Tuesday, October 13, 2020

My Barista FIRE plan: Here's how I want to Coast FIRE in two years

Finally, some money stuff!

I originally wrote this way back when I was working for Global Co, that shiny prestigious multinational monolith company. After that, a shit load of stuff happened - including me quitting the job cold turkey without a plan and then there's that little pandemic called COVID-19.

I promise to regale with the six-month career break that I took that was both awesome and terrorising at the same time. But first, here's my plan to Barista FIRE - I call it my RIPS system (Retirement, Investments, Portfolio career and Self-sufficiency:

The corporate drone stage is an important step of my Barista FIRE plans, alas.

1. Retirement - bump up my retirement funds to $500k by end of 2021. 

This is how the retirement fund in my country works: My company contributes up to 12% of my salary into my retirement funds. About 11% is also taken out of my salary to add to that figure. I am now adding an extra 15% to that number, every month.

My original goal was for my retirement savings to reach $400k by end of 2021. However, I was so focused on the government retirement fund, that I forgot to factor in my other investments (like, duh).

Current retirement fund:
Govt retirement fund: $329,000
Mutual funds: $60,000 
Cash (high-interest savings account): 80,000*

Total investments: $469,000

* I totally know I need to invest this soon. I'm planning to invest it in ETFs and REITs.

My new goal is to reach $500,000 by end of 2021. I need to save $31,000 to make that happen. That's why I feel that Job X is important right now. I'm so close to realising this goal it itches.

Using the magic of compound interest, if I add just $5000 yearly to my retirement accounts and my investments earn a moderate 5%, I would have about $880,481 in 10 years.

Why 10 years? That's the time when I can withdraw funds from my government retirement account. I'll be 55.

During my retirement years, I will be living off the fund by withdrawing 4% yearly. That's about $35,219 annually and about $2,934 a month. 

Would that amount be enough for my retirement? Sure, it'll be great to have more, but my house is paid off, I live relatively frugally, and I hope to be mostly self-sustainable then.

So technically, if all goes well, I should feel "safe" enough to Barista FIRE in 2022, aged 46.

2. Investments - Start building other investments

Not all my savings will be funelled into my retirement accounts, however. Half of it will also go into investments that I can access anytime I want. I'm still a little hesitant in this area as I don't know much about investing yet.  

I know some folks count their houses as an investment, but I don't. Unless someone give me an extra home, I'll probably be living in it one day. It's a bit of a bummer - if I sell off my home I'll be able to retire straight away, but I'm the sort of person that likes the security of owning my own home, so.

My hope is that I'll build my portfolio to a point where I can live off the dividends or interest one day (see No.1). But it'll take a huuuge amount of savings and I'm not sure if I can wait that long for it to happen. It'll be great to Barista FIRE when I have about $500 per month in passive income from dividends and high-interest savings accounts, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen in two years. Probably not.

I had, I repeat, had rental income of about $1.7k. When COVID-19 hit, that income fell to $700 as one by one, my tenants left. It's tough finding tenants now. There's a glut of properties in my area, and no one's renting. At least, not my apartment.

I know everyone hates landlords, but I can't imagine being a landlord and having a mortgage to pay right now. 

3. Portfolio career

a) A business that will give me "extra money"

I know myself. Uncertainty doesn't sit well with me. So that's why I'm going to depend on my passive income derived from investments and rent to cover my basic living expenses, and to have my business/part-time job, whatever it may be, give me my "extra money".

The business would be a mix of these tasks:
  • Writing fiction and non-fiction ebooks - hopefully this will eventually give me some form of monthly income
  • Freelance writing & editing 
  • Training or coaching
  • Community care work or pet sitting jobs are something I'm considering too

b) Get a "barista" part-time job

I hope to have a part-time job that allows me to top up my basic living expenses so that it can cover my basic expenses - in case the rental income doesn't pan out like now, during COVID-19 time. I have no idea what it'll be as these part-time jobs are a rarity in my part of the world,. Alternatively, I could ask for part-time hours from my current employer in ... a year? Not holding out for hope on that. Most companies would rather hire full time to squeeze the life out of the worker in my country. In my part of the world, job sharing is unheard of.

4. Self-sufficiency: Live a low-cost, sustainable lifestyle, learn to grow my own food

A big part of my plan is to be self-sufficient, and that's why I'm learning how to grow my own vegetables right now. The plan is to have a garden full of vegetables - and who knows, maybe one day chickens, which I can live off from. (The eggs! Not the chickens! I don't think I can kill em.) This will cut down on my food expenses, hopefully, but I largely adore tending animals and gardening so it'll be a fun hobby at least.

I've also adopted a minimalist lifestyle. I've scaled down my life significantly that living on just $2000 a month or less is quite doable.  

To get around, I use mostly use public transport (we have a $100 monthly transit pass) or use my feet. I'm a homebody in general and have no great desire to travel abroad. (Did that in my 20s and 30s, and even lived abroad for years, so I've satisfied that thirst.) My car is paid off, and I usually only spend about $50 a month on petrol.

During the lockdown, that $50 lasted ... months! I realise that if I have a remote job, I can save so much more.

I have low-cost hobbies: I garden (free), read (about $50 a month) and write (free).

As I practise intermittent fasting, I only eat once or twice a day - that saves me a whole bunch of money.

I also live in a very cheap place. I only pay $250 for my room a month. It's a decent place with a swimming pool and a gym, not a dive - the reason why it's so cheap is really because my dad owns the place, and my brother and I share the place and maintain it for him. The money I'm paying goes to utilities and management fees. So, I have a significant amount of privilege in that sense and I'm very grateful for that.

So there you have it, my RIPS plan to Barista FIRE. It's not a perfect plan by any stretch of the imagination, and my math is ... terrible, so I'd appreciate any tips to help me along the way :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Barista FIRE plans are ... somewhat delayed (or altered)

Remember my very first post?

Where I said I wished someone would fire me?

Well, it came true.

Originally, this post was supposed to be about my Barista FIRE plans. I had this detailed plan on how I was going to achieve Barista FIRE in a few years, but well, things are now in the dumpster fire now, so to speak.

A few days after I wrote my previous post, my boss told me that she was not pleased with my work and that she's planning to put me on a performance improvement plan. It didn't matter that she said this 3 months after confirming me, after telling me that I was a reliable and dependable worker, though I have weaknesses she hoped to improve in a year. It is what it is.

She told me bluntly that I was a bad fit for the job. And I actually agreed with her.

It was true - the company was a bad fit for me.

For the last few months, I tried to convince myself that this company would be workable. In many ways, it could be. The culture at large was supportive, but my department's culture was not.

I tried to tell myself that it wasn't as toxic as my previous company's. That I could manage it. But really, it is impossible to please a boss that is impossible to please. At work, I was always on an edge, always afraid that I'll be making a mistake or say or do something that will put me in the wrong light. I have colleagues who can't wait to pounce on me for some carelessly uttered word or even a word uttered in jest. All will be used against me - they told my boss what I did or said. My boss pitted one team against another. It was a mess.

Also, the training that I thought I would be given was non-existent. I was told to "look into folders" to get an idea how the team worked. As a newbie, I asked a lot of questions - but was shocked when, a month in, I was told I asked too many "stupid questions". Left on my own, without the guidance of seniors, I tried to learn up on my own as fast as I could, but the learning curve was just too steep. Without help, it would be nigh impossible to get to speed fast enough to please them.

I found the working environment cold. Nobody spoke to each other at work. We worked in robotic silence, our conversations taking place in chatrooms. My boss didn't like me walking around too much as it gave the impression that "I had little work to do". I felt stifled, on guard, suppressed. This was a complete 180 from the work environment I was happiest at - in Ye Olde company where we would casually drop by at a colleague's desk to chat about cat videos and trade nibbles.

I knew it was not a healthy place for me. But I thought that all I needed to do was put my head down and work hard. But despite working really, really hard, it was just not enough. My boss wanted a certain kind of person in my role. And I didn't want to conform.

Unlike the US, it's not terribly easy to fire a confirmed employee. The company has to demonstrate that they've tried their best to "rehabilitate" said employee. There needs to be industry inquiries, three warning letters and yes, a performance improvement plan (PIP).

My boss tells me that she is thinking of putting me on a PIP. The reasons why she's putting me on one is flimsy at best, and the areas I'm supposed to improve on are subjective and not measurable. (Improve "independence and resourcefulness". How do you measure those?)

She's trying to push me out of the door. But I'm not going to stay and fight. I'm taking this is as a blessing that I'm now given a sign from above to finally live the life I've always wanted.

So last week, I gave up on this job. I'm no longer invested in improving or learning as much as I can. Nor am I emotionally tied to it any longer. I'm just going to do the minimum to get by until I slap them with my resignation letter when the time comes.

I'm mostly mad that this has derailed my plans to Barista FIRE in 2-3 years. But perhaps this is not the end of the world. Ever since I came across The Fioneers' post about Slow FI, I am starting to think of it as a viable option. Perhaps I do not need to race towards financial independence. Perhaps I can even take a break.

I'm just grateful that I have a healthy emergency fund and a number of things I'd like to do during my down time.

I'm not going to rush into getting another job.
I'm going to finish my writing projects and kickstart my long-neglected authorpreneur business.
I'm going to use this time to reflect on what kind of work would make me happy.
I'm thinking of setting up a business and even going into training.
I'm thinking of networking intensively, informational interviewing my way to a new job as outlined in the book, Designing Your Life.
I'm going to write about these interviews on my blog and even start a podcast.

And I can do all this because I have a healthy emergency fund.

Meanwhile, I am actually making arrangements to set up my life, the life that I have always wanted to live.

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, February 14, 2020

I've been away - some updates!

So it's been a while since I last updated.

Since the last time I blogged, I had passed the probation period at my job. I'm now a full-time permanent staff at GC.

But while I was ecstatic at finally jumping through that seemingly impossible hurdle (my boss didn't make it easy for me), I've been really overwhelmed at work, trying to cope emotionally to what's going on.

As I said in my last post, all is not well in Camelot.

On the whole, Global Company is really good. It's one of the best companies I've been in, in terms of benefits and management. It's in no way, the shit storm that Crazy Co was. I am able to leave work at work because nobody communicates after working hours, which is absolutely orgasmic for me. The HR department is responsive and professional, the CEO actually sent me a birthday card and management often exhorts its people to have fun in the games rooms or join the many social activities it holds. Also, they feed us with fruits and biscuits and have $50k coffee machines and we can even go home two hours early once a month.

Unfortunately, my department has a micro-culture that is a furnace; it's rife with politics that leaves me baffled, unsafe and on guard most of the time.

Well, nothing is perfect as they say.

For the last few months, all my energy has gone to coping emotionally and also to learn as much as I can to manage the job. There's still gaps in my knowledge to fill, and I'm working overtime to do it. So bye-bye tweeting and blogging. (Which is why I've not been around, sorries). 

It took me a while to figure out why I was so unhappy in a company that ticks all the right boxes. In fact, for the longest time I was trying to convince myself that nothing was wrong and I was just too traumatised from Crazy Co to think clearly.

High, very high expectations

Have you heard about the DI SC profiling system? It's often used to type work personalities/styles at work. So in the DISC system, I am an "I", an influencer, a fun-loving, life-of-the-party people person. What Influencers fear the most is rejection.

And since I stepped foot in this company I faced rejection after rejection. I was rejected by my immediate supervisor who thinks I'm incompetent. (And I know this because my boss actually told me that!) And I often got told by my boss that there are certain aspects about my personality and behaviour that she doesn't like.

For weeks I tried to behave the way she wanted. But it was never enough.

And a few days ago, I've just had it. I'm not sure why it took me so bloody long, but I'm plain fed up that I'm giving such weight to a stranger's opinion. That my well-being is tied to her opinion of me. I can't control what she thinks of me, so it's futile to even try.

The things that she is criticising me for? Well, it's not really things I can be fired for, so I can just file it under: "Interesting, but who cares" and chuck it out on my mind.

The Stoics have a very useful philosophy - worry only about what you can control. And about people's opinions?

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said:

If you do not worry about what others think, say or do, but only about whether your actions are just and godly, you will gain time and tranquillity. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Still, this has made me more determined that ever to go Barista FIRE in a couple of years. I want the option of being able to quit if i need to.

Fortunately, I have a good support network at work so it helps me manage the stress. But yes, it does make you wonder why our workplaces are the way they are. And it's making my "why" (for Barista FIRE) even stronger than before.

I'm already probing possibilities in terms of what to do after I quit my job. It's looking promising. More on that next week!

So, the good thing about this whole situation is that I'm learning a lot, gaining valuable skills, and of course, the money.

Meanwhile, I just need to learn how to stop giving a fuck what people think about me. It isn't a useful use of my emotional energy, you know?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Is it too late for me to Slow FI? And three friends in my life that are doing it

Could this be me one day?

Slow FI is a rather new concept to me. Until I stumbled on a post about it at Jess' blog, The Fioneers, I've been on the "traditional", Mr. Money Moustache path to financial independence - save like hell and pull the plug as early as I can.

The journey has not been a happy one. Since 2015, I've had a string of jobs with fancy titles and great pay with awful conditions that wrecked my mental health. (You've read about my ordeal with Crazy Co, haven't you?) But I tell myself to grin and bear it because that's what you do to FI. You suck it up and save.

The idea of "enjoying" the journey to financial independence seemed like an impossible, unrealistic dream to me. While I really liked the idea of Slow FI, I felt that I couldn't pull it off because:

1. I live in Asia - good part-time jobs are not in great supply. (They rather make you work full-time and milk the hell out of you. But maybe I'm not looking for these jobs hard enough.)

2. I started my FI journey late - in my mid 30s and am now almost 45. I don't think I have the luxury of time on my side. I needed that stable high income to pump into my retirement accounts.

But do I, really?

Because I have friends in my life that are showing me that life could be lived differently.

Penny was my former colleague at Ye Olde company who up and left to start her own freelancing business. ("I was only earning $2k then. I felt like I had nothing to lose!") It's been 10 years now and she's immensely happy with her decision, even if her life may not live up to the materialistic standards of metropolitan Asia. She doesn't have an expensive condo to her name, recently lost her husband (so no second income). Yet, she doesn't think much about the money in her retirement accounts - she just lives day by day. Her freelance life is made possible by her simple lifestyle - she rents a room and lives on just $1000 a month. Yet, she's the happiest and most serene person I know.

My close pal Briony always takes a mini career break every six years. One of her career breaks lasted a year, and she was able to do it because she house sat for a family for a year - so her accommodation was free for that period. Her career break wasn't planned - her contract wasn't renewed. However, she took it as a great opportunity to rest and recalibrate. So, she volunteered during that time and rested. She's currently on yet another career break. She spent a month in England, and is now slowly looking for work. It's been 4 months and she doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get another job!

After a string of bad jobs, Elaine gave up on pursuing a steady, full-time job in corporate-land and decided to freelance. She only had 2 months of savings when she did that (not a great idea, she said, but she felt like she had no choice). She said it was the best decision of her life. She loved the flexibility and the ability to call her own shots. I've always admired Elaine's entrepreneurial spirit. Elaine's back in the full-time job market because of family commitments, but she says that she won't hesitate to return to that life if given the chance.

* Not their real names

If you could Slow FI, what would you do? Travel more? Volunteer?

Technically, my friends are Slow FI. They are financially responsible, live mostly frugal lives but live life on their own terms. They may not have the fat corporate paychecks, but they have an abundance of time and autonomy.

Are they able to pull it off cos they are super wealthy or have rich husbands?

No. Penny, as I said, doesn't have property. Briony still has mortgage bills to pay and her previous employer wasn't a great paymaster - her pay was always late! Elaine rents a $1.8k apartment (the usual rate in the city) and recently sold her car to pay off credit card debts.

What they have is a strong determination to live life on their own terms and to put their healths, sanity and well-being first.

And I'm starting to ask myself: If they could do this, why not me? Why not now?

Some things in my favour:
  • A paid-off apartment that is pulling me rental income of $1.8k a month, enough to cover my basic expenses.
  • 12 months' emergency fund in the bank
  • I can live rent-free for a few months

In a previous post, I said that I only wanted to Barista Fire when I'm 45 - that's about two years away. The idea was to save like mad the next two years and then step down to a slower schedule.

If you've been following my Twitter feed, you'll realise that there's something "off" about my new job at GC. I won't go into details because, frankly, I'm plain fed up by the corporate bullshit that is going on and I'm also not sure if it's my paranoia speaking and I'm jumping to conclusions.

But yes, I'm asking myself - if I have to Slow FI earlier than planned, can I pull it off?

What do you think?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Mental health and personal finances

I've just started my new job at GC, and for a few weeks I was "cautiously hopeful". It's a Google-esque company. Wine and food is served during town hall meetings, there's a games room on the three floors we occupy in the building and staff often sit at the many balconies of the office. Did I mention that we are in the penthouse of a massive office building and have killer views of the city?

After years in barely optimal working environments, it felt like I had finally arrived. But I knew better than most that pretty offices can still hide dark secrets. I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So there's a side of me that's always looking around for danger. It found something this week.

The work at GC has mostly been challenging but interesting but the learning curve is steep. There's just a mindblowing amount of things to learn to fully grasp my job that at times I wondered if I can ever show any competency at the end of my 3-month probationary period. Up till the end of last month, I felt that  I was managing my work at a comfortable pace. But suddenly this week, work ramped up double speed and I had perplexing feedback from my boss. She said that I seemed "uncertain" and "unsure" and the she hoped that she wasn't mistaken when she saw that go getter person during the job interview. Did she even exist? she seemed to be asking.

I felt blindsided by the remark. First, what in the world am I going to do with that? Isn't a newbie supposed to be unsure? Should I pretend that I've gotten the hang of things? Fake it to put everyone at ease? I felt the hot tide of anxiety came rushing back, wrapping its tentacles around my chest.

You're going to be fired, I'm sure of it, whispered the voice.

Worse, all this was happening while I battled some health issues that left in my chronic pain for weeks. It was so tough to be positive and peppy when you feel like your head is going to explode from all the information you're cramming into it, managing a tough project, feeling stabbing pains throughout the day and trying to cover up my feelings.

There's a shadow lurking in my life now, making it hard for me to 100% enjoy where I am in the present.


I was caught off guard when I was hit by a wave of anxiety in August, what was supposed to be my month off. I worried incessantly about the state of my finances. And mind you, I think I'm better off than most.

I was flummoxed when paralysing panic hit me when I got stumped at work over a tough project and my "happy" mask slipped and my boss saw my anxious side.

You're going to be fired! You're going to be jobless and you're going to be a pauper!

Since this is an anon blog, I can go ahead and say that I have $60k in savings, $85k spread out in various investments and $300k in my retirement fund. My paid off property is worth $450k. I have a networth of about $895k. (PS: It's not in US dollars, but it's still a healthy sum.) While I definitely need up to beef up my investments, it's not an unhealthy sum by any means.

Yet, I still don't feel "safe".

In many ways, I'm mad at myself. Absolutely mad.

I actually began the personal finance journey because of anxiety. I had felt so worried about my finances that I actually convinced myself that when I was debt free, I can finally be released from the anxiety. But when that didn't happen, I said, okay, I'll feel safe when I have $50k in savings. When that was achieved and my anxiety remained, I said, hey maybe steady stream of money coming in every month from dividend investing would perk things up?

But when I calculated how much I would need to do that, my heart just sank. That's a long time to go to feel "safe".

Yup, I know I have a rather unhealthy relationship with money - the fact that I would repeatedly stay in toxic jobs just to save money is a sign, but I'm really not sure what to do about it.

All I can do after my latest panic episode was to call my career coach to discuss strategies on how to do my upcoming performance review with my boss without falling to pieces. I've also started sessions with a promising psychologist, so I'm trying to deal with my anxiety as best as I could.

Sleep more, says my therapist.

Yeah... trying sleeping through an anxiety episode....

But really, I'm tired of my overactive amygdala - if there was a pill to calm it the fuck down, I'd pay big dollars for it.

Uhm, yeah, so how was your week?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Mini Career Break Report #2: Face the financial fear and do it anyway

I wish I had money to burn.

"You are a curious creature," said my friend R yesterday. "It's as if you want to be a Type B person, but you're constantly in Type A mode instead."

My friend's astute observation came after watching me scurry around to banks, lawyers, rental property and government offices for 7 days. Instead of resting after my two-week Aussie vacation, I decided to do as much as I can so that my remaining 5 weeks would be a breezy one.

As usual, in my zealousness, I've crammed way too many to-do items into my schedule. And almost everything on my to-do list are things I detest/dread doing.

And they are:

Dealing with rental property 
I have a small apartment that earns me $1.8k of rental income a month, but it's by no means passive income. Recently, I got a new batch of tenants and they were complaining about the mess the previous tenant had left behind. 

To my horror, when I went over to inspect the property, I discovered broken furniture, stained mattresses and numerous plumbing an lighting problems. So, I had the stuff hauled away for $350 and engaged my usual Fix-It Man to fix things up. Ouch.

My problem was that I had not done regular inspections to the place so I didn't realise how bad things had gotten.

Also, I didn't have a proper system in place to manage the place. For one (and please don't keel over in shock), I don't even have keys to the apartment or keep a ledger, so I don't know who paid what when.

So I spent a few more days creating a digital system, made copies of the keys and an excel sheet.

Lawyerly stuff. Had some documents certified copied. I generally detest dealing with lawyers in general, but it had to be done, sigh.

Obtain online accounts for my retirement account (Note: I'm not American, so it's not Roth IRA) and mutual fund accounts so that I can better keep track of them. I kept meaning to get the online access but my life had been topsy turvy since 2012 because I moved countries, changed jobs 3x and more. This is the first time in a long while that I could take a breather to do this!

Rebalanced my mutual fund accounts as it had waaaay too much equity investments for my liking. Furthermore, 1/3 of my retirement funds were in mutual funds, and it made me incredibly nervous that they were in high-risk investment vehicles. (In my country, we are allowed to transfer some of our retirement funds to private mutual funds. I discovered, to my dismay, that if I had left my money where it was, it would have netted me way more in dividends.) 

My investments barely rose in the 6 years I've left it in mutual funds, which broke my heart. During some years, I actually LOST money. However,  I think I'm lucky as many people actually ended up losing a lot of money transferring their money to private mutual funds. Why? Well, in my country mutual funds have very high fees - 5%-8% sales charge for the initial investment and 1.1% management fees yearly! 

Fortunately, the government recently released a platform that would allow investors to invest in mutual funds with 0-0.5% sales charge, but I'm now leery of mutual funds as it's far too volatile for me and I hate playing around with my retirement fund income.

Upgrade my medical insurance
My policy is literally 10 years old and it's time to upgrade it!

These squiggly lines might as well be Greek to me!

Doing all this "money stuff" was necessary as I've put it off for far too long, but was extremely stressful for me. In fact, my eczema made an unpleasant reappearance this week after a blissful month of dormancy. -_-.

See, I may be an accomplished "pay off my debt" Queen and I'm awfully good at saving my pennies, but I'm terrible at the investment part of the Financial Independence equation.


I'm absolutely terrified of investing.

Like "lie awake at night" kind of terrified. Like pop-Xanax-to-relax kind of terror.

I suspect I have financial fear, the kind that is bordering on pathological.

I live in fear of making a financial mistake that would ruin my life.

I relate to the writer of the article, Are You Ready to Finally Let Go of Financial Fear?, when she said:

No matter how much money I had in the bank. I still had foreboding money issues.

See, I may not be a millionaire, but I am debt free, have 2 years' worth of emergency fund, a paid-off home, passive income that will sustain me if I'm out of a job and an okay (though not great) amount in my retirement accounts ... and I still feel like my world is going to collapse any moment. I thought I'd be happy once I got all these sorted out ... but no, I'm still trapped by financial fear. And it's getting fucking frustrating.

My Financial Fear is probably due to several reasons:

  • My initial forays into investing have been challenging. My property, for one, had been fraught with legal problems since day 1. If I had a choice, I'd get rid of it to get rid of the bad memories, but the sales tax would rob me of any gains I'd get from selling the place. My mutual funds have also not performed well; I had better luck with cash deposits!
  • For too long I let others manage my money. First, it was my parents who insisted I buy property at 23. They did help me with the downpayment, but I wasn't psychologically ready to own property and the complications that came with it. It also ended up ensnaring me in a legal battle that lasted 5 years. Then, it was fund managers who told me what to do, and me, trusting that they knew best, just signed on the dotted line.
  • I have no idea what to do to ensure I have a good retirement. Am I on the right track? Am I desperately behind? I have no idea. I want to increase my net worth, but I have no idea how. Much of the information out there is US-based, and it's tough to find good reference material/courses about investing in my country, so I feel like I'm throwing out money in the dark, hoping that it would land somewhere good. (Most of the time, it didn't!)
  • I probably inherited my dad's chronic anxiety over finances. I grew up watching my dad fretting over money. He generally had a very fearful approach to finance and setbacks. Once, when he was laid off, he moped around for months, saying that he was afraid of ending up in the poorhouse. The thing was, due to his careful money management, his properties were nearly paid off, he had a pool of emergency funds and to top it all of, he was getting a sizeable government pension. Plus, us kids were already working and independent. Yet, my Dad behaved as if it was the end of the world. Investing? He thinks they are of the devil, so I was repeatedly warned throughout my life against investing in anything other than cash deposits! I really can't blame my dad, however. When he was a young boy, his dad became a drug addict and his family literally went from riches to rags. Growing up that way would have made him very, very cautious and fearful of financial setbacks. Still, I suppose all this had an effect on me and I grew up thinking of money as a fearsome, unfathomable beast that cannot be harnessed.

When it came to investing, I always feel like I'm in the dark, shooting blind.

So, yeah, while some folks actually get excited experimenting with their finances, I pretty much hate it.

And what do I do when I hate doing things? Well, I avoid them.

Over the years, my financial issues just grew and grew and grew and I ended up with lost investments, damaged furniture and sleepless nights.

Denial is not a strategy, folks.

So, I'm over it. I want to banish Financial Fear from my life.

What I'm doing to overcome the fear

1. Study up
Things have improved, education-wise, in my country - so I'm studying the basics of investing in vehicles like REITS, Peer to Peer lending and bonds via blogs and books as much as I can.

2. Get professional advice
Fortunately, the government actually has retirement specialists who can sit down with me to talk about strategy etc. So I hope to get some kind of proper direction and advice on how to increase my retirement savings - I've made an appointment for next Tuesday.

3.  Be informed before I invest
My "investing & hope for the best" strategy, has got to go. I listened far too much to "trusted advisors" and friends because I found the numbers confusing. From now on, I plan to study an investment before even thinking about investing in it.

4. Therapy
Maybe I have some PTSD due to all the financial challenges that my family and I faced throughout the years. I'm not sure how much talk therapy can help, but I have to acknowledge that it has gotten so bad that my health is affected because I ruminate far too much about it.

5. Experiment little by little
I think the only way to invest is to do some "exposure" therapy. I'm going to start with small amounts, and as I gain confidence, add more.

How about you? Do you deal with Financial Fear? Are you trying to shake off the legacy of your family's attitude towards money?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mini Career Break report #1: Australian vacation money diaries

Melbourne's Southbank is a great place for an evening stroll & dinner.

Well, it's been awhile. Truth to be told, I had every intention to blog while I was in Australia, but my old travel laptop had other ideas - it refused to connect to the Internet. (I suppose it wanted me to have a digital detox too - thanks, lappie!) So I spent two weeks just, well, enjoying myself.

This two-week vacation has been the best thing I've ever done for myself - hands down. Originally, I planned to be there only 10 days, then I thought, what the heck, make it 14 days since I'd lose 2 days travelling anyway! I went there mostly as a solo traveller, though a friend joined me on the Melbourne leg of the trip.

On the whole, this vacation was mega expensive by my standards, but every dime has been worth it. I thought it would be fun to show you how much I spent for my break down under. (For the sake of simplicity, the costs will be in Australian dollars.)

Grange beach in Adelaide. One of the more underrated beaches there. Everyone goes to Glenelg, but at Grange, you can have a quieter time soaking in the scenery and the old beach homes along the coast.

First, why Australia?
To be honest, if I had a choice, I wouldn't pick Australia as my "holiday destination to recover from my extremely toxic job". Yes, it's expensive - but that's not the reason. The truth is, Australia is the land where I experienced my biggest successes ... and also my biggest disappointments, some of which hurts till this day. I was worried that I'll be spending my precious vacation time being sad and regretful as I remembered old hurts and thought about what ifs, and I'm already emotionally wrung out from 2.5 years of toxic workplaces. But I have many friends there too, I've loose ends to tie up and I'm determined not to let the past stop me. Also, this 5-week break was a rare opportunity - I'm not sure when I'll get it again.

First, I visited Adelaide - where I had lived for almost 3 years. Then, Melbourne, my most favourite city in the world (and which I've visited so many times that I walk around the CBD like a native.)

Richmond Hotel, Adelaide. I absolutely adored my room.
Accommodation - about A$750
I've always been a frugal traveller - opting to crash in hostels or with friends than hotels. But this time around, I said to myself, nah - the last thing I wanted to do was to be trapped in a hostel room with strangers who have smelly shoes and socks (true story - happened to me one trip).

I was super lucky to stumble across two great deals. The first was Richmond Hotel in Adelaide. The room went for A$99 per night. I stared at the figure, wondering if it was a joke because the Richmond was a 4 star hotel right in the heart of Adelaide's Rundle Mall, its shopping district. It usually went for at least A$200 or more. It's location was ideal for folks like me who prefer to explore the city by foot and public transport because it was near all the major trams.

I booked two nights there and it was awesome, simply awesome. My room was not a pokey little hole in some basement but a large, expansive room with a plush Queen-sized bed, a bathtub, and get this - a private courtyard. The only disadvantage was that it was located near an event hall and it got noisy at one point, but the hotel was kind enough to close the soundproofed double-doors for me to get some quiet.

 The ibis Styles Kingsgate hotel in Melbourne.

The next find was ibis Styles Kingsgate in Melbourne. It was a budget place, but my room certainly didn't feel budget even if it had an exciting view of a construction site. I spent less than $99 per night on this place and spent about 6 nights there. My room was indeed a pokey little room on the ground floor, but it was a comfortable, well-appointed and tastefully furnished pokey little room and I love it. Especially since it came with Netflix!

I did, however, stayed with friends in Adelaide for about 4 nights. I found that while I saved a tonne of money, I didn't enjoy being shackled in the suburbs and also living around my friends' timetables, though I loved spending time with my friends.

Food & Beverages - A$600 

The sashimi is so darn fresh!
I've never been able to economise when it comes to eating out, and it's the same while on holiday - especially in Melbourne where there are so many amazing good restaurants around! We were extremely lucky that we somehow ended up eating at yummy places, but each visit cost around A$30 at least for food & coffee. It sure added up. But lordie, the coffee & hot chocolate in Melbourne! There's just no words for it.

I was more frugal in Adelaide. Having lived there for years, I've been there done that so to speak, so I often bought ready-to-eat food from Woolies (Woolworths), and that's relatively cheap - about A$5-6 per meal.

Great Ocean Road day tour - A$120
The Rainforest along the Great Ocean Road 
I'm not a tour group person. I hate being herded from one place to another, being told that I only have 40 minutes in one spot or to have toilet breaks planned for me, but I wasn't bold enough to drive down the Great Ocean Road (GOR) myself. (I once got lost while on a road trip in Thailand and it wasn't fun.)

All in all, I thought this tour was really worth it - they picked us up from a hotel near ours at 7am and proceeded to herd us from landmark to landmark. The sights along GOR are indeed as gorgeous and as magnificent as they say. Since we travelled down this stretch of road during winter, it was cold as fuck (okay, probably a nice Spring day for those used to more arctic temperatures). But the benefit of it was that we avoided the Summer crush of crowds and avoided long ass queues.

My favourite stop had to be the Rainforest. We took a 40-minute walk in there, and honestly I could've spent a day there as it was so darn beautiful inside.

Was the tour worth it? Yes - though I wished I could've stayed at least an hour in a seaside town we stopped for lunch at one point. Was it enjoyable? Mostly. I had to share the van with a bunch of extremely noisy Italians though, and as a person who have extremely low tolerance for noise, it was hellish.

So if I were to do the GOR again, it would be a self-drive, with a stay of a few nights in one of the seaside towns.

The Twelve Apostles. Photos can't really do it justice.

Shopping - A$100
Fortunately, as a minimalist, I hardly shopped for things there, though I succumbed to a few books (mostly journals) and a travel bag that I have been looking for. Also, when you live in the land of shopping malls, Australia frankly doesn't hold anything interesting for me. But I could've bought way more books if they were more affordable! Books are shockingly expensive in Australia, ranging from A$23-A$30, so while I saw many Aussie books I'd love to read, I just couldn't justify spending that much moolah on them.

Transportation in Australia - A$120
I walked or used the free tram to travel around the Adelaide & Melbourne CBDs, so transportation within the city was free. We used the Skybus to get to and fro the airport, and it was very convenient not to mention cheaper when booked via the app, Klook. However, on our last day, we decided to hire a cab to the airport and was dinged with a surcharge when the hotel booked us the wrong time. The cabbie ended up waiting half an hour for us and we were charged for that. Sobs. Most expensive cab ride ever!

Grange beach, Adelaide

Flight tickets - A$800
I used budget airlines. It was ... not very comfortable as I was plagued by screaming children both flights. But you gotta do what you gotta do! I booked return tickets to Australia, and also used domestic budget airlines to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide as the airline didn't fly direct to Adelaide. I used Tiger Air, which had an apparently notorious reputation of never being on time, but I was lucky as both flights were on time for mine. Phew!

I did consider about using a non-budget airline to fly to Australia, but it was almost 50% more expensive to fly to Melbourne using a regular commercial airline. I made the decision to channel the savings I got using budget flights to my accommodation. Best decision ever!

So how did I pay for it all?
I usually save 40% of my salary. So in May & June, I stopped saving and paid for the flight, Skybus transport and accommodation costs using parts of my May and June salary. I still have about A$600 on my card to pay off from the expenses I racked up in Australia.

I could easily use my savings to pay it off, but I'm thinking of using my first paycheck from the new company to pay it completely off because I dislike the hassle of digging into my savings.

But knowing me, I'll probably pay it off as I hate seeing my credit card balance balloon!

How do I feel after the vacation?
Wonderful. Absolutely, wonderful! The two weeks was worth every penny because for a while, all I had to focus on was to enjoy myself. It was amazing not to wake up with dread, wondering how I could meet an impossible deadline, realising that that horrible bit of my work life is now behind me.

I'm not completely 100% recovered, though, as my nerves as still easily worked up and I still have weird nightmares about work. (True story - on my first day in Australia, I had a dream where a former boss called me to yell: "Why are you not at work?!")

It may be the most expensive holiday I've ever had, but this holiday was the best thing I've done to pamper, nourish, celebrate myself.

No regrets!

Hosier Lane, Melbourne, is where you can find a lane full of wall art.

So, what do you think? Have you taken a holiday during your a career break? Do share!