Wednesday, 11 September 2019

12 months of F.I.R.E

It has been a little more than 12 months since I left the workforce in entirety. Perhaps it's a good time to take stock of what has transpired.

Just to put things in perspective, 12 months of full time unemployment pursuant to the decision to leave the workforce due to F.I.R.E (financial independence, retire early) probably isn't the most illuminating of sorts, but perhaps it'll provide you with a sliver of reckoning that will allow you to consider another perspective of what has been theorized about, but perhaps rarely done in the age range of < 35 years old, single and male demographic.

What have I been up to?

In summary, I spent the last year decompressing, and getting used to a lifestyle that comprises large chunks of unscheduled time. I've taken some opportunities to further develop myself, spent quite a lot of time developing new relationships and maintaining old ones, and exploring the world.

I've had the chance to, in no particular order of substance nor merit:

  • Spend a lot of time in pursuit of nothing much in particular, and having the mind and heart space to choose what to do for the day
  • Practice yoga fervently during off-peak hours from Sep 2018 till Mar 2019
  • Do loads of reading, covering various subjects ranging from Relationships to Buddhism
  • Attend four silent meditation retreats spanning between 8 to 12 days each overseas 
  • Invest my money freely without any well-meaning but overbearing restrictions placed on me 
  • Increasingly hold space and be there for friends, family and loved ones in my life 
  • Pick up scuba diving in earnest again, and dived in some of the nicest spots in Asia (Lembeh and Maldives are top of mind) 
  • Take various exploratory trips over the world, and spent some time in Kuantan, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Phuket, Khao Lak, Bali, Taipei, Tainan, Taichung, Vancouver B.C, New York, California

Dark Side

Long time readers would know RB35 is a rather pessimistic character. Perhaps I got that from my job, where I would constantly fret about the downside. Anyway, this might be a good way to go into detail on the bad things about F.I.R.E, in the event the introductory paragraph wasn't that clear in putting forth the notion that F.I.R.E ain't a panacea for all problems in life.

Loss of Identity - Truth is I didn't quite identify myself with the the notion of an investment banker, even though I came through the ranks. When folks asked what I did for a living, I chose to embrace the saying of "Corporate Finance" in order to end it at there instead of going with the answer of "Investment Banking", in order to minimize any undue or unnecessary attention.

However, I did feel like I lost a part of my identity, especially when it comes to strangers or acquaintances asking what I did for a living. Till today, I still reply that I'm on a bit of an extended sabbatical, and I used to work in Finance. Sometimes I get comments such as "burnout ah?", or "sorry to hear you got let go", which ain't a correct representation of my situation.

For me, I left because my expenses were way lower than my passive income. Even though more than 12 months have surpassed, I have not drawn down on my invested portfolio yet. Further, I'm operating on a budget that is at a significant discount to my invested portfolio.

I recall this coming right at me when I was at a dive trip recently. Folks there asked what I did - I said I was taking a break. They assumed, quite out spokenly that I need a break from the grind, and I would go back soon. I did not bother to correct them , and honestly it didn't quite matter to me. But their gazes say it all - "Poor you, I hope you find something soon, otherwise..."

In short, if it matters to you, your ego could take a hit, without full time employment.

Loss of Financial Leverage - When you ease into full time unemployment, you rapidly lose access to financial leverage.

Be it through a mortgage loan (have not tried but highly suspect so), credit card (tried and was duly rejected), or other credit loans (if credit cards fail, this should fail thoroughly), you won't be able to lever up your investments. Perhaps you can take margin on your personal account trades, but I have not tried, but do not recommend taking margin.

Have applied for a credit card as a test bed and was rejected as a nil income case. So unless you figure a way out to buy your apartment (not quite smart to pay up front in cash as opposed to a minimum 20 year monthly amortizing loan), or maybe take a credit card, you are pretty much stuck with CASH only basis from now on.

To me, the only concern here would be property purchase. Credit cards aren't much of an issue given I already have a few of those on hand that should be willing to extend going forward.

Conformist Questions - When you have managed to get to where you got to by generally conforming to overarching societal expectations (getting good grades, building an impeccable resume, working hard in your job, etc) over the last 30+ years of your life, some days you wake up and ask yourself WTF you are doing with your life.

You do wonder whether it makes sense to chill out, read, do yoga, meditate, slack off, etc when most of your peers are out there putting their nose to the grind. You question whether this fabulous post F.I.R.E life is better for you in the long run.

No doubt, you have lower levels of stresses, but you sometimes wonder whether you're doing the wrong thing when you're one of the few buggers in your generation living this life...

The nationally supported notion of needing to constantly increase productivity still rears its head from time to time, especially when I have totally slack off days, it comes up unsuspectingly and asks in a purely innocent manner: "RB35, you did jack shit today... oh yes maybe you read some stuff and worked out, but don't you feel like you're not making the best use of your life?"

Worries - I had no doubt that terminating my employment post F.I.R.E wouldn't mean the elimination of all my worries, but I'll like to bring up this point so as to emphasize to all folks looking to F.I.R.E as a cure all, that one will still have worries even after post F.I.R.E.

No doubt, stresses of work are lifted of your shoulders, but deep seated worries still remain, and will be elevated to take the place of your old work worries.

For me, some parts of it are financial worries, even if it doesn't make any rational sense to be worrying about this given my financial position, and others were whether I was making the best use of my life doing what I am currently doing, even if that exploration is still a work in progress.

Loss of Community - The first to go are your work friends. Those are your colleagues, because there isn't anything else to commiserate on and bind you guys together anymore.

Also, unless you have a group of close friends, family or life partner who have shared interests outside of work or with a similar outlook, you'll find yourself mostly alone, because well, most folks have to go to the office.

If you need activity partners, then you'll need to find a new group of friends. But if you're introverted like I am, then this wouldn't be too much of an issue. In fact, I do appreciate the quietness of life. However, it is sometimes a bit disheartening to see some friends drifting away because we don't share similar paths in life now. 

Bright Side

I reckon there are many sites that have listed the benefits of F.I.R.E, so I'll just pen down what I feel are the main bright points in my journey thus far. 

Off Peak - Life is now lived off peak. It is a great feeling having the choice to choose when to travel on the MRT.

Obviously I try to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Grocery shopping, meals out are mostly done outside the usual lunch / dinner timings, because - no need to be competing with the masses there.

Movies are seen on weekday afternoons at cheap rates. Pro tip - Golden Village offers members (free membership) S$7 ticket Tuesdays. No more having to deal with crazy crowds in the cinema for me.

Yoga classes can be scheduled in the late morning or early afternoon, with lesser people per class to boot, translating into more individual attention from the teacher. 

Increased Degrees of Freedom - On paper, I've gained at least an additional 10 hours a day of my life to do whatever I want to do. And I don't have to deal with the stress of having to think through solutions for work problems when I'm out of the office, which takes up more time.

In an instance, there's now quite a lot of free space to delve into personal exploration and other journeys. A good 30 to 50% of my days, I wake up, and then decide what I'll like to do for the day. This level of freedom is much appreciated and valued.

That being said, it's not like one will be totally free from responsibilities. You'll still have responsibilities to yourself, your loved ones, your friends, society (national service, taxes, etc.) that needs to be fulfilled, but hey, I do feel this is as good as it gets. 

More Space for Relationships - The release of work responsibilities comes with increased mental space, that I feel is so essential to cultivating and maintaining relationships.

Perhaps I'm not naturally adept at dealing with more work and personal responsibilities concurrently, and maybe that's something I have to work on if I decide to take on further economic responsibilities in the future, but for now, the happiest times are being fully present with my loved ones doing the simplest of things, such as taking a long walk, preparing a home cooked meal, having a conversation over a glass of wine, or just chilling in general.

More space allows for you to accommodate and plan around the schedule of others. It allows for you to be there, fully. It allows for more choices. It helps to develop and maintain relationships, and in this world, having close personal relationships with a few loved ones is certainly something to cherish, and it does make life more fulfilling for me.

What's next? 

To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure.

I know that I'll be spending a couple of months in Europe with my partner soon, and that'll pretty much round up the end of the year. I'm also in the middle of a diving course that's conducted over six to seven full weekends, and might have a silent retreat coming up in December.

Other than the above, there's nothing committed at this point.

I know I'll like to devote more time to a consistent yoga and meditation practice when I'm back, and perhaps I'll try out for a 200 hour yoga teacher course if the right teacher pops up.

And I'll like to lean towards more of a routine next year, to learn or do something different (perhaps formally in an education system, or through volunteering with my local meditation group) that might be helpful to my immediate circle of friends and family.

But nah, I don't think I'll head back to full time employment over the course of this year, because even though this isn't a perfect lifestyle (none is), it certainly is good enough for me, and it does feel like my life is just beginning, or perhaps the post F.I.R.E glow hasn't quite worn off yet :)

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Expenses - July 2019

Total - S$12,350.24
Massive month of expenditure. Total amounted to S$12,350.24, which made up more than 25% of my annual budget. Let's do a quick recap of the constituent expenditure.

The largest category was no doubt "Europe Trip", coming up to S$5,645.39. My partner and I have decided to head to Europe for about 14 weeks come end September, and this represented most of the front-loading for fixed expenditure in Europe, such as car rental, air tickets, and most of the accommodation during that period.

This will certainly be an exciting trip for us, and I must say that we have seen much value in pricing for long term accommodation in Europe. We'll be staying in one of the PIGS countries, and our monthly rental through AirBnb works out to be c. S$1,900 or so for some sweet and spacious digs that come with a decent view.

The second largest category was "Diving". This came up to S$4,770. Decided that there is some merit for proceeding with advanced certification, and paid up to undertake training for my Rescue Diver and Divemaster courses, of which the latter would be the first step for being a professional diver and open up new streams of income.

Frankly, I don't weigh the income bit much, but I do think being a Divemaster would allow me to have access to future dive trips without forking out cash, with the quid pro quo being to have to take care of the diving detail and doing some work, things that I have no qualms doing. I also purchased a full set of equipment, given it'll be more bang for buck than renting equipment for all the diving I'll be doing in the foreseeable future.

The third largest category was "Eating Out", which came up to S$516.34. This was a little bit below the normal monthly expenditure levels, given I spent most 18 days of the month away in North America and Indonesia. So not much to delve into here.

July was way over budget, by c. 208%, but that's fine, given most of it is front loading for the future, and I'll be roughly in line with my annual budget of S$48,000.

One thing I've noticed over the last 12 months or so is that I've come to realise that I might not actually have to gut it out that much on a monthly basis, if I can keep the overall picture in check. That being said, it'll still be at least 4.5 years before I actually have to draw down on invested capital, and I'm not quite sure how I'll feel when the time comes, so let's see how this goes.

It has been almost 12 months since I've left the work force. Perhaps I shall write about my general thoughts and perceptions on my journey in my next post.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Expenses - June 2019

Total - S$3,044.46
Spent a total of S$3,044.46 in June 2019, which was c. 23.8% below the budgeted amount.

The largest expenditure was in relation to my North America vacation. I commenced my trip up to the US of A this month, and was out of Singapore for almost the entire month.

Insurance came in 2nd, as I had to cough out quite a large bit for the cash portion of my annual H&S premium. One thing I'm glad about is I managed to get a full rider for co-pay and non-deductible for my private and public hospitals sorted back in 2014, before the Government phased out non co-pay / non deductible schemes earlier last year, given the rise in claims due to the incentive structures for the health sector.

Eating Out was the 3rd largest portion of my monthly expenses. Brought my brother out for his birthday dinner before I left, and that formed a substantial part of that expense.

Pretty happy this month came in line, or even lesser than expectations. I'm beginning to think my budgeting might be rather conservative. 10 months have passed since I started my F.I.R.E journey, and I'm about 33.3% below budget, before accounting for any withdrawal of my portfolio.

I might have to spend some time to rework the financial model so I can deploy more cash into investments, but it's good stuff nonetheless.

In any case, I do see some heavy expenses in the near horizon as I spend upfront on a longer European trip scheduled for the end of the year, and perhaps purchase some diving equipment and spend on mastery courses such as "Rescue Diver" and "Divemaster". That being said, all's good and I'm happy with the way things are going - in line with, or rather, below my overall budget :)

Monday, 3 June 2019

Expenses - May 2019

Total - S$4,523.31
First month where I busted the budget, but no regrets here as there were a few opportunities that came up which was too good to resist. Total spending in May came up to S$4,523.31, and as set out above, the top three categories were on vacation spending, my North America trip coming up soon, and diving.

Booked a couple of air tickets for the later part of this year plus early next year, and converted some cash for vacation expenses in relation to the two diving trips that I did in May.

Front loaded certain expenses for my North America trip as well, and decided to get some USD and CAD in light of what seems to be an upward trend in the foreign exchange movement.

Spent a fair bit of my budget on Diving too. This comprised airfare to Male, rental gear and purchase of gear. I typically charge airfare and accommodation for diving trips to this category, just to get a sense of how much I've been spending on this sport. For other expenses, such as food, tips and transport on such diving trips, I've categorized them under the general "Vacation" category, as that's something I would have spent on vacation in any case.

So I'm c.13.1% above my budgeted amount this month, but that's fine. I could have probably bought the couple of air tickets in June to balance things out, but I reckon that's just being pedantic.

Anyhow, most of the front loading for major expenses in North America has been done, and I'm highly confident of being within budget for the next couple of months, unless some front-loading is required for other planned trips in late 3Q / early 4Q.

In any case, am generally comfortable given I've been under budget by c.20% for the last nine months, which is close to additional 2 months of buffer. Extremely grateful to be living life as it is right now, and sometimes it does feel like a bit of a dream. Am happy, and thankful.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Expenses - April 2019

Total - S$3,945.43
Total for April 2019 was S$3,945.43, and it was close to busting my budgeted allowance of S$4,000 per month.

A large part of it was on upcoming trips. Was planning to head to Bali for some diving in May, and also North America in June, so that saw some front-loading of expenses being done in April.

Diving's not exactly the cheapest sport. It's about S$100 for each dive taken, and that can last between 40 to 80 mins, depending on depth, composition of air taken, currents, etc. Not to mention you'll the rental equipment or purchase of your own equipment set. For me, it has been a vibrant and enriching experience given the nature of the sport, and the underwater environment which I truly relish.

Thus I'm looking to develop my skills on this front, and possibly get my professional ratings up in the next 12 months, which opens up new avenues for me. 

That would mean possibly plonking down S$2000 to S$3000 on a set of personal equipment in the later part of the year, which hopefully will last the course. But let's see.

Eating Out was the third largest category. Had a few great memorable meals and experiences with my friends and loved ones this month.

Good news is that I am still below my budgeted allowance, so all's good. But May will definitely see a heavy outflow as I finish up front-loading for my North America journey.

I might even exceed it by a little bit, which in all things, wouldn't matter much as I've pretty much underutilized by conservative budget since leaving work close to 9 months ago. But let's see.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Of Mountain Climbing and Practice

"Some people say that mountain climbers are really wasting their time. They have nothing better to do so they climb mountains, tire themselves out, and come back with nothing to show for it.

Yet a person who climbs a tall mountain sees the world in a very different way from someone who never leaves his own front door.

Genuine mountain climbers do not struggle up great precipices for the glory of it. They know that glory is only a label given by others.

A true climber climbs for the experience of climbing. And this is an experience no one can have without setting a foot on the mountain path.

If there is any purpose in Chan, we may say it is to discover the nature of the self.

Those who make this effort discover something sublime. They do not strive for glory and praise from others. Rather, they do the work for themselves."

- Master Sheng Yen, excerpt from the book "Dharma Drum : The Life and Heart of Chan Practice"

This was a passage I found rather inspiring when reading the book.

Putting aside the practice of Chan, I gather this can be applied to every other facet of life, where the focus is to be placed on the experiencing the process itself, instead of the end goals.

The process in itself, is the end goal, and the result, is the mere icing on the cake.

Obviously the "mountain" in itself needs to be a worthy one to undertake, and the intent on why to climb needs to be examine and congruent with oneself, but that is another topic to explore another time.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Expenses - March 2019

Total - S$2,569.51
Alright, short round up this time. Total for March 2019 was S$2,569.51, and this was a bit of an aberration, as I spent the first 13 days in North Asia, and cashed out most of my vacation expenses in the prior month.

The largest category was attributed my upcoming North American adventure in June. Started to book out essentials such as accommodation and transport in March, and this involves paying some part of it upfront via credit card, and the remainder over the next few months, so I reckon this will be the largest contributor to expenses in time to come.

The second largest category was of course, eating out. Not much to say about this actually, but this seems to be in line with what I would have spent if I were in Singapore the entire time.

The third largest category was gift. I had two birthdays in the family to celebrate over this month, and we spent some cash at some restaurants to have a good time.

It is times like these I'll remember going forward, when each of my siblings branch out to form their new families. Already, with one of my siblings moving out on a partial basis, I'm starting to feel that the process of developing our own lives will intensify over the next few years, so it's probably better to cherish these rare occasions when there's still that closeness available.

Things after all, are impermanent and will always change.

In any case, am about 36% below my budgeted allowance. So all's good. But I'm certain the next couple of months might see some heavy outflows as I embark on my journey to North America.