spare cash


The trigger was reading that the old £10 note has gone out of circulation. Then I realised that the old £5 notes expired in 2017. I looked in my drawer and I have both, eeek. Not a huge amount, added up to under £100. I also have a variety of different currencies, left over from travelling: eur, chf, dkk, jpy, krw, thb, sgd, aud, nzd, cad. Not sure when I’ll get a chance to return to those countries so I decided instead of keeping the spare cash at home, I should drop them off at the bank. I’ll keep £20 notes since they won’t go out of circulation till 2019. And usd because I go to the US most often.

Some currencies I can deposit directly into my multi-currency account and there won’t be a fee if I want to take it out next time. The smaller, rarer currencies the bank had to convert to local$ before depositing. They don’t have a real demand for accounts in dkk, for example. It took the poor cashier some time to handle the transactions, even though I’d already bundled different currencies, written down how many notes and the total. She still needed to officially count them and give me a deposit slip for each currency. All in all, I freed up a fair bit of space in my drawer and my bank balance went up by a tiny amount.

random finance

We met a friend of ours, P, for lunch at a Japanese restaurant he recommended. Good choice, the food was fresh and the location convenient for all. P said he bought a small apartment in the Ōta region of Tokyo, which is southwest of Tokyo towards Yokohama. So jealous!! I wonder if we can rent it from him for short visits.


We talked about current affairs, Brexit, property, where we like travelling to in Japan, and since he is a branch manager of a local bank, what investment products are good right now. He stayed on the conservative side, telling us about guarantee funds, life insurance based products, and mortgage funds. Have to do some reading on mortgage funds, not as familiar as I would like. I do know that they are supposed to be relatively low risk and generate returns a bit better than money market funds. They’re supposed to be more resistant to interest rate fluctuations–when interest rates are low, income from mortgages are low but underlying equities do well; when interest rates are high, equity markets tend to correct but mortgage funds have higher payments supporting it.

Red flags to watch out for in mortgage funds: where it invests, the type of underlying loans, entrance fee, exit fee, management fee, whether it pays all dividends or partial dividends.

My risk appetite is higher than this although I try to take a balanced approach. Anyway I should take a look at my investments, seeing how volatile the market has been this week. I’m not going to panic sell, because I’m not in need of any of those funds. But it may be a good opportunity to find some bargains.

what Ken Cheng thinks about the new pound coin

Dave’s funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe was awarded to Ken Cheng. The prize, now in its 10th year, is awarded to the best one-liner. Ken’s winning joke:

I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change

Ken studied at Cambridge and was a finalist in the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy award. Found an excerpt of his Fringe act. I thought it was…okay. I preferred his set at the NCA finals. Perhaps it’s the subject matter. Talking about ‘Chinese Comedian’ is not as funny as dissecting the phrase ‘Two Birds One Stone.’ The bit about laundry and the South African cricket team was funny, although it sounds funnier when delivered by a professional comedian.


Anyway, what’s up with the new pound coin. The specs, according to the Royal Mint:

  • 12-sided so easily recognisable
  • made from nickel-brass and nickel-plated alloy
  • has an image-like a hologram that changes from £ to 1 when viewed from different angles
  • very small lettering at the rims
  • grooves on alternate sides
  • a hidden security feature

The design combines the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle, and the Northern Irish shamrock which is pretty representative.

Reaction to the new coin seems to be mixed with most people, as Ken said, hating change. I think it’s quite cool, and if it stops conterfeiting, I’m all for it. I remember when the pound coin first came out and how people didn’t like how heavy it was. We’ve all gotten used to it. I checked my wallet and I have £6 in pound coins. Beyond October 2017 I’ll have to change them at a bank. Since it’s such a small amount, i may keep them as souvenir. I have some old 10p and 50p coins somewhere.

#74, #75 set aside money


Tasks #74 and 75 of 101.1001 are money related.

#74: put away $10 (or equivalent) for each goal achieved and #75: set aside $1 for each goal achieved and donate to charity. At first I started doing it, then I thought I’d just allocate a portion of my account at the end of the challenge for these. Interestingly I never thought about which currency. Local dollars? USD? AUD? Or even GBP / EUR?

Putting away $10 will give me $1010. I’m going to use this towards buying a new macbook later this year, when hopefully the new model comes out. I may get the new model or I may get a refurbished one year old model, depends on what’s available.

$101 for charity, but which charity? I have in mind two. Initially I thought of pAge drinking paper, which was #79 of this challenge. They’re no longer a non-profit and have set up a for profit company to distribute the book. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s still a very important cause, to make sure people in need get clean water.

I’ll probably end up giving to the charity mm helps out with, that deals with mental health issues. They are quite small scale and fairly new, so every little counts. She puts in a good deal of work so I want to show my support.

move to bond funds

In the spirit of “money doesn’t make you happy but it makes you less sad” I took a look at my bank account. There are these 3 investment funds I’ve had since forever, before I had enough money to open the account with my FA. A global growth fund, a European fund and a leisure fund focusing on hotels, airlines etc. Been sitting around for more than 15 years, it’s way past time to move them around a bit.


The rep at the bank recommended two funds, both mainly bond funds. One has a regional focus and one invests in finance corporate bonds (holdings include Citic, UBS, Westpac).

FA is also moving some of my GBP to UK bonds. I usually like sticking with global equities but I don’t have a sense of how the market is going, it’s too volatile lately. The idea of a little monthly income is appealing.

#76: make a will


Task #76 of 101.1001 is to make a will. This was a leftover from the 2007 challenge and something I should have done as soon as I bought the flat 20 years ago. It’s even more important now, with Papa gone.

I asked our neighbour, the same lawyer who did Papa’s will. He got it done quickly before I went on the US trip. I guess I could have written it myself, because it’s very simple but ah well. The will is now sitting safely in my filing cabinet. One fewer thing to worry about.

credit score


At the end of a week when $2tn (that’s 2 with 12 zeros after it) was wiped off the global markets I got an email, likely automated, from BoA about my FICO score. Probably not very good timing, BoA.

I never pay attention to my credit score, I know it’s a huge thing in the US. I remember my landlady doing a credit check when I started renting in Chicago and saying to me that she found records from New York. I said, yeah that’s when I was in the US last. I put my car on a loan deliberately to get some credit history and I always pay my credit card bills in full.


This is the first time I’ve seen my credit score. From what I can gather, it’s a good score. It also comes with an explanation of the factors that affect the score. Since I’ve kept my US account and I use my credit card a) when I visit the US; and b) to buy books, I’m guessing the regular use makes the bank happy.

6 syngenta shares


So apparently I hold a grand total of 6 shares of Syngenta AG, the world’s largest crop chemical producer. I’m guessing, since the company was formed as a result of a merger between Novartis and Zeneca Agrochemicals, that somehow I got the shares by way of Astra when Astra merged with one of the former ICI companies to form AstraZeneca.

Why are the 6 shares relevant now? I got a 8-page letter from UBS telling me that this company CNAC Saturn (NL) B.V. has offered to purchase all outstanding registered shares of Syngenta AG, ie this CNAC wants to buy Syngenta.

There’s not a lot of googlable information. The best is on Syngenta‘s own website:

  • cash offer at US$465 per share plus special dividend of CHF5
  • proposed ordinary dividend of CHF11 to be paid in addition
  • offer equivalent to CHF480 per share
  • new shareholder will enable strategic continuity and long-term investment in innovation
  • future IPO intended
  • Syngenta will remain a global company headquartered in Switzerland

Does it mean I’ll get over US$2,000 for just 6 shares? I guess so, right? Wow. I’m not sure if I chose the right option, to take the tender in dollars rather than CHF. The offer is in USD, and since the news was announced, USD-CHF rates have fluctuated significantly, wiping billions off what the Swiss shareholders would receive. Yeah, I think it was best, to receive payment in the currency they are buying at. The question is, how will UBS handle the dollars? IIRC, my bog-standard personal account is not multi-currency. I only kept it so I can claim I have a Swiss bank account, albeit it’s the Switzerland equivalent of having a Lloyds or BoA account. Oh wait, I have those too.

no credit card


I was trying to pay all the Rates bills (parents’ flat, my flat, grandparents’ shops) that have accumulated online and got an error. Argh. Called card centre and found out there’d been some suspicious activity on my credit card. The bank had wisely rejected those but now the card is suspended. The customer service rep was helpful but a tad inexperienced / robotic, so it was tough to talk to her. Anyway, I’ll have to go to the bank tomorrow to change my address then have them send a new card.

In the meantime, no credit card. I only have one credit card per country, may be I should apply for a spare one.

my finances

I’ve been worrying about money. What will Mum and I live on? Do I need to go back to work (ugh)? Do I have to liquidate some assets? First order of business, get my flat on the rental market. The agent says nowadays tenants tend to negotiate hard and there are many time wasters. Sigh, see how it goes.

Saw my FA to sort out medical insurance and to make some tweaks so I’m more comfortable with my position.


I haven’t done a total finance calculation for a while so it was time to do one. I’m less worried. I still need to create an income stream so I’m not dipping into my savings and investments constantly.

running around day 2

I need to get a medical certificate for the marathon, so I booked an appointment for a health checkup. It’s high time I had a checkup anyway. I very rarely go to the doctor’s so I was a bit lost about what to do. Basically the routine is go from one location seeing one nurse or doctor or specialist after another: take BP, take history, physical examination, blood test, EKG, chest x-ray, cashier. Went from LG1 to LG2 to 5th floor to ground floor of a 5 wing hospital. Argh.

Some of the nurses and specialists were nice. The one nurse ‘in charge’ of me was especially great. The doctor who did the physical exam I didn’t like. Not only was he completely without expression, it seemed like he was going through the motions. Plus he wanted to charge me local $500 ($65) for signing a simple medical cert. The checkup nurse pulled me aside and advised me to take the report and go to a family doctor. Well, she actually said my family doctor but she wasn’t to know I almost never go to the doctor. I have been to one near mm a lot of years ago, or I can use my sis’ doctor. Let’s see.

By the end of the tests I was hungry and thirsty–no food or drink (except a little water) allowed for 8hrs prior. So I quickly made my way to the nearest housing estate to have breakfast. Then it was neither here nor there. It was 11am, I was at the other side of town, I had an appointment at 2.30pm. What to do with the time. At the end, I went home. But better to spend 1hr getting home and having a cup of tea and relaxing than wandering around aimlessly for more than 3hrs.

The appointment at 2.30pm was with my FA, to sign some forms and talk about strategy in light of recent market downturns and the pound’s devaluation. I wanted to buy some more GBP since it’s so cheap. So we decided to take some profit in one of the USD funds and keep the GBP either as cash or in money market bonds. Then when GBP goes back up again, sell and repurchase other funds. We met a a coffee shop and since I hadn’t had anything since breakfast, the berry tart was my lunch.

noodleskale201602 barbaresco1996

Went over to sis’, she invited me for dinner. We had another vegetarian meal, this time of rice noodles and baked kale. I could have finished the entire try of kale myself. I brought over a bottle of wine from my collection–time to start drinking up my stash, in the new spirit of downsizing I going to work at reducing the size of my alcohol stash. This was a Barbaresco 1996 I bought in Verona when I was living in Zurich. It means that it’s been shipped 1.5 times around the world. The cork was a bit soaked and soft but I carefully took it out to prevent the wine from being corked. Immediately I could smell the fruit. Peppery, rich, fruity. Good wine.

Finally, the end result of another running around day. No real running, must go tomorrow. My right arm has a big bruise where they took a blood sample. It’s a sign of whether the technican is any good, I’ve had blood taken out with just a pin prick and no bruise. This time, it was quite painful when she was drawing blood (even though I’m not afraid of needles or having blood taken) and now there’s a 10p coin sized bruise. On my left side, I banged my little finger against something on the bus and it’s now swollen, feels bruised and I can’t bend it. Argh.

frugal, cheap, careful


It started, innocuously enough, with an ikea knife. My everyday utility knife broke, after more than 10 years’ usage. It was just a simple serrated knife I got at a supermarket, nothing fancy, the initial intention was a disposable knife. I have other knives, including a fairly decent set. I was still on the lookout for a replacement, because this utility knife is the one I abuse and not worry about it breaking. We were strolling at Ikea and I saw their 365+ knife, a small paring knife sized which could work. It was priced at local $100, around US$13. May be it’s because I got used to smaller numbers in europe but the number 100 (actually I think it was 99) seemed large.

It’s a good price for an everyday knife, but for some reason I was baulking at the price. Then mm suggested that she’s noticed this in me for a while, that I’m looking more at prices and opting out of buying whereas before I wouldn’t even have thought about the price.

She has a hidden agenda, which isn’t really too hidden because she’s flat out told it to me more than once. She thinks I should go back to work and earn some money.

I have enough to live on. I think even enough to retire and live on income generated by my portfolio. I don’t want to go back to the stressful work environment. But have I become too careful with money? She says that she has noticed this trend lately that’s why she doesn’t suggest that we go out as often. May be. If asked, I generally say I prefer to stay in and cook rather than eat out. Is that because I don’t want to spend the money or is it because I don’t think restaurants serve good food? Debatable.

I don’t really understand her accusation (okay, may be too strong a word but I felt it wasn’t said in a positive way). We just travelled around Europe for a month. After I recorded everything, we spent around US$160 per person per day, excluding personal spending and gifts. Including all flights, trains, car rental, hotels, food and sights. That’s pretty good, and I don’t think it’s cheap at all.

I didn’t buy the knife. May be I will, after I compare prices and quality at other shops. I don’t think it means I’m changed because I have no income. I just want an everyday knife I can use for the next 10 years. Sometimes I get allocated emotions and actions by other people (mostly mm) when the actual emotion / action is so much simpler. Sigh.

#78: money free weekend


Task #78 of 101 in 1001 is to have a money-free weekend.

Which is easy to achieve by simplly staying at home. There was enough food at parents’ place to last a while, and I made glazed chicken wings and ribs for dinner on saturday night. Instead of running outside I used the stationary bike. Most of Saturday was spent reading.

Sunday I did research for the April trip to Hokkaido with mm. Put all notes and links in an evernote notebook, including hotel details, maps, things to do, restaurants, bars and transportation. What I don’t like is you can’t print a whole notebook, you have to print individual notes separately. I printed them to pdf them combined them into a master pdf document. Our accommodation is finalised — start with 2 nights at a regular hotel in Sapporo, then 2 nights at 2 different onsens in Jozankei (5 mins’ walk from each other, so no problem with transferring), then back to Sapporo for 3 nights at an apartment I found on airbnb. It’s the first time I used airbnb, last time in Kyoto it was the more established homeaway/VBRO. Looking forward to the food there — king and snow crab, fresh sashimi, uni, salmon roe, even the famous sweet melons. And of course our visit to Yoichi distillery.

I guess not going out was a sort of cheat’s forced way of having a money-freen weekend. Then again I could have gone on an online shopping spree. And of course there’s the overhead spending — electricity, utilities, food already in the fridge. There are loads of other ideas, I like ideas such as having a cupboard potluck, organising one’s finances / house / junk, pottering around at home and generally doing stuff that is more relaxing and simple. We could all do with a simple weekend.

#77: build net worth calculator


Task #77 in 101 in 1001 challenge: build a net worth calculator.

Personal finance websites talk a lot about calculating net worth and balancing chequebooks. I’ve always been a bit confused about why it’s such a big deal, and why it’s apparently so hard to figure out net worth. It’s a simple spreadsheet exercise. Add up assets, add up debts, take one away from the other.

Took me about an hour, to find all the statements or log onto bank websites. The only current liability is credit card debits waiting for the next statement. I didn’t include this because: a) trivial amounts and b) they’ll get paid once I get the next statement. Since it’s impossible to have the exact figure — statement dates, some investment accounts only report annually, fx etc — it will always be an estimate. Everything got converted to GBP and USD to create the sum total.

Data is summarised by currency and by subtotal of banks vs investments vs property. I don’t know what is an optimum ratio between cash and investments. Advisors say have at least 1 year’s worth of expenses available as cash, so I think I should move more cash to a safe vehicle to generate a return as opposed to it sitting there doing nothing.

german possibilities


Met with my financial advisor about the state of my investments. Emerged from the meeting fairly happy. I did task her with investigating if I have enough capital to generate enough income so I don’t need to work. I think I’m okay, just about.

We are also converting a couple of my accounts to another platform, one that is more flexible, easier to use online and has more investment options. One of the options we talked about was to invest in some single company funds. The one she recommended was a Barings Germany fund. In the past, I could invest in pan-European but not just Germany.

Why Germany? It’s been voted the most positively viewed country in the world. Economic stability is first a foremost. As is frugality, organisation and just that particular German way of doing things. I probably won’t like living there, then again, I loved loved loved Switzerland and I was living in the German-speaking part.

financial health


Met with our financial adviser. Seems like my portfolio is improving from when the market crashed. Our FA had also moved to a new company so it seems to be a good move. Now that I’m back from my London sojourn, I’m thinking of whether I need to keep so much in GBP. The other alternative is to switch to EUR denominated funds. Also may be switch platforms to get access to a larger selection of funds.



I lost about 13% of the value of my US portfolio this year. Sigh. Since inception the cumulative ROR is about 18%, although it was up to 30% at one point. Not happy, but nothing I can do. The holdings are fine. I have mainly US large caps in this portfolio — apple, amazon, oracle, home depot. There’s some cash left over, which my FA suggests that we put to work. Hopefully this will remedy the situation somewhat.

This is just my US portfolio. I’m guessing the total hit globally is more than 13%.

fund consolidation


Today is the last chance to get an ISA for this tax year, so I made an appointment at my bank. Got my ISA for this tax year, and tomorrow apply for a new one for the next tax year, maxed out on both years. Shifted a couple of old, old ISAs to this account so they’re all managed under one roof. The investment questionnaire shows that I’m a progressive investor, which is one step down from adventurous and one step up from balanced. The progressive funds are 70%-ish equities, 15% commercial property and the rest commodities and bonds. Sounds about right.

I have yet to meet a financial adviser who wanted to do this, but one of these days I need a review of all my accounts in all the countries. Problem is most of my advisers are focused only on their countries or regions, and I don’t qualify for private banking. The good news is that I have good geographic coverage, now in all 3 major continents, so it should be fine.



A five pound note, that’s all the GBP cash I have on me right now. Oh, plus some coins to total probably about ten pounds. I had to pay my rent deposit by cash, it was either that or go to the landlord’s agent’s office and pay by debit card. Cheques don’t seem to be a viable option anymore, which is okay by me, except when I don’t have a lot of cash on me. I can get more tomorrow at the cashpoint of course, but it’s a strange feeling, of having no money. Okay, not no money. Worse case scenario, i have a bunch of USD.

786,570 richest


According to the global rich list, I’m the 786,570 richest person in the world. Heehee.

Don’t take it so seriously. All it asks is annual income, without taking into account taxes, cost of living, personal circumstances. I got this from get rich slowly, which talks about wealth and the ultimate question, “how much wealth is enough?” True, 786,570 may not be that far off (+/- a couple hundred thousand) but is it enough for me?

credit card


So I got home today after a weekend at Car’s, opened my mailbox and saw that my credit card has finally arrived. It’s been a long journey, and I feel like it’s only just beginning.

Which totally pisses me off.

I’m a good banking customer, I have a very, very healthy balance in my account. I also have credit cards all over the world. I use up a small % of my limit and I pay my balance in full each month.

But here’s the stickler — I have little to no credit history in the US. Who knows what is in my credit report, whatever is in there is from New York. 9 years ago. So basically, I don’t get the treatment that my history and bank balance warrant, and at times I feel like I’m having to prove myself to financial institutions. Ironic given where I work.

It’s easy to blame governments, Wall Street fat cats and irresponsible citizens who overspend. The true culprit is probably a combination. I don’t understand the mainly Western, and notably American, mentality of spending future money. Spend within your means and save as much as you can, that’s fundamental and common sense. There are so many stories about how people are affected by the financial crisis, and I feel a tiny bit of sympathy for some. But for most others, like this guy, I want to punch him in the face. It’s bad customers like him that are making me seem like a bad customer, and one of these days I’m going to get very cross.

I have a pending transaction at amex — I’m transferring my card over, but they seem to want to treat it like a new application. Let’s see how this one goes.

cheap brics


my financial adviser suggested switching into Chinese and Latin America funds. I’d already took the plunge in latin america last year, and the thinking is that since they are cheap now, it’s worth considering.

In this climate, it’s difficult to find sure investments, and the trick is to diversify without increasing the risk too much. Simon Hallett at Harding Loevner said in the new york times:

The risks in the world are in the U.S., U.K. and the fringes of Western Europe. Iinvestors are starting to get paid to take emerging-market risk. I don’t think the risks have gone up as much as prices have gone down.

I don’t quite buy into the whole BRIC concept, the 4 countries are totally different economically, politically and fundamentally. They’ve just been packaged together cos of some theoretical similarities, and how they have emerged (no pun intended) amongst their peers in their regions.

So I’m glad that we’re focusing on just 2 of the 4 BRICs. Russia is too volatile. As for India, I have quite a bit already in other investments, and India’s gotten more expensive lately. Sure, China is expensive too, but it’s always worth buying when the markets are down. Yeah, I just bought hsbc at 65.9, which is just over the 52 week low of 65.5. It might go down even more, I’m not that bothered.

#83 invest in a latin american fund

mm and I have a few joint investments. The lumpsum account we opened 5 years ago was a pooled account so we qualified for a larger bonus, and it has grown pretty well since. The markets are down, so we lost some of the gains, but looking at the longer term it’s doing fine.

It’s gotten to the point when we can split the account and open our own single name accounts. Same reasoning…to get a new account bonus. Plus our investment philosophies are sometimes slightly different. She thinks about it more, and actively follows the market. I tend to be more laid back and conservative. This probably means she gets better returns, but it’s fine by me.

So after my big trip to Chile, seeing the prosperity there and talking to K a little, I’ve been wanting to put some money into Latin America. Not a lot, but as a diversification. Mostly, our FA says she’s not as familiar with the market and if we were to put money in Latam why not Eastern Europe or BRIC?

Today we went to sign documents for the account and we ended up deciding to put a little into Latam. The fund she recommended was Templeton Latin America Fund [pdf] and I put 2% of my portfolio there. We maxed out on # of funds at 10. The mix is 25% hedge fund, 25% student accommodation, 35% fixed income and only 15% equities. We’ll switch from FI to equities in stages, the aim is 70% equities but this is too much of a bear market to do that in one go.

#81 money-free weekend

The rules are simple:

We are not allowed to spend any money on anything, no matter what. In other words, we can’t make a run to the store to buy food, we can’t spend money on any sort of entertainment, and so on.

No additional expense on utilities (eg no premium movies on cable). They even updated recently with a list of 100 things to do over a money-free weekend.

It’s very straightforward for me. All I did was stay home. I didn’t do grocery shopping — I have enough food for the weekend and even through Monday and Tuesday so I can do shopping during the week. I wasn’t tempted to buy anything from amazon, I didn’t pay any bills, in fact I didn’t even speak to anyone between talking to Mum on the phone friday night and going to bed sunday night.

I read, napped, played computer games, did a couple of food memes, enjoyed several foot massages on my uSqueeze, made fruit salad, made lunch for Monday.

This type of weekend, I never want to end.

growing funds


bbmm has quite a healthy amount of money with our financial adviser, yay! It could be better, some of the UK property funds really took a hit, but we’re keeping a long term view.

What we are finding is that I’m much more conservative, and prefer to wait out downturns whereas mm wants better returns, faster. We can usually compromise though, which is good.

deeds are mine

Almost four months after I paid off my mortgage I finally got all the title deeds from my solicitor. Oh man it’s a huge pile of documents. It’s not just a certificate that says I’m the owner, it’s the entire history of the property. The first document dates from 1951 that details the allotment of the plot by the government and its first purchase. Then various owners before eventually being sold to the developer who built the current building. The owners before me had the property for generally a year or so — probably speculators or landlords — before it reached me. It’s interesting to follow the story of the apartment, all 4.5” thick of paper.

For me, the most important document is the Release letter from my bank, that I am

FREED AND ABSOLUTELY DISCHARGED or and from the said Deed and of and from all principal, interest, and other monies thereby secured and all claims and demands for or in respect of the same or in anywise relating thereto

A very happy “woot!” is in order methinks.

my nest egg score is almost 800

I’m still on a personal finance kick. There are a lot of retirement and net worth calculators around, and they tell pretty much the same story. Can’t get away with US-centric questions and scoring (telling me to max out my 401(k) is only useful when 401(k) plans exist for me). Still, it’s fun to do these tests. A good one is from A.G. Edwards — a quick 14-question questionnaire gives a score which is similar to the credit score system.


Not bad. My score is helped by owning my home outright, low taxes and being able to allocate a large chunk of my net take home towards savings. Although if I change the answer to the question of how long I have been in my job to 5-10 years my score increases to 825.

There’s a little bit of advice of how to maintain and preserve the nest egg. Nothing new, although I’m reminded that I really must make a will.

no latte for the rich

been reading quite a few personal finance websites lately, doing research the mortgage vs investment. One thing these websites are good at, is to state the obvious and give generic advice that make sense … and then it doesn’t. Oh, and dazzle people with numbers, of course.

Take the Latte Factor for example,

Putting aside as little as a few dollars a day for your future rather than spending it on little purchases such as lattes, fancy coffees, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines and so on, can really make a difference between accumulating wealth and living paycheck to paycheck.

According to the article, we should give up our daily Starbucks latte, take that $5 and invest it in a vehicle that yields at least 10%. They claim that after 40 years the savings will grow to $948,611.

There are a lot of assumptions made with this model. The 10% return is after taxes and fees, so the actual return will need to be a lot higher — and that’s unrealistically in the long term. Secondly, there’s no mention of inflation. $1million will almost certainly be worth a lot less in 40 years.

The idea is sound but the presentation is flawed. The underlying message is watch where the small expenses drip and every little helps — which makes perfect sense. Unfortunately it reads too much like one of those pop-up ads we love to hate: “give up one latte a day and you’ll become a millionaire!” — which creates a false sense of hope, like a diet pill.

In the end the big ticket items must have a heavier weighting. Running a car or living in accommodation that is more expensive than one can afford won’t even leave room for the lattes. Taxes, accommodation, utilities, transport — those can’t be avoided and we should cut those before we think about the small luxuries like the fancy coffees. I know it’s easier said than done to move to a cheaper place, and we don’t dictate which tax bracket we are in. What I’m saying is that both the big things and small things matter, it’s not a question of picking one over the other when trying to cut expenses.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being sensible. Here’s what I try to do:

  • I don’t spend what I don’t have — I’ve never had a store card and I pay off my credit card bill in full
  • I put as much as I can into tax efficient savings programs
  • I try to be a little bold with investments — use safer vehicles to buffer the ones that are higher risk
  • save on the small stuff but not obsessively. I bring my own lunch to work but I go out with my friends too
  • don’t buy something just because it’s on sale — saving $3 on something that originally cost $8 is a great bargain but if it’s something I don’t actually need it’s $5 down the drain
  • I understand that occasionally I simple have to have a certain luxury or indulgence, and that’s fine

Perhaps I could be one of the millionaire next door too.

debt free

I paid off my mortgage today. I started November 1997, with a principal that was approx 50% of the purchase price. I partially repaid about 5 years ago; all in all I managed to clear the debt in just under 10 years. Not too bad.

The decision was of course whether to continue with the mortgage or to invest the lumpsum. Intellectually the argument is that if I can get an investment return greater than the mortgage rate I should be investing it. Then again there’s the emotional comfort in knowing that I’m debt free. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

I have zero debt. Zero.

Oh boy.

The amount I previously set aside for the mortgage is being redirected towards a monthly savings plan that should hopefully net 10% or more. I went with my financial adviser’s advice and allocated between:

  • high dividend stocks
  • global agribusiness
  • property equities
  • eastern Europe
  • ASEAN markets

These are more risky and slightly unusual mix. I can do that because of our main investments that are in more traditional equities, property, energy and bonds. Besides, it’s a monthly plan so the strategy is different from investing in a lumpsum, I can afford to tolerate some volatility.

big expenses

I can’t spend any more money on big ticket items this year. So far I’ve bought the macbook pro and spent quite a fair bit when I was in the US (Century 21 is such a huge temptation). Last week I paid for an Aeron chair and yesterday I put down the deposit for a 37” LCD TV. The chair should be delivered next week and the TV, I have to wait till the beginning of Sept!

I was thinking about redecorating, since the place is kinda falling apart:

  • huge cracks in the bathroom tiles
  • bathroom water heater about to come off the wall
  • grouting all worn down
  • kitchen cabinet doors need replacing
  • new worktop for kitchen
  • new flooring for the whole apartment
  • living room curtain rail has fallen off
  • install some sort of curtain or blinds in the study
  • air conditioners should have been replaced 2 years ago
  • closet doors are warped
  • fix that water leakage from the tap / pipe outside the bedroom
  • new paint, possibly rewiring

I don’t think that can be done till next year. Sigh.


We met our financial advisor today. We have quite a neat sum, we want to think about retirement, but will we have enough to live on? Our investments are doing fine, she is doing such a good job of researching and keeping an eye on the markets.

What should we do when we retire? Where do we live? How do we keep ourselves occupied? I dunno, I just want to not have to work.

planning our retirement

We met up with our financial advisor today. Though most of our money is held separately, we have an investment account in our joint names. Actually it’s 2 accounts, one lumpsum and the other a monthly savings plan.

It’s grown, and we have a neat and tidy sum there. It was all her idea and I just latched on, so I’m glad she thought about it.

We’re going to open another one, to house the GBP I have sitting as cash in my account for so many years, not earning much. It’ll be spread between one fund is invested in college campus accommodations and another fund that’s a hedge of hedges.

I still don’t know what to do with my bonus. I want to buy more CHF but it’s dreadfully expensive, so is EUR and GBP. It’s frustrating when the dollar is so weak. With interest rates still low it doesn’t make sense to repay my mortgage. I have to do more research, but I know that I’ll just end up relying on her ideas.

mind babble

I’m not gonna put a version on these anymore because there’s no point in trying to keep track, why bother putting essentially random thoughts in their little bitty order.

quiet time
I have around 15 minutes in the morning while riding on the bus to wake up and think. I don’t like that time to be disturbed cos it’s quiet time for me. But there’s always the danger that someone I know will get on the same bus. I don’t want to talk to them that time of the morning, I’ll try to hide or turn my head. It’s inevitable when we get off that I’ll have to greet them but then the ride is over and I would have had my quiet time and anyway it’s only a couple of minutes’ walk to the office.

work shirts
I was talking to my sis on the phone last night and she asked if I have any spare work shirts. I like wearing shirts, given a choice I prefer something with collars than not. T-shirts I tend to just keep for wearing at home or playing sports or when I’m wearing shorts. I have a big pile of polo shirts, mainly black or blue. I have a small collection of shirts but they tend to be quite old – mostly stripes, some white, some blue for wearing under suits. I don’t like wearing just a shirt, it leaves me too vulnerable, I prefer to have a jumper or coat to protect it.

A few years ago mm bought a couple of really nice shirts from Pink, and one for me. Impeccable. Crisp. Smooth. A class away from the normal Benetton or M&S ones I own.

Last August we opened a joint investment account. Started small, but since then we’ve topped it up twice. Now the portfolio includes: fund of funds, student accommodation fund, Eastern Europe, Asia. Quite a mix. She’s really keen on Asia and guessed right on China and India. I wanted more global and sector rather than countries or regions. Initially I wanted healthcare but we decided against it. It’s a lumpsum investment so it’ll just sit there for a long while, at least that’s my plan.

We also opened a monthly savings plan. The fund picks for the savings plan are different from lumpsum cos we can afford to go for more volatile investments.

She reads up on magazines, talks to the advisor, actively looks out for new ideas. I let her do the research and she tells me all about them. My attention span on these isn’t as great, I just want to put the money away somewhere and forget about it. She has other types of investments on her own account, things I’m not interested in. I have a global leisure fund, corporate bonds and index funds in my own name. Some investments we do together, some we do on our own, we try not to be too “together”. Even though the aim of making these investments is for our future together.

Do we? Have a future together?