My Story

Today, I share with you a story of myself, for the benefits of those of you curious about the writer of this very very exciting blog *laugh*. For those of you who are uninterested, you can stop reading now.

For those of you who are still reading, I will try not kill you with boredom.

I was airdropped onto a frozen part of America, aka Mid West, in the middle of winter as a pre-teenager from Hong Kong. As a small Asian male with very little fat cells, it was the perfect time and place to be. I hope you realized my sarcastic tone. I had a cold that lasted me that whole winter, and the winter was loooooooooooooooong in Michigan.

Why the ice-land? The idea was to be close to relatives. Though, the main purpose for my parents to move to the States is still the education and future of their children. This is important because I would otherwise only have a “lowly” bachelor degree today. Kidding about the “lowly” part.

I never really enjoyed those early years in the U.S. because I had to help my parents due to English barrier, while my siblings were away at college for most of those time. Imagine a young teenager dealing with bills, writing checks, balancing accounts, reading work-benefits policy, visiting banks and insurance agency… Now imagine Paris Hilton reading the Constitution and studying mountains of text for Harvard Law. And I still had to deal with school work. I also had no idea about Simpsons and Dunkin’ Donuts and Backstreet Boys. I was as FOB-ish as can be in a mostly black and white community. It was impossible NOT to get picked on. And don’t get me started on the house chores. It was definitely GOOD time. I did enjoy the part where they all think about me what Keanu Reeves’s famous for saying, “I know Kung Fu.”

An extra little fact is that during this time, I, this clueless teenager only knew some half-ass English, is the translator in the house… at least attempting to doso. The best stuff were these insurance policy materials that contain “sophisticated” words and legal jargons. The result amounted to something like Chris Tucker trying to speak Chinese… But I digress.

I did not write about all these to complain. Besides to humor you, I mentioned these experience because I believe they have a huge impact on what I would become and how I would handle money. Most importantly, I realized how money can become such big issue in life. Yeah, I am real brainiac :P Moving on…

For my undergraduate studies, I was lucky enough to obtain enough scholarships to cover the 4 years at a state university. Additionally, I worked half-time in my college department as a slave system administrator to support my lifestyle. During that time, I spent some and saved some, without paying too much attention. I paid off credit cards monthly and never carried any balance. I believe this is the result of family influence, without noticing it myself then. As a computer science geek, I am as big a party animal I could be. I spent money eating out and for some evening outtings as many fellow students did. I did not travel to exotic places to see women with beads as vacation, but I did incur a lot of expense as a fencing team member. Besides the athletic part of the fencing experience, I was able to visit many college campus in different states (even Florida!), bonded with my fellow teammates, and met lots of other students from other universities. Although it cost me a lot during the 4 years, it’s not something I’d ever regret doing. This goes to show how money isn’t everything.

The tougher time comes during my master degree. First, let me say that I did not plan nor want to do a master degree because (1) my desire to become independent, (2) knowing there will be little financial support from family, (3) consequently, my concern with debt, and (4) I was never a big fan of school. I was a brat who is ready to become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs… yeah right. Anyways… life is not without a sense of irony. I was accepted into Stanford, to my surprise AND dismay. I finally decided to go for the sake of myself and for family expectation – to fulfill my “final” duty as a son. Remember my parents’ purpose of coming to the States?

I said “final” because it is part of my desire to become independent from my parents. You can chalk it up to typical relationship between son and very strict Asian parents.

At Stanford, no longer with any scholarship, I spent most of my savings (from scholarships and part-time in undergrad), took out student loans, and stopped to work full-time (and continued half-time during the rest of my school) in order to afford the tuition while opting only for subsidized loans. I did my best to make it through the 2 years. Before I found work, I sometimes starved myself until I can get home for dinner to save lunch money.

I kept telling myself this is an investment into myself. Hmmm, self-hypnotizing… that to get the Stanford name is akin to getting my name “gold-plated.” I was very fortunate to received help from my sister for a place to stay. Stanford’s environment began to shift my mentality and the tougher time makes me think, really think… It became the turning point for me…

To start learning about money.
To take charge of my own finance.
To try short-term stock trading. (bad idea…)
To understand that long-term is the way to think.
To know that having a corporate job will only get me so far, without supplements.
And most importantly, to take full responsibility for myself.

I used to envy peers who received support for school and especially, for their first real estate properties. However, I know now such envy is unnecessary. I know I would not become as independent had I gotten an easy way out. I would not have the confidence I have today. I would not act with backbone. I would not be an avid learner to study myself and the world around me. I am in the best place I can be. Oh, and of course, this blog would not exist otherwise either.

These experience also made it apparent to me, why a friend called me “a survivor” years back.

Hereby I conclude my little semi-autobiography. I notice I ended on more boring notes. My apology. Still, I hope you enjoy the read.

Originally posted 2008-02-25 00:32:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Partner/Rivalry on Quest of Personal Finance

Okay, I’ve been studying too long and want to take a break and scribble something on my blog. I have been reading many personal finance blogs lately, and I came across a post from Make Love, Not Debt:

A few weeks ago I was out having a few drinks with few coworkers during happy hour. One of my coworkers (CW1) noted that in a few weeks he will have been at the company for six months. Another coworker (CW2) remaked that he was then eligible to participate in the company retirement plan. Both of these coworkers are my age, maybe a little younger. The conversation went a little like this…

CW1: Hey, I’ll be at the company for six months in a few weeks!

CW2: Yeah dude, you’ll be eligible for our 401k. (but we have a SIMPLE IRA…or am I just being nitpicky?)

CW1: Yeah that’s cool.

Him: Yeah, I was thinking of rolling over my SIMPLE IRA to a Traditional IRA because I don’t like our investment options. I won’t be eligible to do that until May, though.

(blank stares)

CW2: Yeah, my boyfriend works at Morningstar, so he handles all of that stuff for me.

CW1: I don’t have a clue when it comes to that stuff.

CW2: Yeah. You guys watch Battlestar Galactica?

Sigh.

Although I haven’t begun my real professional career YET (being 2 months shy of graduation), I look around my peers, where a majority are older and/or full-time employees, and somehow I feel similar to the author here… Unfortunately I’ve heard more about young people not wanting to contribute to 401k because of how it reduces their paychecks, and NO young people who wants talk about personal finance and investment, etc around me.

As the title suggests, I would love to have a partner or even a rival to help push and/or encourage each other in learning these personal finance matters. But where can I find them? Makes sense? Oh well, it’s so late, I don’t care anymore.

That being said, I’ve been using a lot of excel for a class lately, and for fun I came up with a very rough, simplistic, interactive model to look at the growth of asset/net worth/whatever to put things in perspective a bit, with an initial asset that grows at a constant annual rate along w/ an annual contribution to the asset that grows by a separate constant amount. It actually makes future looks kind of hopeful. :P

excel_future.jpg

Feel free to download the excel file and play with it, modify it. It’d be great if someone comes up with something interesting or a much more realistic model and send it back to me :)

Alright, back to study, ciao.

Originally posted 2006-11-07 04:13:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Market in Chaos, Rate is Falling, Invest or Save?

It sounds like the world is ending out there these days. And people are not happy if they do not freak out like chicken without head for a day. It’s a party out there. Actually, it’s the crashing of a long lasted party out there.

Regardless, I guess everyone’s wondering what to do with their money these days, if they have any left over that is. I hope that you have been nice with yourself and saved money and avoided debt like my blog and many PF blogs talk about out there. Yeah, I know it’s boring, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

I don’t usually talk about investing much because I am no expert. I simply have some experience from the last 2-3 years of participating in the market. At the same time, there are many more resources and blogs written by people with expertise. Though let me share a little bit today…

Despite all the chaos and bawling out there, I will simply continue doing what I have been doing – putting some money in saving and investing the rest. In fact, I will put what I can afford into stocks and index funds as they keep falling and into bargain price, given that I am in it for the long haul. Plus, the banks’ savings rate will soon follow the massive rate cut by the Fed.

Simply put, long term is the simplest way to go. Trying to time the market is more or less gambling (been there, done that). It takes time and effort and is not even worth it, especially for my lazy behind.

If you don’t trust me, listen to the great “Sage of Omaha” Warren Buffet:

I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.

If a business does well, the stock eventually follows.

Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it.

Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can’t buy what is popular and do well.

Never invest in a business you cannot understand.

Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.

Our favorite holding period is forever.

So invest in stocks(companies) that have solid foundations and hold. Personally, I like to find them with dividends. Or to make things easier, you can put your money in various index funds and just wait.

But before you go diving in (now or ever), there are prerequisites:

  • You can feed and put a roof over yourself and your family. You may think this is silly, but if you think about what a silly gambler husband/wife/father/mother/sibling can do to a family, it’s not so funny anymore.
  • You have a certain amount of saving. They call it emergency fund out there, and it should include 3-months or 6-months living expense. To plan for the worst, save enough so you feel comfortable even if you lose all the investing money.
  • You have minimal bad debt. This includes the ones without tax deduction and with high interest rate.
  • You are not emotionally attached to the money you invest. This is why I said you need to have a comfortable amount of saving. Also in other words, don’t gamble with your shirt, or you most likely end up…naked. This will prevent you from freaking out like others and moving money around to “unintentionally” time the market.
  • For the sake of long term, invest money that you won’t need in the next 5-10 years.

Yes, it’s not a good feeling to see BOLD RED across the portfolio, but once you learn to look 5-10 years down the road, it’s not so bad. Okay, I’m done with my investment talk and probably for the last time :P

One last word, investing is supposed to be simple.

Originally posted 2008-01-23 01:13:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

If You Don’t Use It, You Lose It

In the past two years as I learned fitness/exercise/gym as a habit, one thing that is very pertinent in life is that – If you don’t use it, you lose it.

One doesn’t have to be a kinesiology major to understand that. My experience has been that even if it has just been a week of inactivity, I notice a deline in my weight training (very obvious) or cardiovascular performance. How do I tell? The answer is the amount of soreness I can feel. Even more obvious is the immense soreness + pain whenever I start some new training. And hence, the need for us to emphasize on consistency of exercise. To avoid the benefits that we have worked so hard to archieve, it’s best to continue to do something at least, even just to maintain a moderate level of the benefits. In addition…

The idea of “If you don’t use it, you lose it” does not only apply to fitness and health. On my path of exploring and learning singing myself, I continuously discovered that many of the causes for my difficulty to produce more beautiful tone are muscular apathy of head/facial area muscles. It is over time when I consciously practice these muscles that I am able to improve.

Actually, not only is this the problem for people trying to learn how to sing, but this is the problem for people between ethnic group learning a foreign tongue. Certain languages only require us to use certain facial muscles. It is one of the many reasons that when we try to learn a new language that we have difficulty with announciation. What we need to do is to practice using all the muscles on our face :)

Well, another thing is that us humans have a tendency to be lazy and use less, or just enough, muscle to perform a certain task. That is exactly why we need to re-learn deep breathing for our health, and also exercise our mind to maintain our mental sharpness, and of course, exercise our body to make sure we don’t lose those muscle.

In fact, I would go as far to say that everything in our body is governed by this concept of “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Therefore, everyday we need to consciously use every part of our body and push it to improve, expand, and realize our potentials!

Originally posted 2007-05-02 23:01:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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