Portfolio @ August 2018

August

Another month, another portfolio review.

PortfolioPortfolio Value

Performance Indicators / Dividends

  • YTD Time weighted return: 4.49%
  • Dividends collected: $2,767.12
  • Upcoming Dividend Receipts:
    • Yuexiu Transportation Infrastructure: HKD 900
    • AA REIT: SGD 150
    • Visa: USD 11.76

Commentary

A month of milestones

The past month was a month of a few milestones – turning 30 and revisiting an old goal, scaling new heights in portfolio value and today, 1 year of financial blogging. My first blog post was a porfolio review as at August 2017 1 year ago and I’ve enjoyed writing for the past year. I’ve always enjoyed writing articles back in school and I’m glad I’ve a topic that I’m passionate enough to write about. Hopefully you guys learnt something in the process.

Monthly Performance

August was a pretty decent month, $2k of capital gains, $2k of cash injection and $1k of dividends brought the portfolio value up to $134k, yet another new record. Capital gains were largely driven by Frasers L&I Trust, Visa Inc and SingTel. There was only 1 new buy this month, Tencent Holdings, which I bought into weakness following their recent earnings report. My write up on the company is here. China stocks will continue to be volatile following the trade war and for Tencent, government regulations over video games. However, price volatility in Chinese / HK stocks is also what makes HK stocks increasingly attractive now, something which I’m watching really closely.

Health is wealth

My company has its annual charity month in September and I’ve been committed to complete 100 miles of walking/running/cycling/swimming for whole of the month for charity. That’s a whopping 5+ km per day! Since I’ve been volunteered for this, I thought its a good time to start exercising regularly to lose weight. So going forward, I’ll be writing more about my weight as health is wealth.

Here’s to an awesome sprint to the end of the year.

Happy Hunting,
KK

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Shifting my investing style

Many people tend to pigeon hole themselves into a particular style of investing they identify with – Value Investors, Growth Investors, Income Investors, Index Investors, the list goes on and on. The talks and courses I’ve attended to date also tend to teach a singular method to investing, maybe because it is easier to sell and structure into a course / talk.

I used to be very clear on what my style was – High growth stocks all the way. However, over the past year, I’ve transitioned to a more income approach as seen by my portfolio comparison below:

Portfolio comparisonPortfolio pie comparison

Why the shift?

The main reason for the shift is my gut feeling that we are at a late stage bull market cycle and I need to be more defensive in my stock picks. You may or may not agree with this assessment, but my gut has rarely failed me in my 5 years of investing.

With that said, I may have gone overboard in my shift to income investing as more than half of my portfolio is now in slow growing income stocks. This is why I have held off on adding more income to my portfolio and have been eyeing any weakness in high growth tech stocks as evidenced by my recent buys into Facebook in July and Tencent earlier this month.

Going forward, I hope to maintain a 50-50 growth to income stock portfolio. This may impair my ability to continue to churn out market beating gains but at least I can sleep better at night, knowing the certainty of my dividends.

So how would I define my investing style?

Course providers / Speakers say that you should stick to a single tried and tested method to achieve market beating returns.

To my undisciplined mind, I don’t care for a single consistent approach. I buy stocks that I feel will give me a return, the reason for that return does not have to be consistent. Who cares it is because the stock is undervalued, or if it pays me a sustainable dividend while I wait for the company’s recovery, or if it is overvalued but will eventually grow into its valuation. As long as you potentially give me a return, I’m in. I feel this level of flexibility is important to survive different market cycles.

I suppose my investment style is anything goes for capital appreciation. I guess I won’t be conducting any courses / talks soon.

Summary

I used to laugh whenever I read that a fund’s investment philosophy was for capital appreciation. It was like duh, isn’t that the aim of investing? But now that I’m running my own “fund”, I get it. It just means being flexible and nimble in the face of market changes.

Something I’ll be continually shifting in light of current market conditions.

Happy Hunting,
KK

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Tesla – Symptoms of poor governance pile up

Tesla Logo.png

US Tech stocks were my first love in my investing journey. That said, I’ve never felt compelled to jump on the Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) bandwagon. I initially didn’t bother because I hated the car manufacturing business. Slowly as the years went by, I saw Tesla as a company that at best was not operating to its fullest potential, at worst was a dysfunctional managerial mess.

With the recent public controversies over CEO Elon Musk’s tweets over a potential privatisation of Tesla and his emotional stress, I thought I’ll run through some of the symptoms that kept me away from buying into the Tesla story.

Symptom 1: Consistent inability to hit internal production targets

Tesla has faced manufacturing delays and struggles since they started making Model 3s, their entry model. The magic number currently thrown around by Musk for the longest time was 5,000 Model 3s a week. This was consistently missed until early July 2018 when they finally hit it, but not without having to put up temporary tents to assemble the cars. This landmark was celebrated with tweets of employee photos.

Is it worth celebrating though? For comparison, Toyota manufactured 13,400 cars per day in Japan back in 2014.  That’s about 94,000 cars a week, way outpacing Tesla in 2018.

Symptom 2: The Solarcity Acquisition

Tesla acquired Solarcity, a company Elon Musk co-founded with his cousins, in a cool USD2.6 billion all stock deal in late 2016. Setting aside all the conflict of interest issues with such a deal, the justification of such a deal goes against financial logic. A company with known cash flow issues going out and acquiring another with negative cash flows in a commoditising business boggles the mind. There may be strategic reasons for such a acquisition, but at face value, Solarcity was not a good fit for Tesla.

Symptom 3: Starting to fund the company through debt

In September 2017, Tesla issued bonds to fund its working capital needs instead of using equity as it had always previously done. For people who understand corporate finance, this is a pretty boneheaded move for 2 reasons:

1) There is no tax advantage

One advantage debt has over equity is that interest expenses are deductible against income, reducing the amount of taxable income. That said, it is only an advantage if Tesla was profitable and had income to be taxed. The last I checked, this was not the case.

2) Easy access to equity capital

Given the personality cult surrounding Elon Musk, it should be easy for Tesla to raise equity capital. It will dilute Musk’s share of the company yes, but a small percentage of a valuable company is still worth more than a significant percentage of a defaulted company.

If control was such a concern, I’m sure Musk can find solace in his god-like status among investors and a weak board which he easily controls.

What is going on?

The key problem with Tesla is the failure to adhere to good corporate governance principles arising from having a revolutionary CEO like Elon Musk.

Maverick genius, but poor operator

Having such a brilliant and strong minded CEO like Musk has been simultaneously Tesla’s greatest strength and weakness. On the one hand, it has produced some of the sexiest cars one can buy as well as some pretty sweet tech. On the other, you have a CEO with an immense ego and a predisposition to micro manage. All this is fine if the CEO is able to execute well. Tesla’s struggles with manufacturing indicate otherwise.

Not being able to manage well is common for tech company founders. Founders, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Larry Page & Sergey Brin, struggled operationally at different points in their company’s life cycle. What is more important is recognising that weakness and hiring suitable people to manage those areas, something Musk’s ego and absolute need to micro manage (I’m speculating here) currently prevents him from recognising / doing. The fact that Tesla does not have a Chief Operating Officer to share the burden with Musk indicates this.

Rubber stamp board of directors

In a case where management is misfiring on all cylinders, the Board of Directors has to step in to make the tough decisions to right the ship. Unfortunately, a look at the board composition shows why the Board is potentially rubber stamps Musk’s decisions:

  1. Elon Musk – Chairman and CEO
  2. Kimbal Musk – Brother of Elon Musk and significant shareholder
  3. Brad W. Buss – Long time board member (since 2009) and ex-employee
  4. Ira Ehrenpreis – Venture Capitalist and SpaceX investor
  5. Antonio J Gracias – Venture Capitalist and SpaceX investor
  6. Steve Jurvetson – Venture Capitalist and SpaceX investor
  7. Robyn M. Dunholm – COO of Telstra (Australia telco)
  8. James Murdoch – CEO of 21st Century Fox
  9. Linda Johnson Rice – CEO of Johnson Publishing Company

Firstly, nobody really jumps out as a famous name other than James Murdoch who might combat Musk. Secondly, Musk is both Chairman of the Board and CEO, which is a huge concentration of power sitting in one person. Thirdly, about 2/3 of the board is kind of friendly to Elon Musk (The first 6 names on the list), who might be less challenging to his decisions. Lastly, there is little to no technology or car manufacturing brain trust on the board, leading to potential difficulty in offering constructive advice to Musk.

Dysfunctional finance function

Symptom 2 and 3 is indicative of a CFO who is either doesn’t know what he’s doing or doesn’t have the power or strength to push back on potentially financially disastrous moves. CFO Deepak Ahuja has been with the company since 2009, with a hiatus between 2015 to 2017 due to retirement. His deep historical ties with Tesla and the fact he came out of retirement to “save the company” may indicate a close relationship with Musk.

What Next?

A company with the best and most revolutionary tech in the world can fail with poor execution. Tesla is tethering on the brink, but it is currently not irretrievable.

The immediate change that I feel Musk and the Board should consider is hiring a capable COO, someone with car manufacturing experience preferably. This allows him to delegate day to day operations to somebody so that he can concentrate on the areas he is good at, like design and being the big picture thinker. This also helps with succession planning.

The board should re-look at board composition to include more truly independent directors, preferably till at least a 50-50 ratio. This will allow the board to truly be able to function properly and challenge managerial decisions.

Lastly, Musk should learn to delegate and let go more. Given his disinterest in answering investment analyst questions, let CFO Deepak answer and manage them. Also, forget about the short sellers. The best way to get back at short sellers is to manage your company well and defy their expectations, and not to break false stock price moving news over Twitter.

Only when these moves and a substantial drop in share price (my personal reference price is $180) happen will I then start considering Tesla as a investment again.

Happy Hunting,
KK

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Understanding Islamic banking principles and its application to investing

islamic-finance

In the past few months, I’ve been sharing on-and-off with a Muslim colleague on generating passive income and my own journey to financial freedom. It was through these discussions that I was reminded of the existence of Islamic banking. As someone who has read next to nothing on this topic, I thought I’ll do some reading of my own and present my findings here.

(Disclaimer: I’m a free thinker and do not presume to know everything about Islam or its guiding banking principles. While I endeavour to make sure the information is accurate as far as possible, take it with that caveat in mind.)

Islamic Banking Guiding Principles

There are generally 3 major interlinking principles that guide what Muslims can or cannot invest in:

1) Prohibition of Interest (Riba)

Earning of interest is specifically prohibited in Islam. There are 2 reasons for this.

Firstly, the concept of interest implies guaranteed returns with no element of profit and risk sharing. This ties in with the 3rd principle.

Secondly, guaranteed returns encourages investors to turn a blind eye to how the funds are being used. It is thought that society suffers as a result if riba infects the entire economy. This also ties in with the 2nd principle.

2) Ethical and Moral use of funds

This principle means that you can only invest in ventures that are beneficial to society and not in vice industries. Well known haram (forbidden by Islamic law) areas include:

  • The sex industry
  • Alcohol
  • Pork
  • Gambling and speculation
  • Drugs

3) Risk and Profit sharing

This principle prescribes that profit is “good profit” only when the various parties participating in a venture take their proportionate share of risk and their proportionate resulting profit/loss. In relation to debt instruments, it is viewed that you are not taking any risk as you are guaranteed a return. Under Shariah law, you are essentially an economic leech and a sinner.

Implications of guiding principles

These guiding principles create certain areas that are strictly off limits, while also create various grey areas that are open to interpretation on what you can or cannot invest in. I’ll go through each asset class and discuss whether it is Halal according to the principles, while also highlighting any Shariah compliant alternatives that the banking industry has come up with similar characteristics.

1. Saving Deposits / Fixed deposits

Savings and fixed deposits in their traditional sense are prohibited due to interests paid. For Islamic savings deposits, hibah (gift/donation) is paid instead at the bank’s discretion.

As for Islamic fixed deposits, a popular model used is called murabahah (fixed cost plus model). For example, if you put $10k into the account, you effectively purchase $10k of commodities that the bank agrees to buy back at maturity at a fixed price including markup. The “interest” you earn is the fixed profit margin agreed at the start, thus mimicking the properties of fixed deposits.

As an interesting sidepoint, Maybank seems to deposit the profits the day after you make the deposit, unlike FDs that pay out at maturity.

2. Bonds / Debt instruments

Traditional bonds and debt instruments are a definite no as they pay interest. That said, there is a popular bond-like instrument called Sukuk, or “Islamic bonds”. Sukuk is usually tied to a specific venture / asset and investors are paid from the underlying profits and cash flows from the asset. It is a investment trust of sorts.

3. Equities / REITs

Equities generally comply with Shariah law provided the company’s activities do not contravene the 2nd principle. Muslim equity investors have to be extra careful to understand the company’s business activities and make sure they are not engaging in vice. This should already be practised anyway even if you are non-Muslim.

The grey area that I’ve come across is equities of companies with debt like property developers, construction companies or REITs. Some say it is a strict no-no, while others say it is OK as long as it is not a significant proportion of the balance sheet. The debate over what “a significant proportion” means is also a matter of interpretation. Throw in the fact that most of the world’s companies are funded by debt to some degree and you have a real practical application issue on your hands. Makes you wonder how the Kingdom Holding Company (Investment vehicle of Saudi Prince Alwaleed) reconciles these grey areas in his own equity investment strategy.

As a sidepoint, the world’s largest Shariah compliant REIT by asset value Sabana REIT is listed on the SGX.

5. Derivatives (Futures, options, etc)

This is another grey area due to the nature of derivatives trading. Derivatives trading are generally speculative in nature and thus haram. With that said, futures and options do serve a purpose in risk management if not traded speculatively.

6. Cryptocurrencies

There is little discussion on whether this is haram or not, but I would argue that it is haram based on its speculative and volatile nature, and lack of real world value. Crypto HODLers will argue with me till the cows come home, but for now, I think I am right.

Final Thoughts

Islamic banking and investing is a form of ethical and socially responsible investing that Muslims have to follow as far as possible in their quest for financial freedom. Navigating its guiding principles and grey areas can be complicated. My advice, as a practical free thinking outsider, is to find a middle ground you are comfortable with so that you can explain your actions when you meet your maker.

Happy Hunting,
KK

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5 things Singaporean investors should be thankful for this National Day

Fireworks.jpg

National Day has always been a time of patriotic celebration. For me, it tends to be patriotic reflection. This has been made more pronounced with my work travels over the past 1 and half years. Sitting here alone chilling in my Beijing hotel room having worked through yet another National Day overseas, I thought I’ll share my top 5 things I feel Singaporean investors should be thankful for this National Day.

1) Income tax regime

The best part of being a Singaporean investor is the relatively low income taxes as well as no taxes on dividends and capital gains. Taxes on employment and investment income directly affect your ability to accumulate wealth as it acts as an additional cost. Having experienced the benefits of Singapore’s income tax system, I can’t imagine living in a system that taxes you over 40% of income and having to pay taxes whenever I receive dividends or sell my investments.

What’s more, I’ve seen tax systems in China and India that are so complex and with high tax rates. Only with a tax system so simple and intuitive like Singapore’s will you be able to e-file your taxes on your own.

2) CPF

CPF can be a contentious issue among Singaporeans. To me, having a family member who YOLOs all his life, I see the need for the forced savings of CPF. What’s more, it’s not like they are paying you peanuts for holding your cash, with guaranteed 2.5-5% interest across your various accounts. Yes, CPF has its flaws, but its current incarnation to me provides the necessary basic layer of retirement safety for most Singaporeans, without encouraging the crutch mentality of pension systems. I’ve yet to find a better designed retirement system to date.

3) Wealth of investment options available

This may seem pretty obvious, but the countries I’ve visited sometimes struggle to have the same level of investment options available to their citizens. Ask the Chinese what a REIT is, and they’ll tell you it is a scam to swindle investors’ money on the premise of pooling funds to invest in real estate. Add to that the controls over capital outflows and you essentially can only buy stocks from the Chinese casino stock market, unless you are super rich.

Also, let’s not talk about countries with hyper inflationary economies like Venezuela and Zimbabwe or poor countries where investment options don’t really exist.

4) High level of security and low risk of disaster

This factor to me is often overlooked and taken for granted. Imagine owning a REIT with Singapore properties and every other year Singapore is hit by a tsunami or earthquake. Or owning a Singapore-based factory with constant civil unrest and strikes. The relative political and financial stability gives rise to the possibility of stable assets to invest in, and for Singaporeans to prosper.

5) SDIC’s Deposit Insurance Scheme

Another often overlooked factor. This deposit insurance is essentially the Singapore government insuring up to $50k of your bank deposits in each Singapore based bank. With ironclad AAA-rated reserves, this insurance is almost guaranteed to pay out in bank disaster scenarios. Given Singaporeans love of fixed deposits and high interest savings accounts as a form of investment, this is most welcome.

Conclusion

Singapore is one of the most investor friendly countries in the world, and the world has noticed. With many famous names and investors choosing to come to invest and start wealth management firms and funds here, we as Singaporeans should utilise our birthright to its fullest extent.

To all my Singaporean readers, Happy National Day! #WeAreSingapore

Happy Hunting,
KK

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If Professor Oak introduced Investing

Professor Oak

Introduction

Hello there! Welcome to the world of Pokemon Investing! My name is Oak! People call me the Investment Prof! This world has many instruments for investing! For some people, they invest to build passive cash flow. Others invest for capital gain. Myself… I study investments as a profession, and I’m here to provide you with a beginner’s guide to investing!

How investments accumulate wealth

There are generally 2 ways you can profit from investments – Capital gain and Dividends.

Capital gain refers to the “Buy Low, Sell High” concept. Dividends refers to cash distributions to shareholders as and when announced. Here’s Meowth to illustrate this.

Meowth explains investing

Let’s say you recently caught a Meowth. As you train Meowth, it grows in levels and becomes of higher level. Also, from time to time, Meowth successfully casts its signature move Pay Day and generates cash for you. Now replace Meowth with the investment you just bought, leveling up represents growth in investment value and capital gain, while Pay Day proceeds represents cash flows and dividends.

These 2 factors combine to increase your wealth.

Choosing a suitable investment vehicle

So you are ready to catch your first investment, but which investment type should you buy? To answer this, there are 2 questions you have to ask yourself:

1) What is your risk appetite?

Risk appetite refers to your willingness and ability to accept volatility in your investment value. It is like choosing a Pokemon. A risk adverse trainer might choose a lovable, nurturing Chansey as your Pokemon, slowly and steadying training it to higher levels with no expectation of explosive growth. A risk taking trainer might choose a volatile Charmander as your Pokemon, which might experience explosive growth when it evolves into a Charizard, but you might get burnt from time to time.

Pokemon Risk Appetite

Similarly, a risk adverse investor will be happy with steady but comparatively lower returns, while a risk taking investor will have to accept more volatile but potentially higher returns.

2) How active do you want to manage your investment portfolio?

This essentially means how much time you wish to spend managing your portfolio. Are you like a Snorlax and would rather Rest than manage your portfolio? Or are you a hard working Magikarp that tirelessly Splashes your way to Gyarados financial freedom?

active-vs-passive.jpg

Based on your answers to those questions, you can choose the investments suitable to your personality.

Investment Options.JPG

Conclusion

As a beginner investor, picking the right investment class to start with is very much like choosing a starting Pokemon. Aligning your risk appetite and involvement with the suitable investment allows you to be comfortable with your investments through thick and thin. Till next time!

Happy Hunting,
KK Professor Oak

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“Save 100k by 30” goal review

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…

Challenge Accepted

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.

Tough start

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:

Starting point

*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 yearsPogchamp

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.

What next?

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,
KK

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