I was amazed over the detail in how Keith of Investment Moats tracked his expenditures. Even more amazing than the tracking, is his budget discipline.
Although I don’t share the same expense discipline as him, my expenses do not vary much from his (except for my car, which I’ll discuss later).
What I have is a “spending philosophy” and a lifestyle that orientates my spending, so here goes:
Fashion can be fun. However, there are mental barriers in my mind prevent me from actually buying.
- Beyond good presentation, most people around you are honestly not interested in how you look. If you quiz your friends on what you wore, they won’t recall. They may have a vague impression that you’re well dressed but that’s it. And being well dressed doesn’t require a lot of money, just a sense of style, self-respect and decency.
- No one knows or cares that your Gucci shoes cost $3k unless you bring it to their attention. Then might gush over you for like 30 seconds and carry on with life. This world is all “what’s in it for me”, and me wearing $3k shoes does not add an ounce of value to anyone’s life.
- The body and physique is more important than the clothes. Toss a singlet and shorts to a well built person and it’ll immediately look like a runway piece. I once saw an unfit person decked from head to toe with the most expensive of brands – he looked no different from the next person on the MRT. He blended right in with everyone else, which is sad given the amount he spent trying to stand out. This is most important for me; if ever I wanted to go out and buy something to look good, I’ll stop, reconsider, and hit the gym instead.
- “Quality” is a terrible excuse to buy an expensive brand. The trend will not outlast the leather. And even if the design is of the timeless variety, it will not outlast your desire for something new. In a matter of months, it’ll just sit down in your closet soaking in moisture and decay.
Oh, but what about the very investable fashion that is Watches?
I must say watches are also very fun, and those who know me would have lost count of the number of times I walked into Rolex boutique to only NOT make a purchase. Here’s why I am unable to buy them:
- Buying watches for investment means that you cannot use your watch often. Some investment watches require you to keep it in a sealed box. Now what’s the fun of having something that you can’t use?
- Then there is the trouble of selling it. I personally won’t buy a second hand watch casually, there are are just too many fakes. So I struggle to wonder who would buy one from me? Pawn shops and professional dealers often take a huge cut from you and that makes it impractical to sell to them anyway.
- Ever since I owned an Apple Watch, a normal watch simply does not meet the practicality an Apple Watch delivers. Furthermore, the Apple Watch has resale value. I sell mine off at the launch of each new version and it helps to buffer the depreciation. In 20 years, I don’t even meet the costs of an entry level Rolex. You might say that your Rolex still holds value, but hey… in this 20 years you have to freak out over not losing and damaging the thing. Plus I get to have a brand new watch each year!
Cafes and restaurants
This one would be a bit of a weakness. So here are my thoughts:
- I enjoy cooking, so I know the price of ingredients and the work that has gone behind putting a dish together. Trust me, many cafes are not worth the prices they charge. These places sometimes charge more than 300% the price of ingredients. Steamboats are one of the silliest cuisines – it’s really just a stock base and everything else is raw.
- Then there’s service, hygiene and health. Even posh cafes have given me food poisoning on a few occasions. And on the point of service, I hate restaurants that have taken to too much technology. The whole point of eating out (for me at least), is also to enjoy the professionalism of another human. I absolutely loathe it when service staff are just there to make an income and is not involved in his/her work at all
But you know, I do like reading at a cafe and the smell of coffee and food being prepared. And if the proprietor is professional and friendly, I don’t mind spending a bit more at the place. At the same time, I also enjoy cooking so voila, it cancels the need to eat outside.
Unlike other men, I don’t have a burning interest in cars, football or collecting expensive things. I mean I do love powerful cars, but in a country such as Singapore you can’t really enjoy speed and power, so I don’t get involved. I do like convertibles, so I’m happy to have owned one for a while. My true interest is really in learning and reading. I’ll splurge on books, Kindles and magazines…. But these things are not as expensive as say…a brand new turbo charger.
For a season, I invested in teaching myself art and painting – good grief, this hobby is expensive. But it paid off, it helps me to think creatively, abstractly and equiped me with the skills to better illustrate my ideas.
I do like antique furniture, but my wife is adverse to things that would occupy space in the house… so, oh well… more money in the bank I guess haha.
Electronics: boy’s toys
Gadgets are really fun. But I’m very aware that after the initial stages of learning the product, its utility diminishes sharply. Very few of these new fangled electronics actually become useful everyday and 90% of the time they produce about a month’s worth of fun before ending up the closet somewhere.
These days, I curb my excitement about these toys by imagining it in its dusty, discharged state. Also, I think our lives need fewer electronics not more. After all, if the fun in the toy is identified as the learning phase, then why not just go straight to the source and learn something new rather than spend money on a toy that brings short-term entertainment?
Cars and transport
This is the most unfortunate part of my expenses. Cars are the most expensive things you can acquire in Singapore. The problem is, I have a crippling cleithrophobia (I used to think it was claustrophobia, but it’s not). This is a mental problem that prevents me from taking the trains, especially when it stops moving underground. It even prevents me from driving through some parts of the KPE during peak hours.
If not for this, I would have been able to save so much more.
Purchase of anything in general
In my mind, I’m quite aware that we can be called to die at any moment. And when we do, someone has to go through our stuff and decide what to sell, what to throw and what to keep. I don’t want to burden this person, so I try to keep things to a minimum. This practice is also a habit borne out of a lifestyle in my 20s – back then I travelled intensively and lived life out of a suitcase. If I bought too much, it’s going to be troublesome when it is time to move.
And that’s what we really are aren’t we? We’re just sojourners, travellers through this world and we must leave at some point. The things that we acquire here will never follow us.
What do I spend on then?
All that said above, I’m certainly no penny pincher. The following are what I believe:
- Money is not an object of value
Money is dollars and cents, paper, metal and digits on a screen. It has no value in itself and has to be compared against another item for its value to be realised. Singapore dollar against the US dollar. The dollar against a plate of fried chicken.
There are other things that are extremely limited and unlike currency, they are not investable, not bankable, non-negotiable and not accumulable.
Time, relationships, faith, youth, energy, health, sanity and life itself; these things are infinitely more valuable than money is… in any amount. If I have to spend money to preserve them, I will.
Although it sounds awfully similar to the YOLO attitude, it is not. What I’m talking about is quantifiable, discernible and arguable applications of expenditure. Blind expenditure excused as experience and convenience is not always a good use of money.
- Watching expenditures doesn’t mean you need to compromise on good things
Watching your finances doesn’t mean you have to struggle, be unhappy or be a monk. If you think things through and adapt your thinking, there are ways that you can afford little luxuries in life. Too often we are hindered by outdated street wisdom, tradition and non-existent risk that we are unable to take advantage of the best deals in the markets.
Here are some of my purchase reasonings. 90% of you out there will not agree with me:
- Don’t buy from a used car dealer
- Freehold and leasehold have little difference, in fact some freeholds make you worse off
- You don’t need a room rental agent
- Administration is not a lot of work; and is an excuse to profit
- That free gift, discount and extra star on the loyalty card can cost you more
- Apple products hold value better and longer
- If you have a purchase impulse, buy it on Carousell
All this is a lot to explain and I’m happy to do so if you write to me. But I have given up explaining these things to people whom just want to argue; they work for me and there is no need for me to convince anyone else.
- There is nothing wrong with hand-me-downs when it comes to kids
My wife is an extremely resourceful person and she has managed to acquire everything from car-seats to strollers for free or next-to-nothing. This is fantastic, instead of spending thousands on things that the boys would out-grow in 5 minutes, we put the money to better use.
I also don’t buy the expensive school theory. I don’t believe that toddlers, whom have barely learnt how to use their bodies, can learn anything more beyond basic human function. It’s like vitamin C… consuming more of it doesn’t mean it’s good for you, the surplus would just be flushed out of your system. You would have paid money to create expensive pee.
However, the affordable pre-schools have limited vacancy…so that’s another matter altogether.
Good investment in their education would come in very much later in life, however passive spending is just as wasteful. As parents, we have to get personally involved also… anyway, this would be another topic for another article.
So that’s it! There’s really so much more and all that is just a brief summary. In short, it all boils down to this: I don’t believe in folk wisdom, I don’t buy on impulse and I’m willing to spend if there are quantifiable returns.