The beginning…

I was reading this blog post by Financial Samurai, and there was this statement (see below) that sort of resonate with me.

“I know a lot of you think I’m crazy for whipping around my rollover IRA as if it were play money. But I’ve got to tell you that I frequently remember back to the years 1999-2000 where I didn’t have the courage to go all-in. Taking on risk gets even harder the older you get. Your 20s is a time to take aggressive, calculated bets as you’ve got a lifetime to make up for your mistakes. Who knows? You just might hit it big as well.


Basically, I am not a risk taker by nature, but surprising I have amassed a huge proportion of stocks base on my current net worth. Nevertheless, I like to reflect back to my past, to when I started investing.

When I first started working, I had a “huge” student loan (80% borrowed from the bank), so there is a ‘ticking clock’ so to speak — if I don’t pay back, the interest will snowball. It was huge to a fresh graduate with a low starting pay (but in retrospect now, with my current income, it is not that huge). I had some savings from my army NSF days, odd jobs (including tuition) during my undergrad years. However, effectively my net worth was negative (five figures) when I first graduated.

It didn’t help when I knew quite a number of my friends actually ‘borrowed’ their parents’ CPF money for their student loans. I reckoned banks are more merciless. I also had a senior (1 yr older working in the same company as me) who came from a rich family – and basically when he turned 35, his mum paid for half his 5 room flat mortgage (while I am still struggling to pay off my mortgage with my wife, have a son, give money to my parents etc)…By the way, he got ‘chauffeured’ to work by his mum everyday when he was working in the same company as me.

However, I reckon nobody owes me a living and one should never engage in self-pity (my girlfriend then who is my wife now, also helped to knock some sense into me from time to time).


That was in the early 2000s, 2003 I think. The economy then wasn’t great that time – during 2003 – 2004, if I am not wrong, many countries were just starting to come out from the recessions (read here). Some of my university course mates had to accept poly graduate pay for their first job (or no job). There is an old Chinese joke then – “Bi Ye, deng yi Si Ye”, the simple translation is graduation equate to being jobless. From the construction boom years of the 90s, it was a completely different picture when we graduate (actually we were told of the bad economy even while still in university).

There weren’t many job offers. I stayed in a small firm for about a year, then tried looking for another. Eventually, I was given an opportunity to work overseas (guess there wasn’t much opportunity for a fresh grad then) – the company was starting a new branch overseas. Ok, I don’t know much about it, but well, what do I have to lose, right? In debt, not much experience or knowledge, plenty of energy.

So I took up that offer. To some, it is like “no way am I going there”, but to me it was an opportunity (I didn’t even ask how much I was paid to go…. we were only told of our salary when we were there, overseas). And together with a few young guys went to help set up that branch. Well, when we were there, we practically had to start looking for a place to stay, yes cook our own dinner, manage the renovation of the company, and operations of the company, even getting the phone lines, PCs working, get accustomed to working with foreigners etc. I realized how efficient Singapore was when we were there. Or maybe we just did not have the right connections.

I met a lot of different types of people – some are really hardcore expats eg. Singaporeans who spend more than 90% of their working life outside of Singapore (they practically don’t see their families much ever, but yes ,very rich, but lots of unspoken family issues). They have a lot of tales to tell eg. China back in the 80s and 90s. They go where the opportunities are.


Initially, the agreement between the company and I, was that I would to be there for 6 months max. but ended up staying for 1 and half years.

However, most importantly, while overseas I managed to save enough to pay off my student loan, have some saving for a wedding and down payment for a HDB apartment. I saved as much as I could… even while overseas. Find the cheapest food (sometimes bring lunch eg. sandwich to work), watch pirated DVDs, walk (rather than take the taxi), keep checking the exchange rate and trying to get the best value, etc. Think my only extravagance then and there was getting to watch a movie during the weekend (it can be very boring when you have little friends or relatives there, and not much money to spend), take super long walks during the weekend to explore the place (well I can walk for half a day non-stop – was really fit then).

Actually, to me, home technically is not a place, it is a place with the people you love (like your parents, wife, children. loved ones etc……). Hence, I had no home to go back to anyway. The Skype wasn’t that fantastic. The overseas experience broadened my outlook as well. In Singapore, back then (even now I guess), there was some distinction made between the Chinese-speaking heart-landers and the more western educated cosmopolitans. You know the more Hokkien speaking ‘Ah beng’ vs the UK educated hipster who talks with a slang. But when you are overseas, basically the foreigners sometimes don’t even know the distinction between a Singaporean and a Filipinos (to some of them, we look the same, speak English etc). What heart-lander, what slang … studied in NTU, NUS.. what’s that?

Of Singaporean Heartlanders (read here)

I have not studied overseas so I wouldn’t be able to comment on it. However, when you are working overseas, you are technically not ‘paying money’ to be there. You are expected to work, to contribute as much as the people there. I don’t know if a strong Singapore currency helps, but I always felt that no matter how hard I worked, I would never be able to compete with those expatriates from developing countries. If I am a student, a strong Singapore currency might help in my tuition fee and lodging expenses. Even Singaporeans working in Singapore sometimes feel that way, now imagine how a Singaporean would feel in a foreign land, surrounded by foreigners everywhere, mainly from developing nations. Doesn’t help when your colleagues from a developing nation felt that they are treated unfairly (and made it known to everyone) just because their passports are not red (eg. Singapore Passport). Heck those guys who came with me from Singapore, half are not Singaporeans anyway eg. Malaysians.

Finally managed to get back to Singapore (typically the company would much rather that we stay there). Back in Singapore worked hard. The bummer was that my paycheck is now reduced drastically, had to start all over again. Which I did… slowly made my way up. I remembered while overseas, whenever I had the chance I would try to find out about investment (even thought of going to their banks to check out the interest rates). However, I haven’t figured out how to buy Singapore-listed stocks from overseas.

Ok, I didn’t study finance or economics, neither am I working in the finance sector. My concept of investing then was insurance linked investment plans – ILP (from my aunt), unit trusts (via Fund Supermart and my bank saving account or CDs). I also started investing in stocks. However, I seldom do research in what I was investing – more like hearsay from my parents or relatives (and tend to buy blue chips).

Like I mentioned earlier, I am not really a risk taker, so my early investments were mainly not in stocks. I also did not hit it big.

If I am not wrong, in Fund Supermart back then, I actually came across ghchua’s portfolio (there is a section whereby members can show their portfolios) – even then ghchua’s portfolio was already very big.

Anyway, as stated earlier, I did not hit it big, but I also did not lose a lot of money. Yes I did lose some money in stocks, made very little in my ILPs and Unit trusts, which also dropped when the 2007-2008 GFC came. However, I did try. I read a lot of books. During those periods there were still quite a number of book shops eg. Borders, Kinokuniya etc..and after work I will try to read up (even now I still do). Nowadays my resources are basically from the internet.

However, during the 2007 – 2009 period, I experimented more. I tried trading, read charting, momentum investing (which is very time and energy consuming and kind of disrupt my focus at work), bought different kind of stocks (China stocks, India / Asia ETFs etc). Typically holding the stocks for not more than 6 mths.  However, I restrained from using margins – the one advice my dad gave me. The market was crazy during that period. And then there was the 2010 flash crash. I didn’t have a smartphone in the 2007 – 2009 period (and I didn’t use the company’s desktop to check stock prices – I really separated work from stocks). During lunch I would go to those internet shops and check online maybe once a week, if I decided to buy or sell any stocks the night before. After work, back home I will check the stock prices, and read up.

The volatility was extreme. And I had no clue as to how to value a company or stock. In the end, I didn’t make much or lose much. However, I did remember how I felt when I lost $2000+ in a single week then (that was a lot of money for me then) —- think now the daily fluctuations of my stock portfolio is much higher. Kind of numb to the fluctuations.

However, the reason why I wanted to know about the financial fundamentals of a company isn’t because I wanted to trade. Yes, I want to profit (no denying).  It is more of the inverse of the urge to trade. I always remembered how I felt when the price of the stock I am holding on to drop (from my past) – I felt terrible because I did not know what I was holding on to. I didn’t know how much the company was worth, relative P/E, P/B, EV/EBITDA, how much debt or cash it had, is the earnings improving etc. My parents/relatives didn’t really help also. When the stocks they were holding dropped, they just sounded regretful. I hated that feeling, that feeling of ignorance and fear.


Even now, I don’t think I am a good investor (definitely worth lesser than Financial Samurai), but well I am glad I tried and make an attempt to know the companies (and myself better).

And to go back to the statement by Financial Samurai: When you are young – take calculated bets, make mistakes. Taking risks are much harder when you are older. 

About apenquotes

Born in 1976. Married with 2 kids (a boy and a girl). A typical Singaporean living in a 4 room HDB flat. Check out my Facebook Page:
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2 Responses to The beginning…

  1. Kyith says:

    Hi A Pen Quotes,

    Been an ardent reader of your blog. I think we perhaps came out at the same time, which probably lets me know we are of the same age. I think not many was able to see that perhaps what we achieve is due to luck more than competency. As i grow older i do see myself being more weary and less gungho about what we put our money into.


  2. apenquotes says:

    Thank you.

    In terms of financial literacy, you are miles ahead of me. I took a very lonely, curvy route.
    I wish investing is more science than art but tend to be the other way round.
    Having said that, I am currently reading the book, “The snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of life”. Not even halfway through (lots of pages). Basically I think in Warren’s life, luck has little to do with his success. He is the ultimate type A guy who spend every single waking hour thinking about ideas and investing opportunities (even after he is rich). Ever hungry to earn. His lucky days were probably the days he met his wife, Susie and Charlie Munger.

    For him: If the mountain doesn’t come to the monk, the monk goes to the mountain.
    Munger would later call Buffett an “implacable acquirer,” like John D. Rockefeller in the early days of assembling his empire, who let nobody and nothing get in his way.

    Btw I am an ardent reader of your blog as well.


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