Networth Update


Taking stock of what you own and owe.

WHAT IS THIS POST ABOUT

This post is a continuation to my previous one, in which I proclaimed that I will do a review of my financial status every half yearly. I might be 1 month too early to do a review now, but with two young children to take care of, it makes sense to start working on this whenever I get some pockets of free time to do so.

I am going to use the same structure and format as the earlier post for consistency.

WHAT I HAVE

Growing your networth bit by bit.

Let me first start off by detailing what I have. As before, I'm going to exclude the DBSS that my wife and I bought because we still have a big mortgage to service, which makes our flat more of a liability than an asset.

Cash and Equivalents:
  1. Personal Savings - $110,000 [no change]
  2. Joint Savings with Spouse - $50,000 [no change]
  3. Daughter's Savings - $20,000 [an increase of $1,000]
  4. Son's Savings - $16,000
FD and Equivalents:
  1. Dad's CPF - $20,000 (Can be withdrawn with short advance notice as my Dad is past 55 years old. Basically, instead of him withdrawing from his CPF at age 55, I gave him $20k cash. I treat it as a 10 year FD yielding 2.5% p.a.) [Since Oct 16]
  2. Mum's CPF - $14,000 (My mum has minimal CPF balances, hence I've decided to contribute to her SA and getting some tax relief in the process. She will receive monthly payout from CPF LIFE when she reaches around age 65 to help offset her living expenses.) [Sep 16; Jan 17]
Personal CPF:
  1. Ordinary Account - $42,000 [an increase of $11,000]
  2. Special Account - $36,000 [an increase of $5,000]
  3. Medisave Account - $46,000 [an increase of $1,000]
Investments:
  1. Common Stocks - $87,000 (market value on 23 Dec 16) [an increase of $45,000, mainly due to capital injection]
  2. 87 Oz of Silver -  $2,087.13 (87 x $23.99)
  3. Bonds - $1,015 (market value on 26 May 17)
TOTAL OWNED: $444,100 [previously: $367,000]

WHAT I OWE

The burden of debt.

The only liability that I have is the $650,000 housing loan that my spouse and I took from HDB. Monthly mortgage is about $2,668. Very substantial in relations to our income.
  1. Outstanding Housing Loan - $601,000 [a decrease of $9,000]
TOTAL OWED: $601,000


MY GOALS FOR 2017

The goal I set for 2017 is to sock away $30k, including the $7k I am putting into my mum's CPF SA. I've already exceeded that target in the first 5 months of 2017, as seen in the (more than $70k) increase in my total networth. Even if I take out the increase in CPF balances, I am still way above my initial target.

To be fair, the baby bonus (received $3k thus far) and CDA contributions/matching by the government ($6k in total) helped to bump up the figure a fair bit too. All my children's money are in their respective CDA accounts, earning 2% p.a. Not too shabby to be honest. =)

Addition of New Family Member!



And so I just received my second bundle of joy about 2 months ago. After experiencing having two young children at home (my elder one is 18 months older), my wife and I sort of agreed to "stop at two".

"Maintenance" cost of children is really high, not only in monetary terms, but emotionally as well. While they are a joy to have, their insatiable thirst for attention sometimes make my wife and I wonder if it's a fair trade afterall. Only when they are taking naps (at the same time) will we get some breathing space.

Anyway, since this is a financial blog, I will briefly share the cost of my wife's pregnancy.

From the first consultation up till delivery via cesarean at Thomson Medical Centre, the total amount that we've spent is about $11,000. Below are some brief details on the pregnancy for reference:
  1. Total number of consultation with private gynae: 8 (each session costing around $160)
  2. No complications - smooth pregnancy
  3. Took the basic test for Down Syndrome [I think it's OSCAR test. The cheaper one]
  4. 3-nights stay in single ward in TMC
  5. Cesarean delivery
While I have the exact breakdown of the expenses, I don't think it's useful to share it here as everyone's situation will likely be minimally, slightly different. A ballpark figure should be useful enough for aspiring parents.

The cost of raising a kid is not to be underestimated. As much as we try to cut down on our expenses, there are many expenditures that simply can't be avoided. For instance, while we try to source around for free baby clothes and shoes and what-nots, and buy from carousell as much as we can, we can't use second-hand diapers and milk powder. Also, even if we don't believe in sending our children to "branded" pre-schools, we would be hard-pressed not to even send them to PCF or MyFirstSkool when they are about 3 years old. If anything at all, they will need to pick up important social skills. School fees itself will set a family back by about $500/month/child. 

And these just form the tip of an iceberg. Compound that over 20 years, the amount is phenomenal for a middle-class household.

Well...suffice to say that I just took 10 steps backwards in my journey towards Financial Freedom. Haha. 

Update on Progress / Key Financial Moves Taken



The last time I took stock of my financial position was about 2 months ago, towards the end of 2016 here. I was actually planning to take stock every 6-monthly, but because I did quite a couple of things in the first 2 months of 2017, I thought it might be useful for me to keep track of them in my blog.

1. Top up my mum's CPF


As a promise I made to myself, I contributed yet another $7000 to my mum's CPF Special Account sometime in Jan this year. As CPF interests are computed monthly, I made a deliberate decision to put in the entire sum right at the beginning of the year to maximise the amount of interest I (or rather, my mum) can receive. It wasn't as hard this time round since I've very much prepared myself emotionally for it.

2. Made multiple investments in stocks.


I built up my stocks portfolio quite substantially in the last few months, taking advantage of price weakness whenever they surface. I am just starting out on this journey of investing for the long term, and the hardest part is controlling my own emotions. I used to trade a lot with very bad results. Lost a sizeable amount of my savings. Hopefully I will learn to be become a more skillful master of my own emotions.

Specifically, I bought the following:

a. Asian Pay Tv @ $0.38
b. FIRST REIT @ $1.255
c. AA REIT @ $1.275
d. DBS @ $15 [But I sold it off too early at 16.35. Another hard reminder to myself not to meddle with my positions unnecessarily.]
e. M1 @ $2.39 and $2.16

I made a deliberate decision to divert some of my funds for foreign stocks to reduce geographical risk. I didn't like US because of the high taxes, choosing Hong Kong instead. I bought the following:

f. TVB @ $25.70 and $26.90
g. SJM @ $6.02

3. Made a partial capital repayment of $2665 for my HDB mortgage loan (by mistake).


I am receiving about $2500 monthly from renting out my HDB. For the first 8 months, the cash just goes straight into my savings account. However, the amount of cash I am holding has reached a point where I find it hard to generate decent returns. I've used up all my options already: UOB ONE, OCBC 360, and BOC SmartSaver. Any additional cash that I continue to accumulate will have to go straight to CIMB Fastsaver, which only earns 1% p.a. To be fair, it's a good rate given that there are no hurdles to jump through. However, as compared to the 2.6% which I am paying for my mortgage, earning 1% on my cash will mean that the cost of holding that amount of cash is actually 1.6%, which to me, is rather high.

So I am left with 2 choices. First, I can use those accumulated rental income to make a one-off partial capital repayment of my loan, hence saving me on interest. However, this will mean that my income tax will increase as my rental income less interest paid will increase. Or, second, I can use the monthly income to pay the mortgage installments, so the money in my CPF will be left untouched and can start to build up and earn the 2.5% interest. When I eventually stop renting, I can then have the option of using the entire sum in my OA to pay down my loan. The cost of holding "cash" in OA as compared to paying off the loan straight off is only a mere 0.1% (ignoring the additional 1% to be earned on the first $20k in OA for simplicity).

Mathematically, the second option is better, as money in OA is a form of buffer to continue servicing the mortgage loan should I lose my job. I will also be better off as the amount of additional tax I would have needed to pay is more than the 0.1% holding cost. Hence, given all these reasons, I tried to find ways to pay my outstanding monthly mortgage in cash before deductions are made from my CPF accounts. To cut the long story short, I made the cash payment, but the CPF deduction still happened. I emailed HDB to ask them how can I change the default payment method from CPF to bank GIRO. Waiting eagerly to hear from them.

Conclusion


So that's it! These are the few things I've done in the last few months. My personal cash savings is still at $110k, and joint savings with my wife is still $50k. Nothing else has changed much besides the above.






Using the Law of Diminishing Marginal Return to Guide Our Spending

"Pay yourself first", "Have a budget" - these are financial advice all of us hear too often. I started off heeding these advice as well, setting aside money to be saved and money to be spent every month. While I am not about to write in detail the pros and cons of each of these systems, I would like to suggest an alternative method to guide our spending. 

Let me illustrate the method with a story.

An eatery serving local traditional fare like bak chor mee and laksa.

There is this eatery called EAT near my workplace. Every time I stand in queue waiting for my turn to place my order, I will be running through this thinking process to decide what I will eat:
  1. One bowl of fishball noodles cost $4.20. One bowl of minced meat noodles cost $5.00. I am paying $0.80 more to change my fishballs for minced meat, some tiny pieces of mushroom, and one fried wanton skin. Is it worth it? Though I would very much prefer the latter option, I almost always choose to order fishball noodles instead.
  2. The price quoted above is inclusive of a hot drink, either hot tea or hot coffee. On my first visit, not knowing better, I opted for a glass of iced water chestnut instead of the standard hot tea/coffee. I was expecting to top-up $0.50 for the change. But no. I was made to top-up $1.50. And then I asked: "How much does it cost to buy the cold drink on its own?". "$1.50" was the reply I got. WHAT?!?!?! My mind was blown. Since then, I will always take the default hot drink, no matter how warm the weather is.

So what went through my head?

First, I have to decide what's the marginal utility I gain from eating minced meat instead of fishball. For the benefit of those who does not know what that means, just answer these 2 questions:

On a scale of 1 to 10, what level of enjoyment do you derive from eating minced meat?
On the same scale, rate your enjoyment level from eating fishballs.

The difference between the two scores is the marginal utility you gain from eating minced meat instead of fishball.

Now, would you pay $0.80 more for that marginal utility?

I won't. I like minced meat more than fishball, but I don't like it that much more.

Next, apply the same principle to your choice of drink.

If I have a cup of hot tea/coffee, I am definitely not going to trade my cup of tea/coffee PLUS $1.50 for your glass of cold water chestnut. It's not a fair trade. You are taking advantage of me.

What blows my mind is that almost all my colleagues will go for the minced meat noodles and the cold drink!

And they tell me "don't need to save until like that lah!"

I suppose they have a budget for every meal, so as long as they do not exceed that budget, they are good with it.

But that's hardly the point.

Don't buy something just cause you can; Buy it because the utility gained exceeds the pain associated with parting with the money used (or the utility preserved by not parting with that money).

That, I guess to me, is the point.

Passive Income Update

HAPPY NEW YEAR


Happy New Year everyone! 2016 seemed to have flown by don't you think? It's true that as one grow older, time seems to speed up. It's rather scary because a year can just pass us by while we are playing Candy Crush or Pokemon Go. It is timely, on the first day of 2017, to remind myself that time is a precious limited resource, and I should be more deliberate and intentional in the way I use it.

As a continuation to the update on my networth, and before I start living out my 2017, I shall take stock of the passive income I received in 2016.

In 2016, I received passive income from the following sources:
  1. Rental Income from my DBSS flat.
  2. Interest Income on my Cash Holding.
  3. Dividends from my Investment Portfolio.
Let's go through each of them in turn.

RENTAL INCOME FROM DBSS FLAT

For the uninitiated, after the arrival of our daughter, we had to seek waiver from HDB to allow us to rent out our newly-acquired DBSS flat (read more about it here). It is unlikely to be a long term arrangement as we still have to move back to serve our MOP. Nonetheless, the passive income from rental really helped boost our monthly cashflow. We have been saving up the entire amount to pay down our huge mortgage.

Rental Income: $25,000 after deducting all the associated fees (I assumed expenses are 2 months worth of rental).

This works out to be $2083.33 per month.

INTEREST INCOME ON CASH HOLDING


Throughout the year, I earned interest from a combination of (1) OCBC 360 account, (2) UOB ONE account, (3) BOC SmartSaver account, (4) Standard Chartered eSaver account, and (5) CIMB Fastsaver account, depending on the promotion available and what suited me more.

BOC SmartSaver Account.
Out of the list of accounts above, I think BOC SmartSaver is the least raved about one. I don't know why, but it offers one of the best rates when it first started out. Take a look at their interest rates:

Bonus interest rates for BOC SmartSaver account.
Prevailing savings interest rates for BOC SmartSaver account.
I rushed to open an account after reading a blogpost by scg8866t. Basically, to earn 3.55% interest, you have to fulfill the same 3 conditions as what's required of OCBC 360 account. But there was a hack. the $500 card spend can be fulfilled using their debit card. So.....this means that I could use AXS mobile and pay for my UOB ONE credit card bill using my BOC debit card. That's killing 2 birds with 1 stone! The Spend Bonus is a whopping 1.55%, and combine that with 3 Bill Payments of $5 each, and the base savings interest rates for balances of $50,000 and above, I could get an effective interest rates of 2.55% p.a. even without qualifying for the Salary Credit Bonus. This was awesome, until recently they closed the loophole and made a whole host of other changes. It's still worth checking it out though (here), because they made some attractive improvements to their Family Card.

Oops, sorry for digressing.

Here is my Interest Income for 2016: $3433.

This works out to be $286.08 per month.

DIVIDEND INCOME FROM INVESTMENT PORTFOLIO

I am looking for an elegant way to share my portfolio on this blog, but that's still work in progress. It's a small portfolio with a few legacy holdings from the times when I simply anyhow buy. But I've since learnt my lesson and am now trying to build up a quality, income generating portfolio.

Dividend Income: $745.73.

This works out to be $62.14 per month.

SUMMARY

Total Passive Income for 2016: $29,178.73

But if I were to remove rental income, total passive income will become: $4,178.33

This works out to be $348.22 per month.

8 Money Saving Tips in Raising a Child


Is your budget baby-proof?

 My parents, rather unabashedly, once told me this:
If you don't plan to have children, then don't even get married. Get married for what? Just stay together can already.
My gut feel tells me many others think this way as well. I mean, why else would one wants to get married right? Especially for the men. Matrimonial contracts have "anti-men" written all over it. Nothing in the contract benefits us. I mean, that's the plain truth if I am absolutely objective and clinical about it.
The moment you sign on the contract, what's yours is hers, what's hers remains hers.
But anyhow, despite all the terms that are set up against me, I got married at 24. Going by the logic of my parents', I have to start a family eventually. Both my wife and I weren't sure about it, but we weren't against it either, so we simply not choose and let nature takes its course. About a year later, tadah! My wife got pregnant. To be honest, I didn't know what to feel when I first heard the news. I wasn't over the moon; I wasn't scared; I wasn't feeling anything. It was just that: I am becoming a father soon, and that didn't mean anything to me at that point.

Shortly after though, the financial commitment associated with raising a child began to dawn on me. It was anxiety-inducing to say the least, as I wasn't quite prepared to give up (or at least delay) my dream of achieving financial freedom. But it was no longer an option.

To set the record straight, I wasn't regretting. I was just feeling uncertain and anxious.

16 months on, I am glad my wife and I had chosen not to choose. I mean, sure, we now have to be a little more careful with our money, but it has not yet turn into something that keeps me awake at night. Just like what my parents told me (again), raising a child can be relatively affordable, or extremely expensive, it all depends on your expectations as parents. So to everyone out there who needs this last bit of encouragement to start a family, go ahead and take that leap of faith! It's not half as scary as you imagine.

After being a parent for slightly over a year, I'm proud to say that I've mostly been able to keep to my prudent lifestyle. Sure, expenses will increase, but as with every other situation, there are always ways to limit the scale of it. It all depends on our expectations, right?

So here are some money saving habits that I have to share:

  1. Ask for Used Baby Clothing from Friends/Relatives/Colleagues. Before my daughter was born, my wife's colleagues handed over many bags of baby clothing and a few old but functional toys. Another colleague of mine passed me his baby car seat which he got from another colleague of ours. These items are not new, but with a little cleaning, they are good enough. I told my wife that it's better to use old stuff because they are likely to be rid of all the nasty chemicals used in production. She agreed, and so we not only saved tons of money, but also helped conserve the environment a little. The Earth needs all the help it can get.
  2. Carousell for the Win! Well, not everything comes free, and there are times when you simply need to spend that hard earned dollar. But why not stretch that dollar? There are many good deals on carousell. I managed to buy a used baby high chair for less than half the retail price, a new booster seat at a great discount, and many others! The seller of the booster seat received the item as a gift, but has no use for it. His loss, my gain =)
  3. Explore Free Places. My daughter is 16 months old now. She is able to walk and do random baby things, but I doubt she will be able to appreciate places like Universal Studio. I've always insisted that we bring her to free-to-enter places like Singapore Discovery Centre. There are enough spaces for her to explore, and even if the exhibits are not world-class, they are good enough to keep the baby's senses occupied. We've mainly kept to this practice, but my wife had this nagging urge to bring our baby to the zoo to look at real animals. When I finally relented to her repeated requests though, she was disappointed as my daughter could not yet appreciate what she saw.
  4. Borrow Books from the Library. My wife was initially concerned that books from public library, especially children's books, will be rather filthy. That didn't stop me from dragging her to take an actual look before we make any conclusions. She is now appreciative of the variety of books she can borrow for our daughter, and since 1-year-old has an attention span of like 3 minutes, the benefits of being able to constantly refresh the titles we have available at home came up more starkly.
  5. Make Your Own Toys. I am repeatedly surprised by the stuffs my daughter finds interesting. I brought home an empty paper cup from Burger King, washed it clean and shouted into it like how one would use a loud hailer, and that got her so excited. When she finally got bored of it, I cut two holes at the side, tied a string across, and "transformed" it into a hat. She was more intrigued by that cup than most of the toys she has.
  6. Look into Your Old Stash. I have to thank my mother-in-law for this. She actually kept my wife's doll house for 20 over years! We whipped that out and my daughter had so much fun playing with it. Some figurines have their necks broken, but nothing too catastrophic that super glue can't resolve. 
  7. Polyclinics for the Win! Like many first-time parents, we only want the best for the kids, but sometimes we really should pause and consider if the cheaper alternative is indeed inferior. The first few vaccines that my baby had to take was at a GP/Gynae. The charges weren't sky-high, but they weren't cheap either. We decided to take our daughter to the polyclinic for her vaccines on the advice of other parents, and I instantly regretted not going there right from the start. Most of the compulsory vaccines were FOC, and the nurses were all very well-trained and professional. There was once when we had to bring home some paracetamol just in case she develops fever after the injection, and so I made my way to the dispensary. I couldn't believe my ears when I was told to pay like 30c (I really couldn't remember the price because it was ridiculously low) for the bottle of medicine. Being Singaporeans, there are really many things to be grateful for.
  8. Have a Few More! Last but not least, have a few more babies, and keep their age close! The cost of raising the second child is likely to be lower than the first, as many things can be handed down. That's economies of scale right there for you to exploit.
That's it! These are 8 practices I keep to to prevent my wallet from emptying out too quickly. And yes, I do practice what I preach: my second child is arriving in Mar =)

Networth Update


Taking stock of what you own and owe.

 WHAT IS THIS POST ABOUT

2016 is coming to an end, and I thought it might be useful to take stock of where I am now financially. I've stayed prudent and thrifty for the last 4.5 years since I started working, but I've never taken stock of my financial position. Instead of setting aside fixed budget every month, I view every spending opportunity independently, and rely on my principles (more on this in a separate post) to guide my spending decisions. While I can be sure that every cent I spend is well worth it, and that there are no more "fats to be cut" without inflicting much discomfort on myself or on people around me, I won't be able to say with certainty how much I've been adding to my net-worth annually. By putting down in details my financial status year after year, I hope to better quantify my progression. This is the first stock-take I will be doing, so wherever I am now today will set the baseline. I aim to do a review bi-annually.

WHAT I HAVE

Growing your networth bit by bit.

Let me first detail what I have. I'm going to exclude the DBSS that my wife and I bought because we still have a big mortgage to service, which makes our flat more of a liability than an asset.

Cash and Equivalents:
  1. Personal Savings - $110,000
  2. Joint Savings with Spouse - $50,000
  3. Daughter's Savings - $19,000 ($13,000 in her CDA; $6,000 in cash)
  4. (Unborn) Son's Savings - $10,000 (Part of this will be used to pay for the delivery expenses in Mar 17)
FD and Equivalents:
  1. Dad's CPF - $20,000 (Can be withdrawn with short advance notice as my Dad is past 55 years old. Basically, instead of him withdrawing from his CPF at age 55, I gave him $20k cash. I treat it as a 10 year FD yielding 2.5% p.a.)
  2. Mum's CPF - $7,000 (My mum has minimal CPF balances, hence I've decided to contribute to her SA and getting some tax relief in the process. She will receive monthly payout from CPF LIFE when she reaches around age 65 to help offset her living expenses.)
Personal CPF:
  1. Ordinary Account - $31,000
  2. Special Account - $31,000
  3. Medisave Account - $45,000
Investments:
  1. Common Stocks - $42,000 (market value on 23 Dec 16)
  2. 1 Oz Canadian Silver Maple -  $1,177.50 (50 coins x $23.55)
  3. Bonds - $1,000 (market value on 23 Dec 16)
TOTAL OWNED: $367,000

WHAT I OWE

The burden of debt.

The only liability that I have is the $650,000 housing loan that my spouse and I took from HDB. Monthly mortgage is about $2,680. Very substantial in relations to our income.
  1. Outstanding Housing Loan - $610,000
TOTAL OWED: $610,000


MY GOALS FOR 2017

So where am I going next? For 2017, I am targeting to sock away $30,000 (inclusive of the $7,000 I will be contributing to my mum's SA) from my salary, and joint savings of $25,000 from our rental income. We are expecting our son in Mar 17, and I hope that the additional expenses will not set me back too far from my target.

How Interest Rate of our CPF OA Account is Calculated and its Repercussions



Yes! I finally found the exact formula used to calculate the interest rate that the balances in our CPF OA accounts earn. This should be public information, but somehow it took me much effort to find this.

THE FORMULA

The legislated floor rate for OA balances is 2.5% per annum. Since the 3-month average of major local banks' interest rates is lower than this, our OA balances will continue to attract interest at a rate of 2.5% p.a. from 1 Jan 17 to 31 Mar 17.

It's enlightening to know that the OA interest rates is calculated based on 80FD:20SD. I've always thought that only fixed deposit rates are considered.

One thing that is not specified here is the tenor of the fixed deposit. Is it a 12-month fixed deposit, or a 24 month one? I went on to the banks' websites to check it out for myself.


As shown in the above image, 12-month fixed deposit rates for DBS is used for the computation. Cross referencing UOB and OCBC websites yielded the same outcome.

So now we know exactly how CPF OA rates are computed, what does it mean for us then?

WHAT IF INTEREST RATES RISES?

If the computed rates should go above the legislated floor rate of 2.5%, the interest rates on our CPF OA will always be slightly lower than that of a 12-month fixed deposit due to the 80FD:20SD formula. This has a few repercussions:

1. Paying your home loan earlier than necessary using cash no longer makes financial sense. As the HDB home loan rate is pegged at 0.1% above CPF OA rates, which in turn will always be slightly lower than the 12-month FD rate due to the 80FD:20SD formula, the interest rates on your HDB home loan will be very similar to that of a 12-month FD. Paying down your home loan using cash quicker than necessary no longer makes sense in this situation. If your excess cash is put into a 12-month fixed deposit, the amount of interest earned from this will be very similar (or even higher if you choose a 36-month FD instead) to the interest you could otherwise have saved if the money is used to pay down the home loan. Interest savings is the main reason why we might want to pay down our mortgage early. If this is negated when CPF OA rates rises above the legislated floor rate, it might be wiser to simply leave our excess cash in a FD account to maintain liquidity.

2. CPF Concessionary Housing Loan will really be concessionary. For the longest time, we wonder how is the home loan offered by HDB concessionary. Home loan interest rates offered by private banks have been lower than the 2.6% that HDB is charging, and it seems like people who took up HDB loan have been taken for a ride. Further, banks have came up with innovative products that peg mortgage rates to fixed deposit rates, not dissimilar to how OA rates is calculated. While this might provide more stability than products pegged to SIBOR or SOR, they aren't actually better than HDB housing loan in a high interest rate environment. Let's take a look at the FHR mortgage provided by POSB.


The FHR-18 home loan rate is calculated by taking the prevailing 18 months SGD fixed deposit rate offered by DBS bank for amounts within $1,000 to $9,999, and adding 1.30% to it. This is inferior to the HDB loan in a few ways:
  • The rates for 18-month fixed deposit is likely to be always higher than the 12-month fixed deposit rates used to compute CPF OA interest. For comparison, the current 18-month fixed deposit rate is 0.60%, as opposed to the 12-month rate of 0.35% (for DBS).
  • While the home loan provided by POSB adds 1.30% to the FHR18, HDB only adds 0.10% to the CPF OA rate.
  • CPF OA rate takes into account savings deposit rate using the formula: 80FD:20SD. Since SD rates are always lower than FD's, the resulting rates will be lower.
What this means is that once the 18-month fixed deposit rate exceeds 1.30%, interest rate of this particular product will be higher than that of HDB concessionary loan. Now we see how HDB Concessionary Loan gets its name.
3. Cash will give you higher risk-free returns than balances in CPF OA accounts. Due to the 80FD:20SD formula used to compute CPF OA rates, balances in OA will yield slightly lower returns compared to a pure 12-month FD. The gap will be even wider if you compare to a 36-month FD. Further, cash in FD affords you greater liquidity than balances in CPF OA. There will really be no reason why you would prefer CPF OA over cash parked in FD.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

If you expect interest rates to stay long for another decade, then what we have been used to thinking doesn't change. That is, we should continue to:
  • choose to take up home loan from banks instead of from HDB.
  • pay down our housing loan using cash as fast as we can to save on interest expense
  • use cash to make our monthly mortgage payment if you can afford to, and let your OA balances compound (assuming you are only interested in risk-free instruments, so stocks/REITS or other more risky investments are out of your radar)
However, if you think interest rates will rise soon, then we should start questioning the "conventional wisdoms". We've been in a low interest rates environment for far too long, and we are starting to take it for granted. If rates are to rise, we should do the following:
  • choose HDB Concessionary Loan over banks' home loans. 
  •  your mortgage loan should stretch out for as long a period of time as HDB is willing to grant you. Interest expense incurred can be easily covered by the interest earned from FD.
  • use your OA balances for mortgage repayment as much as you can. Keep your cash for FDs, which are likely to earn you more interests, albeit marginally. 

ADOPTING A BALANCED APPROACH

The above are some actions that we can take under the two extreme scenarios. However, none of us can predict with certainty what the future might look like. Our best bet is to take a balanced approach and hedge our positions. If you have $100k of excess cash to pay down your mortgage, why not just do $50k first, and keep the remainder as cash just in case? There is no right answer to this really, it depends on what you are comfortable with, and where your conviction lies.

What I hope this article will achieve is to remind all of us that, while we are very used to, in fact, too used to a low interest environment, there is this other side of the coin that looks vastly different. When we take up a mortgage loan, choose to pay down our loan, and make voluntary contributions to our CPF accounts, we are committing to decision that cannot be easily unwound. It is thus prudent to consider the merits of our choices under different but entirely plausible circumstances, and thereafter calibrate our decisions accordingly.

Turning a Mistake into Opportunity, and Strengthening My Conviction in the Process!

Building streams of passive income - a hard but worthwhile goal.

THE MISTAKE

One of the biggest financial mistakes I've made is buying a 5-room DBSS flat in Tampines. I paid $722,000 for it, and even after $30,000 first-timer grant from the government, the flat still cost a princely $692,000. It is a lot of money for someone just fresh out of college. I must have been out of my mind when I bought the house, and AK's post (link) doesn't help me feel better.

Well, it's not that we don't have our reasons for buying the flat. As compared to balloting for a BTO, which will have us waiting for 4 years or so, the DBSS was a sale-of-balance exercise and will be ready in a year's time. My wife and I really wanted to start a family while we are young, and so we went ahead with the purchase. I know I know. We could have bought a resale flat in a non-mature estate and that would have cost us a fraction of what we paid for the DBSS, and possibly be able to move in even earlier as well. I concede that there can be no justification strong enough for the purchase, and that's why I started off by admitting that this is a financial mistake.

Have I regretted buying the flat then? I am not sure. I still like the house and the location very much, and I think good things have happened after we moved in. I got a small promotion at work and my wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter. I am a little Pan-Tang this way, and I think the house must have brought us some good luck.

THE OPPORTUNITY

After my wife's maternity leave, she has to return to the workforce because my single income cannot keep up with the mortgage payment and the household expenses. As we wanted to minimize the potential for conflict between ourselves and our parents-in-law, we got a helper to take care of the little girl as well. At first, we tried shuttling between our own house in Tampines and my in-laws' place in Serangoon, but that proved too cumbersome. We reckon that it's not beneficial for the baby in the long term as well, since we always got to wake her up early in the morning, disrupting her sleep. I thus suggested that we moved in with either my parents or my wife's. Of course, my wife chose the latter as expected.

Our house was newly renovated at this point. We only stayed there for about 15 months or so. When I suggested to my wife that we should rent out the house since we won't be staying there for at least a few years, my wife objected to it vehemently. She didn't want the tenant to spoil our furniture etc. I cant blame her for that, since it also took me a bit of self-psycho-ing to convince myself that this is the most sensible thing to do. After all, I really wished to reduce the "damage' that this "mistake" has caused us.

STRENGTHENING MY CONVICTION

It took a few more sessions of coo-ing and molly-coddling before my wife finally relented. Looking back now, it turned out to be a decision that both of us are thankful for making. We are now receiving $2,500 per month in rental income, and I insisted that we save up all of these monies to make early repayments for our mortgage loan. In 2 years' time, assuming that the cost of renting the house is about $5k a year (agent's fees, income tax, delta in property tax, and maintenance), we will be looking at an additional saving of about $50,000. This is amazing, as it takes little to no effort on our part to save this amount. Imagine if we can continue to rent out the house for a total of 5 years, we will be able to bring down our mortgage loan by $125k, and the cost of our house down from $692k to $567k. This figure is closer to what a 5-year-old, 5-room HDB in a mature estate will cost. Sounds less like a mistake now? Definitely!

Besides the financial benefits, this experience gave me a taste of what receiving passive income feels like and strengthen my commitment and desire of building a substantial steam of passive income!






Voluntary Contribution to CPF Special or Retirement Account - Not As Easy Emotionally As I Believed

Save for your retirement and save on taxes - only available in Singapore.inc.
Save for your retirement and save on taxes - only available in Singapore.inc.

Sometime in June this year, I blogged about how anyone in similar situation as mine can instantly get 7.53% capital gain and a 5.38% yield on capital per annum [link]. It was easy going through the fancy numbers and writing about it, but to actually put the plan to action? Tough. No matter how impressive the plan looks on paper, the idea of locking up my money for the next 15 years and never getting them back in full doesn't really sit well on me emotionally. It feels like I'm "giving away" my money, and who does that?

But as much as I hated that feeling of parting with my hard-saved money, I knew I had to stick to my plan if I am serious about securing my financial future. So I bit my tongue and took the plunge, contributing $200 to my mum's SA a few days later. Yes, a grand total of $200. This is the first time I am using the e-cashier platform on the CPF website; it's only prudent to test it out first. Expectantly, the money appeared in my mum's CPF account a few days later.

Then, here comes the hard bit. I intended to contribute a total of $7000 to my mum's CPF to maximize my tax benefits, which left me with $6800 more to go! Okay well, to some of the higher-income earners out there, maybe this does not sound much to you, but it's sizable and significant to me. You know how sometimes people can conveniently leave a $2 note in a corner of their house and forget about it? $6800 is not that to me. $6800 is an amount I will safe-keep in a strongbox made of 10 cm thick fire-resistant alloy that's hidden in the most concealed corner of my house and drilled to the wall with a pair of 10 cm long screws. Yes, it's exactly that, and now you can see how difficult it is for me to use that money to buy a golden egg that will only hatch 15 years year. In fact, it's so difficult that I actually put the plan on hold for the next 1 month.

In that 1 month, I kept looking for reasons not to follow through with the plan. I could not find one compelling enough.

So again, I bit my tongue for the second time and made a contribution of $2800. The money appeared where it should a few days later.

With $4000 left to go, I sat on the plan yet again. I sat on it so much that I nearly developed piles. Eventually, I got so sick of sitting and the risk of actually developing piles got so high that I went back to biting my now-swollen tongue instead and made my final contribution of $4000.

And now I can rest and prepare myself for the next round of tongue-biting and piles-developing exercise. I hope it gets easier.

Education Savings Plan for My Daughter?



A trustworthy and a very close friend of my wife highly recommended this education savings plan to me. I am inclined to take a closer look at the plan because I know that commissions she earns from selling insurance does not form the bulk of her income. She has other things going on for her. The conflict of interest, though not entirely eliminated, is at least kept to a minimum. If the recommendation was from anyone else, I must admit that I wouldn't give it a second look.

So was I disappointed by the recommendation? Not totally, but I think the financially savvy can do better with a bit more effort and discipline.

The plan is called Manulife Educate. Here are some screenshots of the brochure I received.









Let's take a closer look at the example provided to determine if we are really getting good value.

Nancy's father bought the Manulife Educate policy for her at birth, paying a premium of $3723.20 a year for the first 10 years. The total guaranteed cash benefits received when Nancy turns 21 is $44,000. The estimated bonus at maturity, assuming a return of 4.75% per annum, is $17,668.

In summary:
Total premiums paid: $37,232
Total returns (guaranteed benefits + non-guaranteed bonus): $44,000 + $17,668 = $61,668

Looks good at first, but let's analyse the numbers in two segments: (1) Non-guaranteed Bonus and (2) Guaranteed Benefits.

Non-Guaranteed Bonus

Non-guaranteed bonus is, well, not guaranteed. If we can set-up an imaginary portfolio that tracks the performance of the funds that the policy buys into, how much do we have to put into the portfolio in order to have $17,668 (assuming 4.75% annual returns) after 21 years? I did some calculations using a spreadsheet, and the result is: $814.30.



In other words, if we can save $814.30 every year, and generate 4.75% per annum on that savings, we will have $17,667.58 in 21 years. Note that we are not discussing whether 4.75% is an achievable target, nor are we analysing which investment product gives you the best chance of achieving this return. We are merely determining the amount that we need to put aside every year, channel the money into somewhere that yields the same return, so as to have the equivalent of the non-guaranteed bonus offered by the policy.

Guaranteed Benefits

If we set aside $814.30 every year to try and get the non-guaranteed bonus, we will have ($3723.20 - $814.30) $2908.90 left. With this amount every year, what would be the required rate of return for us to receive the same amount of guaranteed cash benefits offered by the policy?



The answer is, 2.89%.

Meaning to say, the policy offers you 2.89% return per annum for the guaranteed benefit. Is this a good enough return for tying up your money for 15-20 years? Would you put your money into a 15-20 year fixed deposit for 2.89% p.a.?

Alternatives

To beat 2.89% p.a. is not hard if you invest in a low-cost STI ETF for the long term. However, that is hardly a close alternative because of the risk involved.

A closer alternative to the policy is our Child Development Account (CDA) and Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA). The interest rate for monies in CDA is currently at 2% p.a. (for balances up to a maximum of $36k for OCBC), while that for the PSEA is pegged to the CPF OA rates (currently at 2.5% p.a.). The money in the CDA account can be used to pay for approved expenses, so it's not totally illiquid. When your child turns 12, unused money in CDA will be transferred to PSEA, which can then be used to pay for post-secondary education expenses.

So how does this alternative compares to the Manulife Educate policy? Again, I ran some numbers and found out that we will end up with about $4000 lesser. That's about $200 lesser yearly.



As with most things, there are always the good and the bad. Below is a summary:



If I just starting out in my career, I would probably appreciate some liquidity in the first few years of my child's life. CDA-PSEA will suit my needs better.

If I aspire to send my child for overseas education, I will prefer to receive all benefits in cash. Manulife Educate will then be my choice.

If I think that interest rates will rise, even if I know I will be worse off by $4000, I might still decide to take my chances and buy into something with returns that better track the risk-free interest rates. In this case, CDA-PSEA is better.

If I would rather not manage that $814.30 every year to try and get the non-guaranteed bonus offered by the policy, then Manulife Educate will work for me. I will just leave it to the "experts" to manage my money. [Like AK71, I don't believe in mutual funds and unit trusts due to the high expense ratio. But I believe for some, these might still be their best option.]

There is no easy option. What I've done is to break down the policy and analyse it in greater detail. Hopefully this helps us in our decision-making.

*The plan provides the Life Insured with coverage for death and terminal illness. I don't currently have the details to this coverage, hence I've left it out in this analysis, Depending on the coverage, the policy might become more or less attractive.

Gold to Monetary Base Ratio and other Interesting Charts

Chart showing the 100 year history of gold prices. From the chart alone, gold price looks overvalued, but is it really?

Just before Brexit, I almost bought gold at SGD 1746 on SilverBullion. I created a new account, added one ounce of Canadian Gold Maple Leaf into my shopping cart, filled in my address and all the other details required to place an order, but backed-off at the last stage.

Well, we all know what happened after Brexit. Gold price had a good run-up amidst the uncertainties, and I missed my chance of getting my bullion at a good price. At the time of this post, one ounce of Canadian Gold Maple Leaf is more than SGD 1900 already.

I actually wanted to buy gold in December last year, but I chose to buy silver Maple Leaf instead. Silver prices at that time reached 2008 level. That simply doesn't make sense to me. We all know how much money printing there was since the GFC, so how can silver prices not go up given the huge increase in monetary base? Same for gold as well, but I was more compelled to buy silver. I bought a total of 50 ounces of silver Canadian Maple Leaf from Bullionstar at about SGD 23 each.

So anyway, back to the main reason for this post. Post-Brexit, Dow Jones Index (DJI) immediately plunged 610 points, or 3.1% to close at 17,400. The market continued to be jittered by the unexpected turn of events and shed another 1.5% on the second session. After which, stocks made a u-turn. Somehow, somewhat, the uncertainties subsided, and suddenly everyone started to think that Brexit is actually good for the economy. I don't know what caused the u-turn, or if there was an invisible hand orchestrating all these, but here is my observation:

When the market plunged in the two trading sessions following Brexit, gold price shot up by about SGD 100 per ounce. This did not came as a surprise because during uncertain times, gold is the safe haven. Investors were selling British Pounds to buy USD and Gold. But, when DJI recovered subsequently to hit 18,000 points, gold prices remained stable. This is not usual. DJI and gold prices are usually inversely related.

Well, in the short term, perhaps this is nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps there were still many people cashing out their British Pounds and buying gold, which explains the sustained demand, and hence price of gold. I don't want to guess why all these happened because admittedly, I have no clue, but my hunch tells me that something is brewing. Perhaps this is the last rally before the storm. Or so I wish.

That observation prompted me to look for some charts to verify my perception of the inverse relationship of DJI and gold prices. I chanced upon marotrends.net, which boasts of many interesting charts. Here's a snapshot of the homepage.

A snapshot of the different types of charts offered by macrotrends.net.
What caught my eyes are these two charts:

1. Fed Balance Sheet VS Gold Price

A chart showing the relationship between the Fed Balance Sheet and Gold Prices, taken from macrotrends.net. Looks like there is an unlikely divergent uh?

2. Gold to Monetary Base Ratio

A chart showing the Gold to Monetary Base Ratio, taken from macrotrends.net. We are at a century-low.

In the first chart, we can see that percentage gold price increase (referencing gold price at 2004) tends to track the monthly percentage growth of the Federal Reserves balance sheet from 2004 up till around 2013. After which, there is a divergence. Fed Reserves balance sheet continues to climb, but gold price actually dropped. If history is a good teacher, sooner or later, the gap between the orange line and the blue line has to narrow. This can happen in three ways: (1) Fed Reserve balance sheet got to come down, (2) gold price has to go up, or (3) both. How can the Fed's balance sheet come down though? Let's take a closer look.

Just like any other balance sheet, Fed's balance sheet comprises of assets and liabilities. When the Fed buys something, that automatically becomes its assets. Traditionally, the assets that Fed holds in its balance sheets are high quality government securities and the likes. However, to save the economy during the last GFC, the Fed embark on a series of Quantitative Easings (QEs), which is just a fancy term for printing money. Well, most of these money doesn't actually end up in the pockets of the citizens as physical notes. The Fed merely bought over massive amount of toxic assets that threatened to bankrupt the largest of financial institutions. These actions means that a good proportion of the assets held by the Fed are low quality assets that actually no one wants. To reduce the Fed's balance sheet, Fed has to sell their assets. But, how much of their assets can actually be sold?

If the Fed's balance sheet can't be reduced easily, how else can the gap between the orange line and blue line converge then?

Then we have the second chart showing the Gold to Monetary Base ratio. We are at a 100 year low, meaning that gold is very lowly-priced now relatively to the amount of currencies slushing around the the market. Even with gold prices having been already risen quite substantially compared to 2008 levels, the rise is nothing compared to the increase in monetary base. Will we continue to hit new lows? My guess is as good as yours.

Till date, I am still not vested in gold bullion though. Always missing the lows and refusing to chase the run-up. It's just hard psychologically to buy something that cost 150 dollar cheaper just a few days ago. Maybe if viewing gold as a form of insurance is the right perspective to adopt, I should not be too overly concerned with short term fluctuations.