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financial advice: how to invest your money.

I’m three months shy of turning 21 years old for the seventh time and I’d like to think that I’ve had a blessed life. Of course, I could always be happier but I’ve arrived at a stage of my life where I’ve never been so contented with my current material well-being.

I have a healthy variety of shirts, pants and shoes to choose from, a good collection of watches, a decent guitar, camera and laptop, a branded wallet and a smartphone. Two years ago, I remember counting my collection of 20+ Threadless t-shirts and 10+ Crumpler products. My room is hooked up with a 27″ LCD TV and a 5.1 surround-sound system. Bottom line is, there’s nothing I need, really, and I’m thankful to have (almost) everything that I’ve always wanted to purchase. I’ve done my fair share of possessions-accumulation during my days of earning a higher income.

But, so what? All these thing amounts to nothing at the end of the day for I will take none of these with me when I exit this earth; they will be useless and worthless eventually.

Of course I still have material desires – I’ve been eyeing this and this for some time now and each time I walk past an optical shop, I’d always check if that pair of sunnies is in stock and if there’s a promotion, and without fail, I’d politely say to the disappointed sales representative, “Okay thanks, maybe I’ll get it next time”, and walk away. Would I ever buy it? I think the question I ask myself these days is, “Is that good stewardship of money?” I’d be honest to admit that I’m still tempted by some items but I also deliberately desensitise myself from accumulating things.

I like what RS, the founder of this website, stated about conscious spending, for there’s truth and logic in his philosophy, even if it’s of a secular mentality:

“Spend extravagantly on what you love and cut costs mercilessly on what you don’t.”

Having a reduced income over the last nine months have certainly helped me to be more decisive and cruel in differentiating my needs and wants. At the same time, it has also helped to shape my “investment portfolio”. While I’m a prudent spender and a happy saver, I don’t think I’m qualified to give real financial advice – I mean, did you really think I was going to teach you how to invest your money on my blog? Come on! (:

But I’d like to share with you how I have been investing my money and why I’ve chosen to do it this way. Perhaps this could encourage or challenge you to revisit your spending habits and investment inclinations. I’m not sure if these items have eternal worth, but I’m confident that they have a life-long value. So, please allow me to share the three things I delightfully invest money in:

  1. People. I used to be stingy in treating people to meals. But over the years, I’ve learnt to be progressively generous, simply because people have been exceedingly generous with me. Nowadays, I’m always quite happy to foot the bill, especially if I am fellowshipping with a young person who has lesser resources. When people buy me meals, they indirectly tell me that I’m worth their time and money. And so, I pay (pun!) it forward – I hope my young people will feel the same way too – that they are worth my time and money. (Pun!) I’m putting my money where my mouth is. (I can also instantly detect those who are out to exploit this…)
  2. Knowledge. The older I get, the more I spend on books, seminars, conferences and audio CDs and DVDs. In fact, I just took advantage of the Desiring God July DVD sale and invested good money in some DVDs which I will be sharing with my cell. As for gifts, I also find myself buying books because I think that there’s nothing better than to give my friends the gift of knowledge. Besides, this is one investment that can be passed around, shared and revisited.
  3. Perspective. Lastly, I always enjoy expanding my horizon of perspectives and there’s no better way to do that than to visit new places and to do new things. I try to go on a couple of vacations every year and I always try to visit new destinations. I enjoy investing into my worldview (and sabbath too!). I get a kick from meeting new people, learning new languages, visiting new places, immersing in new cultures, tasting new cuisines and enjoying new experiences. And as a budding preacher, I believe that all these new perspectives will empower and enhance my ambitions to be a more dynamic and balanced communicator.

People, knowledge and perspectives are indefinitely more valuable than material possessions and I’d gladly invest extravagantly on them. Apart from these three items (at this point in my life), the rest of my money is really spent for function’s sake, like functional eating and functional travelling. My question then, to you, is:

What do you invest your money in?

top ten reasons to rejoice for our Dawson flat.

As HY and I experience the Dawson saga, it doesn’t just give us the assurance that God has good plans for us, but also that He has the perfect timing. Hence, the best thing we should do, always, is to trust in His gifts and believe in His timing. I will be detailed in this thanksgiving because I want to give God the full glory. This will be a long entry.

The Dawson BTO (Built-To-Order) project was designed by award-winning architects and centrally located in the Queenstown district. As a result, around 10,000 people applied for it, making it over-subscribed by a few times. We applied for a four-room flat because we know that by 2016, we probably would have just started our own family.

There were 1,102 four-room flats available and our queue number was 1,302, meaning we needed 200 applicants to drop out before we were eligible. However, we actually needed more than 200 applicants to drop out because these 1102 units were divided to meet the ethnicity quota. This basically means that we needed Chinese Singaporeans to drop out if we wanted to smell a chance! Nonetheless, we made it by God’s grace and here are ten reasons why we are still rejoicing and praising God for His providence.

I. Balloting Success. By God’s grace we were successful on our first attempt – quite a miracle considering that there people who have repeatedly applied without success. I remember telling HY that the more we had to depend on “luck”, the more confident I was for God is in control and that we need not depend on our achievements.

II. Right Phase of Relationship. Timing was key in our application. We had arrived at a point in our relationship where we were ready to move on to the next phase of our courtship. We felt that we were ready to progress in our relationship.

III. Additional Housing Grant. Couples with a combined income of less than $5,000 would receive additional housing grant (AHG) of up to $40,000 from HDB. Basically, the lower the combined income, the higher the AHG awarded. This worked out perfect for us because by God’s divine timing, we applied for this when HY was a student without income and when I drew the modest salary of my working life. Any earlier and I’d be on a better income, any later, and we’d have been on a higher combined income. Applications for Dawson opened in that perfect window. HDB actually requested for HY’s CPF statements only up to June 2010 – she began work on 1 July and would therefore have CPF contributions from July onwards! Get it?

IV. Staggered Downpayment. HDB created this payment method to encourage couples to settle down at a younger age. Those below 30 years old have the option to pay their deposit (10% of cost of flat) at two intervals – once at flat selection (now) and the other at keys collection (six years later). And as this is completely paid through CPF, it means that our cash-commitment amounts to zero (not because we have a lot in our CPF, but because of the AHG).

V. Queenstown District. One of the factors that helped us to increase our balloting chances was to be situated near one of our parents. To qualify for this, you’d need to stay within a 2km radius of your parents. Ghim Moh is over 4km from Dawson but because both estates belong to the Queenstown town council, we still qualify.

VI. Breakthrough with HY’s Parents. There was no easy way to ask HY’s parents for their approval and support for this application. We were so scared about this that we actually methodically prepared a detailed six-page FAQ as we tried to speculate the questions they might ask, and we even rehearsed the Q&A! This chat also took place at a time when there was slight tension in the family. It really took courage and a step of faith to present this to them. And their response took us by complete surprise, “Actually you don’t need to ask us because it’s your combined decision… But if you ask us, there’s no issue – this is a good deal – go ahead!” W-O-W!

VII. Centrality. In light of the current skyrocket prices of flats, our Dawson flat actually seems affordable (and almost a steal). It’s a great investment no matter how you look at it. One reason why we were attracted to the place was for its location – a 10-minute commute to almost anywhere (Ghim Moh, Holland Village, the Singapore CBD, Orchard Road, Harbourfront, Chinatown and City Hall), leopard-crawling distance to Grace Assembly of God and walking distance to Queenstown MRT.

VIII. Growth Spurt in Faith. We selected the flat on the fourth day of Grace Retreat. We spent most of the two weeks before our selection appointment refreshing the HDB website, checking how fast our quota was depleting. Our appointment was the second-last of the day and at the time of our selection, we were amongst the final 10 Chinese (i.e 10 more remaining units for the Chinese ethnicity). When we left HDB, there were only five units left. By 10am the next day, the Chinese ethnicity quota had completely depleted. Imagine the mental roller-coaster! Despite all that, we managed to select a high floor – 11th – and while it feels like a relatively low floor in a 47-level block, it was much higher than we had expected!

IX. Payment Commences in 2016. Yes, it will take half a decade for the flat to be ready but we see it as a good thing because it means that we’ll have more than enough time for our CPF to swell with nearly six years of monthly contributions. By then, we won’t even need to worry about additional cash injections because we could easily sustain the monthly repayments. This is significant; if we had purchased a resale flat, we’d require around $80,000 liquid cash (how!?) – half for Cash-Over-Valuation (COV) and half for renovations. Thank God we need not worry about that! In fact, we can take our time over to slowly and steadily save for renovations.

X. Housing Loan Eligibility. As this is a BTO, it means that our housing loan eligibility (HLE) would be reassessed when we collect the keys in 2016. This means that our HDB loan would be derived based on our combined income in 2016, instead of now, where it’d be based on only a single income. This is easily a difference of over $200,000 in loans! Can you imagine if we had to borrow that additional amount from a bank to finance a resale flat, or buy a $200,000 flat?

There’s so much more to thank God! For one, we are officially home-owners now and it’s a huge load off our chest. After all, purchasing a house is one of life’s milestones, and for us to nail it at 27 and 23 years old respectively, was beyond our expectations. To know that we’ve overcome this hurdle allows us to focus on building our relationship and making us even stronger than before. God is faithful indeed. All glory to Him alone!

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