Month: May 2014

Happy Face

As I got older, I find myself frowning more. Sometimes, I surprise myself when I look at the mirror and find myself looking very serious. I wasn’t even thinking serious thoughts. Is it really a part of growing older? Naaaah! I see some older people that have a pleasant look at their face.

Flashback to when I was in the first three years in the navy. I was having too much fun (it was a hard life but it was enjoyable too!) that I was always happy. In fact, one of my bosses called me “smiling Eddie”. I was THAT happy!

Then I realized that when I went up in rank, I am responsible and accountable for the person assigned to work for me. A few of them tried to take advantage of my easygoing attitude. Maybe the constant smiling was interpreted as weakness. My supervisor and officer-in-charge dutifully made me aware that I need to be a little assertive.

That’s when I wiped the smile off my face.

Literally and metaphorically.

For the next few years, I had to learn leadership in the lower ranks. I was still a guy having fun inside but I only show my fun part to my family. In the navy, it was almost always businesslike!

I missed being “smiling Eddie” while I was continually getting promoted. I still revived the smiley face every now and then but it tended to be the exception. I had to present a facade of a responsible petty officer and able leader so the easygoing side of me isn’t gonna cut it.

Just months before I retired, I went back to smiling a lot. I knew that retirement is near and soon I will be done with the negatively-charged political environment that is prevalent in the higher enlisted ranks.

I realized that my happy countenance was partly responsible for me having a generally good health in my younger years. After all, my diet was not that good, and I slept less than normal. I exercised but not as much as I would like, and not much after I retired.

Two years after I retired, I went to work in a highly stressful environment. The navy was stressful but there was structure: there was a pattern to daily life which is easily managed by following the “Plan of the Week”. This new job I had was run by several people, with conflicting decisions and indecisions and therefore no structure.

To say it was very frustrating and stressful would be a gross understatement.

My happy face slowly turned to scowl. My health deteriorated from eating fast food due to lack of time. I barely had any exercise so I gained about 30 lbs. Everyday was focused on extreme performance. Profit is the main objective of the firm and we were dragged along to produce it.

Due to an illness, I had to quit the job. We went and moved away to a far country.

We came back after a year. There’s another frustrating incident while we were overseas but after I came back, I felt that I could have that smiling face again.

I plan to keep that smiling face for the rest of my life!  

Keep smiling, dear readers!

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Chasing After Riches

In the beginning months of this blog, I started a series titled “How to get rich slowly”. After a few months, I changed it to “Building Wealth” series. Why?

I slowly realized that what I was doing was teaching the very opposite of the simplified life I was trying to teach. Maybe I was thinking this way: Get rich first! Then simplify your life!

It won’t work that way. Once you push for riches, you lose the opportunity to live the simple life. It can’t be both. So I decided to change it to “Building Wealth” series instead.

After all, wealth can also mean other things, such as having good health. Perfect health is much more desirable than tons of wealth. Who would you rather be – a billionaire with two months to live or an average income earner with ideal health?

One thing that gets people in the rat race is the pursuit of the mighty dollar (or whatever currency you prefer). Some goes to extreme tactics: They buy lottery tickets and lose hundreds or thousands every few months. They get into get-rich-quick schemes and crash hard. Millions go into casino gambling where almost everyone fails eventually.

It doesn’t help that media tend to glorify the rich. They show photos of celebrities and their brand new luxury cars, or their $30,000 handbags, not to mention their $20,000,000 homes. I want to have that, they say to themselves. I want to live their ostentatious lifestyle and be admired.

It is amazing to find out that some of the younger multi-millionaires didn’t make it there because they were chasing after riches. They were chasing after a dream: improving people’s lives by designing something that would be of value to them. The enormous amount of income that came later was just icing on the cake.

We also tend to forget that these people are above average intelligence, willing to work hard, and went to higher education to actually learn something.

In contrast, I’ve heard of too many parents pushing their kids to get a nursing degree in college. Their reason: to get the high amount of income that experienced nurses get. Never mind that their children was the least bit interested in the medical field.

More often than not, trying to amass a large amount of money often leads to moral quandaries. You start doing things such as sacrificing quality for profit. Then you transition into lying and being dishonest, breaking your word of honor and laws. The worst: getting rich at the expense of the quality of life of other people. Ever heard of slave labor to produce “cheap goods”?

When people “arrived” at the point of having much possession, their next fear is losing their possession. So the obsession changes – this time it’s creating a legal and physical shield over their material wealth, and getting paranoid over it.

Through all the senseless pursuit of material goods, relationships begin to suffer. Too much time is spent on working harder and harder to gain more. The loved ones are compensated with material possessions instead of quality time, nurture and tough love.

More often than not, It results in a dysfunctional relationship. All the things that can be bought does not result in a happier existence. Maybe for a few days or months, but something has to give.

You want to know what’s the real wealth?

It’s time.

The more time we have, the wealthier we are.

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The Ideal Government

No matter where you live, I think you sometimes wonder which country has the best government. Most likely, you have your own idea which country has the best government.

At least half of Americans will tell you that the ideal government is the U.S. of A.

If you ask the people of the Philippines, they’ll say it’s the USA too. That’s because in a recent survey, 80% of Filipinos love America. They are the No. 1 fan of the good ol’ U.S.

If you ask Australians, they would say it’s Australia. A survey even said that the happiest people are Australians. Should Kiwis move to Australia now? I’m sure they think that New Zealand is the best governed nation on earth.

In Asia, Singapore is reputed to have the best government. In Europe, there are a few but I bet you the Switzerland is always in the top three. Maybe because most Swiss are armed so they’re nicer to each other? Or is it because they’re always neutral in politics?

Let’s discuss the various types of government in no particular order (except I saved the best for last):

Anarchy – there are no rhyme or reason for this type of government. I remembered a Rock and Roll star who stated that “The only rule is that there are no rules!”, until people started pirated his recordings in the internet, and then he cried foul. “They are stealing my music”. I thought “No Rules” is the order of the day?

Monarchy – we love the ceremonial grandeur of royalty. The whole world watched the wedding of Prince William and Duchess Kate. But did you know that hundreds of years ago, Kings almost have absolute power over people and property? It could be terrifying if the King is suffering from psychosis or even having a bad hair day.

Oligarchy – This is where an elite group of people controls the government. This could be true to most governments today, even though they try to hide it. You’d hardly recognize it even if you live in that country.

Democracy – This is most popular type of government and reputed to be the best. The majority of the people decide on public policy. Sounds very appealing, right? Imagine for a moment that after a shipwreck, you find yourself among ten survivors in a lifeboat. All of the other nine survivors are cannibals and you are all getting hungry. Still want democracy?

Republic – this is the ideal government run by mankind. Why? Because it is based on laws. The good republic government base their laws on the Moral Laws (thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, etc) which are the 5th to the 10th Commandment.*

By having the right laws and policies, this type of government can run effectively and efficiently regardless of the feelings, opinions and beliefs of its leaders.

California is a republic. Californians enjoy the freedom brought by a good form of government. It’s not perfect because it does not follow all the moral laws (like any other government), but it is still a very nice place to live in compared to other countries. However, it can’t stay that way if it does not remain vigilant.

So there you are, folks. I’m sure there are other forms but they all probably fall into one of the above categories.

What can we do to improve our government? Pray for our leaders always, do not disrespect them, and vote during elections.

 

*Why not include the first four Commandments? Because they involve our relationship with God. The last six involve our relationship with our fellowmen and women.

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Are You Really Saving?

Recently I have been mildly addicted to a video game in my smartphone. I won’t tell you which one it is so you don’t suffer the same problem. There is however, a good thing about this game – it relates closely to personal finance.

In this game, I have to gather points, coins and cash in order to have weapons to fight against a merciless enemy. The higher level I get, I fight more powerful and numerous enemies. If I save a lot of the points, coins and cash – I can play a long time. If I waste it, I end up on “game ended” very quickly.

This is a mirror-like image to personal finance. We work, we spend and save. The more savings we have, the better our financial outlook becomes.

But sometimes, savings in itself may not be actually saving. Let me explain:

I know of an office who buys the cheapest pencils and pens so they can “save” on office supplies. About 80% of the pencils and half of the pens are unusable because of their very low quality. Did they really save?

The same office buys cheap computers for most of their workers. They pride themselves on spending very little on computers. Since the computers were cheap, they were slooooow. They weren’t fixed or improved – they were just given to workers to use. It is wasting the time of the workers and productivity suffers as we speak. Did they really save?

Some people refuse to hire professional handyman like a plumber, deciding on working on the pipe problem themselves to “save” money. A few hours and a few more broken parts and tools later, they finally decide that it’s time to hire a professional. Did they save?

A well-meaning shopper buys the cheapest clothes and shoes, (this is me in the past), only to rue the day when the clothes start shrinking or tearing only in a few months. He also buys cheap tools to save but end up buying another one because the cheap one broke easily. Savings or Not?

Sometimes it’s better to buy the the top of the line of stuff especially when it comes to tools, shoes and some clothes. An example is I bought pants at one third the price of high quality ones. The inexpensive ones lasted a few months and are now flood ready, while the higher quality (and three time more expensive) pants lasted at least six years.

It is advisable to get professional help when it comes to things we really don’t understand. This doesn’t apply to you if you are a handyman. If you’re not, you will save more time, effort and money if you hire a pro (and watch him/her work so you’ll learn some techniques).

Even for cars, buying the best quality (not the highest priced) car that we can afford means we will save in the long run. There are of course many reliable cars that can be bought more inexpensively if we forego most of the electronics.

That’s all for now.

Find more more ways how you can really save on things. One of my favorites is: “Sale today! If you don’t buy anything, you will save 100%”

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Quite A Comparison

Have you ever experienced buying a new car and as soon as you happily exclaim to everyone how you got a bargain, someone says “my friend/mom/lawyer (insert anyone here) bought the same exact model but she got it $2,000 less than what you paid”. Did you feel the wind go out from under your sail?

Sometimes when you are in a conversation, gushing about how wonderful your child happen to be in school, stating “He always got good grades!” and someone mentions: “my brother/sister/former roommate (insert anyone here again) got straight As from kindergarten all the way to his/her master’s degree. Then he/she became the President of the Genius club”. Did you just feel your bubble burst?

And my personal favorite: After my surgery I was kinda leery about letting people know because some people has the tendency to make you feel very wimpy: for instance, once I stated that I had a multiple bypass surgery, and the rehab will take several months, someone will eventually say: my buddy had the same surgery, except that the day after his release from the hospital, he went and completed a marathon and placed in the top ten.

OK, that’s a bit of exaggeration in the last two examples, but I think we push too much for academic grades instead of actual learning. For my heart surgery, I’ve heard several comparisons of how fast other people recovered. I still opted to take my sweet time no matter what I heard.

We love to compare. We love to compete. We also get in trouble financially because of this habit of comparing ourselves to others. Could there be envy involved also? In most cases I think, yes!

For example: why are there so many luxury cars in Southern California? Is it because there are many Hollywood stars? There are only a few hundreds of them. Maybe because there are many successful business people? Many successful entrepreneurs drive regular full size trucks and American brand sedans as stated in the book “The Millionaire Next Door”.

Most people who drive luxury cars and SUVs got their vehicles on lease or on five to eight years credit plans. If they cannot afford it, why are they driving it? Because since their friends have it, they gotta have it too.

Same with the McMansions. Everybody wanted to have one a decade ago. But then real estate industry tanked, and people realized that something heavily leveraged on credit will fall like a house of cards.

People try to improve their perception of themselves by acquiring possessions. In my younger days, I lusted after nice (but inexpensive Toyota or Honda) cars. For my first brand new car, I bought the same model as my friend’s – because I gotta have one too. If I did my math and bought a more economical model, I could have saved 50%.

Sometimes people buy luxurious stuff to impress people. I know- because I felt that way for some of the items I bought.

Are people impressed? Maybe not. Most people don’t really care what other people have. Their thoughts are either “I gotta have one of those toys” or “This toy looks nice but I don’t want to waste my money” or more ominously “How can I take this toy from this showoff?”

Should we stop comparing ourselves to others then? Nope. If the comparison would result in improvement of our character and/or our financial bottom line, then go all out!

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