A true MyPF story from one of our clients about his financial journey.
I was born in 1984 into a simple family of four. Both of my parents were working within the Pudu area. At that time, Pudu was considered a notorious place because it was near to many sketchy businesses related to alcohol, drugs, gangsterism, crime, prostitution, and much more. What good would you expect can come out from a childhood there, with no supervision from parents, allowed to roam around Pudu – everyday.
My father worked as a taxi driver based in Pudu after leaving his career as a soldier of our Malaysia flag. Just a simple man who worked hard to make a living. He was a man without much time for his children but an honest man who provided for his family well enough to support both sons into college.
My mother also worked in Pudu, handling printing machines that printed out receipt books and bank documents. Her job was a dangerous one as she needed to manually ink the machine roller while the machine was still running – there were incidents involving other staff who had to live with permanent disabilities after getting caught by the machine roller. My mother also took up night job in a clubhouse and she would often reach home only after 11PM or 12PM. So, even while I was still in primary school (I’m a proud ex-student of SRK Jalan Pasar), I was already roaming the notorious streets of Pudu on my own.
Learning To Be Smart
Nobody taught me about money. But, I had a desire for money, or to be more clear, I had a desire for what money can exchange for me. Since I was roaming around Pudu, I would often visit nearby shopping malls and learn about the latest toys, games, gadgets, and even the best stationery. However, as I only received 50 cents to Rm1 for my daily meal, I could not afford these things.
I began to take a natural shortcut by stealing. I stole from shops and I even stole from my father’s wallet if he left it in the room. Of course like the Malay proverb ‘sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah’, I did get caught and punished. But, my mind was already convinced that getting things through this shortcut was the smart thing to do in life.
This mindset stuck with me. Afterall, things should be easy in life if you are smart, right? And so I applied my brains to finding ways to gain easy money.
- In primary school, I would help my classmates to buy comics book, because I knew one magazine store close to my home that would receive the latest comics book earlier than other shops. Little did my classmates know that by doing so I could and would read their brand new comic books (free!) before passing along to them.
- In secondary school, I sold lollipops to my classmates for a 100% profit. I began by bringing only a few lollipops to school, and ultimately earned enough to buy a whole plastic container of lollipops to sell.
- When my mother took a vacation to Thailand, she brought home boxes of tomyum instant noodles. Even those I would bring to school to sell to my classmates for a tidy profit.
- At some point, my school gave students an option to switch from the plastic name tags with the safety pin on the back to more permanent tags on our uniforms. Coming from Pudu, I knew exactly where to source the new tags from and began to take orders from my classmates. Even students from other classes would place orders. All for a handsome profit of 50% on each name tag.
I found ways to be smart because coming from a poor family meant that I needed to find my own way to get what I want. My family did not have time for me so I would substitute my needs with material things that
give me temporary happiness.
Learning About Tradeoffs
My mindset stayed with me even during my college days where I encountered something that strongly affected my life experience. I got involved with a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme. At that time, I could not differentiate between legitimate MLM schemes and Ponzi schemes. All I knew was that my MLM leaders would wave their success in front of me with cars and the promise of a good income. I truly lost interest in my studies there and then.
Despite gaining 20 downlines in my MLM network, things soon quickly unwound and came tumbling down around me. I did not make money through MLM. My studies floundered and I was failing college. So badly was I failing that I was called the “Reseat King” becausse not only was I infamous for retaking exams but even others who needed to retake exams knew to seek me out for guidance.
But, one thing that MLM taught me that stays with me until today is that MLM is not supposed to be easy. Think of it as the success you achieve from working hard in 30 years can indeed possible be achieved through MLM in 3 years, but you have got to work super hard.
At this point, I began to understand that to be financially successful, there is a price to pay. When you have a goal in mind, something you really want, then turn around and ask yourself what is the cost to achieve it? And, are you willing to pay the price?
If you are not willing to pay the price to achieve such a goal, then seek to further understand what do you really want in life?
I repented my days of not studying and turned over a new leaf with the time I had left in college. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. But, without any direction. So, my father told me to “ride on a cow while finding the horse”, a Chinese proverb that teaches us to start somewhere in life.
Riding the Cow
10 interviews later, I landed my first job in customer service for an outsourcing company, dealing with insurance agents from Singapore. I was the youngest performing member on the team, but yet the salary remained the same at rm1800. After 3 years of daily toiling, exchanging time for money, finally I gathered courage and ventured into a sales job selling laboratory equipment.
This is where I experienced the power of leveraging for the first time. I leveraged on the good products my company is selling, I leveraged on the experience of my superior to close a deal, I leveraged on the teamwork to produce more result for the company. From then onward my career pathway has stayed medical-related. I learnt a lot about doing sales and by leveraging on the big purchases of my customers, I could earn a decent amount of
commission. With larger earning power I unlocked my spending power. I chased my childhood dreams of getting a Gameboy, Lego sets, remote-controlled car, bicycle, and even a trip to Japan!
Finding Financial Education
It started with my unit trust consultant (thank you!) coaxing me to start saving for my future. I signed up and set an RM100 monthly autotransfer. In 7 years, I had accumulated my first RM10k! It took me by surprise because at the rate I was spending I would never have thought I could save that amount on my own. This got me curious about how unit trust works because through the 7 years I had ignored the statements sent since I could not make sense of them. I decided to sign up and become a unit trust consultant myself to understand it more. Who knows, perhaps it might serve as a potential side income in the future too?
I stepped into a new world. Compounding interest, inflation, EPF, retirement, ROI, assets, passive income, debt, interests and many more jargon from the financial world. I began to see that a huge part of my problem with money was due to ignorance. I was not taught about money. I did not have the right idea about money. I did not have the right understanding about how to make it, save it, invest it or even spend it. My mindset was changed forever.
At age 28, I took wiser steps with my money thanks to my new-found money education. I still had desires but I learnt self-control because purchasing something is not just about spending money, but rather I’m paying up with my time, energy, and effort it took to have made that money in the first place.
Combine this mindset with a spending-tracking app and I was reducing my spending significantly. Suddenly, I could review my expenses and scrutinize down to which area I was spending more on. I grew more conscious about my spending choices.
Choosing to live in a low-cost flat that cost me less than RM70k was a blessing. Not only could I pay off my loan sooner than if I had bought a bigger home, but the size was a benefit – cleaning is easier and with lesser space meant I had to be more careful with choosing what to spend on. I learnt to appreciate quality and experience.
The first debt I cleared was my car loan of RM55k. Since then I have learnt so much about depreciation and now would never buy a brand new car in future, unless I’m filthy wealthy.
At age 32, I finally paid off PTPTN loan of RM40k, which I did not think about when I was a younger working adult. This is the point I can shout ‘I’m free!’
My Million-Ringgit Plan
Being debt-free is only the beginning. Wanting to maintain my debt-free status means I’m already preparing for my retirement so I can be prepared to carry my debt-free status even then.
While my peers are still in debt, all they can do is make sure they meet their installment payments and enjoy life once in a while. For me, I can focus on what future I want to have.
Once I read that all true riches will lead to minimalism one day in one way or another. It’s quite true for me because I realized that the more financially-educated I get, the more carefully I judge each purchase by its long-term value and whether it aligns with what I want in life. In the end, we don’t need much to be happy in life. Don’t be fooled into sacrificing your future by racking up more debt in exchange for temporary happiness
I learnt how to calculate how I would need before I can stop working for money and let money work for me. For me, that amount is RM 1 million, based on my comfortable spending of RM3k a month. To be safer, I’ll set it at RM1.2million. If I choose full retirement after achieving this number, then I calculate it will deplete to almost zero when I reach age 80.
However, if I want to maintain the amount at RM1.2million, I can choose to be semi-retired and take up some side jobs. The good news is that by having this amount I can live by the interest it generates while continuing to dabble in any areas I like without being too concerned about salary. So, side jobs that bring in an income of RM2k-RM3k would be sufficient.
Sounds like a familiar million-dollar dream of many, but with a clear direction and consistent action. I’m testifying that this is possible. Boring, not fun, but possible. Here are some action steps I am taking:
- I am saving 50% of my salary.
- I generate side income through being a unit trust consultant and selling toys and related items online (I’m a toy collector).
- I keep Rm1000 as petty cash.
- I save up 6 months worth of livings expenses in fixed deposit.
- I invest the rest of my money in various sectors to diversify the risk.
- I continue to educate myself financially.
- I have a written journey book to keep record of my struggle, my experience, my goals, my plan.
I’m now halfway to reaching that amount so I plan to be semi-retired by age 40.
My Your Path
One thing that will make a difference in our lives is financial literacy.
I see the clear possibility that I have the privilege to retire early. To me, retirement does not mean not working and sitting at home all day. Instead, retirement is about the freedom to choose to work in areas that I find meaningful. The ability to find a job I love and create value through it. That’s a great dream because less than 4% of employees can say that.
Not everything needs money, but what everything needs is time.
I need time to do the things that matter to me. During my early days in Pudu, what I wanted was not money but what money could buy for me, which were my favourite toys. Now, money (properly managed, of course) can instead give me not more toys but the chance to find my purpose in life. What I mean should be clearer if you ask yourself “If money were not an issue for you, how would you choose to live your life?”.
When I started my journey, I did not know the answer to that question. Instead, I focused on answering another question which was “If money was not an issue, what would I not want to do with my life?”. By knowing these answers, I would focus on eliminating that life choice from my future. Here are some of my answers that helped form my path.
- I don’t want keep exchanging my life for money
- I don’t want my money to lose value to inflation
- I don’t want to work for money alone
- I don’t want to have any debt
- I don’t want to say ‘no’ to family time
- I don’t want to be useless in society
- I don’t want to be poor
- I don’t want to trouble my loves one when I’m old
By 2020, I have learnt that the financial game is a team sport with many parties involved. To solve my money management gaps in understanding, it took more than just one party (myself) to figure things out. Through experience, I have learnt that engaging a financial planner made a huge difference in helping me understand where I stood financially. I liken the experience to having a full body checkup with results that highlights areas I needed to take care of more in order to be financially healthy.
Everyone has different starting points in life, whether you too grew up in Pudu or elsewhere. We cannot change the past, but the choices we make in the present can change the future. Our future.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now. So, what are you still waiting for?
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MyPF Stories is a collection of true financial stories from among MyPF clients. If you have a financial experience to share, we welcome you to contact us via your MyPF advisor.