Friday, 24 January 2020

Expenses - December 2019

Total - S$2,295.33

Total expenses for the month came up to S$2,295.33, which was surprisingly low for December.

Gifts was the largest expense, largely attributed to my attendance at a wedding right across the border as a groomsman for one of my buddies, and various Christmas / birthday gifts across the month.

The second largest category was Vacation Expenses, which was mainly attributed to across the border spending for the aforementioned wedding, given it was a mini vacation of some sorts for my partner and I.

Eating Out was the third largest category - there is only so much one can say about this. But this category was relatively lower in December compared to other months, as I spent a week on retreat across the border.

So I've spent about 57.3% of my budgeted expenses this month, which ain't too bad, and well within budget.

That being said, I expect to spend more in January 2020 as I send my motorcycle in for repairs / servicing, associated expenses for CNY (got to distribute some to my parents), and also front load a bit of expenses for a few other upcoming trips in 2020.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Managing your weight

Over the last few weeks, I had the good fortune to read a book called "The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss" by Jason Fung (M.D), which was published in 2015.

It has been some time since I read a book on physical health and weight management that was so good that I feel certain concepts it espouses could be more widely shared through a short blog summary.

The main purpose of the book is to find out exactly what causes obesity and to provide permanent solutions to manage it.

From the perspective of a 35 year old Singaporean male who spent 10 of his younger years as a former member of the Trim and Fit (TAF) club, where its name is by itself is a mockery of its esteemed members who are all overweight, I do feel that the suggestions put worth by the book are worthy of further consideration and experimentation.

What causes obesity?

There has been many suggestions from various sources on what causes obesity. Some of the more popular ones are: “calories in > calories out”; “too much carbohydrates”; “too much fat”, etc.

The author has suggested that instead of the traditional suggestions of the causes of obesity, the main causes are instead the increased levels of insulin, heightened insulin resistance and increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, putting forth the argument that obesity is really very much a hormonal issue instead of the widely held belief that it boils down to ONLY personal discipline. 

So as long as one's insulin levels, insulin resistance and cortisol levels (“Factors”) are managed, one should be able to maintain a healthy weight / fat levels.

Essentially it boils down to what you eat, how often you eat, and how much stress is present in the body, as these points directly affect the Factors.

Solutions to obesity

The author has identified a multi factorial approach to tackling the obesity problem:

1.    Reduced consumption of added sugars
2.    Reduced consumption of refined grains
3.    Moderation of protein consumption
4.    Increased consumption of natural fats
5.    Increased consumption of protective foods (fiber producing foods, vinegar, etc.)
6.    Intermittment fasting
7.    Mindfulness meditation
8.    Sleep hygiene

My own weight loss experience from my younger years involved adoption of many, if not all of the solutions above, except that of solution 6, 7 and 8, which are new to me in the battle of the bulge.

I’ll touch on 6 for a bit. 

Folks who have undertaken diets before, be it low sugar, low fat, low calories / high output, etc might be familiar with a plateau in weight loss, or a nasty reversion to the original or increased weight levels.

What the author suggests is that one of the keys to unlocking the dreaded plateau or weight reversion is increased insulin resistance, where eating wrong over many years has resulted in needing more insulin to absorb similar levels of glucose, and a higher baseline level of insulin leaving us more ravenous,increasing the storage of glucose / glycogen / fat and decreasing the ability for us to burn fat.

In order to tackle increased insulin resistance, one can undertake intermittment fasting so the body has a chance to reset the “insulin baseline” and its resistance levels. The author advocates doing a 24 hour fast a few times a week, or a daily 16 to 18 hours fast / 6 to 8 hour eat timings, but the key is to eat similar level of calories, and of course healthy food that does not spike your insulin levels to the max.   

It doesn’t mean that because you only eat for 8 hours a day, once a day, or once every 2 days, that you can gorge yourself silly. In fact, there is a suggestion that following solutions 1 to 5 would lead to increased satiety such that one would naturally know when to stop when enough food has been taken in by the body. 

Parting thoughts

The book certainly leaves a lot of food for thought, and while the above isn’t a comprehensive representation of the book (there is much more meat that I have been unable to share in this summary), I do hope it has given you some inspiration to delve deeper and that it assists in the development of your personal health.

After all, health is wealth isn’t it?

Maybe intermittment fasting is really the key to getting the last few stubborn extra kilograms of fat off my body. I shall certainly endeavour to try this approach in 2020.  

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Two Months in Italy - Living La Dolce Vita

I had the good fortune to spend two months in Italy with my partner during the last quarter of 2019. It was nothing short of an eye opener from many angles, of which the most relevant one to this blog would be that of cost and lifestyle arbitrage. 

We spent one month in the region of Puglia (southern Italy) and another in Umbria (central Italy), and the conclusion from a cost perspective is that living life in those regions in Italy is way cheaper than in Singapore. Here's a summary of the breakdown in costs. 

Airfare

S$915 per pax on economy class via Turkish Airlines, with a stopover of four nights in Istanbul. 

Accommodation 

This was c. S$1,750 per month for a private ground floor apartment with an adjacent outdoor space (garden / farm) through AirBnB. 

Indoor space was roughly 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, and outdoor space was so bountiful that I find it hard to put it down in numbers. We had long term stay discounts of up to c. 20%. 

One thing to note is that gas is charged separately during winter months in Italy. For our 2nd month in Umbria, it started to get pretty cold and necessitated the use of some heating. This cost an additional EUR80 for that month (c.S$120). 

Car Rental 

This was c. S$650 per month. The places we stayed at weren't exactly well connected by trains and public transport. It necessitated the use of a private vehicle. To minimize any chagrin from my partner, I decided to rent a private car instead of hitchhike, ride motorcycles or bicycles :) 

We rented a car from Hertz via a car rental broker (AutoEurope / Kemwel) with full insurance for 2 months. It was a small manual economy class car (FIAT Panda / 500) that was suitable for ferrying 2 people. 

On the Ground Expenses

These included visiting tourist sites, groceries, eating out, fuel, buying stuff, etc. This came up to a total of c. S$1,300 per pax per month. 

It was about c. S$950 per pax per month in our first month in Puglia, and rose to c.S$1,650 per pax per month in Umbria. Why is there a remarkable difference here? 

A large part of these expenses stemmed from groceries and ristorante meals. 

During our first month in Puglia, we spent more time at home cooking and less eating out. The ratio of home cooked meals to ristorante meals was probably 2:1. 

This decreased to 1:3 or 1:4 in our 2nd month in Umbria, probably because food and wine in Umbria was so delicious that we decided to spend more time and monies enjoying them, and the cost of living in Umbria is higher than Puglia, roughly by about 20 to 30% or so, which largely explains it.

That said, even the most expensive ristorante meals didn't break the bank. I reckon the most we actually paid for a meal out was c.80 EUR (c.S$120), and that was with the full works that included antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, dolce, cafe and of course vino. 

And we had some really great meals at some great restaurants (especially in Umbria) at such good value that it has shown me that Singapore prices for eating out are really quite over the top. Perhaps more towards that of Swiss prices but without the same standard. Put your hands up for the Swiss standard of living (or rather, prices), anyone? :p 

One case in point was when we hit a famous ristorante in Montepulciano for bistecca. They charged us EUR42 (c. S$65) for a 1.2kg Sirloin, and it was grilled to perfection. I'm not sure whether one can even find such a deal in Singapore's overpriced F&B market, but do let me know if there is a comparable deal available. 

Separately, I found fuel cost to be pretty steep in Italy. The car ran on unleaded petrol (senza piombio benzina) of E5 (think RON95) quality. The cheapest fuel was EUR1.50/l (c.S$2.25/l). I think this is more expensive than Singapore, and possibly the only thing more expensive than Singapore (putting aside gas prices and taxes).  

Diesel was about c.10% to 15% cheaper but though diesel cars cost 10 to 15% more to rent. 

I'm not quite sure whether diesel run cars are more efficient than petrol run cars, but I do know that the FIAT petrol run cars aren't exactly the most fuel efficient ones, when comparing to the usual Japanese / Korean makes. 

General Thoughts

Those two months in Italy were certainly a god send. Amongst other things, it showed me that price and lifestyle arbitrage can also be found in developed countries, perhaps more in the southern and eastern parts of Europe. 

This little jaunt has shown that it is certainly possible to attain European standards of living with lower than Singapore costs of living, especially when  major costs such as housing, transport, and food is cheaper than Singapore. 

In addition, the food was so fresh in Italy, where farm to table seemed to be the standard rather than something to be marketed and sold more dearly. Not to mention the abundant space, fresh air, and warm hospitality. 

We didn't quite venture much into the usual tourist haunts, and were the only Asian couple in a largely European demographic most of the time. Also, our limited , or rather, non-existent command of Italian didn't quite hamper the hospitality we enjoyed, and even in quiet areas in various small towns, there was no point in time where we ever felt unsafe. 

Looking back, I do wish that either one of us could speak Italian. That would have facilitated interactions more easily, and perhaps we could have been able to form deeper connections with our AirBnB hosts, and the people around us. 

That said, I do feel that the only drawback for living such a lifestyle in a foreign land, though while certainly a value play in my book, is that it lacks a viable form of sustained community. 

Sometimes, it's nice to have deep conversations with different people in person. The internet, and wine, can only do so much. 

But maybe I'm just being picky, because I would have done this trip all over again. However, I'll do so with a better grasp of Italian the next time round. :) 

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Expenses - November 2019



Total expenses for November 2019 amounted to S$3,968.98.

The largest was under Self Improvement. This is largely attributed to prepaying for a 12 month yoga class membership, which was selling at a good rate. I predict I'll spend more time in Singapore next year, which makes it worthwhile to plonk down some cash to restart my once fledging yoga practice, that is now yellow and withered.

I got back from Europe towards the end of November. So logically that constitutes the next largest expense category for the month. The third being donations, as I prepared to head out to Malaysia for a short meditation retreat in December.

Also spent some money on Diving, having put down a deposit for a diving trip with a diving buddy that's to be used next year.

Anyhow, I came in just below the S$4,000 mark, which is all good, and where I want to be at this point in time.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Expenses - October 2019

Total - S$1,500
October 2019 total expenses was S$1,500.

The entire month was spent in Italy, Europe. So a large part of it (S$1,418.97) went to topping up my Youtrip debit card account. The EUR/SGD actually declined a little bit since September, and we managed to get some good rates from Youtrip when spending on our debit card, vis a vis credit cards (but you get certain points or rewards in return eh...).

Some fixed expenses such as Netflix, Insurance and Mobile Phone continue to churn along even though as I'm overseas, but it ain't a problem.

S$1,500 represents 37.5% of my monthly S$4,000 budget, and there's quite a bit of surplus left. The benefit of front-loading certain holiday expenses come through here :)

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Expenses - First 12M of F.I.R.E

Total - S$46,098.58
One year has gone by since I started by post F.I.R.E life. It's time to measure how much resources I've spent, and how these resources have been allocated, mainly because that which gets measured, can then be managed.

My annual budget at least for the first few years post F.I.R.E has been set at S$48,000. The first 12 months saw a total amount of S$46,098.58, which is 96.0% of the budget, leaving room for 4.0% surplus.

Largest spending category was Diving. Scuba Diving to be exact. I think I mentioned this before, but since December 2018, I've been taking up advanced certification courses, and am in the midst of doing my Divemaster program. I've also purchased a full set of diving equipment given the cost of dive will be lower in the future. All this, together with the spend for diving holidays, have led to Diving expenses coming in at a total of S$9,374.15. That's a pretty hefty amount, but I guess the benefits (mostly non-monetary) are commensurate :)

Second largest spending category was Eating Out at S$7,463.87. I'm not surprised as I do eat out most times, and though I'm not one to go crazy for broke, this all adds up. However, to take things in perspective, this works out to be $20 per meal, assuming I did eat out once every day. So this is probably fine.

Third largest spending category was the one and a half month North America Vacation that I took in the middle of 2019. This came up to S$6,158.62. North America has a really high cost of living, and this is reflected even in the AirBnB prices. Eating out there costs a bomb, and I'm thankful that this figure is what it is, given it could have been even higher if I didn't enjoy the generosity of my friends who hosted me during a good part of my trip.

Of course, coming just below the North America Vacation expenses were my other Vacation and Europe Trip expenses. I did a rough count and reckon I probably spent 30% of the entire first 12 months post F.I.R.E (3.6 months) overseas. The associated total vacation expenses added up to c. 37% of my total spending.

I'm not quite sure whether I'll spend that much time travelling as I grow into this lifestyle, so I gather there's a bit of flex in cutting expenses if really necessary in the future.

Notwithstanding the amount came up to c. 10.5% more than the year ended 31 Aug 2018 when I was still in employment, all in all, I think I really did push the limit on my expenses for the first year post F.I.R.E, in terms of going out there to really do some exploring, living, and learning new skills, while keeping a small budget surplus at the end of it.

I'm pretty satisfied and content - I wouldn't have asked for anything more from the year that has passed.

Expenses - September 2019

Total - S$3,900
Start of brand new post F.I.R.E year.

Month 13 saw the lion's share being contributed by my upcoming Europe trip, as cold hard Euros were exchanged at the money changer, and some SGD was placed in a Youtrip account for use via debit card in Europe.

Eating Out was the next category, and surprisingly Petrol came in third, as I spent some money topping up my family car after some use.

Not quite much to delve into here, and possibly the next couple of months in Europe as expenses will most likely fall into the category of "Europe Trip", which possibly warrants a separate post on how much we spent in Europe over 2+ months.

Anyhow, total spend amount of S$3,900 came in within the budget of S$4,000, with a 2.5% surplus. A decent way to kick off my 2nd year of F.I.R.E.