Whenever you reach a milestone in life, you tend to reflect on what has been and sometimes, what could have been. As I celebrate the 5th anniversary of joining the workforce yesterday and my 30th birthday today, I am reminded of a goal I once had but have not tracked for a long time.
Back in July 2013, as a young fresh graduate about to embark on my career as a legal sweatshop worker auditor at a mid sized audit firm, I read an article in the Sunday Times entitled “Is it possible to have $100k by 30?“. Author Jonathan Kwok surmised that as a 25 year old male fresh graduate, if you earned the median salary of $3,050 per month, had 3 months bonus (AWS + 2 months variable bonus), had a 4.5% annual pay rise, saved 50% of your salary, you would have managed to accumulate $123,000 of pure savings (excluding CPF contributions). If you choose to invest 60% of the savings and obtain a 6% return per annum, the average 10 year year return of the STI then, that amount will be $134,000.
Back then, upon reading this, I thought to myself…
5 years on, if you simply look at my portfolio value, you would see that I’ve already achieved that goal with some time to spare. The exact time I achieved the $100k goal was approximately slightly before my 29th birthday, 1 year ahead of schedule. In fact, my current tally is quite close to Jonathan’s estimates.
Reliving my 5 year mission
Let’s examine how I did it with a trip down memory lane.
When you study among so many brilliant individuals throughout your education years, there comes a certain basic expectation that there is a set path that you must follow to career success. However, when you can’t even get on that path to begin with, you sometimes feel like a failure, especially when you see your peers start to outpace you in terms of opportunities and salary growth.
I’ve made peace with myself on this, but to date I still face a uphill battle as a result as my salary was by some measures much lousier than Jonathan’s assumptions:
*My bonuses were never more than 1 month, some years were less than that.
I was starting off a giant back foot, with my only redeeming factor being auditors’ comparatively large annual increments. To this day I’m still lagging behind Jonathan’s salary assumptions. With that said, I can’t complain too much as I know there are people out there who start from even further behind, with student loans and large parental support contributions monthly.
Leading a simple and frugal lifestyle
I have relatively simple tastes, I am a bit like what some would call a 宅男 (Nerd / Otaku), the most important things I possess is my computer, mobile phone and Nintendo Switch. Netflix / Youtube / Video Games with the odd movie at the cinema being my entertainment, analysing business news stories and financial reports my interests. The only time I go to restaurants are with close friends whom I catch up with every few months or colleagues, my family innately prefer hawker centres. No girlfriend either so no expenses there as well.
As a auditor in a firm previously, leave was mainly used for professional exams, there was little time for overseas trips. In fact, since starting work, I’ve never taken leave to go on a leisure trip overseas.
Zero in 5 years
I can imagine the horror that is going through your minds now. While I love the idea of travelling for leisure, I hate spending tons of money on it. Also, I feel that if I were to go on trips, I feel it is more meaningful if it were with friends or family. As a single introvert, my attached friends don’t really ask me to join them on their trips. This was partly why I took my current job in the hospitality industry, as it afforded me a chance to travel and have a first hand look at how business is done overseas.
Saving and investing half my take home pay
This low cost lifestyle enabled me to consistently save half my take home pay. I’ve also been rather aggressive with my savings, investing at least 80-90% into the US market at first, with my portfolio now more weighted towards the SG market. How I rationalise this approach is through the fact that I’m young and can afford to take the risk. I also have low expenses and in the event I’m screwed over by Mr. Market and/or retrenched by my employer, I take comfort in the fact that my parents will take care of me.
I know its considered a bit reckless by finance advisors, but I really frown on holding too much cash. Also, I would argue that if you know what you’re doing, focus on buying quality stocks and take a long term view, the risk of being wiped out by the market is relatively low. You might suffer massive draw downs in your investing journey, but quality companies always have the ability to bounce back.
Being lucky with my investments
I try as far as possible to be right with my stock picks based on fundamentals, but ultimately the market has a large say in whether you are right or wrong. I’m lucky to say I’ve managed to achieve an XIRR of 16.57% p.a. (according to Stocks.Cafe) to date since 2013 or 15.22% between 2013 – 2017, well outperforming the 6% assumption Jonathan had. This helped me make up for the salary gap I have and am still facing.
Financial goals on track, life goals still lacking?
Some of you might be looking at all of this in “disgust”, saying that I do not have a life. “Why don’t you live it up a little?”. In a way, I would somewhat agree with you. While I like the finer things in life, I am content with my nerdy and simple lifestyle. The only true failing I have is that I’ve yet to find a partner in crime in my journey to financial freedom, probably due to my 宅男ness. I’m reminded of it from time to time by my mom, as all mothers do. I’m open to being single forever if that is path given to me, but that sometimes sounds too lonely.
Will I be anointed a “铁公鸡” (stingy person) like AK in 10-20 years? Haha I certainly hope not.
I hope my story will be an inspiration (nightmare?) to the fresh graduates of 2018 as their embark of their careers, as a Sunday Times article once did for me. Financial freedom can be planned and achieved if we take pro-active, positive steps towards achieving those goals.
As for me, let’s set a new 5 year goal:
Save 350k by 35
Watch this space.
Happy Birthday to me,
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