Another year, another birthday and work anniversary. This year’s milestone brings added irony, given that I’m on the verge of retrenchment. While this is horrible news by traditional standards, I’m actually quite excited with where my career will pivot to. So I’ll be ok. Really.
As is tradition now, I usually would share a personal story about money at these milestones. 2 years ago, I talked about my personal drive to reach $100k by 30. Last year, I shared about my close relative’s relationship with money.
This year I thought I’ll go back in time and share about my early relationship with money, till my university days. Here’s a collection of short stories about my relationship with money growing up.
Without a worry
I grew up in a middle class family with graduate parents. My parents earned solid middle income salaries which more or less paid for our needs and wants. While we were never outrageously rich, I grew up without ever feeling worried about money.
My extended family was a different story. My parents, uncles and aunties grew up relatively poor. They didn’t have the money to send most of my uncles and aunties to school or university. Most dropped out of primary / secondary school and worked to help support the family.
My parents were lucky in that they were among the youngest of the siblings. As such, with the whole family’s support, they managed to fund their education till university. I believe this is what drives my parents to continually support my extended family wherever they can, as a way of giving back.
As such, I can say I was incredibly lucky to have been born into a middle class family.
The ardent spendthrift
Friends who know me now would be shocked at this, but I was a spendthrift growing up. As a kid, I had many hobbies. Expensive hobbies. Here are some for a taste.
Gaming was a big part of my interests during primary to secondary school. I was a big Nintendo fan, I’ve probably owned almost every iteration of the Gameboy and DS. I also owned a Wii and now a Switch.
My parents were very strict on gaming, no games until after exams. What they probably didn’t understand then was that the more you tell someone you can’t do it, they more they will try to find ways around it.
I would find “ingenious” ways to play games. Sorry Mom and Dad 😛
If they weren’t home, I would be on my computer / console. I would train myself to listen for the main door to unlock and open. Estimate the time they would be back to shut down my computer before then to allow for cooling time. I reduced cooling time by wrapping ice in a towel to wipe down the PC.
If they were at home, I would pretend to be going through educational software and play games in a windowed form. I would position myself such that I could not be ambushed from behind or my body would have covered the game window. Alt-Tab was my friend and saviour.
I was sneaky little kid I know lol.
As a kid, I loved anything related to robots / mecha. I grew up in the golden days of Gundam, with Gundam Wing, SEED and OO released during my primary school to JC days. Enjoyed the anime and loved to make to the Gundam models. I wasn’t satisfied with the low grade ones, I always strived to buy MGs which costed at least $50 a pop.
I was also obsessed with a miniature collectible game called Mechwarrior Dark Age. It’s like a turn-based tabletop game like Warhammer but everything is pre-painted and bought from randomised booster packs costing $15 a pop. World of JJ at Bishan MRT was a popular haunt for card game / collectible enthusiast. I was one of those kids who would save up a couple of hundreds and blow it all on booster packs on launch day hoping to snag some awesome figurines.
Between saving my weekly allowance to pay for games and collectibles, I pretty much didn’t save anything during my primary to secondary years. And have cupboards full of collectibles gathering dust :S
One thing that my mother did during my secondary school days was to implement an incentive scheme. $10 cash for any test / exam that I scored an A in. A1 or A2 doesn’t matter. Everything was recorded on a piece of foolscap paper and pinned to my desk.
This incentive provided me with plenty of motivation to study. With my expensive hobbies, I also had added motivation to do well and spend on
garbage stuff. It was hilarious as I think this was the only time in my life where I proactively approached my mom to show her my test scores lol.
Thinking back, it was probably an ingenious plan as it saved my parents A LOT of tuition fees.
Too bad all those earnings went into worthless assets. Whoops.
Some of my earliest memories about money were about Ang Bao proceeds. I remembered the joy of Chinese New Year as I was excited at the prospect of getting free money from my relatives. Of course, it was actually never free as my parents had to give to my cousins as well. I didn’t care of course, free money is free money to me.
Comparing ang bao proceeds
One thing that happens often was for kids in primary school to start comparing their annual takings. I would be in awe and envious at some of my classmates who would receive thousands of dollars in Ang Bao money. In contrast, I would average in the low hundreds.
This was probably my earliest experience of the wealth gap. This gap only became increasingly obvious as I progressed in my education path.
As a humble brag, I did reasonably well in school. No, I did it mostly through my own efforts as mentioned early and not on the backs of mountains of tuition teachers that kids today have to endure.
I only ever had Chinese tuition because I absolutely hated learning it. And it is probably still my Achilles heel to this day, especially when I converse with native Chinese. They are kind though, saying that I speak well for a Singaporean lol.
Anyway consequently, I attended secondary school and JC at schools some would say are elitist. I also attended local university. Some of the things I experienced and observed at these institutions would support this elitist perception.
Kids carrying multiple supplementary cards and driving expensive European cars, while uncommon, do occur. As are occurrences of maids cleaning up kids’ dorm rooms and students not giving a crap about their studies because their parents are loaded anyways. Or the insensitive comment about how that really expensive holiday went.
That said, these seemed more like an exception rather than the norm. Most of my classmates came from middle class to humble backgrounds, and I don’t think we were judged poorly for that.
However, the existence of such cases only served to remind me to try and do well in life to bridge the gap.
Filling a gap
My interest in stocks only really kindled when I was studying accountancy in university. I took a gap year and spent a lot of time at home with my dad. My dad at this point was semi-retired and does a lot of active trading at home. It was at this point that I started watching a lot of CNBC with him, reading and researching on stocks and doing some paper trading.
This was at a time where the smartphone wars were still brewing between Apple and Samsung, with Microsoft / Nokia trying to compete with Windows Phone. At the same time, Facebook had a disastrous IPO that battered its stock price down to the teens.
I recall that I had 3 ideas that I was bullish about:
- Nokia as a turnaround play as Windows Phone seemed very lightweight and showed promise. Nokia had been beaten down to $2-3 at the time.
- Corning Inc, the creator of Gorilla Glass, a key supplier to Apple for its IPhone screens. Corning was in the low teens at the time, $10 – $12.
- Facebook, as I believed that the social network will get its monetisation strategy right. There was just too many active users to ignore. Facebook bottomed at about $18 then.
As a broke-ass student then, I told my father to help me buy these 3 counters and hold it for me. My dad of course didn’t believe a novice like me, but he did act on my Facebook recommendation, which he sold in the $20s for decent profit against my wishes.
Facebook closed at an all time high yesterday at $268.44. More than 10x over 8 years 🤦
Anyway, I kept track of these 3 stocks over the next year and watched in wonder as their stock prices recovered and in some cases, soared. While Nokia and Corning did not ultimately provide exceptional returns, at least I would have made 1-2x off my investment.
It was like a Eureka moment for me. I could make money from stocks with good fundamental research.
This also sparked my interest in investing and the rest, as they say, is history.
Looking back at my spendthrift days, I can only imagine the amount of value I wasted from spending all that money on my hobbies. If I had simply put it to work in my investments, I may have added another 50 – 100k to my current net worth now. Thankfully, I eventually became too busy or simply grew out of those hobbies.
I’m still a casual gamer though 😛
I can also see that money motivates me a lot, something that is more evident in my investing behaviour today.
That said, hindsight is 20-20. These experiences molded me into who I am today. Standing here, hoping someone would learn and benefit from my journey and insights.
Hope you enjoyed this year’s sharing. Till next year.