As of right now, we’re one-third into the year of 2020 and it is amazing how time flies. I’m among the population who continues to commute to work on a fairly regular basis, due to the nature of work I’m doing. And yes, super-busy (12-hr shifts some days) so please, spare me if I’m not “learning something new” while stuck at home. Warning – this is rather a long post.
To me, there are three categories of employment that I would never do during semi-retirement because of the stress, pressure and obligations : medical (I was a medic during SARS era), payments (need to be timely, and 1-cent rounding error urgh) and what I’m doing now (another story for another time).
One thing I’d like to state upfront is that I’m most definitely a generalist, which explains the diverse range of interests e.g. investments, retirement, budgeting, crypto, miles, travel etc that I have and write about. If you were to ask me what core-skills are good to have as a modern-day human regardless of our job, it would be : IT savvy-ness + medical awareness + personal finance + cooking + handyman. We generalists are very adaptable to change! Follow The Woke Salaryman (they drew the awesome comic series) if you haven’t :
The current situation (oh yes, we can officially call it this) has upended the world and how we live our lives, but some things never change. The knowledge we have, and the (hopefully positive) habits that we have inculcated over the years. I wanted to write a bit about the impact of working from home vs the resilience of the personal finance skill-sets, in particular how it relates to me.
Hard work is not an ingredient of success
Hardwork is not an ingredient, but THE pre-requisite. Everyone can put in hard work because there are no barriers to entry, and it isn’t something intangible like talent or flair, because either you have it, or you don’t. When it comes to hard work? There is no reason not to do it. That is why to me, it is a pre-requisite.
Remember this income chart and my down periods from 2014 to 2016? Paid work is basically exchanging our time for money. Part-time work, for example, is great for early phase of building up capital but not recommended for long-term execution because you can’t scale. Although my income from employment was low, I was investing my non-work time into building up my skill sets.
I would wake up early around 6am-ish, take free train rides to my office area, find a nice place to have ($3 McDonald’s) breakfast and spend time reading news about current affairs, learning blogs about investments (at first it doesn’t make sense but keep going) and personal finance, plus writing down ideas for building alternative income etc.
Hard work is what we put in that people don’t see. We are still who we are. It also presents to us the chance to become a better version of who we are.
Budgeting for our new way of life
I will be super honest to report that my monthly budget (read link for details) hasn’t really changed much. Considering that it has already been stripped down to its basics at the start of 2020, what else could have changed? Let’s take a look at a few categories that are expected to see some changes, which expectedly dealt with everyday costs.
- Monthly Food (and Misc) – Expected to go up due to my wife who is working from home (100%) and myself (40%). We have never been too big on cooking, so we have been ordering food deliveries far more often. Hehe.
- Home Bills – Expected to go up (pre-rebates) too, due to utilities bills.
- Grab / Gojek – Zero yippee. Divert this to food category.
- Bus / MRT – Reduced due to less commuting days. Divert this to food category.
Most of my budget categories function as buckets. Even when expenses (such as travel) are not incurred this month, eventually they would be used .. which is why my budgets haven’t changed much.
I’m blessed to say that I haven’t really been impacted by the current situation due to the essential services classification. Accompanied with the fact that I have minimal golden handcuffs (condo, car, children) to take care of, I’m doing relatively OK. My only dependents (and worry) are my parents, and I’m making sure to continue to support them monetarily for a stress-free retirement.
Strengthening alternative income sources
Early in the year, the signs were beginning to show. The impending tsunami was about to hit and I put in more effort to strengthen the foundations of my alternative income streams. When I say alternative income, it basically refers to all forms of income that is non-employment e.g. dividends, blogging, side-hustles, crypto etc.
On the blogging side, I was working my ass off to make an attempt to qualify for Mediavine. If you have come across my posts on blogging, those are fairly basic in nature but this blog income research report (credit to Brandon for the infographic below) is the A4-paper cheat sheet for advanced folks that you can bring in for your exams. Important information to know at the back of our minds, but most of the time we don’t even need to refer to it.
There are MANY ad networks but basically, a cookie-cutter progression looks like this :
- Google AdSense
- Monumetric (10,000 page views)
- Mediavine (25,000 sessions)
- AdThrive (100,000 page views)
Long-story-short, I made it and joined Mediavine. Relied on a few-open secrets for the Singapore personal finance scene to ramp up organic blog traffic from end-2019 to start-2020. By end of February, I was making 35,634 sessions and easily exceeded the application requirements, which was to have 25,000 sessions per month at the point of application.
Applying early turned out to be a wise move, because what happened came hard and fast, affecting blog traffic/RPM. Would like to add that the support and step-by-step guide from Mediavine was awesome, and I will probably come up with a post in future on how I made the switch from Monumetric to Mediavine. On 26 April 2020, I officially joined Mediavine 🙂
On the affiliates front, if you have been reading Brandon’s blog income report (yes, I know, it is extremely long), you would have known that 100% of top bloggers have some sort of online courses that they sell. Learn to identify these big fishes who treat blogging as a business and be aware of their agenda and motives when they write.
On the other hand, I am a small-fry hobbyist blogger that doesn’t focus on a specific niche (this is bad, won’t make much money, don’t be like me). Like I have mentioned, I’m a generalist and have very diverse interests – I blog because it is fun!
Plus, I still see my blog as a hobby and not a business. At this point, at least. Which is why I only dabble in simple affiliate/referral links for services that I am already using. I can touch my heart and say, these products have worked for me and I’m happy to keep paying in order to use them.
Keeping calm and staying invested
When the stock market began to tank, I invested a portion of my money that I have set aside for situations like these. You may have seen some of these previous blog posts.
In addition, I have also increased the amount of AutoWealth investments that I’m making to take advantage of the lower prices all the way till November. You can see from my StocksCafe 1-year chart below that my index investments pretty much mirror the Vanguard World ETF (VT), albeit a very much less volatile version of it. This is due to bonds in my portfolio.
By the way, I’m running a free StocksCafe 1-year plan giveaway. To get your own fanciful charts and data, all you need is to enter your email address. More details inside the link. Otherwise, sign up via my referral link for a free 3-months trial! (worth $14.70)
Building the foundations of slow FIRE via CPF
Absolutely nothing stops the CPF engine from chugging along, once it has reached a substantial amount of balance to be self-sustaining. I used to keep track closely of the CPF retirement sums on an annual basis because because it was my goal to hit the target.
- 2020 : $181,000
- 2021 : $186,000
- 2022 : $192,000
Pretty lame but I just searched my own blog because I forgot the numbers. Is that why people keep googling for these terms like CPF FRS 2020/2021/2022? My situation is pretty unique because of where my CPF money lies in.
- CPF-OA : depletes @ $340 monthly
- CPF-SA :
- CPF RA (Mum) : depletes @ $150 monthly
These four accounts add up to the grand total of my retirement money that I won’t be able to touch, which is perfectly fine for now. A quick recap that I will be 38 this year, which means there is 17 years until the amount in excess of Full Retirement Sum (FRS) can be withdrawn, after which the payout will start at whichever specified payout age (65 now) governed by policy in future.
The idea behind slow financial independence, retire early (FIRE) manifests in different ways. The Fioneers has a nice write-up on it and pretty much coined the term slow FIRE. By quickly squirreling away enough money (in our case, the CPF) to retire at the traditional age, we can now/soon/eventually choose to work part time, work for a portion of the year, choose work that pay less, choose a permanent work-from-home i.e. digital nomad setup, splurge a little, etc.
Increasing crypto income
Having slowly build up a small but moon-shot position in crypto over the past two years, whatever that aren’t residing in cold storage I’ve put them to work in generating crypto income. And yes, crypto isn’t magic internet money as you can see.
Instead of adopting a dividend-reinvestment strategy, April 2020 is the first month that I’m cashing out some of my crypto income from various sources.
- BlockFi interest : ETH, USDC
- Crypto.com staking : BTC, MCO
- Cosmostation staking : ATOM
I would like to add that a significant percentage of MCO income currently comes from rebates for Spotify (100%), Netflix (100%), groceries (10%) and food deliveries (10%). Nevertheless, I would not recommend it for crypto newbies as there are some concepts to grasp before truly understanding how it works.
Basically, I funnel all crypto income into my Crypto.com Android wallet app, convert them to MCO and use it to top-up my metal card. Each top-up is a minimum of 4.5 MCO which is around S$33 at current prices. Just this month, I have earned three top-ups of $33 plus $59 today, which comes to a total of $158 for the month of April.
How’s that for diversifying alternative income? Considering that the wave of job cuts has hit many people hard, I see first-hand for myself the diverse demographics of food delivery folks. Taxi uncles. Aunties on actual mobility devices. A mom with a toddler strapped to her. The young and the old. The ladies and the gentlemen. Simply incredible.
This is why I have begun tipping GrabFood delivery folks for all my orders, especially when Crypto.com is giving a flat 10% rebate for food deliveries. Might as well pass on the rebates to the people who need it more.
The government gave us $600 each. For some of us who are doing OK, we are donating the money or putting it to better use. Remember the multiplier effect from Economics 101 – the increase in final income arising from any new injection of spending.
Making liquid assets work harder
After I learnt about the SingLife 2.5% account, I deposited $500 and then more money into it. Pretty straight-forward to use it, actually. I also asked the support whether the account is capital guaranteed – they said yes, I screenshot for safekeeping. So there’s that.
In times of crisis, it is always a good idea to hold on to cash and liquid assets, just in case. This doesn’t mean that they should be idling. Just 2.5% on $5,000 is another whooping $10 per month!
Free trial of geo-arbitrage ideas
The currently enforced situation of working from home has turned out to be an excellent opportunity to test out the lifestyle of remote-working aka digital nomad. For quite a few years, I have toyed with the idea of stretching our Singapore dollars by relocating to a place that can offer us more, for less.
I definitely have no problems with the social aspect because I’m an introvert anyway. Besides, online communication and our newly acquired skills in web-conferencing will serve us well. Without kids, it’s just gonna be my wife and myself.
Infrastructure wise, as long as we have high-speed internet and air-conditioning, all is good. Having food-delivery options and good coffee would be a huge plus.
The number one worry is definitely going to be family, because now with the circuit breaker in place, I do find myself worrying over my parents’ needs. Monetarily, there is no issue because we are giving them allowance + rental income + CPF payouts. The concern is more likely to be in the social and emotional department, but seeing that they are busying themselves helping out with my brother’s kids – they won’t be bored, that’s for sure!
What would probably be lacking are also the two key areas – healthcare and security. With the pseudo-lockdown i.e. circuit breaker in place, I would imagine these two aspects to be important areas to take note of. Having a trusted local liaison/partner/friend would definitely be a huge advantage.
To summarise, I can definitely see myself living in a neighbouring country, even if it is for a month or two to test out the arrangement if there comes a day when we have to put it into practice. For this, I’m thankful for the current situation which forces us to learn about things we have been putting off.
To conclude ..
This post has turned out to be slightly longer (2,700 words) than what I had expected. This simply meant that personal finance is intertwined into so much of our lives.
I can count my blessings that I’m handling the current crisis well without being dealt a bad hand. While I try my best to help those in need, at the same time I’m maintaining a high level of awareness of what is happening around us in order to make the appropriate response.
For this, I’m thankful for the generalist in me and hope that this little sharing can shed some light into how I can handling the work-from-home situation. The neurons in my brain will continue to fire constantly and pick up new ideas, perhaps from the nagging fear due to the lack of financial security.
A black swan event like this can potentially wipe out years of efforts and there is nothing we can do about it. But resilience – yes, this is something that we can build up. Stay safe, stay positive.