Archives for category: Everything under the sun
books on bookshelves

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Last week, Minister for Education, Ong Ye Kung, spoke in parliament about the current education landscape. TODAY newspaper (which is doing a fantastic job btw) published an excerpt of the speech he made in parliament.

In the excerpt, Minister Ong addresses what he sees are two paradoxes in the education system — meritocracy and inequality.

You can go over to the link above to read the excerpt but there are two things he brings up in his speech that I want to comment on.

PSLE: The sacred cow that still can’t be killed

On the PSLE, he says:

Another common suggestion that was raised is to scrap the PSLE, one of the sacred cows.

I will admit that PSLE is far from a perfect system and it does add stress, a lot of stress sometimes, to some parents and students, and the Minister too.

But it happens also to be the most meritocratic, and probably the most fair of all imperfect systems.

If we scrap it, whatever we replace it with to decide on secondary school postings, I think is likely to be worse.

He then mentions that in Switzerland, students are assigned to secondary schools near their home and that 7% of students, presumably at their parents’ behest,  attend private schools which are the domain of the affluent.

I’m not sure why the Swiss model is necessarily worse than ours.

Assuming the public schools are of a high enough standard, what’s so bad about having most students attend a school near their homes?

As I see it, some positives would be:

  1. Kids don’t have to worry about a high-stakes exam before they are 12.
  2. Less time spent travelling to school equals more time for other things.
  3. Having more friends that also live in their community.

In the longer term, educated Singaporeans, especially those with experience living abroad, might think of staying in Singapore instead of leaving for greener pastures. I personally know of many people, all graduates, who have left or are seriously considering leaving Singapore for the sake of their kids.

I think the difference in the percentage of students attending private school between Switzerland and Hong Kong that Minister Ong cites is also more a reflection of the public’s perception of the public school system rather than an argument that scrapping PSLE will lead to the rich getting richer. Anyway, MOE should not worry about this as the current mantra is that “every school is a good school”.

 

Class Size: Smaller is not necessarily better for grades. Yes, but so what?

Minister Ong cites two studies, one done in Hong Kong and another done in Israel. I quote the bit on the Hong Kong study for readability:

Why then is MOE cautious on the issue of class size? Because how it is implemented makes all the difference. Let me cite you the results of a few studies to illustrate this.

They are done in overseas context, but nevertheless these are scientific studies and we should take note of the results.

In 2009, Hong Kong did a Study on Small Class Teaching in Primary School.

It put about 700 classes through an experiment over three years, varying their class sizes along the way.

The study found that however they vary the class sizes, there were no significant differences on performances compared to the territory-wide averages.

What Hong Kong did find was that where an experimental school or class did significantly better, it was because the principal was more experienced, took an active role in developing the curriculum, developing the teachers, and involved parents in the education.

Now, I’m not disputing the findings of the study but rather, I want to provide some perspective on interpreting the findings.

In my line of work, the classes I teach have increased by around 25% in size* from roughly 20 students to 25 students per class since I first joined. This is despite the decrease in the number of students enrolled in the school.

In short, the school has been getting more out of each teacher as the total number of hours we teach per week has remained the same but we have more students in each class.

The first thing that happens with more students per class is that the load for marking will increase. The second thing is that the administrative load increases — maybe it’s extra counselling you have to do because you have to chase students to complete a survey or there’s an extra counselling session to be arranged because a student is falling behind in school. Therefore, reduced class sizes will reduce the number of administrative tasks that each teacher has to do.

Which brings me to the next point.

Even if a smaller class size has no effect on achievement, it has an impact on other things. Achievement is usually measured in terms of a student’s grades. What if smaller class sizes lead to a closer bond between teacher and student? Better sanity for teachers? Less staff turnover?

Aren’t those other things important as well?

Maybe I’m being salty because they increased the parking charges but being too focused on the relationship between class size and students’ grades is probably a problem of measuring the wrong thing. Besides, isn’t Minister Ong’s own aim to de-emphasise academic achievements? In that case, why not measure class size against other things like staff and student welfare?

Unless the message is that those things don’t count.

 

Let me know what you guys also think in the comments below.

Notes:

*The class size is much smaller than what primary or secondary school teachers have to deal with and you may say that we had it good to begin with but I bring up this point to show what teachers have to deal with when classes get larger in size.

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grayscale photography of man praying on sidewalk with food in front

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It’s been some time since I wrote about inequality and how the poor in Singapore have fewer options. Since then, there’s been a slew of commentary and in-depth articles on this topic (for example, see here for a piece from the ST).

I’m not sure why there’s been so attention on this topic lately but I’m glad that this topic is in the limelight. In fact, the Straits Times (ST) article that I shared above mentions three cases and how in each of those cases, the poor have terrible options that could either (a) hinder social mobility or (b) mean that they’re always living life on the edge and one unfortunate incident could push them over.

What Many Singaporeans (Still) Think About The Poor

For me, the gem is in the comments and discussions on the reddit page discussing the article and there are some people who still don’t get it that the poor face terrible odds when it comes to making it out of poverty.

The commentators who say that being poor is a result of terrible choices and that the poor should know better are typical of the government’s thinking that welfare is a dirty word and will lead to a crutch mentality*.

To be fair, the government has softened its stance in recent years (probably as a result of GE 2011) but structurally, welfare tends to be on a case-by-case basis as the government has this thing about appearing prudent.**

You can tell that the government still thinks welfare across the board is a dirty word because they like to mention that certain ministers came from humble backgrounds and despite that, they’ve succeeded. In recent years, the same goes for students who have done relatively well, or passed, national exams despite odds like less-than-average family backgrounds or illnesses.

Using Isolated Stories As Shing Examples of Self-Reliance Doesn’t Help

The problem with using isolated examples is that it gives a distorted view of how big a handicap being poor is. I’m not a privy to such data but I sure hope someone that’s doing the research is looking into it. We need the data and if the data shows that majority of poor people lead less healthy and/or have less chance at social mobility for them or their children, then we can call the bluff on the government’s use of isolated examples. Otherwise, the government can call the bluff on the activists, academics and critics calling for more help for the disadvantaged.

For me, I was quite convinced because I heard the economic argument by Nick Hanauer (see here for a later version of his talk). Think of it. How much stuff can rich people buy? Rich people may have wealth and incomes that are thousands of times that of poor people but they certainly don’t buy thousands of stuff more than a poor person. You don’t see a rich person with a thousand times more T-shirts than a poor person, do you? And Mr Hanauer was talking about the middle class. So what more the poor?

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers and I think most people in Singapore don’t either. What I’m aware of is the issues are not as simple as “self-reliance” or “to try harder” and I think many people need a paradigm shift from that idea. I’m glad that the mainstream media and the academics finally have time in the sun on this topic.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Notes:

* The irony is that these same people are probably the sort that expects the government to do something for every single situation. MRT breakdown? LTA’s not doing their job. Floods? PUB’s not doing their job. Kid failing in school? Teacher’s not doing their job. And as for the crutch mentality, guess what? We’re already heavily dependent on the government to provide housing.

** The irony of this is that our Ministry of Defence gets the lion’s share of the budget each year and no one questions the prudence of military spending because there’s always the boogeyman that someone is out to get us if we appear weak. I guess MINDEF can thank Mahathir for making a comeback. This argument holds more water now that there’s a different government up north.

The local paper ran this headline today in the ‘Me & My Money’ section.

He’s hit his goal of $1m worth of investments at the age of 26

I was really impressed until I read the sub-header

Full-time investor saw return of over 1,000% because of bull run in cryptocurrency market

My first thoughts were that his wealth is illusory and then my second thoughts were ‘ST is really getting terrible because crypto fever was at least half a year ago.”

Unfortunately, I don’t (and can’t) have access to read the entire article because it’s hidden behind a paywall but if the ST doesn’t caution that making money from a bull run is more a sign of luck than intelligence, this article may do more harm than good.

Thankfully, the crypto fever already seems to have passed so this sort of news shouldn’t attract a whole new wave of investors. Anyway, I don’t think Singapore is big enough of a market to move the crypto markets up in a meaningful way.

You have to admit that the ST running this sort of an article is like being late to the party. I would have expected this sort of an article to have come out late last year or early this year.

I normally say that if you see the local papers putting news of market crashes on the front page, then it’s time to go into the markets.

boy wearing green crew neck shirt jumping from black stone on seashore

Stock photo of many happy children. Should you really have so many children if you cannot afford it? [Photo by ajay bhargav GUDURU on Pexels.com]

Is having children a blessing?
Is having more children always better than having less?

What if you have so many children that you depend a lot on the state to help raise your children? Should only those who can afford it have as many children as they like while those who can’t afford it be restricted to a certain number?

Those are questions that I don’t think anyone can agree on because these choices are deeply personal and yet, they can impact society at large.

Many children on a low income

Recently, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) ran a profile of the Heng family that has a total of nine members — Dad, Mom, and 7 kids from as old as 16 to as young as 3. As the article highlighted, the Dad only brings home less than S$3,000 a month while their monthly expenses come up to around S$3,000.

Because of this, the Heng family has barely enough for monthly necessities. Luxuries come from the generosity of friends and their church while they also have to apply for welfare payments to help with some of the expenses. The biggest cost seems to be non-monetary as the kids don’t seem to have much personal space and both the Dad and Mom seem drained from having to manage such a huge family.

I think it’s safe to say that to most people, they have no idea why this family would choose to have so many kids in the first place. And the Heng family is precisely the argument many people make for why the government should not provide complete welfare for citizens.

The argument goes something like this: if you provide citizens with enough for survival, they’ll take it for granted and make stupid choices like spending any surplus money they have on things like cigarettes, alcohol or other unnecessary things. Having hardworking taxpayers foot the bill for people like this is something that we should not support.

And the Heng family is not such a bad example, to begin with.

The Dad is working, albeit in a job that pays little. Presumably, this is commensurate with the skills he has so it’s not like he has a choice of being paid more. The Mom has to stop working because, otherwise, who’s going to take care of all the kids?

The Heng family is already a much more exemplary family that another family who was also receiving welfare, and yet had found the resources to pay for cigarettes and cable TV (see here).

How most people think about this

Reading profiles like these, I can understand why some people think this way. The average taxpayer probably thinks, “Hey, I’m working in a decent job. I get a salary and pay my taxes. On top of that, I make sure that I have enough to raise my kids and give my family a decent standard of living. Why should I be penalised by having my taxes pay for other people’s bad choices? If they chose to make bad choices, they should pay for it.”

How I think about this

Unfortunately, this is where I take a different stand. If it was the 20-year old me, I might have thought the same way as most people but right now, I tend to think of it this way:

 

The parents made some questionable choices but the children, if you believe children are the future, shouldn’t have to pay for those choices. This family is living on such a tight budget that I doubt they have any room for emergencies such as the Dad having to stop work due to injury or if one of the family members fall seriously ill and chalk up huge medical fees.

While those emergencies may be covered financially through welfare, we cannot deny that the emotional toll of such an emergency may impact the family. For example, if the Dad cannot work, then the Mom will have to take over the role of breadwinner and naturally, the older siblings will have to step up and take care of household matters. This will affect their studies and their shot at a decent future.

In short, Singapore’s form of targeted welfare may look good on paper but if we account for the needs of a complex system, it will not work. Vulnerable families such as the Heng family have fewer options when it comes to life. And with fewer options come worse decisions.

Poorer people have fewer options

Take for example this report on the exorbitant interest rates that poorer families pay for discretionary items. While it’s normal for most people to pay for items like a fridge or TV in full, poorer families don’t have this option and are forced to take up options such as hire-purchase schemes. While they may initially be able to afford these the purchase, a curveball that life throws them can easily cause the purchase to spiral into a nightmare.

Of course, this is not unique to Singapore. All over the world, poorer people have fewer options. For example, those who can’t afford college tuition take student loans to finance their college education. On paper, that sounds like a good thing — borrow money you don’t have, invest in an education so that you can get a higher paying job, pay off the loan and enjoy the returns from education.

In essence, education functions like how a business borrows to buy an asset and use the returns to the asset to pay off the loan. Unfortunately, not many people realise that not ALL businesses work out. Similarly, people with students loans can find themselves in trouble should they be unable to work and therefore be unable to repay the loans. The debt can snowball and your credit can get impaired such that it affects other areas of your life. This is especially true if the person took the loan to invest in an education that wouldn’t pay off anyway because demand for graduates in certain disciplines tends to be lower than others.

We need a broader safety net

I’m actually glad that in recent months, the conversation in Singapore has focused quite a bit on inequality in Singapore. Maybe it was Teo You Yenn’s book, or maybe it was because of the watershed general election in Malaysia that caused our own politicians to suddenly open up to the idea that inequality is a hot-button issue but no matter the cause, it’s good that people are starting to talk about it.

If we truly want to help the most disadvantaged in our community, we need to recognise that a safety net needs to be broader so that the ship doesn’t sink. Having targeted welfare is like providing patching holes in a ship’s hull. It’s more important to make sure the hull is strong rather than patch holes in the hull as and when they appear.

Of course, these are just my thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments!

It’s that time of the week again!

Get yourself a cup of tea and get ready to get smarter before the week starts.

 

Social Security benefits buy 34 percent less than in 2000, study shows (CNBC)

The World Isn’t Prepared for Retirement (Bloomberg)

This week, I wrote a post which touched on financial literacy. The sad thing is that many people around the world have very little idea about things like inflation or compound interest.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the things that you need to think about once you no longer have a source of income. Many people also think that they will have a source of income until they reach the official retirement age but a downturn in the economy or changes to the industry can easily mean that a person loses his/her job during their prime working years.

To see how you stack up on the financial literacy scale, go and take the little test included in the Bloomberg article. It’s only three simple questions and frankly, I’m surprised that anyone can get it wrong.

The CNBC article highlights the problem with our CPF. CPF works wonders in terms of forced savings and compounding that sum into something much more. The problem is that once CPF starts paying out, inflation isn’t really factored in. It’s not really that different for most insurance products. Whole life plans and annuities often don’t adjust for increases in the cost of living.

Unfortunately, as the article and even the statistics in Singapore (Table A.1 in the document) show, inflation for medical costs tend to be higher than what the CPI shows us. And if you think about it, this is precisely what retirees and seniors should be concerned with.

 

Bull Markets & P/E Multiple Expansion (The Big Picture)

Ritholtz has a post commenting on research done by UBS. The research shows how bull markets tend to be a function of P/E multiple expansion. The takeaway is basically how bull markets are driven by (over?) optimism as investors re-rate stocks to deliver faster than expected growth.

In other words, bull markets tend to be driven by a narrative on investor confidence due to the economy doing well while bear markets get punctuated by cycles of optimism and pessimism.

Take the finding/theory with a pinch of salt though. After all, if these things were so predictable, then we’d all be rich.

 

Guide to Dividend Withholding Tax for Singapore Investors (Financial Horse)

Finally! Someone has come up with information on withholding tax on dividends and this clarifies things up so much. I suppose Financial Horse’s training as a lawyer helps because all the legal jargon and heaps of information just confuses me. The table that shows the tax rates for other countries helps so much as well. Useful information to know if you invest in overseas markets.

 

The Story Of Agnes Plumb: Dividend Millionaire (The Compound Investor)

Another unknown millionaire story. Same themes from all the others – money compounded over long periods, frugal lifestyle but the twist in this story is that she actually inherited the stock from her father and subsequently did nothing.

Nothing! She sat on her thumbs and just waited, and waited.

You may argue about the wisdom of not spending all that money but you cannot argue about the wisdom of how compounding is a powerful force. As my wife’s favourite bear said,

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

As for Plumb, she may not have spent a lot of the money on herself but she left a lot of it to charity and if you ask me, that’s a lot of good done for the world.

 

mvimg_20180612_152236.jpg

The chance to read a good book like this, with a cup of cheap coffee. That’s not something everyone gets to do

 

I finally got my hands on Teo You Yenn’s book “This is What Inequality Looks Like” and so far, it’s been a very enlightening read. In fact, the picture above shows what inequality really IS like in Singapore.

Here I am, a Chinese male Singaporean, able to read this book without having to buy it. On top of that, I am able to read this book at my leisure without having to worry about losing some wage while I’m reading the book.

Now, the only reason why I could borrow the book for free and read at my leisure is that my job allows me to. It’s a white-collar profession that depends more on my smarts than the amount of physical labour that I have to put in. And this would not have been possible if not for the fact that I am a university graduate.

Now, I’m not particularly intelligent. In fact, if not for a stroke of luck that the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Social Science accepted me in the second year that I applied, I wouldn’t have made it there. This is also despite the not-so-trivial sums of money that my parents spent hiring tuition teachers for me when my brother and I weren’t doing so well in school.

I’m also on track to obtain a net worth or wealth that’s easily more than the average Singaporean will obtain in their lifetime. This is a testament to my strategy but it’s also a testament to the fact that I was born into a relatively privileged family. I never had to worry about there being no food on the table. Family holidays, albeit to destinations that weren’t so far off, were a norm.

This good fortune isn’t just confined to my immediate family. By virtue of my education, I managed to get a job in a government organisation that paid pretty well. It was there where I met my wife who comes from an equally privileged background. Of course, it helps that she was brought up well and while we may not be one-percenters, we are certainly not poor by any means.

In short, we were lucky to be born into the right families, we (at least my wife really did) made the best of it, and while we still need to work hard, we’ve largely benefitted from the system.

Why some get left behind by the system

Unfortunately, not everyone benefits from the system.

Teo’s book highlights how the poorest can fall through the cracks and remain there. It’s a mix of bureaucracy and policy that never really attempts to understand the people that the policy is supposed to serve.

Teo gives a good example in the book where she writes about how the Singapore government has made childcare more affordable but when you’re poor, it’s not just about having affordable childcare that matters. The low-income work in very different kinds of jobs from the average person. Those jobs may not allow them to pick up their children from childcare, or to buy the things for their children to participate in the usual activities that childcare centres organise.

And unfortunately, I see this at work too.

Occasionally, we counsel students who wish to withdraw from school, aren’t doing well in their studies, or who just have issues with attendance. Often, the story is that these students have family issues. Sometimes it’s the family finances that cause lots of tension in the family; Sometimes, the student’s mixing with the wrong crowd; Sometimes, they have issues with self-image.

Of course, not all of them struggling with their studies come from low-income families but I suspect if we were to actually do a proper survey, we will find that a disproportionately high share of them come from families with financial problems.

And I get it, what’s the point of doing well in school when there are more pressing concerns? After all, the payoff from doing well in school only come much later. Even if they don’t have pressing circumstances, these students that came through the non-traditional academic track then to already have disadvantages in English-language and mathematical ability.

We call them “less academically-inclined” but it very well could be that they are bad at their studies because they’ve been starting further behind the starting line in the same race all those years ago.

And so, what are we to do?

It’s not very much help to tell someone to run faster if they’re starting 20m behind the starting line in a 100m race. It also doesn’t help to tell someone to train harder for the same race if they have fewer resources (time, effort, money) to do so.

I have no answers

While my heart goes out to these lower-income people, I have no answers for them. It’s very hard to give people a solution when the system isn’t designed for them. The civil service has always prided itself on hiring some of the best and the brightest. And it does.

Unfortunately, if the best and the brightest comprise mostly of people who have gotten relatively ahead in life because they were born into the right circumstances, then it’s hard to imagine that these same people would be capable of designing a system that caters to the marginalised. Instead, the system is probably designed for the people just like themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Teo’s book sheds some light on the marginalised in Singapore and the difficulties they face in getting help. From her narrative, it appears that this group of people have very low chances of escaping the poverty trap.

On the other hand, we have our government constantly highlighting how some of their own have come from underprivileged backgrounds, crawled up despite their circumstances and, in the eyes of modern society, made it.

Nowadays, the local newspapers also always highlight those who have overcome adversity to do relatively well at the national exams. No more highlighting of the best and brightest who had an easy life. Instead, they highlight those who have overcome the odds.

And that’s where I think we need to focus on for a start.

What’s the real story? Are most of the underprivileged more like those highlighted in Teo’s book? Or do most of them fit into the narrative described by our government and the media?

I hope Teo’s book is the match that lights a conversation on this.

the forest road

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Just last week, I met up with three former students of mine. They’re all serving their National Service (NS) now and doing great. They’ve probably forgotten most of the economics that I taught them but you know what, that’s not important. Most of them aren’t even going to be economists anyway. One of them’s going to read law while the other is going into physiotherapy. The last one hasn’t decided what to do after NS and that’s ok. He’ll get there.

I posted a photo on Instagram saying that just like every other student of mine that came before and, will come after them, these guys will do great. Coincidentally, another former of mine appeared in a colleague’s photo where she was back in school to share her experience in the social services sector.

Ok, surely they all can’t turn out great. Some of them may end up unemployed, some of them may end up with problems with their marriage or a gambling addiction. So how is that great?

I believe that if any of my former students end up this way, it’s merely because they’ve lost sight of themselves. They’ve been caught up admiring other people’s lives on Instagram or comparing themselves to the results that their peers have obtained. What they failed to see is the journey that one must take in order to get to their destination.

For example, at the school where I teach, there’s a pretty famous alumni who’s has had some success with his start-up. It’s a local tech company that’s pretty well-known. So, whenever we mention that this person is an alumni of the school, the new students get pretty impressed.

What they fail to see (and we, of course, fail to conveniently mention) is the countless nights of forgone sleep and mental anguish of worrying about how to meet payroll and rent that he and his co-founders must have gone through before achieving this level of success. Even then, his journey isn’t over. From what I can tell through public records, the company is still bleeding cash and has had to raise capital through many rounds of funding. This company’s ability to survive on its own two feet is still far from over. His journey hasn’t ended yet.

It’s the same for all my students or anyone in this world. If you focus on the destination, you forget that path there may not be full of potholes and obstacles. These things will trip you up and prevent you from setting out what you were meant to do.

Everyone can be great. You just have to focus on the journey and when you get some measure of recognition, that’s when you know you’ve reached your destination. If you have fun on the journey and you continue walking the path, the destination doesn’t really matter at all.

 

walk human trafficking

Sometimes, it’s better not to talk about things when you have no idea what you’re talking about. Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

 

Just the other day, it was reported that a local politician said this:

In highlighting the mindset of youths today, Dr Maliki said that the Singaporean dream of possessing the 5Cs – cash, car, credit card, condominium and a country card membership – was “in the past” and that millennials are developing their own definition of success.

He added that the youths want to be excited about where they live, work and play, encapsulated by the You Only Live Once (YOLO) attitude.

That got me thinking and I think I’m well qualified to comment on this as part of the generation in between the ones who aspired to have 5Cs and the youths that Dr Maliki had in mind. In fact, by examining my generation, it becomes pretty clear why youths today make the choices they do.

The generation that aspired to have the 5Cs was the generation that grew up in the late 80s/early 90s. This was the generation that experienced the “Asian Miracle” which culminated in the Asian Financial Crisis of ’97.

Why did everyone want the 5Cs?

The reasons why those five objects became aspirational goods is a 90s thing.

Cash is pretty self-explanatory. From time immemorial, more cash has always equalled more wealth. As for cars, they were included in the list simply because cars are expensive in Singapore. It was true in the 90s and it’s true today.

Credit cards were also aspirational goods as qualifying for a credit card used to mean that you had a certain level of income. Condominiums were also a hit not so much because they come with amenities such as tennis courts and swimming pools. It’s more of the fact that in Singapore, almost everyone stays in public housing. Condominiums were a sign that one had escaped the drudgery of public housing.

Lastly, the country club. Country clubs used to be the place to see and be seen. Spending time on the golf course was both a way to do business and a sign that you didn’t need to be stuck behind a desk.

So, why have the 5Cs fallen out of favour?

How the 5Cs died

It’s simple, really. The aspirational goods for an older generation don’t hold the same appeal for a younger generation. It’s pretty much the same with fashion. What looked cool to our parents looks dumb to us.

Not all the 5Cs have died of course. More cash is still preferable to less cash although, in most modern societies, we carry less of around. Having your own car has become more a status symbol than before thanks to the increased connectivity of public transport and private ride-hailing services.

However, the country club and credit card dream is mostly dead for different reasons. Country clubs are old and stodgy and frankly, not good value for money. Why pay membership fees to hang out in a place that doesn’t really offer anything appealing. It’s much more accessible and affordable to check out the latest cafe with instagrammable backdrops or food.

Credit cards, on the other hand, are handed out so freely that this isn’t really a dream any longer. Even a graduate fresh out of university gets one in the mail. Imagine that! Someone just starting out in the workforce, possibly shouldering some student debt is considered good credit as long as he/she has a job.

Owning a condominium unit is the one that I’m not sure about. Those my age have probably come to realise that the standard of public housing nowadays isn’t all that bad. Furthermore, land prices have become so expensive that the only way developers make money is by selling condominium units that are much smaller than before.

 

So are young people less materialistic?

It’s strange to think that people, as a group, change over time. After all, we are subject to the same psychological biases that major religions identified thousands of years ago. So what is it with the youths of today?

Simply put, experiences are the new aspirational good. Travelling has become more accessible with budget airlines and Airbnb. Furthermore, the internet now provides enough information for anyone to travel easily and cheaply.

Also, your friends on social media are going to get bored of seeing your car or house every single hour. It’s much more interesting if you have something new to show off. Like that new cafe you checked out, that new place you visited, the new shoes or bag you bought*.

In short, it’s stupid to think that things have changed. Our grandparents had their aspirations. Our parents had theirs, and our young will have their own as well. It’s nothing to do with YOLO**.

 

Notes:

*It’s hard to show off a new car or house every single day. Besides, if you do this, people are going to think that you sell cars or houses for a living. Not exactly what rich people want to be mistaken for.

**Btw, Dr Maliki is also showing how much of a generation gap he has with the young. YOLO was so 2012.

 

 

grayscale photography of person at the end of tunnel

Photo by Anthony DeRosa on Pexels.com

 

In my previous post, I mentioned that the biggest obstacle for a young adult in getting to a $100,000 is probably the sheer thought of it. As the saying goes, “The first million is the hardest.”* You could get technical about it but from a psychological standpoint, it’s hard to fathom something that seems so far away and out of reach. Which is why, before you get your first million, you probably want to concentrate on your first $100,000. If you’re looking at your first $100,000, you probably want to focus on your first $10,000.

I also mentioned that you could get over the mental block by having a paradigm shift. So, what is a paradigm shift?

 

paradigmShift

Sometimes the answer is already there. You just need to change your perspective to see it.

A paradigm shift works so well because sometimes we are trying to solve a problem by tackling the wrong areas or viewing the problem from the wrong angle. Here are two examples from my own experience.

 

Investing

“Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki has its detractors and after I’ve learnt more about finance and investing, I can safely say that the book isn’t very useful in teaching anything practical. The book won’t make you become a good investor or a successful business person. What “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” did for me was to help me question the whole idea of getting a job, spend some, save some, and then retiring.

It should have come to me more easily than others as my dad’s side of the family ran their own business but unfortunately it didn’t. For many years, I thought that the basic formula that most people subscribed to was the right one. I might have had my suspicions but I didn’t really question it or I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was.

What the book did for me was to show me that there was a more efficient model than the “study, work, retire” model that most people have come to know. It presented me with two paths — be a business person, or be an investor. Once I picked the path of an investor, it was just a matter of setting up a system** that works for me and over the last 10+ years, it’s worked pretty well for me. All I needed to do was make tweaks to refine the system.

I’m not saying that the system I have now is perfect or will no longer need tweaks. What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure I’ve got the main setup right in terms of approaching the problem.

The point is that this wouldn’t have been possible if I had never learnt of possibilities beyond the “study, work, retire” model. Getting rich this way is only possible for very few people who happen to earn outsized amounts relative to the average person. Even then, they must not fall into the trap of spending more than they earn or having their “lifestyle creep”***.

More recently, I’ve made a fantastic discovery on another topic altogether.

Weight Loss

For most people, weight issues don’t start until their 30s. That’s when the metabolism slows down and your lifestyle becomes less active due to work or having kids. And for most people, the logical solution to weight gain is either to (a) exercise more, and/or (b) eat less. So, when my weight ballooned to an all-time high relative to my height, I tried both methods.

Guess what? Unless you’re extremely disciplined, those don’t work.

Exercising more is the weaker strategy as studies have shown that diet is a bigger contributor to weight loss than exercise. Furthermore, dragging yourself to the gym regularly takes effort. This either involves waking up earlier or going after you’ve already exhausted most of your willpower at work. Grinding through a tough workout further depletes the willpower and that might actually lead you to eat more. “Alright, I worked out today. I deserve that extra slice of pizza.” That’s a pretty common thing we all say to ourselves after we work out. There’s also the type of exercise that you do but at this point, that’s more a matter of efficiency that effectiveness.

Trying to eat less also takes willpower. However, one other reason why it doesn’t work so well is that our metabolism slows down if we take in fewer calories than we normally do. If we normally consume 2,500 calories a day, our bodies see fewer calories as a sign that food is scarce and therefore we need to conserve calories by slowing or shutting down certain body functions. That’s why women stop having their periods if they eat fewer calories than needed for normal body functions.

So what’s the paradigm shift here? Fasting.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Besides, doesn’t eating fewer calories lead to a slowdown in metabolic function? So why would eating no calories work?

It turns out that once the glycogen stores in the liver are depleted, our body goes into a state called ketosis where it starts to burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. It’s only by not eating that our bodies enter this state as the glycogen stores take about 12 hours to burn through. If we just eat fewer calories like some diets recommend, our bodies never enter this state as the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is evenly spaced over a 24-hour window.

There are variations on how to fast but the one I’ve done follows a 16-8 intermittent fasting cycle. Basically, you eat only within an 8-hour window. There are no restrictions on what you can eat but of course, this isn’t a license to eat as much as you want. You’ll also want to ensure that what you’re eating isn’t junk in order to get optimal nutrition. What I mean, of course, is that you can’t go on with this plan thinking that you can eat nothing but cheesecakes. A healthy, well-balanced diet is necessary for a good life.

Another thing is that I only eat this way on weekdays. Most days, I have only lunch and dinner while I have something for tea on some days where I feel a little more hungry. But it’s definitely not the lack of breakfast that is the major factor as I’ve never been one to have a heavy breakfast anyway so skipping breakfast shouldn’t make such a big difference in terms of the number of calories.

I’ve experienced amazing results with this. I’ve never been fat or obese, and the worse thing I had was probably early signs of a developing paunch. After going on this for about 6 months, I’ve lost about 10-12% of my body weight or approximately 20 pounds. I didn’t think it was that drastic but lots of people have noticed the weight loss. My weight is back to an optimal level and keeping it there has never been easier.

Apparently, fasting has lots of other health benefits as well but I can’t tell you if I’ve experienced any of those. The best way would have been to get a health checkup prior to starting the intermittent fasting program and then another checkup afterwards. However, the scientific evidence so far is quite convincing.

Word of caution. Weight loss is only for people who are overweight. It’s safe to say that being overweight is associated with many modern diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. However, I’ve had a number of colleagues who have no weight to lose asking me how I lost weight. These people are asking the wrong question. For them, it should be how to maintain an optimal weight or even bulk up. In fact, the next thing I need to work on is not losing any more weight but to get a regular exercise routine going for optimal health.

The paradigm shift here is away from the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle to one that starts a little nearer to lunch. The funny thing is how we’ve all been told we need to eat 3 square meals a day since young but certain religions have been including regular fasts in their religious practices for thousands of years. There is a train of thought that the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is actually a relatively modern invention (thank you, Kellogg’s) and we’ve forgotten that our biology hasn’t evolved that much over the last few millennia.

The point I wanted to make is that sometimes, we need to question our assumptions and keep discovering if people have tried what seems like “impossible” solutions to the problems we have. Being experimenters and pioneers is something I’d rather leave to the scientists but if there’s convincing evidence that something works, we shouldn’t be afraid to try it out and see how it works for ourselves.

If you have experienced paradigm shifts in any other areas, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

 

Notes:

*If you’re a billionaire like T.Boone Pickens, then replace ‘million’ with ‘billion’. That’s the title of his book by the way.

**The system comprises of a few parts and is beyond the scope of this post but let’s just say that you don’t have to be a CFA charterholder to come up something similar.

***Lifestyle creep is the concept where your lifestyle creeps up to match any increases in your income. Most people aren’t consciously aware of this but it happens. Think of the type of holidays you took when you were a poor student compared to when you are working adult. Or the places you used to dine at versus the places you dine at now. Using a Singaporean example, chances are you went to Bangkok for holidays when you were a student and now the destination’s changed to Japan or Korea.

This month I will have been married for 6 years.

6 years isn’t a long time but it’s certainly past the point of the honeymoon phase that most newly married couples find themselves in within the first 1-3 years of marriage. What have I learnt after 6 years of marriage?

I love my wife.

I still do from the time I asked her to be my girlfriend and then to be my wife. She makes up for all my weaknesses while I hope I make up for hers.

The best part of loving someone is the unexpected parts. Growing up, I never had to wash toilets or mop floors but that’s something I do on a weekly basis right now. And to be honest, it’s not so bad. Some days, it can even be therapeutic.

Getting a cat was also her decision and at the beginning, I was hesitant. I grew up having dogs around the house so I didn’t really know what to expect with cats.

However, Teddy’s turned out to be the perfect cat for us. He can be demanding when it comes to food and he gave us something to worry about with his stomach issues on two occasions but most of the time, he’s the sweetest cat.

Things aren’t perfect but honestly, perfection is overrated. I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything else.