Archives for category: Everything under the sun
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In a previous post, I commented on how the fall of the Vanderbilt dynasty is instructive that even with all the money in the world, people can still be enormously unhappy.

In this post, I want to comment more on the reflections regarding personal finance and dynasty wealth after reading “Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt“.

Given that the book is a fantastic account of the characters that inherited insane amounts of wealth and how they blew it all in a generation or two, I learned some things and here are my thoughts on holding on to wealth, should you choose to do so.

1. Don’t Marry an Idiot and Don’t be One

Too many of the Vanderbilt children married spouses that were only interested in their wealth. Commodore Vanderbilt’s sons were only too happy to let their wives try and outspend each other by building mansions and ridiculous summer homes at costs that were astronomical.

The cost of building these mansions was not just the problem. The costs of running the mansions were astronomical because of the number of staff needed to for such a huge place.

Sadly, even those that recognised that their would-be spouse was merely after their money wasn’t spared. Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of Alva Vanderbilt, was married to some nobility in England because her Alva had illusions of grandeur about her descendants becoming royalty. The irony is that the noble family that Consuelo married into were running out of funds to maintain their estates in England and needed Vanderbilt money.

The funny thing is that there are similar stories across the Vanderbilt family so I can safely conclude that it doesn’t matter if you have all the money in the world, people who don’t understand money will find some way to spend it all.

2. Dynastic wealth is made from market power and requires diversification

Commodore Vanderbilt made his money largely by being one of the few operators in the market – first in the ferry industry in New York and then in the railroad business.

If you want to amass great wealth in a lifetime, it’s necessary that you own assets that have some sort of dominant market power. It was the same for Bill Gates and in case, you want to use Warren Buffett as an example of someone who’s been in a competitive business all his life, I like to point out that while insurance and managing funds is a fairly competitive business, he’s always stressed the importance of owning businesses that have a moat. If that’s not market power, then what is?

The thing about businesses with market power is that they don’t last. In the Vanderbilt case, the law quickly caught up to busting monopolies with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Great Depression quickly made sure that asset values and incomes fell. Those who were still spending freely quickly found that they had to make deep, deep cuts. Revenues from the passenger service also fell as motorcars started becoming more affordable.

The issue with dominant players is that the market will always find a way to reduce prices either through the use of new technology or new competition. It’s hard to fight against these forces and therefore, the Vanderbilts should have been working hard at gathering a diversity of assets rather than spending freely.

3. Accumulate Assets, Not Junk

While the Vanderbilts were huge collectors of art, prized horses, and other things, the problem is that when you have all the money in the world, you tend to bid too high for these “assets”.

That makes them junk.

The Vanderbilts didn’t accumulate all these things based on a reasonable analysis of the store of value or appreciation in the value of these assets. Neither did these assets throw off any income. They just did it for the “appreciation of art” or to show who had more money or “better tastes”.

This meant that when it was time to sell these assets in order to either pay off debts or to maintain their lavish spending, these “assets” were sold for cheap. Even the mansions sold for much less than they were built. The only thing upside was that the land the mansions were built on were sold for much more than they were purchased because the land was situated in a prime area.

Is Dynastic Wealth even necessary?

At the end of the day, perhaps a better question is whether passing hundreds of millions or billions of dollars down to people who haven’t earned it a good thing?

I’m beginning to think that perhaps Buffett was right in saying, and I paraphrase, that he would leave enough for his children to do something but not so much that they would have nothing to do.

After all, look at the lives of various monarchs and emperors around the world. The royal families in England or Thailand have so much money that their descendants do nothing unless they choose to. Their lives are pretty much a PR exercise to make sure that the public in their respective countries still support them.

But the main thing is that dynastic wealth robs them of simple human activity. Japanese princesses have to give up their royal status if they marry a commoner and guess what, they then have to be taught how to do stuff like go grocery shopping.

I really think I’m leaning with Buffett on this one. Enough money to do something but not so much that I don’t have to do anything.


This is a culmination of thoughts after reading a few things.

First, to set some of the context, there’s this article on Daniel Kahneman’s take that most of us don’t want to maximise happiness. Instead, sometimes we choose to pursue unhappy actions that provide satisfaction.

Kahneman argues that satisfaction is based mostly on comparisons. “Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks–achieving goals, meeting expectations.” He notes that money has a significant influence on life satisfaction, whereas happiness is affected by money only when funds are lacking. Poverty creates suffering, but above a certain level of income that satisfies our basic needs, wealth doesn’t increase happiness. “The graph is surprisingly flat,” the psychologist says.

Money only has so much utility

And then, I read that Mr. Money Mustache is no longer married. The godfather of the FIRE movement who longer has any financial worries is now separated from his wife. To his credit, it seems to be an amicable split because most breakups usually don’t end up well since breaking up is an emotional subject.

It’s not my business that he’s longer married and of course, financial difficulties probably lead to a higher chance of divorce. But it just goes to show that marriage is more than just about money.

Relationships need work. Money is just another constraint to work with

I love this reflection from Kate at Minimalist in the City. It’s pure, honest and a wonderful reminder that everyone has good and bad days. Being able to recognise and appreciate both the good and bad is probably the first step to appreciate the fact that we’re alive in this world.

I need to work harder on being present. Thinking too much about what could be or what may be is a useful and satisfying distraction but that means that I’ll miss what’s going right now in my life.

Further proof that money isn’t everything

Last but certainly not least, I’ve just finished reading “Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt“. It’s a fascinating insight into the Gilded Age where families controlled obscene amounts of wealth relative to the rest of society. And the Vanderbilt family was the richest of the rich thanks to the fortune amassed by Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The family spent it all within 3 or 4 generations no thanks to crazy spending by his descendants as well as the spouses they married. And from the account written (by a Vanderbilt, no less), it seems that they were deeply unhappy people despite (or maybe, because of?) spending all that money.

I’m pretty convinced by now that money is just the medium or the tool. The question I keep asking myself is: what will I be remembered for?

Final best reads of 2018! Hope 2019’s going to bring us better reads.

How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success (The New Yorker)

(Very long) Amazing read. Never underestimate the power of sales, marketing and pure bullshit. I love this line from the article:

Fran Lebowitz once remarked that Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” and Jackson was struck, when the show aired, by the extent to which Americans fell for the ruse. “Main Street America saw all those glittery things, the helicopter and the gold-plated sinks, and saw the most successful person in the universe,” he recalled. “The people I knew in the world of high finance understood that it was all a joke.”

Go read the whole thing.

Complete Guide to Supplementary Retirement Scheme for Singaporeans (Financial Horse)

Great read for those who haven’t set up and/or contributed to their SRS accounts. FH makes some good points about the pros and cons of the SRS.

Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day? (BBC)

A good, balanced view as how all scientific studies or articles on scientific studies should be. I’ve been experimenting with intermittent fasting and found that it works for me. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. Self-awareness is more important than anything else.

Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.

– Bruce Lee

2018 hasn’t been a very good year for me – the stock market hasn’t helped with building my net worth, I fell had to take sick leave from work twice in the last quarter alone when I usually go a whole year without taking sick leave. At times, I haven’t felt like doing much either because of this sense of boredom and jadedness with life and work.

Within the family, there have also been some health scares. Earlier in the year, our cat had a little bit of tummy troubles following his visit to the groomers. Then, the older family members faced some health problems.

Thankfully, 2018’s about to be over. And we should recognise and celebrate the things that made the year great. These are my “Best of 2018” and I hope you find yours too.

Market Calls and Cryptocurrencies

One of the few things I identified right was how overhyped crypto was at the beginning of the year. Of course, by then, cryptos had already fallen quite a bit from the peak reached at the end of 2017 but let me pat myself on the back for calling the bullshit on the investment that is crypto.

3 Feb – More tales from the crypt(ocurrency)
14 June – So, who still wants to buy bitcoin?

But even more prescient than Crypto which I was largely skeptical of as an investment in 2017 was recognising the flow of easy money into the tech space.

10 July – State of the (U.S.) markets
11 Aug – State of the Markets (1 August 2018)

Now, before I get too swell-headed, I must confess that it’s not like I made profits from my views. I just got lucky that the tide against tech turned so much in such a short period of time.

Easy credit could have continued and I’d just as easily be labelled as someone who made a prediction and got it wrong. That’s the danger when shorting markets and unless you’re as experienced as someone like Jim Chanos, you shouldn’t do it.

This isn’t a how my portfolio did in 2018 post so I’ll leave it here. Look out for that when the year actually ends.

Learning New Skills

2018 was the year that I finally put whatever programming I picked up to good use. I wrote a script to automate some super bothersome tasks at work and if I had the time, I probably could write more scripts. I also messed around with some webscraping for stock data (shhh! Don’t tell anyone.) and I guess the next step would be having that data on a site for everyone to view. More importantly, I created a page to document the STI’s PE10. It went live at the end of July and I update it every first day of the month.

You can check it out here.

I’m hoping that in the not-too-far future I’ll have the chance to learn programming with a little more guidance and that I’ll actually have a chance to create sites that are useful. Best part is that I’m going to have my job give me time off (with pay!) to go do that. That’ll probably happen end 2019 or in 2020.

New Knowledge – habit formation

If I didn’t learn anything new all year, then that year would be a certain disaster.

James Clear’s Atomic Habits is easily one of the best things I’ve read this year. He gives really sound strategies on how you can form new habits and ditch bad ones. In fact, I didn’t know it then but I was using some of the same strategies to lose weight and practice mindfulness meditation.

This led me to cut sugar from coffee and I’ve lost even more weight than before and am at the same weight that I was in high school. Once again, the message is instructive – you have to make it a paradigm shift/lifestyle change rather than use willpower to make the change.

To drive the point home, let me give you another example.

I also developed the habit of writing roughly 3 blog posts a week this year and while it isn’t much, that’s helped boost traffic to my blog this year.

My blog stats across the years…pathetic but hey, this is a personal blog after all. I’m writing for personal amusement and not to bring in some dough.

You can see that this year is the year where, apart from April when I was on holiday for a week, the views each month were consistently above 2,000 (coloured blue). So what gives?

Well, the main things that happened was (1) that I finally got my new device, and more importantly (2) my wife started going to gym every weekend.

What has that got to do with anything? Well, every weekend, while she at the gym, I pumped out blog posts over coffee while waiting for her to be done.

This is precisely what Clear was talking about in his book. New habits need to have some place in your routine in order to become part of your life. This might be particularly instructive for some people as the new year is coming around and new year usually means new resolutions. If you really want to achieve something in the new year, you need to change your habits and not just hit some targets for a couple of weeks through sheer willpower.

Personal Front

On the personal front, this year marks the 6th year that my wife and I have been married and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll be lying if I said that we are happy 100% of the time but I’m pretty sure that on average, we’re happier together than we are apart.

I need to work on communicating with my wife more. Maybe it’s a guy thing or it could be just me but I’m not very good at communication (that’s why I have this blog!).

Our cat is also just the best thing that’s ever happened to us. He’s the one thing that makes me wake up at 6:45 am every single day and he really bosses me around until he gets his food. Then, he’s just the sweetest thing who will do whatever he wants: chilling under the bed, on his cat tree, cat window or on the sofa because he wants some attention from us.

This is his first full year with us and I know he’ll be with us forever. If you love cats, check him out on Instagram (@kingteddy_thetabbycat). Also, please donate to the Cat Welfare Society if you can. If you want a cat, adopt. Don’t shop.

2019, please be nice to me

I hope 2019 will be good for you and if anything, I’ll be working on the things I can control – my emotions, my temper, my actions, my reaction to events that are out of my control.

Goodbye 2018.

It’s been a crazy week for the U.S. markets this week. I keep expecting Asia to follow suit but each morning after a bloodbath on Wall Street, Asia remains subdued. I guess that’s what happens when everyone’s away for the holidays.

It’s the weekend before X’mas but somehow I feel like X’mas has already passed. I’m not a X’mas person anyway and I’m really looking forward to next year. This one has been nothing short of bad for the markets but I’ll leave it more for a “end of year” post.

Happy week ahead!

How Cheap Is The Singapore Stock Market Currently? (Motley Fool Singapore)

Regular readers will know that I usually use the PE10 but there are many ways to skin a cat. I’m not usually the Motley Fool Singapore’s biggest fan but this is interesting because I’ve seen James Montier do a similar study on international markets and it is a feature that when markets are beaten down, “Net-Nets” must appear.

“Net-Nets” were popularised/invented(?) by Benjamin Graham to find stocks that are trading for less than Net Current Assets. In theory, buying these companies and immediately liquidating them will earn you a positive return. The nub of course is that the value of their current assets may not be realised in reality. However, the theory is still valid and therefore, is an indication of how pessimistic investors are about a company.

In any given market, you tend to find companies that aren’t doing well and so you would expect a certain number of “Net-Nets” to exist at any given point in time. However. the number of “Net-Nets” in a bear market would be exceptionally high as pessimism of general prospects are dim.

In short, an exceptionally high number of “Net-Nets” in a market would be a fantastic indicator of when investors are too pessimistic about the future and hence, would be useful as an indicator of how cheap a market is.

Right not, the Motley Fool data seem to indicate that we’re cheap but not dirt-cheap.

Nov 2018 – Monthly Updates (Minimalist in the City)

Putting this one here because of the interesting statistic cited in the post:

Interestingly so, a study also mentioned that a child typically only plays an average of 12 toys out of 238 toys they own. This is about 5% of the toys which is quite an astonishing figure that should bring attention to the adults that a child does not really need that much toys at all.

5% is a ridiculously low number but I’m not surprised. The funny thing is that I think it’s not confined to kids. I’m pretty sure it applies to clothing, shoes, bags etc. Heck, it might even apply to our cat because he doesn’t play with most of the toys that were bought for him.

It’s sobering and a timely reminder that we should really think hard about what we need before we spend money on things that’s just going to take up space and gather dust.

Don’t Be Your Worst Enemy: Self-Inflicted Wounds Are Terribly Unnecessary (Financial Samurai)

A fantastic post listing some of the ways we sabotage ourselves.

I’ve done it many times in my life as well.

When I was younger, I drank way too much. That was a complete waste of time and money. I should have spent my time picking up some more practical skill.

There are many more examples I can give you and while each of them seems like a waste of either time or money or both, I learned important lessons from each case. It’s as if each misstep increased my self-awareness – the things that I’m good at, how to play to my personality, the areas that I’m not so good at that I could and should increase my competence in.

There’s nothing I can do to get the time that has passed so what matters most is how I spend my time, money and energy on from here on out.

Just over a week left to Christmas! Happy holidays everyone.

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Despite Salik’s success, concerns remain for welfare of Cambodian children working in tourism (Channel NewsAsia)

Salik, in case you haven’t seen the video, is a Cambodian boy who sells trinkets to tourists around the grounds of the Angkor Wat. He shot to fame when a tourist recorded a video of him being able to speak something like 16 different languages.

No doubt that fame brought him and his family some needed cash but as the article highlights, the whole situation is also going to entice more children to stop schooling and try to earn money from tourists instead.

This is a classic problem of a spillover as a result of innocent or good intentions. I have no problems with people with good intentions but those with good intentions also need to be aware of the impact their actions will/may have on society at large.

Homelessness Rises More Quickly Where Rent Exceeds a Third of Income (Zillow)

Interesting article from the U.S. It appears that spending more than 30% of your income on housing is the threshold for affordability. In Singapore, we probably won’t have the issue of rents exceeding 30% of income since home ownership rates are so high. However, will the same threshold apply for mortgage rates? Is that why in 2013, MAS implemented a Mortgage Servicing Ratio of 30%?

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles (The Guardian)

This is so cool. Hopefully, this leads to practical, mass implementation so that we can reduce plastic waste. Wonder if big oil will block this technology though since it breaks the plastic components down to its original raw material.

Let me state it up front: I’m not a fan of products offered by insurance companies.

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In Singapore, insurance companies no longer just provide the pooling and spreading of risks. The industry underwent a transformation decades ago that rebranded insurance agents into financial planners.

The message there being that financial planners no longer just help you plan to avoid unfortunate incidents that can happen but also prepare for the inevitable which is that one fine day, you’ll stop work but still need money i.e. retirement.

An Agency Problem

As Buffett once said, “Never ask your barber if you need a haircut.” Similarly, the common model of compensation for financial planners is a commission based on the dollar value of products that they sell. On top of this, the agency that they belong to typically has a quota that they require to meet. Add to that the problem that most people don’t really understand statistics well enough to make an informed decision and you have a recipe for being sold products that you either don’t need or is designed to benefit the seller rather than the buyer.

I’m not saying that financial planners are inherently dishonest. I’m just saying that most of them are telling you things that the marketing material tells them rather than what a person really requires for financial independence.*

Enter AXA’s latest product

Kyith over at Investment Moats did a breakdown of this product that promises escalating payout over the years. This deals with the problem of inflation (which is fantastic since most products don’t) and if you get this plan, you probably can be relatively assured that you retain purchasing power as you age.

So what’s the problem with this product?

Well, as Kyith calculated/estimated, the returns for this product (depending on the performance of the non-guaranteed portion) is probably anywhere from 1.92% to 3.75%. At the high end, that is scarcely better than the 10-year Singapore Savings Bond which has virtually no default risk.

Now, I’m using AXA’s product as an example. I don’t believe the other insurance companies can provide anything much better because their costs would be about the same and for them to generate more alpha (i.e. higher returns than a similar competitor) would be to take on more risk which may not be allowed by regulations.

There are much better alternatives

I would even argue that for such long time-frames, you could put your money in equities and expect much higher rates of return. While financial planners may argue that equity returns are non-guaranteed, I would say the same for their products. I would take my chances with the lower cost alternative which is a broad-based market ETF or index fund.

Buy Term, Invest the Rest

As far as insurance is concerned, I would remember the quote above. Buy for protection and learn how to generate returns on your own. You don’t really need an organisation to add layers and collect fees for doing nothing much more than “helping” you to invest. There’s so much information on the internet and anyway, most of us can’t really do much better than the market anyway.

*By way of reasoning, my challenge for financial planners is to show me a successful planner who made money from actual financial planning rather than their commissions.

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I saw this article on Forbes and I completely agree with it. Here’s the headline:

This Is Why Talking About How “Hard” You Work Makes You Look Incompetent

Amazing article because at my old workplace, there used to be colleagues who would work through the weekend or overtime over many evenings in a given week when our contracts only state that we’re paid for a 44-hour work week.

Now, obviously what I’m going to say doesn’t apply to people who get paid by the hour or people who HAVE to hustle because of commitments like medical bills and so on but for the most part, I think my argument will stand.

Bragging about Working Hard is Stupid

My initials thoughts then were about how dumb they must come across to everybody when they say that because having to put in more hours than they were paid to do so must either signal one or two things:

  1. You’re inefficient.
  2.  You can’t tell the difference between the important stuff and the not important stuff so you do everything.

Therefore, I used to joke that if someone brought up a colleague who regularly works overtime and weekends as a shining example of who ought to be, then I would retort that this person should instead be penalised for being inefficient.

We do what the system rewards us to do

I’m not sure if it’s because most Singaporeans have been educated to do so or it’s because most people work really hard at doing things that don’t really lead to much.

I can’t say about the private sector* because I’ve never worked there but unfortunately, much of the work in the public sector is not aimed at being efficient but at making sure that the important people don’t get embarrassed when extreme events happen.

And we get rewarded for that. Things that get the bosses’ attention are not the standard operational work that we’re supposed to be doing. Instead, it’s all the other projects and non-operational work that help one public officer stand out from the other.

Having Said That…

I believe that if we find joy in the thing that we’re doing and that if putting in the time and effort brings value to many other people’s lives**, by all means, we should do it.

For example, it’s almost inevitable that people at the operational level in the F&B industry put in long hours at work. However, the value that a cook brings to people’s lives when people get their daily sustenance or a good meal, is in my view, a much getting reward to society than if you saved your boss’s ass by working over the weekend on a deck of PowerPoint slides.

This is a reminder to do the things that matter for you, your community, and your society at large.

Not your boss.

*But if my wife’s experience is anything to go by, the private sector is not much different. Entire industries have no reason for existence other than to save many people from embarrassment or to extract economic rents. In my mind, that pretty much sums up the entire lobbying and consulting industry.

**This is one instance where I believe quantity over quality matters. Bringing value to 100 people is definitely better than bringing value to your best friend’s life. There should be no reason why the universe would weigh your best friend’s life greater than 100 other people.

I’ve written before about how I think inequality and poverty is an issue in Singapore and that the poor need more unconditional help. (see here, here, here). It appears that the issue has been getting a bit more attention lately with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) putting this piece out some days back.


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

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Poverty in the spotlight

In particular, the piece highlights how the poor tend to make decisions that are less than best or what economists call, “sub-optimal”. Take the opening anecdote in the article.

Every time her four children passed by the provision shop downstairs, they would ask her to buy packet drinks for them. Every time, Mdm Mary Yeo would reply, “No, not today.”

The first time the divorcee received financial assistance from the Social Service Office, her first thought as she sat at home alone, pondering what to do with the money, was their wistful request the night before.

“I rushed down to the provision shop, and I bought quite a lot of drinks,” said the 47-year-old. “The next day, I bought (more).”

After three days, she had bought S$400 worth of drinks – 40 cartons – “because that same thing kept coming” to mind.

Now, 40 cartons of soft drinks is a ridiculously huge amount of soft drinks and the first reaction of many people would be to say something like, “See, this lady is poor because she’s stupid. No one buys that many soft drinks. Furthermore, if she lets her kids drink that much soft drinks, they are going to have other problems down the road.”

What the article did differently was to describe the process behind her thinking which changed the framing of the same issue from being “poor because she’s stupid” to “stupid because she’s poor.” In other words, they highlighted the fact that she made this stupid choice because she was so poor that she couldn’t even afford a simple treat like a soft drink for her kids.

I’m particularly impressed with the way the article presents the issue of decision-making and poverty because it’s a good contrast to the usual messages of how Singapore is a meritocratic society and provides an equal chance for anyone, regardless of background, to succeed.


The message we’ve been fed all these years

The message that we’ve been fed all these years is that Singapore is a place where your dreams can come true. All you have to do is study hard, work hard, and you’ll make it.

And very often, to prove their point, the nation-building Straits Times will highlight the fact that some of our high-flying people in government came from less than privileged backgrounds and succeeded despite the odds against them.

Even the education ministry, in its bid to move away from an emphasis on grades, has been profiling students who have either done well or passed the exams despite the odds against them.

Once again, the message is that you can make it if you try hard enough.


We need a new message

I think it’s time we need a new message. And that message is that as a society, we acknowledge that the odds are stacked against those who come from less privileged backgrounds. And since the odds are stacked against them, we need to make sure that they receive unconditional help as far as the basics are concerned.

And this is where I think the government is still behind the curve. Now, I’m not saying that our government doesn’t provide help to those in need. We have an entire ministry that oversees social and family issues as well as an army of social workers that work extremely hard to help families in need.

Unfortunately, it seems that in order to qualify for all sorts of help, there are layers and hoops to jump through. In other words, there are lots of conditions attached in order to receive the help they need.*

More importantly, having all sorts of conditions attached in order to receive help continues to send the message that poor people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves.

It’s also in the same spirit that former GIC chief economist, Yeoh Lam Keong has come out to question Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on why he exhorts the better off in society to do more to help the less well-off rather than have the government do more instead. Yeoh points out that an increase in spending of 0.8% of GDP would be enough to improve Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and Silver Support Scheme (SSS) substantially.



I think Singapore has developed to the point where we can help the less fortunate in society more. We can step away from the old messages of “helping them more will lead to higher taxes”** or that “if you work hard enough, you will succeed”.



*I understand the need for paperwork as the government needs to ensure that taxpayers monies are disbursed and used in the right manner. However, people need to recognise that additional procedures and paperwork create friction. At some point, the friction and inefficiency from the paperwork is going to outweigh any costs of the system failing. In other words, the inefficiency in the system has a higher cost than the abuse the paperwork is meant to prevent.

**Anyway, GST is projected to increase to 9% in a few years time. The rationale is that we need to increase revenues as the burden on healthcare will increase.

This post nearly made it into my “Best Reads” for last week but upon reflection, I thought it deserves a post all on its own.

green club flower

Photo by Anthony on


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Sam Dogen from Financial Samurai had a post that reflected on how he was lucky in his first role to land another role that not only paid him more but also, eventually led to him setting up Financial Samurai and retiring much earlier and wealthier than the average person.

I’m not saying that I’m at the same level as him but I have a lot to be grateful for and I’ve probably ridden my luck more than a few times in my life.

Digging my own grave

I was a terrible student in Junior College (Singapore’s equivalent of a high school). I missed classes, played basketball and naturally, failed every single test and exam in my two years there. I even failed the final school exams before the Cambridge ‘A’ level exams (which is the national exams).

After failing the final school exams, I studied my ass off in the three months I had before the ‘A’s but I guess unless you’re a genius, studying by yourself for an exam that others took two years to prepare for is like climbing Mount Everest.

I passed but with less than mediocre grades.

Riding my luck

That year, my application to all the business and economics faculties was routinely rejected. But just like every other Singaporean guy, I had to enlist in the army to serve my two years of National Service (NS) so that’s where I headed. The plan was following NS, my parents were ready to send me abroad to complete my studies.

However, the following year applications to local universities required SAT scores. I guess I rode my luck again because I didn’t really prepare for the SATs but I did put in an effort to answer every single question to the best of my abilities.

With that SAT score and my crappy A level scores, I applied to the Arts and Social Sciences faculty in the National University of Singapore (NUS) and by some stroke of luck, I was accepted.


It all leads up to today

If I never went to NUS, there’s a fair chance that I wouldn’t have studied economics. Even if I had, there’s a chance that just like my brother, I would never have returned to Singapore. And even if I had, there’s a chance that I would have never worked in the Civil Service. If I never stepped into the civil service at the time that I had, I would have never met my wife.

If I never studied at NUS, there’s no chance that I would have volunteered as a mentor to undergraduates and therefore I would have never learned about my current job. Without my current job, there’s also no chance that I would be maintaining this blog until today. Even if I did, the frequency of posts and the nature of topics that I write about may be completely different from what it is today.

It’s easy to get lost in your situation today and not realise that it’s how some little things that happened so many years ago caused you to be where you are today.

Once you realise this, perhaps you’ll make choices a little carefully, knowing that some of the choices you make today can potentially influence your future in a meaningful way.