Giving Up My Seat

I take a train home from work every workday, from HarbourFront to Kovan. Taking the train from HarbourFront, being the final stop on the NEL (North-East Line), I am almost guaranteed a seat. You’d think this was a good thing; I know I did. But lately I’ve been questioning the value that sitting gave me.

The problem lies in that I cannot bear to see oldish or pregnant-looking people stand while I sit. Most of the time I’d much prefer to give up my seat, but for some reason or another I don’t, leaving me feeling slightly ashamed and awkward throughout the journey.

You’d think that this would be easily solved if I just simply gave my seat up to these people. But it’s not so easy, for these reasons (not an exhaustive list, but representative):

  • The person may not be really pregnant; just a little fat at the stomach.
  • The person may not be really old; just looking old.
  • There are sometimes two old people; who do I choose?
  • I do not like the attention it brings.

I remember reading a saying by someone, whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, who said something along the lines of “discipline does not mean simply controlling yourself in the face of temptation, but rather, removing yourself from the face of temptation whenever possible, so that you will be less likely to succumb to it.”

I think that there is much truth to that bit of advice. If you know that you’re likely to do something negative under certain circumstances, and you are unable to change this behaviour, then change the circumstances. Thus, it is perhaps best for me to refuse a seat in the first place, and let others go through the pain of deciding whether or not to give up their seat.

Think. Wisely.

From John Locke:

To think often and never to retain it so much as one moment is a very useless sort of thinking; and the soul in such a state of thinking does very little if at all excel that of a looking-glass, which constantly receives variety of images or ideas but retains none; they disappear and vanish and there remain on foosteps of them; the looking-glass is never the better for such ideas, nor the soul for such thoughts.

I am, I must admit, often guilty of this. Thinking many thoughts; and losing most of them.

In the Café

I was there in the café
When she walked in,
Looking as fabulous
As she ever did.
Or so they say.

Picking her seat,
Taking off her coat,
She revealed soft,
Flawless skin.
Or so they say.

The waiter who
Took her order gushed
When he heard her soft,
Husky voice.
Or so they say.

I was there in the café
When she walked in,
But all I saw and heard
Was you — and you only.
(Or so I’ll say.)

Personality Testing

My brother recently told me that he was exasperated at being unable to figure out what his “true” personality was. He had just a week before picked up two of my books on personality testing using the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI (take a free personality test at similarminds.com) and has been bothered ever since. Like me, he seems unable to find the one true personality, and is stuck between being an INFP and an INTP — I, too, am stuck between the thinking and feeling functions, and find that I am mostly INFJ, but in many ways am also an INTJ.

Though I’ve conceded that I’m possibly both INFJ and INTJ, depending on the situation, my brother seems intent on finding out his one true type. He believes that upon finding out what his true type was he could then focus his efforts on developing that personality to the fullest, and thereby be better able to perform to this “full potential”. When I asked him what he meant by this he had no answer; but I think he knew it in some intuitive way that by knowing your personality type, you could better identify latent strengths and weaknesses you may not have recognised otherwise, since other people with the same personality type would have had similar strengths and weaknesses as well.

On Loans and the Father-Mother Fund

I was looking through the HDB guidelines for buying an apartment (or flat) when I found out how much I would have had to pay as a down-payment for a 5-room one. Being fresh in the job market, a 10% down-payment is a pretty big sum. I simply haven’t had much opportunity to accumulate that much capital.

Assume that I wanted to buy a build-to-order flat (a flat built only when a certain number of people have registered their interest). The earliest date that it would be available (as of now) would be in March 2013. Being below 30-years of age, I would be eligible for the Staggered Downpayment Scheme, whereby I pay 5% of the purchase price of the flat at the signing of the agreement for lease (when they start construction of the apartment) and another 5% after the flat is completed.

I intend to take an HDB housing loan (at 2.6% it’s dirt cheap), but it only covers 90% of the purchase price, leaving me with a 2×5% down-payment which I will have to fork out using a combination of CPF monies (of which I have hardly enough) and cash (most of which is currently tied up in longish-term investments). With limited liquid funds, I figured I would have to source for other ways to finance this down-payment.

I recall reading somewhere (I’m certain it was in several places actually) that one of the best loans one can get is from one’s family. In Singapore that loan is sometimes affectionately known as the “father-mother fund”. With such loans, the interest rates (if any) are often low, and the repayment periods (again, if any) can often be long. As a rule of thumb, the returns that the victim person giving out the loan should at least equal what that person would get from other sources. So if that person can get a 4% return from other investments, you would pay that person 4% returns as well.

This rule of thumb had me giggling for a while. Judging from current market conditions, I think that if I had to take a loan from my “father-mother fund” and I returned them the principal with no interest payments whatsoever, the returns they would get from me would certainly be higher than what they would get from their investments (I mean, 0% returns certainly beats negative returns any day); and, what is more, it might even be possible to pay back less than the principal, since I would be, theoretically, losing them less money!

On Investing

Imagine that you are losing money in the stock market. Using your investment strategy, your initial investment of X dollars leads to a loss of $100:

Investment Strategy ($X) = $X – $100

An example of such a strategy might be to sell stocks upon reading bad news of a company whose stock you own, and buying stock upon reading goods news of a company whose stock you do not (Niederhoffer, in Practical Speculation).

You might think that reversing your strategy, doing the opposite of what you were doing, might lead to a gain of $100 instead. So instead of selling/buying upon hearing bad/good news, you buy/sell upon hearing bad/good news. Will that strategy then lead to a gain of $100?:

Investment Strategy-1 ($X) = $X + $100

Unfortunately, no.

Retiring Young

I had always had the thought that I’d become “financially independent” before I hit the age of 45. By financially independent I mean that even if I chose not to work another day in my life, my expenses would still be less than my income; this income will come not from full-time work, but rather, in the form of “passive income”, income I receive though not actively involved in the work generating the income (e.g. rental income; dividends; and coupon payments via bonds).

In my mind it meant that I had to generate a relatively high income (probably through salaried work) during my working years, and regularly put part of that into income generating vehicles like stocks, bond, property and their derivatives. But what I failed to realise was that income was only part of the equation in financial independence. It is always better to have more income than less, but what I had not seriously considered was what my expenses were.

Naturally Frugal

I suppose part of my oversight was due to complacency: I’ve always been frugal (though LiShya and Athena prefer to say stingy) with my money; it has always come oh-so-naturally to me, and I have thus never truly considered its impact on my networth. That was until I came across the book You Can Retire Young by Larry A. Ferstenou, who writes that the amount of expenses you have, which in turn impacts how much you save/invest, are often more consequential than the amount you income you may be able to bring in.

That was a paradigm shift for me, a whole new way of looking at the retirement equation — that the key in an early retirement depended not so much (not as much I had initially thought, anyway) on how much you made, but rather how much you saved (and subsequently invested). It simply didn’t matter if you were earning $4,000 or $40,000 a month if you spent everything every time you received it. What is more remarkable is that spending less per month by choice may actually make you happier by releasing you from the grips of mindless consumption!

Ferstenou as an Example

Ferstenou cited himself as an example of how you might retire young. He never earned what many would consider a high income, but he was always careful with his money and to a certain extent got lucky with his investments (which from what I gather gave him typically about 10% returns, managing to largely avoid the precipitous drops in the stock market in the 2001-2003 period). Saving at least 30% of his income since he first started working, by the time he was into his 40s he realised that he could retire and live off the income generated by his investments, especially since his expenditures were so low (he made frugal living a way of life, and though married had no children).

Although not all of us will be happy earning just enough to get by, saving and investment our income (and curbing unnecessary expenses) is something we all can and should do. Even if an early retirement is not your goal, following Ferstenou‘s example will most definitely help you live a more comfortable life.