Share net worth or not

Sharing net worth is a thing in the FIRE community.

I do not share net worth for several reasons. First reason is privacy. While Auntie is anonymous, Auntie’s friends do read my blog and I have no interest in sharing my net worth with them. The Singapore community is also rather small and it is not impossible for my identity to be discovered. I don’t really fancy having my net worth splashed about.

The next reason which to me is the more important one is I wish to encourage, not discourage. I have seen net worth update where the blogger gloats about their net worth increases. How is that supposed to help others persist in their FI efforts? Privately, I do share my net worth with a small group of like-minded friends. I am beginning to reconsider doing this as it seems to discourage rather than encourage them because the numbers seem so unattainable to them. I have to remind them that a) I started this much earlier than they did, and b) I am older than they are and hence have more ammunition.

Finally, I prefer to focus on the process, not the result. The results change day by day because of market movements, so it’s an unreliable indication that you’re doing things right. The process, however, is what gets you there. The focus on the numbers ignores the more important part of the FI process which is how you are living your life to reach FI. It does not tell the full FI story. The real story are the boring things FIRE people do, like setting aside money for investments, choosing investment channels, and waiting.

I am aware however that specific numbers catch attention and can increase traffic to my blog. Well, my goal of running this blog is to give me a canvas to put my thoughts down. It’s a bonus that there are people actually interested in reading what Auntie has to say!

Great Ocean Road
Share net worth or not

Trying to increase protein intake is hard!

So Auntie is at the age when women are losing muscles faster than they are building them – if you don’t do anything about it. My mom is a classic example – at 73 she has already fallen a few times and broke her bones because of lack of strength and balance. I’ve been trying to get her to increase her movement but she plainly refuses to even touch the exercise band I got her. Tearing my hair out.

Observing her convinced Auntie that to avoid this fate, we women must start building our muscular strength and reserves while we can. However, exercise needs to be supplemented by diet, and Auntie has been on a quest to increase my protein intake. With menopause imminent, higher protein intake is even more important to maintain our muscle mass.

There are several calculators and methods to determine how much protein one should take. You should also take into account the calorific intake for your level of activity to determine the amount of protein, carbs, and fat (also called macros) respectively. Because Auntie is by nature lazy, I set for myself a calorie limit (which I observe but not strictly) and determine the % split between the macros (40C, 30P, 30F). This works out to a certain number of grams of protein that one should take to meet the target.

My coach Daphne also did a quick calculation for me, and suggested that to meet my protein target, I need to eat the following per day:

2 whole pieces of chicken thigh 
2 whole pieces of leaner chicken cuts like breast or fillets OR approx. 2-300g of fish
1 scoop of protein
2-3 eggs 

THAT’S A LOT OF FOOD – was my initial reaction. Followed by – I DON’T THINK I HAVE THE STOMACH SPACE FOR CARBS LEFT.

Daphne also asked me to start tracking my macros to see how I do daily. So I am using MyFitnessPal to track my major food intake (I exclude stuff like pepper, soya sauce, black coffee etc).

It’s been about 3 days of tracking and my findings are as follows:

  • My usual diet is very high in carbs and fat even when I’m consciously trying to increase my protein intake (by having protein drink + 2 eggs for breakfast and a meat-heavy lunch)
  • Hawker centre food has a lot of fat – not surprising but still shocking
  • Pasta is very carb-dense – again, not surprising but it means I need to cut down on the portions or even rethink using it as a staple
  • Otah has a lot of saturated fat *cue crying*
  • I need to relook at some of my staple dishes and think of new dishes to cook *groan*

Change of routine and habit is the toughest part of this exercise. I have to reconsider my entrenched habits to reach my goals. For example, my usual way of making steel cut oats, while very healthy, is not protein-rich enough. I will need to add some protein to the dish to increase the protein %.

If you are a women of a certain age, this might be something you need to look into soon. Remember – protein builds muscles and muscles are needed to remain mobile and strong.

Wish Auntie luck and perseverence!

Trying to increase protein intake is hard!

Work break – sabbatical?

Auntie has been on a proper work break for about 2 weeks now. It’s been quite peaceful and I’ve been able to get some good rest in the midst of the semi-lockdown anger in Singapore.

This is not the first “work break” that auntie took. About 3 years ago, auntie left a highly stressful job with no job lined up. At that time, I thought that I would enjoy a few months of doing nothing except relaxing and exercise. The reality turned out to be quite different.

Month 1 – Bliss. Went for exercise sessions (free), met up with friends, throwing in a few job applications here and there.

Month 2 – Somewhat blissful. Continued with what I was doing. Running out of friends to meet up with.

Month 3 – Getting panicky with little success in job applications. Watching my reserves dip.

Month 4 – Full on panic. Cue panic attacks and periodic crying.

On looking back, I think there are a few reasons why Auntie’s first work break turned out the way it did:

  1. No plan – I had no idea what I was hoping to achieve other than to get away from the stressful job as soon as I could.
  2. No structure – Even though I tried to impose some kind of a structure through scheduling workouts, I didn’t have a good daily structure to keep me in tune with time.
  3. No goals – I did not have anything specific I set out to achieve. It made me feel quite aimless and not know what I was supposed to look forward to.

Luckily, by the end of Month 4, Auntie managed to score a contract job that saved my sanity. From this experience, Auntie truly understood the saying “an idle mind is a devil’s playground”!

This time round, how will Auntie hope to do things differently?

I’m hoping to make this work break a proper sabbatical – instead of “an undefined time between leaving a job and hoping to score the next one.” To do so I am setting out some goals I hope to achieve:

  1. Embark on and complete an English teacher course – this is something that has been at the back of my mind for years. I don’t know what I can do with it, but my hope is I can attain skills and experience in helping children acquire English skills
    The course is going to cost me a fair chunk of money so I need to look for ways to fund it. The good thing about the course is that the school apparently does provide assistance to graduates in securing assignments. I’m attending an information session on this course so let’s see.
  2. Embark on and complete a Digital Marketing course – I am concurrently applying for a Digital Marketing course that’s being offered by the Singapore Government. If accepted, it will be a 6-month course and comes with a stipend.
    Between (1) and (2), I am hoping to score (2). But competition is stiff so there is no guarantee I will get a place.
  3. Continue with my structured, three-times-weekly strength training – Strength training has become an essential part of my life. My blood work improved tremendously after starting it, and so has my mental health.
  4. Walking daily with Mr Auntie – So far, little success as I’ve been wiped out from my strength training. But it’s something I am still aspiring to!

I can’t predict if my coping with this work break will be different this time – after all, you can’t really predict human psychology. I only hope I will make better use of the time I have this time round and feel that my time is well-spent.

If anyone has tips on having a fulfilling sabbatical, please share with me!

Here’s Auntie doing a 60kg trap bar deadlift.
Work break – sabbatical?

1H 2021 review

Auntie is not one for dwelling too much in the past but it’s nice to look back at what one has achieved in what is a really unpredictable environment.

Job – Auntie was made redundant! Yes this is unfortunate but fortunately I’m financially prepared for it. I did a quick calculation and concluded that if I am very disciplined with my spending, I can depend on my cash investments for LEANfire.

I also have a healthy cash balance which I will supplement with the redundancy payout so I can let the investments grow a bit more in the meantime. Hopefully, I will land another job soon and restart my accumulation.

Investments – A pleasant surprise was when I discovered a long-forgotten investment account. Free money (even though the money is actually mine)! I terminated the investments and intend to divert the cash to Vanguard funds. So I actually met my investment objectives for the year by June already. For the Singapore portion (SRS), the redundancy payment will meet that. It is good for lowering income tax so I do try to meet the maximum contribution every year.

Health – Doing what I can! I have been going for regular strength training at Strength Avenue and I am definitely making progress. Now that I have more time, I will be increasing the number of sessions to two per week. I am trying to adopt Ramit Sethi’s adage: “Spend extravagantly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.” Health to me is so important and hence I have decided to put priority financially on this.

Couple of bells

I’ve also starting taking morning walks with Mr Auntie around the neighbourhood. Mr Auntie started his morning walk routine after his retirement. He got a fitness tracker from his colleagues for his retirement and he’s quite focused on clocking up the steps! I’m quite pleased as I’ve been hoping to get him to exercise more. Hopefully, he will join me in the gym eventually.

I’m also making adjustments to my diet to increase the amount of protein in my diet. At my age it’s really important to have more protein to halt muscle loss (sarcopenia)! I’m starting with taking protein drinks for breakfast and I might need to supplement it with post-dinner protein as well. I’m already cooking dinner quite often but I’m hoping to increase my repertoire of high-protein dinners. I have to say – the frozen donburi packs from Don Don Donki are really handy for a quick and healthy dinner! It’s $5 per pack which means I can make a dinner for 2 for about $13. I suppose I can look into making it from scratch to bring the cost down even further.

Covid-19 – The impact of Covid-19 is mostly mental. I had a hard time coping when Singapore went into its first lockdown in 2020. It brought some underlying issues up to the open and I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to deal with. To cut a long story short, I am getting some mental health help and it’s been great so far. It does cost quite a fair bit as I’m going through the private healthcare route but again it’s something I will have to budget for.

So that’s it for the 1H review. For the next half my targets are modest:

  1. Stick with my spending budget
  2. Continue with twice-weekly strength training and supplement it with additional training
  3. Take daily morning walks with Mr Auntie
  4. Complete the “The Science Of Well-being” course on Coursera
  5. Start and follow through a TESOL course
  6. Start and complete the Girls Gone Strong Women’s Coaching Specialist Certification

The TESOL and GGS courses are to prepare for the next stage of my career. I’ve always wanted to teach English as I travel as part of my retirement plan. I also want to inspire older women to take up strength training as part of their exercise plan, using myself as an example. Both will involve an initial outlay so it is a challenge for me to not be obsessed with the cost but focus on my objectives.

The unspoken goal is of course to land another job, but this is pretty much beyond my control. I’ll do my best nonetheless!

1H 2021 review

Partnership in FIRE

Auntie hasn’t talked about Mr Auntie at all because he is a very private person. But this week is important to him as it will be his last week of working – he has reached FIRE! It’s a long and persistent journey for him with several detours. But he has finally reached a point where he feels comfortable to leave full-time work.

Even though we share a household, Auntie and Mr Auntie are pursing our FIRE goals separately. We are aware of what each others’ goals are, but we plan to be self-sufficient in terms of finances when we FIRE. This doesn’t mean we are totally separate in terms of our finances – for instance, Mr Auntie does give Auntie an allowance to handle household expenses (ok it’s basically my rent money), and we do share expenses when we eat out or travel. But for the most part, our finances are totally separate.

From what I read in social media, separate finances seem to be quite rare in partnered households (as is separate surnames, but that’s for another topic). Auntie’s views about being self-sufficient in finances stems from my childhood. I grew up in an impoverished household where money was always short. Because my mother was not working, she was always dependent on my father for money. That stressed her out so much and she would take the stress out on us children. So I learnt from young that financial independence is so important.

That being said, my childhood also created a scarcity mindset that has been really hard to correct. Enjoying luxuries always come with guilt and I have to make special effort to try not to tie money to every decision I face. And there is always a heightened sense of uncertainty and insecurity. I feel I’m not ready to FIRE not because of the numbers but because I can never feel secure enough.

Mr Auntie is a bit different in this aspect. He bases his decisions on hard data and calculations, and decided that he has accumulated enough and it is time for him to FIRE. I support his decision even though it means he’s going to be home most of the time from now on. Maybe he can help with the cooking!

Partnership in FIRE

Strength training at a later age

Auntie started serious strength training just about 6 months ago. I got a shock when I received my bone density scan results (DEXA) and discovered that I had signs of osteopenia (low bone mass). I wasn’t even supposed to get a scan based on current recommendations – it was my mom’s fractures and osteoporosis that prompted me to get one.

I consider myself average in terms of activity – the usual office-based worker who visit the gym occasionally. I used to run marathons until I had to stop due to injuries. At the gym I would lift what I thought was heavy weights (for a woman) – 5 to 7 kg dumbbells – and squat 15kgs. My colleagues all thought I was very strong, and I did too. Little did I realise 5 – 7kgs just didn’t cut it for strength training.

The DEXA scan was a wake-up call that prompted me to look into strength training. Based on research from studies such as LIFTMOR, I knew I wanted barbell training because of the heavy load. I also wanted to have personal training due to my concerns about posture and injuries. After looking at a few women gyms, I decided to start training with a unisex gym, Strength Avenue, under Coach Daphne Loo.

Daphne may appear small and cute and love cats, but she’s a no-nonsense powerlifter in her own right. For my first session she made me lift 40kg which was the heaviest I ever lifted. A good coach is one that paints a possible but stretched outcome and pushes you to reach there. Daphne in her own way has been nudging me to reach beyond myself.

The supportive environment at Strength Avenue too is amazing. There are so many women powerlifters in the gym, and even though we don’t know each other, the younger women readily accepted aunties like me into the fold. The men too were respectful and supportive of the women lifters – none of the sexist and creepy behaviours you hear about in other mixed gender gyms.

I now train with my buddy Yogimeotini (LT). It’s great to have a workout buddy to whom you can be accountable for your own training. With Covid measures now in place in Singapore, gyms can no longer conduct indoor classes using shared equipment so Strength Avenue has switched to remote coaching. So mutual accountability is even more important now!

I will schedule another DEXA scan in another year or two to see if there’s any deterioration in terms of bone mass. As they say, for bone mass at middle age, “not losing is gaining”. If my training manages to build bone mass, I consider that a great success!

Strength training at a later age

Auntie featured on Latestarterfire!

So apparently there’s a category of FIRE folks called Late Starters – those who started the FIRE journey at a later part of their lives (40s or 50s). I first came across this term when I stumbled upon Latestarterfire’s blog – she is a FIRE blogger based in Melbourne who started her own FIRE journey in her 40s – very similar to Auntie!

I devoured her Late Starter to FI series and realised that I too am a late starter – I really started getting serious about FIRE in my 40s. My favourite Late Starter to FI story is actually Vinnie’s for the twists and turns in his life! Despite multiple setbacks, Vinnie always managed to bounce back and take action to improve his situation. I love Vinnie’s spirit!

I was really honoured when Latestarterfire approached me to talk about my own late starter FIRE journey. For the first time I am sharing some deeper motivations and factors in starting FIRE. My mom’s situation for example is something I’ve not talked about on my blog but is a huge driving force in much of what I do.

If you’re in your 40s, 50s, or 60s and am wondering if it’s too late to start FIREing, consider getting on Latestarterfire’s Action Plan. From what Auntie can see, it offers a simple and systematic for you to take stock of your current situation and work out a plan for you to start FIRE.

More importantly, know that you can FIRE even if you start late!

Here’s auntie staring at some balls at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
Auntie featured on Latestarterfire!

Paying off my mortgage is a financial mistake

But I don’t regret it!

Auntie lives in a 3-room government flat (apartment) in Singapore (65 sqm or around 700 sq ft). Because there are only 2 of us, the flat size is just nice. It even comes with a utility room so we use it to store our supplies and use it as a workshop of sorts.

I took out an 18-year mortgage when I bought the flat with the intention of paying it down fast. Every year, I put my bonus money into the mortgage.

(Yes I can imagine the stock market gurus cringing by now. More to come!)

Then I was made redundant.

Because of my years of service, I received a HUUUUUUUUUGE payout from the company. It’s huge. Six-figures.

At that time, auntie was still trying to figure out her financial shit together. I hadn’t really gotten my investment strategy figured out at that time. So what do I do with the money?

Pay off my mortgage.

Today, I know it’s a huge financial mistake. If I had put it into the stock market, I think auntie can have a nice nest egg of retirement funds by now. It should be able to fund my mortgage plus get some nice market gains during the huge market rise.

But I don’t regret it.

There’s no feeling better than knowing that even if you lost your earning ability, you’ll always have a home to come back to.

My 3-room flat is small and cramped but when I crawl into bed every night, I give thanks that it’s mine (technically, until the lease expires).

The decision matrix for me is psychological, not financial. Auntie was raised to be extremely risk-averse. This has an impact on not just how I deal with money but in other aspects like career and relationships. I would say there is a mix of benefit and cost for having such a psychology. Auntie managed to achieve a very high savings rate but didn’t dare to invest my savings for fear of losing it all.

You need to understand your own biases to understand how your thinking may be moving you forward or holding you back. Once auntie fully appreciated my own bias, it became easier to devote myself to my investment strategy instead of hold too much cash.

So would I have done it differently if I had realised my own bias then?

Quite likely yes. I might have extended my mortgage to the maximum tenure to reduce the monthly mortgage. Then put the freed up cash into the market.

But as I said, I don’t regret my decision. What’s done is done and I’m quite happy to be free of a mortgage. I feel lucky to have had that option.

If you are facing this conundrum yourself, learn to recognise your own bias to understand why you might be preferring one option over another. Ultimately, the right decision is one that makes sense to you.

Coming up soon – why auntie advocates not using CPF to pay for your flat.

Paying off my mortgage is a financial mistake

Endowment, ILPs… why insurance-based policies suck (probably)

Auntie was a young lass just coming out of university when she sat down with an insurance agent to talk about her insurance needs.

The product being discussed was an investment-linked policy. How it works is – you pay your regular premium, part of the premium goes to insurance and part of it goes to a fund run by the insurance company.

That’s basically what the product was. But then, I was young, gullible, and ignorant. The product was presented as a growth investment with potential for high returns but it also comes with critical illness protection. For someone who was about to embark on her career, that was the perfect solution.

It was only much later that I found out how much the agent made from selling such a policy. Basically, 2.5 years of my premiums went into his pocket.

20 years after getting the policy, I cancelled it. I think I made about 5% from my “investment”.

Let auntie give you the no-nonsense lowdown on why ILPs suck and why you should (probably) not combine insurance and investments:

  1. The fees are worse that what you’re paying for unit trusts, which are horrible enough. These front-loaded fees take off substantial portions of your “investments” as commission to the agent, and you basically waste that time that could have been invested elsewhere
  2. You are limited by the fund manager the insurance company works with. You can’t choose the fund manager, only the type of funds
  3. How the premium you paid is split between investment and insurance is often not transparent. At least, auntie wasn’t told!
  4. The insurance portion will escalate (the premiums) as you age so more of your regular premiums go into the insurance portion, and less of the investment portion, very often without you realising

So are there any good reasons why you should still consider ILPs?

.

.

.

NONE.

During auntie’s salad days of working, there were very few investment vehicles available in Singapore. It was basically shares in the local stock and unit trusts. Online brokers were just emerging and the whole landscape was evolving. ILPs seemed like a fail-safe way to handle both investments and insurance.

Today, there are so many options for investments. You can even use local brokers to do it, no need to worry about putting your money with some US-based brokers and wondering if you can get your money back. Auntie uses DBS Vickers and Fundsupermart for her international portion of her Couch Potato Strategy.

In short, if you want to invest, there are better ways to do so than through insurance companies.

And if you need insurance, pick the ones you need, not the ones insurance companies push to you. For auntie, who has elderly dependents but no kids, the answer is term insurance.

Auntie’s rule of thumb is: don’t combine insurance with investment when you can get better value doing them separately.

+++


DISCLAIMER!

Auntie realises that I could be a bit outdated in my knowledge of the insurance landscape, so I have made an appointment with an insurance agent to learn more about endowment policies. Stay tuned!

Endowment, ILPs… why insurance-based policies suck (probably)

Crypto

Disclaimer: Auntie knows very little about crypto.

Does auntie own crypto?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA. Yes.

Auntie has a veeeeery small percentage of money in crypto. People say invest in money you can afford to lose in the stock market. I say this advice is 1,000 times more relevant in crypto, because prices in crypto can move by that much. Literally. Let me share auntie’s experience.

So auntie decided to put $50 play money into BTC and ETH, each. That was 2 or 3 years ago. Guess how much that $100 is today.

BTC – $400

ETH – $1,000

Does auntie regret not putting in more money into crypto? HELL NO.

Let’s take a step back on what this whole cryptocurrency thing is about. What is it? It’s apparently some software meant to… do something about some ledger and whatever. AUNTIE DOESN’T CARE SO NO NEED TO PREACH TO ME (what’s with crypto heads who keep trying to convert people…) The fact is, there is no product being made and no service being rendered. It’s just a string of code.

Is it of value to anyone? Probably yes, that’s why they were created in the first place. Are they all valuable? You tell me. Right now Dogecoin is up several thousand times. It’s a joke coin. Even their creators say it was created as a joke. It’s such a joke that auntie has $50 in it for a laugh. But the value is up because some billionaire decided to hype it up before his SNL appearance.

It doesn’t make sense, but there it is. Hence auntie has some money in it. I’ll keep the money there to see how ridiculous it can get and throw some loose change at it occasionally. But my main investments will still be the stock market.

Sure thing, tout 100X returns to me. All power to you. But I can sleep tight knowing that while the stock market climbs excruciatingly slowly in comparison, it doesn’t swing 20% one week to the next.

That being said, auntie has been laughing every time I check my Dogecoin holdings. The fact that people put value into this coin is a literal joke. Quite worth the amusement for $50.

Crypto