19 August 2019

End of Life - How Much Does a Funeral Cost?

Of the multitude of things we examine into concerning our personal finance, investments, medical costs and such, FUNERAL is certainly not something that I would have gone around to actively find out.

But when the need comes, there is little time to think, nor are we likely to be in the optimal state of mind to weigh options carefully. There is an emotional factor at play. So I guess we would tend to just go with the flow?

So just how much does it cost? For sure, it varies over a wide range, from the basic to the exorbitant grandeur. The type of religious practice, size of family, number of days - these are all variables that will size up the cost of the entire package.

To offer a gauge, here's one sample based on the following parameters:

Religion: Buddhist
Size of Family (mourning): 15-20 pax (i.e. children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc)
Number of Days: 5

Item Description  Amount (S$) 
Crematorium fee  $                50.00
Use of HDB void deck (water, electricity)  $              160.50
Drinks, peanuts and such  $          1,400.00
Funeral services package  $          8,000.00
Meals for 4 dinners, final day lunch  $          4,600.00
Clothings (15-20 pax)  $          2,000.00
Security, tables, chairs, fans  $          1,000.00
Funeral offerings, 2 buses  $          2,300.00
Claim ashes  $                20.00
Newspaper - orbituary  $          5,885.00
Ang pows and miscellaneous  $          1,000.00
Total  $        26,415.50

There will be other costs that affect various members of the family individually.

Security pertains to the hiring of 2 pax to look after the wake at the night. You could save a few hundred bucks if you're prepared to tire up family members to do so instead.

The obituary was published on both Zhao Bao (Chinese papers) and Straits Times. It is EXPENSIVE, and cannot be under-emphasised. This item alone contributed 22% of the costs.

Figures have not included the cost of the niche at the temple and other temple associated 'fees' over the post-funeral 100 days.  Most certainly a few more thousands.


12 August 2019

15 Ways to Save Money, Redux

Was watching this YouTube video by Lavendaire on 15 Ways to Save Money (YouTube) She is based in Los Angeles. So these 15 ways to save money might have a certain slant towards American consumerism.

But here's a quick summary of the 15 ways, and my thoughts on some of these points:

"1. Use cash instead of credit card". You will realise how much you are actually spending. Credit card charges high-interest rates if the debts are not paid in full. By using case, you will be pending what you have, versus spending on borrowed money.

I think it's just a complete lack of discipline that can cause a problem. Credit cards can come with various benefits like cash-back, mileage, etc. So I don't see a problem if one is paying in full the bills every month.

"2. Write down all of your spendings on paper". Know where you are spending.

Some people need to write things down to register mentally. I work fine with spreadsheets. So it's probably ok to record all your spendings on spreadsheets. Also, I find it easy enough since most of my spendings are cashless. The credit card bills and bank statements would have the information I need to reference to record into my spreadsheet. Whatever I actually spend with cash are few and far in between. Much of it for food and miscellaneous. and generally, they aren't much.

"3. Cancel any unnecessary subscription". For those that you don't use anymore, cancel or put on hold the subscriptions.

I can agree with that. 

"4. Always google a coupon code". Get the discount!

This is something I'm not in the habit of doing. Perhaps couponing is less of a practice in Singapore? Neither do I do a lot of online ordering. Or maybe I'm just in denial?

"5. Use E-Bay to get cash back from purchases".

I don't do much of E-Bay either. Although, I must admit I did quite a bit when I was residing in the US for a short period. It's a whole lot of difference when you click buy one day and the goods show up in a day or two!

"6. Start building an emergency fund". Build up 6 to 9 months of your monthly expenses to deal with any emergency.

Definitely a piece of good advice. Especially if there is any risk of losing your job, or to deal with some unexpected emergencies.

"7. Schedule your shopping allowance". Add items to a shopping list. And buy only on scheduled days. It helps to control impulse buying.

Curbs unnecessary spendings. Window shopping should be kept to simply that.

"8. Wait it out". Give yourself 14-30 days, to curb impulsive shopping.

Good advice.  If after 30 days, the desire remains, then maybe it is something that gives you love.  [Borrowing from Marie Kondo's words]

"9. Buy only what you really need and will really use". Buying bulk just because they are on sale may not be the way. 

Anything else is just clutter and junk.

"10. Use your public library". It's free.

And it's great here in Singapore because the libraries are well stocked. And in recent years, the National Library Board has been locating libraries in publicly accessible places, including popular shopping malls - like VivoCity!  Now if only I can figure out how to convince them to subscribe to all my favourite magazines.

"11. Plan your meals around grocery store sales". Go for items on sale. And use those coupons!

This takes some getting used to. Not something I would particularly bother as neighbourhood food isn't all that expensive around here. Plus, groceries can be cheaply bought in most cases from supermarkets. In Japan, the basement food shops are heavily discounted towards 8-9 pm near closing time. 

"12. Buy used instead of new". There can be good stuffs that are opened but not used. 

I don't feel too positively with this. Too many opportunities for con jobs if bought secondhand from online channels, like Carousell.  Never know what you are actually getting either, hygiene wise.

"13. Make your own versus buying". DIY whatever you can. Cook at home if you're good at it.

I'd leave that to wifey. She bakes, big time. 

"14. Cut or do your own hair". Yet another DIY.

I wouldn't trust myself to do that. And besides, it's only $10 at the local barber. I'm fine with that.  I guess some other equivalents would be: "wash your car yourself", "clean up the house yourself, don't engage a part-time cleaner (or maid)", etc.

"15. Get social and swap with a friend".

Need a lot of friends? Probably end up with even more group buys and spendings instead! Hah.

05 August 2019

Using Leverage for REIT Investment

So here's a play I came across, mentioned by a number of people:
  • Worked for a few years, saved some money. Let's say $100,000.
  • Take that $100,000, borrow some (leverage), say at an interest rate of 4%.
  • Let's assume $100,000 + $100,000, giving a total capital of $200,000.
  • Put everything in REITs, yielding say 6% annually - i.e. $12,000.
  • Pay $4,000 in interest. And still, make $8,000.
  • That's an 8% yield over a starting capital of $100,000!
Sounds good right? The numbers seem credible under such a low interest rate environment.

Let's play out this scenario ...

There is an economic downturn resulting in a drop in the valuation of REITs. The 6% yield may be there, but it is now against a lower valuation.  So suppose the value of the REITs drops 30%.  The $200,000 worth of REITs (at cost) is now worth only $140,000. At a 6% yield, that now generates $8,400. Paying off the $8,000 interest, there is still a balance of $400.  The achieved yield has dropped to 0.4%.  Still ok.

In the following year, the REIT market continues to tank by another 20%.  The $140,000 of REITs is now worth only $112,000. At a 6% yield, that gives $6,720. Paying off the $8,000 loan (that never goes down!), you are now making a loss of $1,280. The achieved yield has dropped to -1.28%. Not so ok, but probably still bearable.

And then the REIT gets taken private, giving a cash value back of $150,000. What happens now? After paying off the interests ($4,000) and the loan capital ($100,000), you're left with $46,000. Poorer than when you started.

That's now a loss of 54% of the starting capital. Can you deal with that?

Leverage, it works both ways.

On good days, there is money to be made. But all it takes is ONE bad day to wipe out everything.

I think there is money to be made with this, but the downside has to be understood.


29 July 2019

Where Does a $120,000 Annual Retirement Income Go To?

I am most grateful to a reader who shared his monthly expense figures. I'm not even sure if I should say "he" or "she"? But for convenience, I'm going to just call him Adam (A).

[To: 'Adam' - Give me a shout out if prefer to be called by another name?]

It looks like Adam's household is made up of a couple, an elderly and a maid.  Not sure if there are any children? In contrast, my situation (B) is that of a couple and two children.  While the specifics are not the same, there are high similarities - i.e. four persons in the household, close to retirement.

I took the liberty of regrouping Adam's data so that I could make reasonable comparisons.

Expenditure Item  A   B 
Condo maintenance   $      330  $      295
Car/transport related  $      670  $      594
Property tax  $      280  $        33 A's is for 2 condos
Utility, broadband, phone  $      350  $      474 B's includes replacements
Insurance  $      300  $        40 B's exclude Medishield using CPF-MA
Food/meals, groceries, households  $   1,500  $   2,392
Medical  $      100  $      750
Gifts, clothings, misc  $   1,750  $   2,286 B's include contributions to parent
Donations  $      150  $        53
Condo maintenance (investment property)  $      350
Maid (to look after elderly parent)  $      650
Maid levy and medical  $      150
Travel  $   1,500  $   2,110
TOTAL  $   8,080  $   9,027

One key difference is that Adam has a second property, an investment property, from which he is earning rental income. And he has a maid to look after an elderly folk.

Adam also mentioned that he owns a car, which he views as essential to ferry the elderly. And he is concerned whether there is enough money to buy a replacement in time to come. This is clearly something he needs to prepare for. Buying a replacement car is a hefty investment, perhaps $100,000? This is an expense that is going to happen once every 9 to 10 years. But as one age, perhaps we would reach a point where it is no longer safe to even drive one? But the removal of car-related expenses (road tax, car inspection, insurance, maintenance, fuel, parking - they really add up!) would be substituted by other public transportation expenses.

Going through the data, I was wondering if I might have missed out something in my insurance. Wifey and I do have Integrated Shield plans, ElderCare plans, and property insurance. But nothing else. With the income stream from our investment portfolios, there didn't seem any reason to need anything else for retirement. With most of it paid via CPF-MA (and therefore not reflected in above), there is little cash involved, for now.

Our medical expenses are higher, as both wifey and I have certain conditions that require regular treatment. That explains the much higher medical expenses compared to Adam's.

My family is probably spending a lot more on food (groceries and meals out) and household expenses. That is something of a lifestyle desire. Or perhaps we are just eating too much and growing fat!? Hah.

Adam's family has been fortunate, investing early in their career in property and shares, and that has paid off.  My family started investing late, much of that only in our 40's, in shares and some unit trusts. It was too late to go into properties, but we were lucky to have gotten a decent condo at a fairly low price.

Adam's family is also comparatively more generous with tithing/donations. This is an area I am prepared to contribute more on if my investments pay off.

My family's travel expenses are higher. Perhaps Adam's family travel expenses do not include one or two persons in the household? This is probably seen as a major luxury item. But it is certainly something meaningful to my family, exploring the world around us. For sure, this is an item that some flexibility can be exercised on if financial circumstances vary - especially, during market downturns.

In time to come, my family's expenses will drop significantly once the children are working and eventually, moved out.

In summary, neither hit $120,000 a year, although close to. But with inflation, both surely will soon.


22 July 2019

End of Life - What happens to the CPF?

While we are still growing up in our twenties, CPF is just a 'sinkhole' where part of our salary ends up in. Goes in, never come out.

Over time though, as we progress towards our thirties, it becomes the source upon which we can only be glad that there is money to help pay for our housing.

And when you are getting closer towards retirement in your forties, you think about how to accelerate the build-up of CPF to get the desired retirement funds desired. As well as tax-deductible top-ups to reduce the burden of taxation.

In our fifties, we start to want to know how the CPF money will fund CPF LIFE to support our retirement.

By the sixties, we are looking forward to finally collecting CPF LIFE payouts.

But what about upon death? I know it's morbid. But that is really something important to take care of as well. A CPF nomination needs to be made to determine how the CPF money would be distributed.

What's the significance?

A CPF Nomination covers:
  • CPF savings in the Ordinary, Special, Retirement and Medical Accounts
  • Unused CPF Life premiums
  • Discounted SingTel shares
A CPF Nomination does not cover:
  • Properties bought using CPF 
  • Payouts from Dependent Protection Scheme
  • Investments in CPF Investment Accounts - i.e. CPFIS-OA and CPFIS-SA.
Well, years ago, Pa and Ma both did their respective CPF nominations. That was a good thing. Trouble is, nobody knew who they actually nominated!  Over time, we did eventually figure out that they had nominated each other. Perhaps they should have told somebody or have the information attached to a Will for reference?

When Pa passed away some years back, CPF Board automatically issued a cheque of the balance left in his CPF in Ma's name and sent to her home address. No actions were required from anybody. Apparently, when the death certificate was applied, it automatically triggered notices to various government agencies, including CPF Board. And CPF Board took action to process accordingly and the nominee would receive a cheque within two weeks.

More recently, Ma passed away too. Unfortunately, her nominee was my Pa. So how?  Since he was no longer around.

  • We looked around for a recent copy of her CPF statement. Took a while to find it.  There wouldn't even be one if you had accepted the paperless option! The CPF statement would indicate if she had made a nomination, and in which year. So that was a clue.
  • We considered checking her CPF online, but she didn't even have a Singpass account to begin with! Best to have one. 

Well, apparently, if the nominated parties are no longer alive, the CPF money gets transferred to the Public Trustee who will investigate and distribute the money according to the Intestate Succession Act. That would take about 2 to 4 months to conclude, and there is some fee involved. It takes a bit longer. I hope it works out.

Related Information:
For a quick overview: CPF Pamphlet on Losing Loved One
And for more details: CPF Guide on Preparations for Death
If you're hearing some nonsense, read this: Government Debunks False Message
For a quick idea of the Intestate Succession ActDealing with the CPF Monies of Someone Who Has Passed Away

15 July 2019

Can You Top-up CPF-RA Beyond FRS to Achieve ERS After Age 55?

Here's something that I've been puzzling about regarding the CPF retirement sum.

Say you only managed to accumulate enough for a Full Retirement Sum (FRS) of $176,000 by age 55. But you actually wanted to achieve the Enhanced Retirement Sum (ERS) of $264,000. Can you still do so somehow later?

Up to age 55, you can contribute to the Special Account (SA) up till the FRS amount. And at age 55, the Ordinary Account (OA) and Special Account (SA) are then poured into the Retirement Account (RA). But let's suppose you didn't have any money left in the OA, and the SA had $176,000. So the resultant RA would only be $176,000.

Post-55 though, you can contribute to the RA up to the ERS amount.  But how do you move from FRS to catch up all the way to ERS? Is it a matter of topping up the difference of $88,000?  I think not.

This article offers some clue (see page 9): CPF Retirement Planning Booklet - Be Ready With CPF.
"The retirement sum that you set aside at age 55 will grow with interest over time. The table below shows how much your retirement savings will grow to at different ages. If you would like to have a specific level of monthly payout, these are the estimated RA savings you should set aside at the various ages. Do note that the amount you can top up to is capped at the current Enhanced Retirement Sum for members aged 55 and above." 
For the ERS of $264,000 at age 55, it is $393,400 at age 65. This means that in the course of 10 years between age 55 and 65, you can contribute to the RA up till $393,000 at age 65, in order to catch up to the equivalent of FRS.  Whereupon, the estimated payout would then be $1,960 to $2,110 per month.

Is this the correct interpretation?

Related:
CPF Retirement Booklet - Your Assurance in Retirement


08 July 2019

Phone Smashed in the Land of the Rising Sun II - The Outcome

So I mentioned how Wifey's phone got smashed up during our trip to Japan (Phone smashed in land of the Rising Sun).  Thankful that we were reminded that this should be covered by our travel insurance.  We had completely overlooked that.

Thank goodness for travel insurance!

Checking through the details, it seems the insurance we bought could cover up to a maximum claim of $500 for lost or damaged items. So we submitted a claim.

Not bad. Just received a cheque for $203. Considering that the phone is already two years old and would have depreciated in value, it was still a reasonable outcome.

Something is better than nothing right?

04 July 2019

Saving more with SP Utilities app and UOB One Card

With the recent liberalisation of power services, I think many would have switched out of SingPower (SP) by now.  If you have not, time to give it some serious thought (see Switched to Keppel Electric, saved some).

But there remain other utilities that are still serviced by SP. So here's a quick hack offered by SP to provide further discount on the remaining bill with them:

"Enjoy power on your fingertips with your UOB One Card. Paying your utilities bill is now an easy finger tap away via SP Utilities app. What's more, enjoy up to 6% rebate on your SP utilities bill with UOB One Card."  -- from advert e-mail from UOB."
    
Here's how:
  1. Download the SP Utilities app from your app store.
  2. Configure your SP account number.
  3. Select Payment Method to add UOB One Card as the primary payment option.

And that's it.

Related:
Switched to Keppel Electric, saved some
How can we stretch the interest on our bank savings account


01 July 2019

A Lifetime of Income for Retirement

Recent articles mentioned local survey results which suggested that an aged single could live off $1,379 per month. That works out to be $16,548 annually. A portfolio of $413,700 could generate that income perpetually based on 4% extraction (i.e. annual income needed x 25). But we need to understand that this is for a minimalist lifestyle for a single.

Referencing the last published Department of Statistics report on Household Spendings by Age Group, the average monthly household spending of those aged 50-59 was $4,837 (or $58,044 annually), and drops to $3,586 (or $43,032 annually) for those aged 60 and above.

But these were based on 2012-13 survey data. If we compound these with an estimated annual inflation of 1.5% (inflation has been low in recent years) for 6 years (from 2013 to 2019), the corresponding figures would be $63,468 (aged 50-59) and $47,053 (aged 60+) respectively.

Summary of data points:
For an annual spend of $16,548, perpetual income portfolio is $413,700.
For an annual spend of $58,044, perpetual income portfolio is $1,451,000.
For an annual spend of $43,032, perpetual income portfolio is $1,075,800.
For an annual spend of $63,468, perpetual income portfolio is $1,586,700.
For an annual spend of $47,053, perpetual income portfolio is $1,176,325.

So indeed a household spend of $120,000 annually would be quite a FAT FIRE to retire on. It should be pretty comfortable.
--

Somebody mentioned to me that assuming he retires at 65 and lives for another 25 years, he would need $3,000,000!  $120,000 x 25 = $3,000,000.  And if he was to retire earlier, he would need even more. So if he was to plan for 30 years, that would be $3,600,000!

I said no, that's not correct. Using the rule of 4%, he would only need $3,000,000 to generate a perpetual lifetime income of $120,000 annually.  $3,000,000 x 4% = $120,000.

And thanks to a little hack, all thanks to CPF, it's not even necessary to have $3,000,000 to generate $120,000 annually.

24 June 2019

End of Life - Death Certificate

Sharing some nuggets with dealing with End of Life issues ...

Upon death, there is a need to obtain a Death Certificate.  Usually, if a person passes away at a Restructured Hospital, the Death Certificate is automatically issued.  But if a person passes away in a private hospital, then you need to bring the Cause of Death letter issued by the hospital to a Police Post to register for an official Death Certificate.

Other things required:
- NRIC of the reporting person
- NRIC of the person who has passed away

The Police Officer will punch out the NRIC to void it.  There is no fee involved.

And you could politely ask the Police Officer if he could make a few copies of the Death Certificate. Be nice!  You are going to need a couple of copies for the following purposes:
  • Application from Town Council to book a space for the wake within the estate
  • For family members who need the cert to apply compassionate leave
The original Death Certificate is needed if you are doing a HDB tenancy transfer.

Incidentally, the Death Certificate is also attached with a permit from NEA for cremation. This permit is needed by the Undertaker to apply for cremation services on your behalf.

Related:

17 June 2019

Switched to Keppel Electric, Saved Some

The liberalization of the electricity supply market has thrown up a multitude of options for power suppliers and consumers. Each of the suppliers has tried to differentiate from the rest. So of course, that makes it really hard for consumers to figure out what works best for them.

I decided to go with Keppel Electric on their fixed price plan, betting on the assumption that prices will only keep going up. I mean, does it ever come down? Ever?

Got a bit confused with the billing system.  During the transition period, I continued to receive the ol' SingPower bills. These were for the rest of the services - e.g. gas and water. It took some getting used to Keppel Electric, and I thought they weren't billing me initially. I eventually realised that I was receiving the Keppel Electric bills. They had gone all 'digital' - strictly via electronic means. That took some getting used to as I am more used to checking my bills that come in the through snail mail.

Setting up payment was quite simple though. Their Internet application is basic and simple. It was straightforward to set up routine GIRO or Visa payment arrangements.

So am I getting any saving by switching?  My average utility bill (power, water and gas) was averaging $230 prior to this. Since switching (based on 3 months data), it looks like it's now averaging $200. So presumably the switch has resulted in $30 saving from the energy bill.

p/s: The energy bill is on the high side due to heavy use of aircon in this household.

14 June 2019

What the fish? There goes Boardroom out the door!

What the fish.

Boardroom's parent company, G K Goh, through its Salacca vehicle, is carrying out a "voluntary unconditional cash offer". That's another good stock exiting.

Can you feel the increasing preponderance of the recent trend?

  • Good company bought out and exits from SGX.
  • Shitty company hitting rock bottom and suspended.

At this rate, all we will have left soon will only be the mediocre.

Sigh.

On the bright side, that's more spare cash with which to hunt another fish.

10 June 2019

Phone Smashed in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wifey and I went to Japan for a couple of weeks, not too long ago. Hanami season and all that. Yeah. Nice. Really. Should go if you have not. Go, go, go.

Our last stop was back in Tokyo as we were flying out from Haneda to return home.

So there we were, on the last evening of our wonderful holiday, standing at that amazing crossing at Shibuya. Throngs of people, including dumbstruck tourists like us, adding to the bloody mass, er mess.


And of course, holding on to our mobile phone to take wonderful pictures for momento. [Who still use cameras these days?]

Then, all of a sudden (deja vu of primary school essays?), some random guy ran past us, bumping into my wife along the way. Shit. Literally, coz that's what wifey said.

Guy in suit. Looked like a local. He apologised. BUT DID NOT PICK UP THE PHONE THAT HAD GONE FLYING!  WTF.  Bloody hell.

On hindsight, I realised why you shouldn't pick up someone else's phone that you had caused to go flying.

The phone was all cracked up!! We were not laughing. Should have seen the look on wifey's face.  She was damn angry with me. She couldn't get angry with the random stranger mah, coz he had run away.  Haiz, time to replace her iPhone.

On a more positive note, we were reminded that we could claim damages from our travel insurance. Oh yes. Forgot all about it. And that's another story still waiting to unfold.

06 June 2019

Quit Like a Millionaire, by Millennial Revolution



I'm quite a fan of Millennial Revolution and have been following them for awhile They are on FIRE! The couple (FIRECracker and Wanderer) hails from Canada and travels the world quite a bit.

While the circumstances of Canadian investment and personal finance options may be different, nonetheless, there are useful ideas that are useful and relevant.

I heard them on the radio once when I was in Australia. Or was it New Zealand? I can't remember. [Early signs of Alzheimer? *shrug*] It was so fun to hear them live. Bubbly interview.

They have just published a book that they have been working on, entitled "Quit Like a Millionaire". And it is at the pre-ordering stage.

So here's a shout out for them.  I am so getting a copy.

p/s: There are some freebies for pre-orders. Check out the instructions at their link above.

03 June 2019

$3,000,000 for Retirement; How about $1,750,000 instead?

So there was an article in the papers a few weeks back that said a $3,000,000 portfolio is needed for retirement. That seems daunting. Scary. Seemingly beyond the possible.

I presume that magic number was derived based on a need to generate $120,000 per year for 4% extraction from the $3,000,000 portfolio.

But this can be reduced significantly for a Singaporean couple who can max out their CPF accounts. If both husband and wife (assuming of same age) can meet the Enhanced Retirement Sum ($250,000 to $275,000), they can collectively generate close to $50,000 per year from age 65 from CPF LIFE payouts (CPF LIFE Estimator).

That being the case, the investment portfolio will only need to generate the remaining shortfall of $70,000 per year. That means a portfolio of $1,750,000.  Seems far less daunting.

So all in, that is a combined investment portfolio of $1,750,000 investment portfolio, plus $250,000-$275,000 each in CPF-SA account.  More do-able?

For more info on CPF LIFE:  How much CPF LIFE payout will I receive?

p/s: Ok ok, so if you math it up, it should be $2,250,000 to $2,300,000 in terms of net asset value.

27 May 2019

The Scary Situation of Being on a Denied Entity List

Effects of being placed onto a US Department of Commerce's Entity List are just beginning to filter through for Huawei and to consumers.

And looks like it has caused some level of panic for owners of Huawei mobile phones? The P30 30x zoom for the camera is great. But without all the apps that make the mobile phone great, who wants the phone? And in this scary digital world where bad guys abound, the apps need to be constantly patched to maintain cybersecurity. Software and hardware need to go together.

It also means that companies supplying to Huawei in whatever business nature cannot do so with any US-origin technology, be it hardware or software.  Companies that are not careful will soon find themselves in trouble if they inadvertently supply US technologies that ultimately end up in a Huawei product or services.

The long arm of US export control regime extends beyond their national boundary. You either live with it or suffer the consequences like Huawei.

Looking ahead, I doubt if the local telcos are going to continue selling Huawei mobile phones. And like the rolling effect of [bad] S-Chips, will it affect consumer preparedness to consider other China brand mobiles too?

Who benefits, and who loses in this situation?


20 May 2019

Amazon Prime - The Scam (a.k.a. Electronic Bills are Evil 2)

I have to say it again: Electronic Bills are Evil.

My daughter is a Gen Y.  Gen Ys can't be bothered to check their bank accounts regularly. They snapchat, and everything is just a passing memory. Am I generalising or am I right?

Anyways, happened to check on a random day and realised that she has been charged since January 2019 for Amazon Prime membership fees. Yet apparently, she had terminated her membership since mid-2018.  Seems for the past three months, she has been billed GBP3.99 by Amazon.  That's randomly ~$7 a month. Sneaky. Scam?

The good thing is that she was able to the Amazon website and chat online with a service representative.  She was redirected to do so with Amazon UK via their UK website online chat as her account was from UK.

To Amazon's credit, they recognised there was an error and she has since been refunded.

Do you use Amazon Prime service?  Or have you been paying them even though you do not?  Check your kids' accounts!! 

We are living in a scary digital world.
[Wanted to say "virtual" but that's so passe; "digital" is all the rage these days.]

p/s: I gather Amazon Prime service itself is a pretty good service if you are seriously using it.

16 May 2019

How Much Do We Need in Retirement?

When you start getting old (older), you start thinking about this kind of question. But really, should start thinking early. The trick is to start early. Very early. I've been thinking about this a lot more. And it's a pity I started late.

Anecdotally, it seems like a comfortable retirement lifestyle will require $3,000 per month.  That's a number I came across a couple of times.

Of course, if I'm going to live a retirement drinking only tap water, living on a remote isolated kampung on a distant island, and eating fish fished from the sea everyday cooked any number of ways, maybe I need a lot less. But that's not the kind of lifestyle I'm thinking of.

For a couple, that works out to $6,000.  And for each additional dependent, a.k.a. kid, that's $1,000 each. I've been tracking our expenses down to the last cent, and it is surprisingly accurate.

BTW, it is quite easy to keep track of expenses when all your spending either appear in your bank accounts or credit card bills. I use very little cash. That's the trick. Go SMART NATION!

So, for a family of four, that works out to $8,000 monthly, or $96,000 annually. Circa 2019.

DOES NOT INCLUDE EXPENSIVE HOLIDAYS OVERSEAS and other loan commitments (e.g. housing, car, etc).

Stacking on $24,000 for holiday expenses, that's $120,000 per year.  Those are numbers for my family at least. 

What works for you?

13 May 2019

End of the Road for Travel Smart Rewards

So sad. I've been clocking points that get converted as cash rebate to top up my transportation card (see Insinc with the Times; subsequently changed to Travel Smart Rewards). Effectively discounted travel.

But I have just received this e-mail:

--

Dear Travel Smart Rewards user,

Thank you for your support of the Travel Smart Rewards (TSR) thus far.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has reviewed the Travel Smart Programme to take into account rail network enhancements in recent years and changes to commuter travel patterns. Following the review, we will be concluding the TSR programme. Please see http://bit.ly/2VWe2rt for more information.

Current TSR users can continue earning points for trips made on the rail network until 31 May 2019. They can convert their points into cash rewards, or use the points to win more points or cash rewards through the game on the TSR portal (The Ride One) until 25 June 2019. Points which are not used by 25 June 2019 will no longer be valid. For further information, please see https://www.travelsmartrewards.lta.gov.sg/faq

Once again, thank you for your support all these years, and we look forward to your active participation in other LTA schemes

Happy commuting!
Travel Smart Rewards Team
--

Long story short, no more. Boo hoo.

07 May 2019

MOM Foreign Worker Tenant Enquiry - The Resident Who Isn't

Foreign worker with address tagged to your home? Scary. Worth checking out if there has been something fishy done.

Check it out:
Ministry of Manpower - Foreign Worker Tenant Enquiry

I'd absolutely HATE to have something like that happen to me.

I'm sure MOM will close whatever loophole that allowed such things to happen, presuming it did indeed happen and it wasn't some Fake News.

02 May 2019

TPG, the upside

Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. There are plenty of bandwidth hungry apps that consume massive mobile data. It's pretty addictive. I guess it's a form of lifestyle inflation? Or is it a practical reality of digital norms, a sign of "progress"?

And so TPG (https://www.tpgmobile.sg/) appeared on the local scene, coming in as the 4th Telco. The net effect was that my Singtel shares went south, somewhat. Starhub is already struggling from their self-induced escalating impact of high dividend payout in the past. And M1 was taken private.


The saving grace is that TPG is offering a one year $0 plan as they aim to seize market share, even as they are gradually rolling out their network. Really, ZERO. Coverage is not great for now. But can't complain right? It is ZERO.

I signed up and got my hands on the TPG SIM. And voila, Samsung phones can take in two SIM cards! So I downgraded my current Telco plan (not ready to risk switching), and configured my mobile phone mobile data to feed off TPG's. Infinite data, infinite. To infinity and beyond! No need to hunt for a free Wifi and conserve usage. Yeah.

The trade offs? No coverage in underground buildings and MRT lines. Live with it.

Let's see what happens in a year's time. And hopefully I haven't become a bandwidth addict by then. Meantime, it's saving me cold hard cash every month.

18 January 2019

ElderShield - A Severe Disability Insurance Scheme

Well, so as expected, and rightly so, CPF Board cannot release information of its member without being authorised by the member. [Dilemmas Dealing with End-of-Life]

But what CPF Board was able to accede to was to check if she is covered under ElderShield.  Must say CPF Board was responsive and helpful. 

So here's an extract of their response:

"ElderShield was first launched by the Ministry of Health in September 2002 as a severe disability insurance scheme which provides basic financial protection to those who need long-term care, especially in their old age. It provides a monthly cash pay-out of $400 for a maximum of 72 months to help pay out-of-pocket expenses for the care of a severely disabled person. The maximum entry age to be eligible for ElderShield cover is 64 years old.  Your mother was not covered under ElderShield since she was above 64 years old when it was launched." 

Unfortunately, it turned out that my mother was not covered.  Too old lah.  Oh well.  *shrug*

p/s: Are you covered?

07 January 2019

Dilemmas Dealing with End-of-Life

It's complex enough building up a wealth portfolio towards financial independence. I think the end-of-life part gets equally complex and deserves attention.

Here's the scenario and I welcome any suggestions how to go about it ...

My 90-year old mother lives with two of my siblings. She has not been in the best of health in recent years. Most recently, she suffered yet another fall at home and was evacuated to A&E. While at the hospital, she suffered a stroke. She is now bedridden and totally unable to communicate, or do anything whatsoever on her own accord. 

Nobody in my family knows whether she is on ElderShield.  If she does have ElderShield, I am quite sure she would qualify for the payout.  She satisfies all the conditions.  But how can we go about checking if she has ElderShield?

[Else, any ElderShield insurance she may have is as good as useless?]

Nobody is aware if she had made a CPF nomination.  There is a general consensus that she did. But nobody has a clue who she nominated. Is there some way to check?  The thing is that I was entrusted with a sum of her money to take care of for her.  Her CPF Medisave Account is apparently depleted. So I thought, why not top up her account with some of this money so that there is ready cash to pay her mounting hospital bill.  And if unused, it would earn 4%+.  But then one of the siblings pointed out that if she should unfortunately pass away, the CPF balance would get distributed to whoever was nominated.  And this may be inconsistent with her Will (for which she did do one). Is there any way to check who she nominated?

[It led me to think. If my wife and I made CPF nominations, and we both knew what each did. But our children don't know. Should one of us have passed on and the other is bedridden, how will our children be able to deal with the situation?]

What can be done now?

01 January 2019

10 Years @ 8.6% and a Year of Zero

So ends 2018, and with that, my 10th year of investing in the stock market. I guess 10 years can be seen as long term enough for investing?

For 2018, STI has been down -9.8% (not inclusive dividends). My portfolio has achieved -6.4%. Kind of oxymoron to use the word "achieved". After all, what is achievement here when it has been negative? Can I console myself that I over-performed the STI by 3.4%? Oh wait, but my dividend yield for the year happens to be precisely 3.4% too. That means I only matched the market? Nope, most definitely a C- year.

Compared against 10-year average out-performance of 5.6% (or 2.33% given average yield of 3.27% dividends), 2018 has been a drag on my 10-year outcome.

Overall, the 10-years internal rate of return achieved has been 8.6%.  Not too shabby, since my FIRE planning norms was based on 7%.

Against the backdrop of the recent downturn, what has been my reaction? Excitement! Yet another opportunity to pick up things on the cheap.

Happy New Year 2019!  Great health and good wealth.