with the email Messages will still arrive on your email but you will know instantly which website is is spamming you.

That's all for today !

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tool for Titan #35 : What makes a successful salesperson ?

Daymond John is the CEO and founder of FUBU. He has won many business awards.

As this section is rather incoherent, rather than focus on what was said in the writeup, I would just take the opportunity to deconstruct a common trope in Singapore which is the successful salesperson.

I grew up in a retail environment so I had a lot of exposure to the folks my dad hung out with.

One person you would encounter is the "successful salesperson".

This salesperson may adopt a particular approach to life :

a) Life is about chionging (Aggressively taking risks ).

You don't need Minister Ng Chee Meng to tell you to chiong in life if you are a salesman. A successful salesman is all about chionging. It's not an easy thing to do, but the door gets slammed in their faces on a regular basis so they need to cultivate a thick skin and just get the job done.

b) The best motivation is being broke at one point in your life.

This is explained by Daymond's book The Power of Broke. If you read about those MDRT insurance folks, you will inevitably read up on stories of them going broke at one point in their lives and not having enough to pay for electricity.

As a family man, I don't like being broke even once in my life. However, I actually enjoy simulating poverty.

c) Education is unimportant to the salesperson.

Because I grew up in a pet-shop which is hardly the kind of place to be an intellectual, I used to get ragged by two kinds of folks who do not take kindly to my academic inclinations. The first are oil riggers who make more money than most medical or legal professionals. I'm actually fine with them because what they lack in education, they make up with solid hands-on skills.

The second group are salespeople.

Sales-people make a living by persuasion. I've seen some really horrible tricks pulled by shop-keepers to impress ex-pats to unload thousands to buy rose-wood furniture while I was growing up. If bullshit can be so profitable, going into further studies will probably be an impediment to financial success. You will notice that this anti-intellectual message is very common and much welcome in the insurance and MLM businesses.

The combination of my dad's buddies disapproval and scorn throughout my rebellious teenage years probably shaped me into what I am today.  It actually pushed me deeper into my books. I wanted to beat these sales fuckers in my own game. This also explains why I have never engaged an financial planner in my entire life. Everything for me is self-taught and self-bought.

Salespeople are in a losing proposition for many years now. Consumers are getting smarter and everything can be verified by going into the web. While personal relationship building still matters, a salesman needs real credibility and books on consultative selling has been dominating the bookshelves for years.

What's more important for everyone is to know what happens to these oil-riggers and salespersons at older age. What I learnt is that living on bullshit and manual dexterity makes it harder to developer the intellectual skills required to manage their money. Many failed to preserve their wealth and hardly transitioned into good investors.

Instead they continued to drown themselves in beer.

As I converted my father's physical property into investment assets, at a late stage of his life, he too was able to enjoy a monthly stipend higher than most working professionals. My mum even joked as to why i did not teach my dad how to invest when I was 9 years old, we would avoided a major business loss in the 1990s.

These few years my dad finally admitted that his friends are all not doing all that well, with many selling off their real estate assets to support the the last years of their life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tools for Titans #34 : Build something which have no value in others copying them

Chris Young is an inventor and tinkerer who is co-author of this mind-melting book called Modernist Cuisine.

The one single idea in this section which is worth thinking about is a question of what we would build if we have $100 million that would have no value to others in copying. This question encapsulates several more important questions we need to ask ourselves before we get into the start-up space. It has implications when we invest in technology as well.

One interpretation is what kind of barriers to entry will we erect against competitors. The example shared is about Intel chips. It is so expensive to produce Intel processors that competitors would rather not invest the billions of dollars to copy Intel's designs.

Another related idea is the question of how much your own revenue can cost an incumbent. If every $1 you make costs an incumbent $10 in lost sales, the incumbent is better off investing in your company than resisting you in this new space.

Right now Singapore is slowly waking up to the idea of legal tech. We are seeing a lot more press coverage on legal start-ups and the government is starting to get law firms to buck up and become more productive.

As we get more coverage on legal tech. We will see a lot more push back from the legal industry about how much bespoke work lawyers bring to the table and why lawyering will be never be affected by the latest and greatest developments in artificial intelligence. I have tried playing with smart contracts and even the spreadsheet from the Legalese website and I think we are quite a few years away from any meaningful revolution right now in the legal sector.

The question of whether lawyers will be replaced by software is not the right nor politically correct question to ask right now. You will be up against the most powerful Guild in Singapore.

The question to ask is whether a combination of new technologies with capable legal professionals can generate revenue via productivity improvements at the expense of the incumbents in the legal industry.

As it stands, these startups can hardly generate any revenue so the $1 revenue of such a firm will not be able to create any loss to the incumbent even within the short and medium term.

But the game has only just begun.