S$900 000 In Debt: A Story Of Financial Mistakes & Recovery [Chills 44.2 with Adrian]
“Would you prefer to be in a lot of debt but have two cars or would you prefer to have just a bicycle but be financially free?” This is what Adrian challenges us to think about in Part Two of his debt story (read Part One here: https://bit.ly/3Dvjzrv) as he shares how his family went through this difficult period with him, interesting strategies he used to stop himself from buying ‘shiny new things’ and the valuable lessons he learnt about money & personal finance.
Chills 44.2 provides nuggets of financial wisdom that Adrian has acquired from his experience with debt. From changing his view about luxury products to introducing financial planning early to his 4 children, there is definitely something for us to think about in this episode.
Andrew: This is Part Two of Adrian’s story. In our last episode, Adrian shared about how he got into S$900 000 in debt and his experience with Credit Counselling Singapore. In this episode, we talk about how he curbed his desire to buy shiny new things and how does the whole family, including his four young children, come together to overcome the challenges?
Expand Full Transcript
Hello, my name is Andrew, and welcome to another Chills with TFC episode. In this series, we talk to interesting people with relevant experience and insights to help us learn from their perspectives so that we can create the life we love and manage our finances as well.
Talking about managing finances, Adrian is back to share his story about how he’s getting out of debt. You can check out our previous episode if you haven’t. Once again, let’s hear from Adrian!
Did you invest apart from the ICO (Initial Coin Offering)? Did you do other forms of investment?
Adrian: Honestly, my investment… the traditional kind of investment only took place very, very recently even though I was involved in the stockbroking industry before even my first business, but I never really enjoyed it.
When I was dealing with the customer side, seeing how they make and lose money every day, it gave me a bit of phobia. It’s only recently when, you have all the Tiger Brokers, the Moomoo (Trading Platforms) and all that come (into) the picture, and you realize it’s so much easier to use, because (when) you look at all the other apps, it is very hard to figure them out. You need to go through a manual and all that, but the more modern one it’s really very easy. And I felt that it’s also timely for me to start building up and catch up on what I’ve missed out.
Because if I started 10, 20 years ago, it would definitely be a different situation, but because I missed that I had to pay down my debt multiple times. Right now, I have started to look into all this, but because I need to do my catch-up over the past two decades, I would say a high percentage is very much on growth stock rather than your stable dividend stock.
Andrew: Right. The only form of investment that you did during this period of time paying down your debt will be the ICO, and is it accurate for me to say that it’s kind of driven by your desire to clear debt as soon as possible, more than you want to invest in it or (that) you believe in the potential of it?
Adrian: I would say it’s a combination of both. You want to make some, and also at the same time trying to resolve a situation much faster. So it’s because of that, I decided to put that 10k into play, which of course didn’t end up well.
Andrew: Okay. So during this period of time, I am picturing that it’s a whole family effort, and you’re mentioning that you have some luxuries in life, like travel and all that. Did it affect… maybe that you didn’t go for a trip with your children. How did they understand the situation that their Dad is in?
Adrian: I don’t think they actually…
Andrew: How many children by the way?
Adrian: I have 4.
Andrew: 4 kids.
Adrian: I don’t think they… I think they’re too young to understand the magnitude… maybe like my oldest one because he at least has a better sense of numbers. For my next younger ones, she’s still grasping with Mathematics…
Andrew: Oldest one how old?
Adrian: Oldest one is 13, (the others) 9, 8, and 5. And I think from their perspective as well… and as I shared earlier on, if I had honestly been very, very disciplined, I probably would be talking to you right now about wealth investment, not about paying down debt. It’s because I took a very non-disciplined approach, which also means along the journey, I continue to indulge, of course not to the extent of another 10k for ICO and another 10k for something else, but at least we still keep up with, I think, what we felt we wanted to do. So there were still holiday trips, there was still the enrichment and things like that. Which also means that, of course, on the debt paydown side, everything has to be stretched out in order to accommodate.
In hindsight, I think I will probably gravitate more towards the debt paydown aspect to try to continue to see where I can cut away certain things in life. But it is what it is. So that is how I took a rather long cut from where I was to where I am today.
Andrew: You mentioned that the biggest challenge is still shiny new things. You still went for some trips and provide the enrichment classes for your kids and all that. And even if you do go for those, like you will still… it doesn’t affect you as badly as the shiny new objects that you were talking about.
Adrian: Yes, and I think, of course we… I definitely had reduced a lot of stuff. There was a point in time where I think due to peer pressure and all that, I was buying expensive stuff: expensive shirts, expensive bag – I got a carry bag, which everywhere I go, people say, “Oh, that’s a very nice bag.” That bag cost me S$3,000. Was it worth it? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s worth it.
And right now, I sold off all this kind of stuff. It carries no significant value to me. I’ve actually seen how… I have ex-colleagues who always chased after the next Louis Vuitton, the next Gucci and I still continue to see how depressed they are. It’s just a very short-term fix. They get excited for the day: “Oh, I got a new Louis Vuitton”, then after a while they continued to be very depressed because they need to fix other aspects of their life. For them, the bag is just a distraction. It’s like when I was deep in debt, I go for smoke, I go for a drink. It doesn’t really help me. It just distract me from my situation.
So, same thing – all those kinds of stuff, we will cut away, and of course, other indulgent stuff where… we still needed a car, but it’s no longer that kind of Continental, petrol-drinking car that costs a lot of money. It’s just something that we believe is economical. We even recently renewed the COE (Certificate of Entitlement) just to continue driving it. If you asked me 10 years ago, would I renew? No, I changed car like almost (every) one or two years.
So those are small little habits that I think help me to reach my goal faster because every time you do such changes: change house, change car, change this and that, there’s always that migration cost that you never factor in. And also, every time you change, there may be some losses incurred as well. Like when we bought our first penthouse, as you remember, I think we bought it for $1.6 (million) and we sold it at $1.6 (million) and that was after four years. My wife was just telling me recently, the agent that we use to help us to sell the penthouse, he was telling us: “We recently got transaction. Same area, $2.2 (million).”
Andrew: Ah, okay.
Adrian: So it’s like …*disappointed noises*… but having said that, it was also not possible because…
Andrew: Back then, you needed to sell it?
Adrian: Correct. So I think it also drives across a point: If I had been in a better situation, I could have, I could be making the $2.2 (million).
Andrew: Could have held on… right time…
Adrian: Could have held on, yes. But because I stretched myself so thin, it’s not possible. There’s just so many liabilities, so many things coming to me at all different directions, and (as) what Warren Buffett said, you know: “Stock market is the transfer of wealth from the impatient to the patient.” I’m not exactly impatient, but I bobian, no choice, so that in a way made me impatient, so I just have to sell at whatever price that the market is asking for.
Andrew: You mentioned smoking as your distraction, and then you give your friend’s example about shopping for luxury goods. Some people travel, some people might gamble. What do you think it takes for someone to snap out of that? You mentioned that you have a certain detachment right now. You used to chase for those things as well, now you don’t. What was it that led to that realization?
Adrian: I don’t think it’s an overnight, significant Eureka moment. I do think… if I have to really pin it down, I think: Firstly, a lot of things that I did recently also helped me to become more self-aware. I think maybe age plays a part in that when you know that your mortality is coming closer and closer.
And at the same time, maybe also looking at the success of your friends who have taken the more intelligent path in wealth building to see where they are today; and then you measure against yourself and like, “Oh man, I wish I were them. If only I had done this and all that more intelligently.”
And the third thing, I think would be perhaps my intention… or currently a practice of meditation. I think that really helped me to be a bit more disciplined in many aspects which also helped me to quit smoking, reduce my caffeine intake, reduce my alcohol intake, which I guess to some extent, also apply to money… discipline as well.
Andrew: Could you share a bit more about how do you do your meditation? How much time per day or do you sit down there? What’s your form of meditation because it’s different for different people?
Adrian: I tried many. When I first started, I actually use an app called Headspace and honestly, I always felt meditation is a kumbaya, kind of bull**** kind of stuff. But then, I was at this stage in my life where I just needed something, so might as well, right?
And I remember reading in many books, like in Steve Job’s biography, he also meditate. So I was thinking: All these intelligent people, they cannot all be wrong, right? Why don’t I just give it a try? Headspace just came out into the market, so guided meditation is much more easier for you to pick up.
So I tried it, but after a while I stopped. I’m like, “I don’t feel anything leh.” I can’t remember why, but then I try again. I think it was because of some of the apps and I also went back to Headspace, I bought a subscription and try some other applications as well. In a little time, I felt a bit clearer… clarity of thought, and also a bit calmer as well.
Right now, I actually don’t use any guided meditation. I actually just do unguided so I just set a timer. I tried different timings. I tried 25 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes. Right now, I’m usually doing 15 minutes per day which I think is sufficient for me because I have other things in life, so I need to fit nicely into my schedule. So it’s just a daily practice of 15 minutes per day, over and above, of course, other stuff: gratitude, journaling and all that kind of stuff. So I can’t really say exactly, “Oh, all this is because of meditation”. I think it’s an accumulation of all this kind of daily, consistent practice.
Andrew: Okay. So it gives you the calmness, clarity. How would you describe the experience in helping… although it’s not all of it, but how would you describe the experience itself?
Adrian: I think one key aspect is I’m no longer so drawn into new shiny objects, so that really helped.
The next thing come… I remember many years ago, the next iPhone come right, I wouldn’t be the guy who queue overnight, but I probably will be the first few batch buying the new one. Now I’m like: “It’s okay leh, my phone still work. Yeah, it’s good enough. I don’t care.” I think that also gives me a sense of priority. If it works, why do you need a better processor and all that?
So all those kinds of detachment, I somewhat just let them go… all those kinds of attachment, sorry – I just let them go and it just frees up your mind to look at things which you believe are more important, which in my head will be things I experienced. If you ask me to spend more money on experience, I wouldn’t mind. But asking me to spend more money on the physical object, I would really think multiple times and eventually say no.
Andrew: When you say ‘experience’, maybe like a trip with your family? Do you mean that kind of experience?
Adrian: A trip with family, having…
Adrian: Yeah. I had a recent, actually not recent…a few months ago, a fishing trip with a group of friends. Honestly speaking, (with) the amount of money that we pay, I could have bought many fishes at a wet market but it was a very nice experience to go through: under the sun, on the boat, chit chatting, talking c**k with each other and then fishing – and I didn’t catch a single fish you know…
Andrew: Yeah, that’s why you could have just gone to the market…
Adrian: …the entire boat, everyone caught a fish, except me. But it was a really nice experience.
And these are stories that I would imagine when I come back, even years later, I can sit down with my kids, with my grandson, grandchild, to tell them: “Hey, you know ah, last time Ah Gong (Grandpa) did this… it was so fun and so on… (instead of) I sit down and tell them: “Hey, you know ah, last time Ah Gong bought this…
Adrian: ….Louis Vuitton bag ah… I bought iPhone 13 ah…” but by then he was like, oh, iPhone 50 already, they don’t even care.
Andrew: Alright, I’ll say that, there are so many triggers in our life, it’s not like a one-off incident that really made you detach your whole experience. I’m sure parts of us are still… we still like all those things, we like shiny new objects, but you’ve kind of tempered yourself a bit, and you’re able to pull yourself back, look at yourself, get detached from it and decide, “Do I really need it?” and then you make a decision, a conscious decision, from there. Would you describe it as that way?
Adrian: Yeah, I think to a large extent, yes. As I said, maybe it’s a bit of age, it’s a bit of awareness, reading up a bit more.
So for the longest time in my debt journey, I’ve read through so many books. I’ve read Ramit Sethi’s ‘I Will Teach You to Be Rich’, read Dave Ramsey and still a lot more. I can’t even recall some of them, but I think reading so many books actually does not amount to taking action. It’s like a lot of people: “Oh, I saw this white paper, I’m going to download”, but if you download, you have to read it. Just by downloading it, it means nothing.
Andrew: After you read it, you have to take action.
Adrian: Yeah, you have to take action. So taking action is the key important thing, even though each of them may be preaching different stuff, but there’s always a commonality. The commonality here, or the common denominator here, is “You got to take action”.
It doesn’t matter: debt snowball, debt avalanche, you take Dave Ramsey’s advice, you take Ramit Sethi’s advice, doesn’t matter. You just have to take action.
Andrew: Earlier on, you also mentioned that the arrival of your first child is when you start thinking about your situation and how to resolve it and get out of it. So how does the whole situation – it took several years – how did it affect your relationship with your kids in terms of teaching them about finances? You mentioned they are very young, right? 14 years old oldest…
Adrian: 14, 9, 8 and 5.
Adrian: Yeah, I think one merit that really come out of this is because of what I’ve gone through, I take a very proactive approach to tell them what I’m going through or what I was going through. I would actually list down on my… so I have a wardrobe and the wardrobe has a glass door. So I’ll take a whiteboard marker and write down, like: “I owe this one how much, I owe that one how much..”
Andrew: And then the five-year old: “What?” *laughs*
Adrian: “…How many more months to paydown”, that kind of stuff.
And every time they pass by, they will see. They won’t question because some of them are too young, but the oldest one will ask and he would even… sometimes when my younger kids want to buy something and is making a fuss about it, my oldest will actually point out that I still owe the bank, so-and-so…
Andrew: The oldest, a boy or girl?
Andrew: How will he say it to his younger siblings?
Adrian: He would just tell them that I still… I don’t have money, because I have to pay…
Andrew: “Papa don’t have money ah, so don’t keep so many toy ah”
Adrian: …still owe the bank… that kind of stuff which I mean on one hand, yes, I can be… of course I can feel ashamed and all that, but I think I’m just trying to take advantage of a situation. You know there’s a Chinese saying: “Any crisis is an opportunity”, so I use it as an opportunity to try to teach them in hope that they will not go through the same thing as I did.
For the second and third one ,we actually brought them to this financial training program for kids. I think they had some fun, but it’s really an ongoing process. Right now, what we are doing… what I’m doing is I will give them a monthly allowance instead and I’ll tell them, “Okay, this amount… I’ll help you put into your StashAway account.” Of course, it’s not their account, they’re not 18, I create and then can sub-account, so…
Andrew: “Papa will give you one day in future…”
Andrew: “if you’re listening to this podcast.”
Adrian: …the bulk of it, they have to allocate, how are they going to spend (it)? I will encourage them to, “Okay, maybe there’s a small amount we can use to buy something for your friend. You can donate…” and they’ll work it out. Sometimes they’ll work it out, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they may overspend, which happened a lot for my oldest kid. He will overbuy this. He will go for a super expensive lunch. He’ll buy all those digital cash for his latest game and then end up go hungry. A lot of times I have to tell myself, no, he has to go hungry.
Adrian: I mean it’s very tempting for me to just…
Andrew: “He can borrow.”
Adrian: He can borrow. I also loaned to him a few times but this is the part where I think it’s a bit hard for parents to go through, but I think: End of the day, it is better for him to learn the lesson now and go hungry for a day or two rather than learn the lesson as a 25 year old adult when the bank or even worse, loanshark, may be chasing him down, trying to get the money back.
Andrew: Now the loan is from Papa, next time the loan is from people who really don’t care about you.
Andrew: I love the concept of a monthly allowance, instead of daily. As a kid, I just buy my meal and that’s it, I don’t have to plan. But as a monthly budget, then I have to start planning. I cannot eat too much on the first day and then don’t have enough on the 30th day, on the last day of the month. When they overspend, how do you have that conversation with them? Do you take into account: “Okay, how much do you spend, where do you spend?” How do you have this conversation? How do you teach them?
Adrian: Yeah, I’ll work out with them and sit down with them: “Okay, so how much is your food right now?” “Oh, so-and-so.” “So how much do you…”
Andrew: “I bought ice cream? I bought this…”
Adrian: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: “Then, therefore you don’t have enough.”
Adrian: So they may overspend, they may upsize, they may buy more stuff, and sometimes there may be some whims and fancies, especially depending on trends. They may… I realize a lot of, especially for boys, during P1/P2 days, (they) sure go through the phase of buying the ‘country eraser’.
Andrew: Okay, it’s still a thing?
Adrian: It’s still a thing, it’s still a thing. They will be spending money on a ‘country eraser’ and then some people may buy one box. Those are where all the money will go to, and because of that, they have to go hungry. It depends ultimately for each and every one of them. My daughter, my second one, she will eat in canteen, so she will spend more money there. But my third one, who’s a son, he just eat from his snack box, he doesn’t go to the canteen, so he saves up more. You save up more, then okay, now you can spend whatever you want.
And the other thing that I try to tell myself is… it’s something that I also learned and this is primarily through Dave Ramsey is: You have to pay yourself first. After you pay yourself first, that means you pay down your obligation, your debt, and all that then the rest, you go and pay your maintenance, wherever you need to (pay).
For them, upfront from Day One, when I give them an allowance, I will tell them: “Okay, 20% go into StashAway. The rest is how you allocate, I don’t care. You want to spend every single dime on your latest toy, whatever it is, can. But you just have to be aware that you won’t have money for food, you won’t have money for anything else”, so on, so forth. So that is the kind of consequence that they have to live with.
Andrew: Do you see the different character that they have – how would you describe the way they approach money?
Adrian: I think for my… for most of them, I think they’re still going through that learning journey and you cannot expect them to learn how to do it correctly from day one. In fact, the intention is to create this sandbox environment for them to make mistakes.
Andrew: They should fail.
Adrian: Yeah, because it’s so much easier to learn from failure than to learn from success. As long as the failure is within your control, then it’s okay, because in the real world, it’s outside of your control.
Andrew: Okay. I just want to say that, I think it takes a big man with a big heart for you… you mentioned you have a whiteboard, you wrote down: How much did Papa owe, Papa owe this x amount to this bank and all that. I don’t have kids, but I can imagine how hard it is to let your kids…. it’s kind of like revealing a weakness of yourself, right?
I mean, you mentioned no shame and all that, but what do you think let you to have that kind of generosity and that willingness to just be open with your own family about it, with your own kids about it?
Adrian: I honestly have not seen it from that angle, but I think it’s just being very authentic. We’ve nothing to hide because if you also have things to hide from your family, then I think you have a larger problem that you need to deal with. There has to ultimately be a safe haven for you where you can just… okay, take out my mask, take away the makeup and then be the real you and I want my home to be the safe haven where we can talk about anything, we can be vulnerable, and we don’t have to pretend to be perfect, because honestly, none of us are perfect.
Of course you may seem perfect on your Facebook, Instagram, your LinkedIn, but truth of the matter is: A lot of things that is going on, people don’t talk about it, and you would just think that, “Oh, that person is leading a fantastic life” and all that. I guess I learned it through another incident. So when I… after I exited my first business, I was quite depressed because (I) lost my identity, do not know what to do and all that and I came across this event. I don’t think they have it anymore. It’s called ‘F**ked up Nights’.
Andrew: What? Okay…
Adrian: It originated from Mexico and then it just spread like wildfire, and (in) Singapore, there was an organizer organizing this event. Essentially, they would invite 4 entrepreneurs, primarily entrepreneurs, each of them will get 10 minutes to share about their f**ked up moments. I can’t remember how I got to know about it but I thought I find the concept interesting. So I went there, I think I went for a session… two or three, and I was listening to them, and again, it gave me that CCS (Credit Counselling Singapore) feeling, seeing that: “Woah, that guy screw up even worse than me”, and I actually felt a bit liberated. I’m not trying to say that my happiness hinges on their failure, but it just gives you a sense that, “Eh, actually I’m not alone.”
Andrew: Gives us some perspective.
Adrian: Yeah. It’s like… there’s an African saying: “If you want to run fast, you run alone. You want to run far, you run in a group”… something that I guess for people like myself who’ve been through army. Some of the army training, if you do alone, you sure go crazy one but if you do collectively, each of us… there’s this peer support.
I actually met up with the organizer and told her… I think her name is Angela: “Angela, can I volunteer to be a speaker in the next event?” And I actually did that, and in fact, the video is still somewhere on YouTube. I just found it and shared with someone recently… in which I shared about what I think I did wrongly during my business and it was so liberating, and over the event, because I really opened up myself, be vulnerable and all this. Many people actually approached me and some people even deliberately came for the event just to listen to me. Maybe to laugh at me, I don’t know. But I think…
Andrew: Then there’s someone else who: “Eh this guy is more f***ed up than me”
Adrian: Yeah, exactly. But I think: firstly, it made me feel better by just sharing it out there. There’s certain things you do not want to pent up inside and it also helped me to create a few new friendships and people that I, until today, still catch up with. I think that’s really great, and I think that also gave me the epiphany moment that maybe I should just be me.
Ever since then, honestly, I have tried… In fact, I dare say I’m quite an open book. When there was discussion about privacy on Facebook, Google… take your data and sell, to me, it doesn’t affect me. I mean, yes, they’re going to have more ads to sell to me, but I just don’t buy lor, I don’t click on the ads lor. Yeah, that’s it. So it just takes that… and also there’s a thing called adblocker so to me, I don’t really worry about that.
And importantly, I just be me, be the authentic me – (be) right about the things that work, right about all the missteps that I’ve taken, and I think all this really helped to galvanize your own community, and at the same time it would amplify the message you’re trying to share.
Andrew: So right from the start, you didn’t want to hide anything from your children, and when we were young, we think of our Dads as invulnerable, right? But I guess… I’m getting the sense that your openness and your willingness to be vulnerable is actually your biggest strength. I hope that that’s what your children are taking away from the example that you are showing them. You are literally living by example.
Adrian: I hope so too.
Andrew: So tell us about your current financial situation. Have you cleared the debt?
Adrian: I am probably about six hard months away to completing everything.
Andrew: It’s very near the end point!
Adrian: It’s very near, very near. In fact, again, if I’ve been more disciplined, I probably would be sharing a different story right now. I will be telling you six months ago…
Andrew: But it could have been worse. You could be saying 2 years.
Adrian: True, true but s**t happens, and then… but I am very definite this would be the next six months to go.
Andrew: Last lap already.
Adrian: Last lap… and also, even though while I’m doing this last lap, I’ve already started looking into getting into the stock market. I already got into the stock market with a small portfolio and starting to build on that. Of course, staying away from all the speculative stuff although I still have very, very small amount in crypto. Very, very small, it’s negligible.
But I think that the key thing right now is really just to look at something that is a bit more solid, more established. But of course, primarily it’s still very much in trying to chase up what I’ve lost over the past two decades. So it’d be looking at companies that can really 5X, 10X kind of thing and also trying to capture the right moment.
Andrew: So you’re looking at growth stocks. Earlier on, I did not ask about… when you make your payment, how much was it for principal and how much was it for interest, percentage wise? Do you remember?
Adrian: In terms of my net paydown… as of now, actually it is purely just on principal because my final plan which I took up was one of those… So sometimes, some of the banks, I don’t know, maybe they are just desperate for business. They give you super good terms and this one I got was on very good terms. Essentially, there’s just a one transaction fee, which come up (to) about a few hundred dollars, and then it is interest free for six months.
Andrew: Oh, okay. So this last six months is almost interest free, I would say, apart from that one time admin fee or something?
Andrew: Okay, percentage wise, in terms of allocation… right now, how would you describe how much is your expenditure, how much is your investing, how much is the repayment?
Adrian: Repayment right now in terms of… I think it’s probably like 30, 30-ish percent of my total income? And then of course you have all the maintenance, the expenses and all that. And also, I think about 5, 10% will go into the… well, you can call it emergency fund, but my emergency fund basically is my stock market fund, so…
Andrew: You’re ready to pull out from the stock market in the event of an emergency?
Adrian: Yeah, it’s very liquid. So yeah, that’s something that I’m building towards and also six months later, the 20, 30% will then go straight into the stock market for us to chase up.
Andrew: Okay. How long did it take for you from $900 000 debt to this last 6 months?
Adrian: I remember the $900k vividly because that happened during my… close to my exit from my first business and that was 2014-ish, early 2014 or maybe late 2013, around there, so since then lor.
Andrew: Seven, about seven years thereabouts, to get to where you’re at. While looking back, how do you feel right now? It’s been a journey, it’s seven years!
Adrian: Well, in hindsight, of course one would hope to accelerate that much faster. Seven years to go through that amount, I think it’s really too long a time, I took too much of a time and also a lot of missteps along the way – ICO, those kind of nonsense… but it is still, I feel, a good balance for me.
I think end of the day, it’s just to find the right lessons that one can learn from it, and try to share it forward and try to teach it forward to as many people as possible, which is why I am very open to appearing on this podcast to share more because in Singapore context, I know a lot of people are in debt, but they don’t really… honestly, it’s not something people want to talk about. Nobody will catch you up over beer and tell you “eh, let me tell you how much money I owe the bank.” No one is going to tell you that, but the truth is, people are (in debt).
And as I shared earlier on, Singaporeans owe a lot of unsecured loans and right now you have the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ phenomenon. Wah, that one is going to kill people even faster.
Andrew: Looking back at your whole journey, how would you describe your relationship with money right now?
Adrian: Money is somewhat like what people would say about fire: it can be a good servant, it can also be a master and kill you off so it is important for you to make sure that it works for you in a very intelligent way and I think it also helps one to understand, especially myself… yes, it (money) can help me to bring immediate joy, but (this) immediate joy (is) actually supported by the things that you have to give up in the future. For example, your retirement… maybe you want to buy a house in the future and all that. Those are the things you have to give up, because you want it now and now.
So those are things that I believe I have better clarity on, and moving forward… you know, right now, every time… if I come across certain things which somewhat just tempt me, let’s say, “Oh, a new laptop. I want to buy.” Actually I would ask myself, “Eh this laptop, $2,000… I can put into Apple stock.”
Andrew: You start thinking about the potential, right?
Adrian: Yes, you start thinking those kind of stuff and I think that would really be very helpful, because when you try to weigh things like that: “I could put (this money) into Tesla (stock) leh“, that would help you to really take a step back: “Do I really need this right now?”
Having said that, I did just buy a new laptop because I needed to use it, but (for) a lot of other stuff, you will go through that thought process and that becomes your checklist: “Do I need it now? Would this money be better in a(n) Apple stock?” Then that may help you to make a different…
Andrew: “Apple MacBook or Apple stock?”
Adrian: Haha yes, that’s correct.
Andrew: But of course, if you use your MacBook for work and it gives you more income then you have to value it differently. So when you say fire is a good master… good servant, but bad master, right? It sounds like it’s more of a neutral position, but do you feel any tinge of resentment (or) regret in your whole relationship with money?
Adrian: Well, my only regret is of course… didn’t amass enough (money) when I could, I mean, when I started my business and even at the corporate level because I was a co-founder, I was managing it for (the) longest time, a lot of company decisions on finance also came from me. Whatever bad financial literacy I had was also applied onto the company, which of course doesn’t really help it. If that hadn’t happened, then I think it would be a totally different situation right now.
I guess the relationship, I would say… it doesn’t really change much things, but it just give me the understanding as well as the awareness that every single decision that you make will ultimately lead you to a different consequence, especially when it comes to things like money where you would need.. especially in a place like Singapore, (it’s) like so expensive. Any small little decisions may compound and affect you in the longer term in a very bad way. You may see nothing of it… “okay la, just burn a few hundred here, a few thousand there” but all this actually compounds over time and it will really put you in a very different situation.
For those listeners that’s listening to this right now, I think it’s really about trying to make as many correct decisions as possible you can with money and that will help you to give you the sense of financial freedom that is needed. Maybe it’s not so much for me, but also I’ve seen this in many other people because for a period of time, I was actually in outplacement. I was trying to place unemployed PME (Professionals, Managers, Executives) back into the workforce.
Many of them struggled like crazy to get into the job market, which is okay, fine, because structural unemployment, etc. But a lot of them were not willing to really consider something else because they were financially strapped. They were in a situation where… “I need to finance my kids for university. I have a house, I have two cars”, this and that.
By looking at other people, it also gave me an understanding that: “Would you prefer to be in a lot of debt but have two cars or would you prefer to have just a bicycle but be financially free?” Because when you are financially free, you can choose to do anything you want and that is something that I’ve also really got a good awareness of and I think that is the key thing that everyone should work towards. Ultimately, financial freedom is not having a lot of money in your bank. Financial freedom is to have the ability to choose whatever you want to do with no negative consequence.
Andrew: I think this is a good place to wrap up this part of the conversation. It’s one hell of a journey. Thank you for being open. Thank you for sharing with us.
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I have last three questions for you. The first question is: What is one core life principle of yours?
Adrian: So I think core principle is really being true to yourself, not to lie to yourself, which I did many, many times over my past few decades, telling myself: “Ah, can be done lah, this can be done, that can be done…” but the reality just doesn’t gel with expectation. By being very pragmatic with what you can do, what you can achieve and what you truly are, I think that is one of the key life principle I want to bring across in my life.
Andrew: Okay. What is one piece of financial advice that you think should be shared more often?
Adrian: Oh yeah, this is something that I did not mention earlier on: doing budgeting. I think is one of the key things everyone should do. For the longest time, I’ve never done any budgeting. I always feel that aiya, it’s not something I want to confront. I don’t want to actually have a sense of how much I’m spending.
But when you sit down and you realize you have that budget in front of you, it’s so much easier to realize “Eh, actually I still have extra leh; (or) Eh, actually I’m spending too much here, too much there”, and I think that really helps. Trying to measure that in a very meaningful way, I think that will be very useful.
And just a very quick recommendation as well… no endorsement, but I’m using this application called Spendee, S-P-E-N-D-E-E. It can actually retrieve data from all the banks that you have… Singapore banks, and put it into one consolidated ledger. I actually update it every time I remember, once every few days and you can then look into your budget and see where you overspend.
I think that really helps me, and it also created a habit in me where even if I were to buy a $1 Straits Times (newspaper), I will also key into the app.
Adrian: That helped me to better understand where I stand.
Andrew: So everything that you spend on, you just pull up the app and record, right?
Adrian: If it’s manual (or) if it’s a cash transaction, I will key into the app…
Andrew: But credit card?
Adrian: Credit card, they can just pull up from the bank.
Andrew: Okay. So that’s one way of budgeting, using an app, I mean, there’s so many apps nowadays. Find one that works for you.
Andrew: Okay, my last question for you is: What is an area of your life that you are giving additional focus right now?
Adrian: Additional focus right now, I would say it’s really on the new way of doing content. I do a lot of writing, I do my own podcast as well and also most recently, I dabbled with YouTube. I’m really more interested in learning the behind the scenes, how to do editing. That aspect actually interests me a lot and that is something that I’m still trying to work on. I find it very fascinating and it helped me to better understand and also look at things in a very different light.
So right now, when I look at any other YouTube video, even movies, my mind will be like, “Oh, the camera angle is like that. Oh, they have an extra lighting there. Oh, the sound actually, they have to overdub again.” These are things that really helped me to better understand the science behind all this production and these are things that I’m pursuing right now.
Andrew: So you’re doing your own YouTube, podcast, right? Do you think… What’s driving you to do all these?
Adrian: It’s honestly out of interest. I started writing because I always enjoyed writing. I have friends who told me I wrote well although I didn’t think I did. After my first exit, from my first business, I wanted to join a tech company. I wanted (to) join tech company because I was running a recruitment business and I realized recruitment business is a sales office. After dealing with salespeople over so many years, you don’t want to talk to people. Every one of them are like prima donna and all that. It’s very painful.
So I told myself, I just want to deal with technology. I interviewed at LinkedIn, Hired.com. I didn’t get the job and so I decided. Why don’t I just start writing express my interest in writing? So I did that, and over time, it just snowball. Then I created a HR tech market map and all that, and again, things just snowballed.
So right now, actually, if anyone were to talk about “Eh, who do I speak with on HR tech in Singapore?”, my name sure pop up one. Of course, that also led me to dabble with podcasts, for example, as well as currently YouTube. In fact, content was how I actually gotten my last two jobs. I did not even have to go to the open market to look out for it because people know my content, they know me and one thing led to another.
Andrew: Okay, alright. Thank you. Thank you for your time.
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