June 5

[MyTwoCents] Exclusive Interview with Aaron

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Hello everyone, I am James here, founder of SmallCapAsia.com.

Today I have the honour of inviting Aaron over for a short interview.

Aaron is a blogger @ http://www.mr-stingy.com/ and the blog is dedicated to the art of optimization — getting more value by using resources better (sounds like Art of War by Sunzi to me…haha).

His work has appeared on international websites like The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project and Business Insider. He is also a frequent contributor to Malaysian websites like iMoney, SAYS, Vulcan Post, The Malaysian Insider (now defunct) and Emmagem.

What attracts me to his blog is his honesty and focus on life lessons – Time, Relationships, Money & Career. More often than not, life is not just about working hard for money. It’s how you use that money effectively and live a better life.

Without further ado, let’s get straight to the Q&A.

  1. Kindly tell us more about yourself.

Hey everyone, I’m Aaron – the guy behind mr-stingy.com. I write about optimizing life, but some of my more popular articles tend to be money related. I guess that’s why I’m here today.

  1. What led you to start your own blog about investing/personal finance?

Technically speaking, it’s not an investing/personal finance blog. It just happens that money is so important in our lives, and I’ve always loved the idea of optimizing money (whether it’s making more money, or using money in better ways).

I’ve also always loved reading, and have a few authors that I really look up to. So one day, I decided that I wanted to become like my heroes – and just decided to start writing. But I needed a topic. What was something that I knew pretty well and would help people? I didn’t know for sure – but I thought my approach towards life (trying to make the best out of every situation) might be helpful. Thankfully, it’s turned out okay.

  1. I see that your blog is a lot about how to make the most out of what we have now.
    Can you share a bit about the things that have helped you?

For me, the biggest help has always been inspiration from my favourite authors. They help me expand my mind in ways I could never do on my own. They also give me courage to try new, scary things. Fun fact: I just read an article saying that all great pioneers in their fields have one thing in common: they Read A LOT.

That combination of reading + inspiration + daring to try out things and seeing what happens has really helped me grow to who I am today.

  1. What are some of your favourite money-saving strategies?

What’s worked for me are the below few things:

  1. pay yourself first smallcapasiaPaying Yourself First. When I first started working I was a clueless fresh graduate who didn’t save money because I didn’t have anything left over at the end of the month. Luckily, I eventually figured out that I was only gonna start saving if I transferred money out immediately when I got my salary. 
  2. Tracking My Expenses. I used to think that I had a pretty good handle on where my money went. And then I started tracking all my expenses using an App. That really took my “optimizing money” quest to the next level. When I could track and see trends – I could make a lot more improvement in how I spent and saved money. As they say: you can’t optimize what you don’t track.
  3. Thinking About First Principles. This is probably the hardest one, but also the most powerful. It’s always questioning things for yourself and seeing if they actually make sense. How does this relate to saving money? For example, conventional thinking says that you’ll be happier when you drive a nice car. And it gets worse when all your friends are buying expensive cars – because then you have peer pressure.

But is that really true? Do you really need a nice car to be happy and successful? If you go back to First Principles, you’ll find that success and happiness don’t usually come from expensive material stuff; but from serving others and having great relationships with friends and family. So should you really spend that money on that brand-new BMW? Or is there something better you could do with your money?

You’re welcome. 

  1. Let’s talk about investing. At what age did you first invest and what do you mainly look out for when investing?

Do I get to include AmanahSaham that my mom bought in my name when I was in my teenage years? If so, that would be it. I was probably 15.

If not, it’d be shares I bought in my first employer’s Koperasi (co-op). I was 23 and their returns were pretty stellar. It was about 9-10% every year, and I got a nice little profit when I left the company.

I’m horribly risk-averse (i.e. I f*cking hate losing money) so I’m definitely not the best example of an investor. I mostly look out for things we can directly control (e.g. low/no fees & no conflicts of interest). Hence, I have a disdain for unit trust agents pushing me random funds which are gonna cost me 5.5% in Sales Fees.

I also try to look at demographic trends a bit (which is what James Altucher says how Warren Buffett invests). Where are the world economies going? Which is why I’m so extremely interested in Bitcoin and decentralized Cryptocurrencies right now.

6.Do you mind sharing what is in your portfolio currently?

Excluding my condominium (where I stay, so it’s not really an “investment”) and my retirement funds (EPF and PRS), my portfolio looks something like this:

  • Emergency Cash: 28%
  • Low-Cost Mutual Funds (Targeting a mix of local and international bonds): 22%
  • Government Trusts (AmanahSaham): 18%
  • Equity in My Business: 15%
  • Bitcoin & Cryptocurrencies: 13%
  • Silver: 4%

bitcoin smallcapasia

All the investing gurus will likely be shaking their heads now and saying that my portfolio sucks. And to a certain extent I agree. I’m probably way under-invested directly in Equities. At the start of this year I said I’d get more into ETFs and REITs, but somehow along the way I’ve gotten seduced by the Cryptocurrency world.

That’s really speculation from my end though – so I’d advise anyone who wants to start playing with Bitcoin to tread carefully.

  1. Where do you usually get your investment ideas?

I’m a big fan of passive low-cost investing. So I’m heavily influenced by the work of John C. Bogle and all the Bogleheads out there. Warren Buffett writes some really good advice(i.e. Index Funds will beat Overpaid Active Fund Managers most of the time) for novice investors like me too.

Apart from that, Mr. Money Mustache and James Altucher (check out their blogs!) are huge influences too, not just in investing – but in my general approach to life.

  1. Okay, so in general, what has worked for you so far and what hasn’t?

The money-saving principles have absolutely worked for me. From a guy with no discipline and no savings at all, I’m pretty comfortable now with enough emergency savings and some investments. First Principles thinking (plus being hard of hearing) have really worked too – I don’t impulse buy anything at all, even with lots of pressure. Everything is a carefully thought out decision.

In terms of investing – I can’t claim to have greatly outperformed the market or anything. I’m not a multimillionaire living on an island sipping Pina Coladas all day. But I do have a mix of investments that I’m confident in and gives me peace of mind. Maybe that’s a success in itself – I don’t actively have to worry about my investments, but every time I check on them – they usually make me smile.

What hasn’t worked – I’m not good at timing the markets (actually no one is right?), but that doesn’t mean I don’t try it every once in a while. 😃

  1. Do you have a motto or quote that you live by?

If I had to choose one it’d be this: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. What are you gonna do about it?”

  1. Lastly, any advice or words of encouragement for fellow young aspiring investors??

Invest in yourself first. That means taking care of your mind (so you’re smart enough to avoid Skim Cepat Kaya conmen), body and soul. Then constantly improve your knowledge by reading and learning from others.

Fall back to First Principles and Critical Thinking when you’re unsure about things. Remember, everyone has an agenda. And a lot of people’s intentions aren’t good when it comes to money. Your money.

Start small, but be patient. Investing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Even Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of our time made 99% of his wealth after his 50th birthday. Time might just be the greatest ally you have.

Ultimately, you make your own decisions and chart your own financial destiny. All the best!

 

Thanks Aaron and hope you all have enjoyed our interview series at MyTwoCents.

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aaron, mr stingy, my two cents


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