In my last post, I
promised to talk more about the second book which made a great impact on me. Here's a picture of it, because I'm pretty sure not many may have heard of the author, Bodo Schafer. The full title of the book is, "The Road to Financial Freedom - Your First Million in Seven Years"
At 26 years old, German Bodo Schafer became bankrupt, owed creditors 75 000 marks. After two and a half years, for the first time in his life earned 100,000 marks a month, and then his first million. He was able to live off the interest of his capital at age 30. As I am typing this, I googled and realized he is still a financial coach today and his book has apparently sold over 10 million copies (not the 1.5 million that you see on my book cover). OK, he is still around and not some fly-by-night author. Phew.
The first key takeaway I applied from his book was to set up a separate savings account, named the "Goose" Account. Just as in the Aesop's fable, the moral of the story is to never kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Similarly, one is not allowed to touch the money in this account except for the sole purpose of investment. This account was, as described in his words, one that "you should pay yourself first, before you pay anyone else"! The target he recommended was 10% of income but I decided to top that to 30% and challenged ourselves to do so.
(Having said that, please note too that he recommends having an emergency fund, which we already have by then.)
What is this Goose Account for? It's money to invest according to the rules he has set out in his book, which convinced me that stocks was the mode of investment that has proven itself over long periods of time. What was needed was an emotion-less buying at crises times (which come about in cycles) and holding on for at least 2-5 years. To do that, I knew we had to build up our ammunition war-chest to take advantage of sell-downs in the stock market. And to have holding power meant we needed to have our emergency fund as well as the Goose account, or money that we are willing to let go for a few years.
Very simply, Bodo said, the only way to increase savings was either to earn more or spend less (or both ideally). And the way to go about it is with urgency.
For the first method "earn more", I knew I wouldn't be getting bonuses or increments till year end. It was also not entirely up to me, given that we had just begun to climb the career ladder. The second method "spend less" seemed more attainable, since it meant taking small but immediate actions everyday. I knew too that I needed little wins each day to keep me going.
I chose to work immediately on the latter, knowing full well that the word "SAVE" was deemed by some to be a four-letter word and "cheapo" was the label associated with people who did that. But I had a bigger goal, so these are but small problems.
So, I went about setting up a spreadsheet using my rudimentary Excel skills, I scrubbed through all our expenses, religiously recording every dollar we spent. To remember my expenses, I saved every receipt in my wallet. Even my husband would pass me his. Come to think of it, that's what he does even to this day.
For expenses that didn't come with receipts, I would scribble on a piece of paper kept in my wallet. I deliberately placed lesser cash in my wallet so as to put myself into what I later called a "self-imposed deprivation" mode. It was akin to having a lower credit limit on your credit card, I suppose, although I never really had problems with credit card debts.
I was not tempted to use credit cards simply because the places I frequented were coffeeshops, food courts and neighbourhood stores which don't accept credit cards anyway. I taught or nagged everyone at home to switch off the lights, save water etc etc. I was probably a pain to them.
After a few months , I put them into broad categories and analysed them. I was very serious about it. I was curious to see where our money was going to. I questioned my expenses and asked if there was any way to cut down on some of my spending. I brainstormed and made a list of quick-wins:
- ask for and get hand-me-downs for childrens' toys and clothes (they outgrow them quickly anyway),
- delay purchases until there was a sale
- not buy at all,
- borrow things if it's just for a one-time use,
- less restaurant meals with colleagues,
- switch to a cheaper telco plan,
- cook simple meals at home more,
- family outings to "free" or "cheap" places like parks, libraries, public pools,
- make simple alterations to rarely-worn clothes to wear them often
- self-drive hols to Malaysia instead of flight holidays
- avoid taxi rides...
The list grew and grew as new ideas came. It was a list to maintain a lifestyle I deemed fulfilling yet in thrifty ways.
It was like a game to me, but was it easy? Not entirely.
The most difficult part was when it involved other people - two groups of people especially: my colleagues and my children, but for very different reasons. My colleagues who loved to "reward" themselves because after all, we're already working so hard already, would often ask me along to shop or eat with them. It was difficult to turn them down. I would call this "external" pressure.
As for my children, they were too young to know better. In fact, it was me the mother who was feeling guilty now and then when I "deprived" them of things that I knew other parents would give their children freely. I call this: "internal pressure" and this is frankly, the harder to tackle for me. I often question if I was depriving them of a happy childhood because of my "selfish" goals.
There were times I wanted to relent but I believed I didn't. And the great thing was, because I didn't, the pressure became less and less, in ways I never imagined. I shall touch on these in my next post but let me end with this little extract from Bodo's book on Warren Buffett, my long-time hero:
"Warren Buffett started as a newspaper boy - and saved. He held on to every dollar he could hold on to. He bought practically nothing, because he hardly ever saw the money that he should spend. He always saw the balance that he would be worth in the future."
Have fun building your Goose Account!