Happy Birthday GG & BB!

GG & BB turn 19 today and as I have been doing for the past few years, I thought I will write them a letter this year too. Since they will graduate next year, I thought this year’s letter will be about how they can be financially savvy and learn about money.

Dear GG & BB,

As you start to look and plan your future, money will be a huge part of how you plan your lives. Money and the lack of money may be the difference between surviving and living the life of your dreams. So you must learn to manage your finances, and manage them well enough that you never have a day when you panic about not having enough.

If you think that financial planning is too tedious and can be put off to a later date, you’re not alone. Many of your friends and peer are too caught up with life to think about long-term finances. Plus, there’s always the misconception that you can only start growing your wealth after you earned your first pot of gold. However, contrary to what you might think, the best time to start planning for your financial goals is while you’re still young and have plenty of time to grow your savings.

Set goals early: Setting your financial goals is the first critical step. Putting down your goals in writing will help you establish a finish line to aim for and determine what you need to do to get there. To help to stick to your goals, keep them somewhere you can see them regularly and also review them at a pre-determined interval, so you can fine-tune your plans as life happens.

Start saving as soon as possible: Starting to save at an early age gives you a longer runway to reach your financial goals and gives you more time to benefit from the power of compound interest. There is a formula known as the Power of 72 which allows you to determine how many years it takes for your savings to double at a certain rate of interest. In the Power of 72, you divide 72 by the interest rate to determine how many years it will take to double your principal amount.

Use the 50/30/20 rule when budgeting: A simple rule of thumb is to split income into three broad buckets to meet expenses and savings needs. In this rule, divide your monthly take-home pay into three categories where 50% will be spent on needs, 30% will be spent on wants and the balance 20% will be set aside as savings.

Set up a dedicated bank account for your savings: To ensure that you don’t spend money meant for your long-term savings, it’s a good idea to open separate accounts; one for your regular expenses and another just for savings. Arrange for the funds meant for your savings to be automatically transferred to the dedicated account the day you receive your salary. You can do this by applying for a standing instruction with your bank, saving you the trouble of having to make the transfer yourself each month.

Look for ways to cut costs: Financial stability is not just about savings or increasing your income, but also about reducing expenses. Always be on the lookout for ways to save money; whether it’s finding the cheapest place to buy groceries or taking advantage of dining deals on your credit card.

Focus on income, not savings: While keeping a lid on expenses is important to budgeting, some experts recommend that you should focus more on income. After all, there are only so many of your costs that you can save on, but your income has a far higher potential to grow in the long run. If you think you are good at something, try to have a side hustle so you can supplement your income.

Keep your debt in check: Having too much debt is a big obstacle to building your savings. For a start, you should ensure that you make at least the minimum payment on all your outstanding debts every month to avoid late fees and extra interest charges. You must also always pay off your credit card bills every month. Using a credit card is a great tool, but not when you incur interest in it. A good rule of thumb is that each time you use the card, you should immediately transfer the money to the account with which you pay the bills so once the bill comes, you are not in shock. You should also list your debts from the highest to the lowest interest rate and repay as much as you can on the debt that incurs the highest interest. Keep doing this till you are debt free!

Protect your personal information: Keep identity thieves from stealing your information. Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Avoid using public wi-fi for online banking and protect your bank PIN and shield the keypad from view when using an ATM. Review your financial statements each month to make sure there are no fraudulent transactions.

Always have emergency funds which are easily accessible: You must have at least two types of emergency funds which can be easily accessed in case of emergencies. The first should be a liquid savings account which should have about three to six months of living expenses. This is if something happens like losing your job, you can use it to get by until you are on your feet again. The second is what I call a Home Fund and this will especially be useful once you both have your homes. Try to put in a couple of hundred dollars into this account each month and maybe more when you have them. At home, things break down or you spoil and you may need to replace them. Things like a television, air conditioners etc and having money in an account meant for these things can help a long way in replacing broken items immediately without dipping into your savings.

Educate Yourself: If you don’t learn to manage your money, then other people will find ways to mismanage it for you. Some of these people could have bad intentions, others may be well-meaning, but not fully informed about your circumstances, so the best way to get the right advice for your particular circumstances and not rely on random advice is to take charge of your financial future and read a few basic books on personal finance. Once you’re armed with knowledge, you know what works best for you.

Start saving for retirement now: You may think retirement is at least four or five decades away, but you need to plan for it from today. I’ve spoken about the power of compound interest to you both, and this is the best way you can grow your money at a faster rate. The sooner you start saving, the less principal you have to invest to end up with the amount that you need to retire. Compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in finance because it grows your money exponentially, which means it can super-charge your savings, especially over time. The magic of compound interest for your retirement account is that it is interest on interest—literally. You earn interest not only on the principal which is the money you put in but also on the interest which is the money the bank pays you for holding your principal.

Remember, your finances are in your hands and you don’t need any fancy degrees or special backgrounds to become an expert at managing your finances. So go ahead and learn what you can while you are still young, so your later adulthood and retirement are not fraught with worry.

Happy birthday once again GG & BB! I know you will do great things in life and I am waiting to see you both reach your full potential.

Lots of love, hugs and kisses,
Mum

Happy 18th Birthday BB & GG!

Happy birthday GG & BB! You turn 18 tomorrow and, in many countries, you would have been legally adult tomorrow, but since in Singapore the legal age of majority is 21, you still need to wait another three years to be treated as an adult in the eyes of the law.

You both have grown up to become warm, loving and wonderful human beings. I have heard from many members of the extended family how warm, friendly and affectionate you are and I hope that you continue to be this warm, affectionate, loving and friendly all your life. But you are both individuals in your own right. Just because you are twins does not mean that you are clones of each other. You both have your distinct personalities and in many ways, you complement each other.

I see myself and others in the family in both of you. The way you stand, talk, sleep or even some of your favourite things bring to mind me, dad, your aunts and even your grandparents. It’s seeing evolution in action – seeing you both we know a part of us will continue and so on to infinity, or at least till life exists on this earth.

BB, you are a very smart boy, but sometimes I wonder if you will be able to survive in society. Although you are are very intelligent, you are also so oblivious sometimes that I wonder how you will adjust in the workplace. You are also extremely patient and I am sure this trait does not come from me. Life always doesn’t go as we plan and in this last year, you have had some academic setbacks, but I hope you have learnt from these setbacks and are now able to handle the next three semesters of school with the same level of hardwork you can do if you put your mind to you.

I look forward to celebrating your individuality and uniqueness and as you continue to grow, I look forward to seeing you become a mature and responsible young man. You have your two years of enlistment to look forward to and I hope you get the branch that fulfils you and you learn, grow and come out of that experience with much more than you had when you went in. Be strong, be confident, build up your self-esteem and be a gentleman. It’s important for you to learn how to love, be loyal and respect women you date or marry but also know you are worthy of being loved, supported and respected too. I know you have been brought up to respect women and knowing you, you will prove to be a good husband and father when the time times.

GG, when I see you, I sometimes see me, but a far better version of myself. You are thoughtful, hardwordking, ambitious, spontaneous and quick to find the good in others. Don’t be so hard on yourself and cut yourself some slack sometimes. Remember that sometimes people will disappoint you, as you just saw, but don’t be hard on yourself because of this and take it as a life lesson and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. At the same time, be careful with whom you choose to associate and don’t be so naïve to believe that you can trust just anyone. Make others prove their worthiness to be trusted. Be someone people can rely on, but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of either and stand up for yourself.

Love yourself and don’t allow anyone to make you feel less of a person through their words or actions. You, and you alone, are in control of your emotions and well-being. By allowing someone else to taint your self-worth, you give them power over you. Choose your battles. Life is too short to be arguing with someone all the time about everything. This goes for friends and family as well as any future romantic relationships. I can see you as becoming a wonderful wife and mother in the future, but I know this will take some time as you want to focus on school and then your career. But remember, marry the person you consider a good friend and is someone you can talk to about anything and everything in this world, this is far more important than just physical attraction. Be empathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective. You will be rewarded in ways that you have yet to understand.

To both of you I will say this, life will get tougher as you move ahead through it. It’s inevitable and nothing to worry about, it’s part of the life journey you will undertake. But the way you go through life depends on how you handle the stress that life throws at you and will determine whether or not you will succeed in life. Don’t have a negative attitude towards stress and always be optimistic about life as being negative and pessimistic will not do anything for you. Keep an open mind, an optimistic attitude and develop a character that does not quit, no matter what life throws at you will take you much further in life than any advice anyone can give you. Be a leader, not a follower and think long-term and not short-term. Always think about five years ahead and see how much you can anticipate any pitfalls. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, instead, it is a sign of maturity that shows you know the depth of your limitations. If someone gives you constructive criticism, don’t assume they’re being critical. Take it for what it is and smile. It may be the best advice you ever receive. And my biggest takeaway to you will be start meditating, even if it is just for a just 5 to 10 minutes a day will go a long way in alleviating stress and equip you to deal with everything that gets thrown at you.

Happy birthday BB & GG. You are 18 now and on the cusp of a beautiful life ahead of you. I love being your mum and I am sure dad also feels the same. I love you with all my heart and only want the best for you both. Remember, I will always be here for you, no matter what.

Happy birthday again and have the best day ever!

Lots of love, hugs and kisses
Mum

Life Lessons to GG & BB on their 17th Birthday

Today GG & BB turn 17! I can’t believe the tiny babies who were placed in my hands and were just about an arm’s length now tower over me. They are their own individuals who have their own ideas about life and who are now on the cusp of adulthood. I usually write a letter for them for their birthday and I have written one for their previous birthdays and while writing this post, I actually went back to read my old posts and I am amazed how much they have grown over the years. I do send them the link to my posts and ask them to read and even share if they want to with their friends.

Since they have now started tertiary education, I thought this could be the perfect time to share some life lessons. And since they are 17 today, I’ll do 17 such lessons grouped into different categories:

  1. Sleep: Sleep at least 7 hours a day, your body will thank you 40 or 50 years down the line. At this point in life, you may think you are invincible and can’t get by with the bare minimum of sleep, but your sleep debt is accumulating. Sleep plays a critical role in helping our bodies and minds recover and rejuvenate. Sleep promotes cognition and memory, facilitates learning, recharges our mental and physical batteries, and generally helps us make the most out of our days. With plentiful sleep, we improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress, and maintain the routine that is critical to healthy daily functioning. This habit, if healthly followed will stand in good stead in life, when you may not get the optimum level of sleep, but then you would not have accumulated so much sleep debt.
  2. Look after your health: You have only one body in this life, so look after it and keep it in optimal condition. Have healthy eating habits, eating more fresh produce and less junk food. Try to give up sugar if possible, it will do wonders for your health and also do not snack mindlessly. Make sure you do some exercise each day. It’s best if you do something you enjoy like dancing or running, but whatever you do, just do something! Not only will it mean having good health all through life, it also means when you present yourself in front of others, you are confident about your body and therefore about yourself. In the same vein, look after your external looks too. Take care of your skin and adopt a good skincare routine, irrespective of your gender. Makeup only conceals and covers, but with a good skin, makeup will enhance what you already have.
  3. Appreciate your family and close friends: Listen to what your parents and elders have to say. They know much more than you, especially at this point in life, and only have your best interests in mind when they give you advice. Most of the advice they give you is most probably from experience and they have gone through the exact same situation you are now in. At the same time, don’t listen to them blindly, your parents are after all human beings and can be wrong, so listen to them and then do some further research before you decide to take or not to take their advice.
  4. Learn life skills: These are skills you need to lead your life which include skills like cooking, cleaning, doing your laundry etc. Learn them now while you are still living at home and can get tutored from your parents on how best to do these chores. If you don’t learn them voluntarily now, you may be forced to learn them (maybe without someone teaching you) at a later stage.
  5. Learn to love IT: Artificial Intelligence is taking over the wold and with this many jobs will become redundant in the future. Learn to code and embrace AI so that your job becomes more secure. You will also have a plan B should the job you are in at any point be made redundant.
  6. Never stop learning: This is self evident. The day you stop learning is the day you start to stagnate. Learning stops the day you die and so never stop learning. Learning does not only come from a book or by going to school, every incident in life is a learning opportunity, so learn from all your successes and failures, learn from family, friends, coworkers and even the random stranger you meet may teach you something, so keep learning every second of the day.  
  7. Grab every opportunity that comes your way: In fact, I would say, go out of your way to find and look for opportunities. Look for internships and projects which will boost your resume and bring you front and centre of those who make hiring decisions. Many opportunities are never advertised mainly because these are filled because someone recommends a suitable person. Become that suitable person by showcasing what you can bring to the table by your work. Acknowledge your mistakes, own them and learn from them.
  8. Find a mentor: Search and find a good mentor who has the experience and knowledge to guide you. In fact, I would advise that you look for multiple mentors who can guide you in various aspects of life. Of course you don’t only take from a mentor, you should also give back to your mentor and help where you can. A mentor who is willing to help you does that because he or she sees that elusive spark in you. They have the connections and access to important people which you will not have at this point. A good mentor will lead you by pushing and encouraning you to get where you want to go and with their suppoer and encouragement, you should be able to succeed.
  9. Read: Reading is incredibly important and you should read widely and across a variety of genres. You access new worlds and learn so much from reading that you should set aside a dedicated time each day to read. Reading reduces stress, stimulates your mind, improves your vocabulary and memory and makes you know a lot about many many things that others are ignorant about. It also improves focus and concentration and hones your analytical and critical thinking skills and when you read more, you automatically become better in your own writing which will be an asset everywhere.
  10. Life’s passion: Try to find something you can be passionate about all your life. This will make life a bit easier when you spend half yor day or more at work. Of course, passions change and you need to refine your passion as you grow, both at work and in life and when passions change, try to make sure you are in the right position to take advantage of this change in passion.
  11. Learn to say No: This is another important life lesson. Most times, we are afraid to say No to the people in our lives – be it our family, friends, co-workers or managers. We take on more than we can do and afraid of confrontation, we end up saying Yes. If you find it difficult to say no, start practising with low stakes – like a stranger accosting you in the MRT station or someone trying to sell you something. Say Yes only when the opportunity aligns with your long-term goals. Another way to say no is to couch your refusal in very polite terms.
  12. Privacy Matters: Be aware of and ensure your privacy. There is no need to overshare on social networks, what is on the internet stays there forever, you never know when a post or a photo or a video can come back to haunt you. So be very circumspect in what you post online.
  13. Be financially literate: Financial literacy is important because it will equip you with an understanding of basic financial concepts so that you make sound real-world financial decisions. With this knowledge, you are in a better way to be able to manage your money, make sound decisions, and maintain healthy spending and budgeting habits, which over time can lead to financial wellness. Start a savings habit as early as possible and remember the power of compounding!
  14. Lead a purposeful life: What does this mean? It means not to go through the motions of life, the life you lead should be one in which life has some meaning, a life where you are connected and engaged with those around you. Do something for the less fortunate in society and learn to give back to those who need it, it need not be money, you can give your time, your skill-set and sometimes even a listening ear is enough. In this same vein, I would also recommend starting a meditation practice daily. Spending a few minutes each day with just yourself and your breathing will do wonders for your mental health and life equilibrium.
  15. Focus on what is important at this moment: Today it is school and tomorrow it will be your career. Focus fully on what is in front of you. Also at this point, you can and should take some calculated risks in life, specially since you are cushioned by your family and don’t have family and financial commitments as yet. Be competitive, but don’t make the competition a one-upmanship show. Be your own competitor and try to be a better version of yourself than what you were yesterday. Don’t indulge in petty politicking at work or school. Stay away from gossip and cheap talk and let your work speak for itself.
  16. Don’t be a sheep: Don’t accept instructions blindly or sign documents just because someone tells you to do so. Do your own research, ask questions before making a call and use caution before taking any decision. Also, it will help If you can talk to people close to you, especially your parents.
  17. Be Ambitious: Be ambitious and reach for the stars. In fact, aim for the stars and you will reach the moon. Aim for something slightly over your reach and go all out to achieve it, you will eventually get to it. You are also the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose friends wisely. Also remember that there is no shortcut to success. All those successful people you see, they had to hustle for years and work hard before they became ‘overnight sucesses’. Lastly be scrupulously honest, both with yourself and the people around you. Lies have a way of catching up and keeping up with the many falsehoods you may have said will definitely catchup one day!

So there you have it, 17 life lessons which I hope are useful to them.

Happy 16th Birthday! A Letter to BB & GG

I was going to post something else today, but then I realised that I had not done my yearly letter to GG & BB on their birthday, so decided to post this today. In case you want to read previous birthday letters, here are the links to the 15th and 14th birthdays.

Dear GG and BB,

You both are sixteen today. I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since the day I first held you both in my hands for the very first time and became a mum. When you were born, I was scared about how I am going to bring you both up, if I will be able to keep you both alive, happy and well-fed. But you both have grown up to be great young adults and I feel your dad and I have done a good job.

GG, you are growing up to be an amazing young lady. You are beautiful, both inside and out and confident, smart, and well-liked by everyone. You take pride in what you do and make sure you give it your best shot.

I am very proud of your achievements in secondary school. When you come back with yet another certificate or when your form teacher tells me why you were nominated for the model student award in spite of having classmates who are better than you academically, I felt like tearing up because I was so proud and happy. The moment when I saw that you cracked the early admission exercise for your course of choice was another super happy moment. You were one of the few who managed to wow your future lecturers with your passion and knowledge of the subject. Be proud of what you have achieved, but also look forward to new mountains to conquer and keep that fighting and competitive spirit alive.

BB, you are my happy pill. I have rarely seen you get angry as you are a happy-go lucky boy. Even when GG used to bully you when you were younger, you would just move away from her and not retaliate. You still do that and I love your laid back attitude, your always smiling and happy face and your loving heart. You still give hugs and kisses, even though its considered passé by boys your age and are always smiling and happy.

If you want something, you can really put your mind to it. Case in point is your recent early admission exercise to your dream course. You are one more step closer to achieving your dream to become a part of the aeronautical industry. You know I teared up when you called me with the news and I know you were so thrilled that you could not speak for a few seconds, that’s how excited you were.

I know you made an impact on the panel that was discussing the candidates who are worthy of an early admission and are one of those few who showcased their passion for this industry and got an admission even before you sit for your O level exams. This definitely takes away some heat away from you towards getting the grades needed, but I push you more than I do GG because I know you are capable of far more than what you are currently achieving. I don’t want you to settle for something, rather I want you to reach for the stars and become as successful as you deserve to be.

You both are on the cusp of adulthood and as you move from the safe environment of school to the more adult environments of tertiary education, here is some advice from someone who has seen more of life than you.

Know yourself. Dig deep inside yourself and find out who you really are. Find out what your passions are (though to a large extent, you do know what you like, but passions change and likes and dislikes evolve over years, so keep reaching inside and check in once a while). Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and work towards enhancing your strengths and minimising or working towards eliminating your weaknesses.

Always be true to yourself. You are unique and there’s no one like you in the entire universe. Embrace what makes you, you and special and never compromise on your personal integrity. Learn to navigate this world, but on your own terms. Don’t be a people pleaser, but always keep friendly terms with everyone around you. Believe in yourself and the fact that you can do anything you set your mind to. Your self-determination, coupled with hard work, self-confidence and a positive attitude will take you far in life.

Push yourself. Make sure you push yourself out of your comfort zone and push yourself to excel in everything you do. Be cautious, but not at the cost of having regrets later. Failure is nothing more than a stepping stone to success. Einstein failed 99 times before tasting success so don’t fear failure. Learn from your mistakes and know that’s another way not to do something. Keep trying and you will find success. Put yourself out there and explore the unknown. This is especially true in your twenties when you are not really burdened by life’s realities. Take calculated risks at this point and push yourself to the max and success will soon kiss your feet.

Keep learning. Learning does not end when you finish studying. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to stop learning. Continue to educate yourself, both in the hard knowledge of the industry you are in and the soft skills you need to succeed in the corporate world. Watch and listen all the time and learn from everything and everyone. Every second of life is a learning experience. Just be genuine to the people around you and treat everyone with the same respect, whether the most exalted or the most ordinary person you encounter. Make a pact to learn something new each day.

Practice gratitude. Be grateful for the world around you, be grateful for where you have some from and where you currently are. Try to thank some part of your life daily and you will find youself happier for it.

At the end of the day, find your Ikigai, your reason for being, your purpose in life. When you reach that magical space where passion, mission, vocation and profession collide, life will become so much more meaningful and special. I hope and wish with all my heart that you soon find this space and I promise that I will do all that I can to help you get there.

BB & GG, I wish you the best of birthdays and exciting times ahead as you start a new and exciting time in your lives. Thank you for coming into our lives and our lives have become so much better because of you too.

Happy Birthday and may you get all that you aspire to

Snow Plow Parenting: Making life easier for their children

I recently came across this term “Snow Plow Parent” while reading an article online and was intrigued with the term.

The “Snow plow parent” is defined as a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed. Other terms used for this type of parenting are bulldozer parenting and lawnmower parenting.

I actually didn’t think this was very wrong, as most of us parents do help our children and try to make their lives as easy as possible. I am myself a snow plow parents, but how serious this is, I am not sure.

Similar to helicopter parenting, snow plow parents also hover and micro-manage their children’s lives, but they do it with an eye to the future. They want to remove any pain or difficulties from their children’s paths so that their kids can succeed. They are the parents sitting in the principal’s office asking about extra courses or for special allowances for their child. According to educators, there is a sense of entitlement to snow plowers: They blame the school when things go wrong and never accept anything less than first place for their child.

Research shows that helicopter parenting can have a negative effect on kids. They are less resilient, and less likely to take risks. They never develop proper coping skills or the maturity to make decisions on their own. Experts fear that children of snow plow parents will have similar issues—they won’t be able to handle failure or solve problems independently. Kids of snow plow parents may quit something instead of settling for second best.

It is said that snow plow parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure and that this parenting style really focuses on short-time goals for parents and their kids. Their question is, “If I could make this easier for my child, why wouldn’t I do that?” And I ask why not?

I do agree that sometimes focusing on short-term parenting goals will take away from the practice of important, long-term goals that kids can benefit from like resiliency, grit, problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills. A child, if capable, should learn to advocate for themselves. When parents remove obstacles for their child they are really taking away that opportunity for kids to learn those problem-solving techniques.

These parents often have good intentions and are motivated by not wanting their children to experience struggle. But, these habits don’t provide a foundation for long-term happiness, they can actually strengthen a child’s anxiety of failure. 

I personally don’t feel that there is anything wrong in being a snow plow parent. Even though BB & GG turn 16 this year, I still drop them when they need to get to someplace which is either too far to get there by public transport or is someplace difficult to get to (I mean multiple transfers and unreliable buses). I also helped them edit their early application statements so that they have the best shot at getting an admission into the course of their choice. Though I think I will stop short of being that parent who reaches out to their professors and lecturers when they start tertiary education (or will I?)

I know that they are getting older and hence I need to loosen the apron strings. I am trying, but I also know that as teens, they don’t know (or probably don’t care enough) to see what lies ahead. It’s going to take a while, at least for me, but I hope that by the time GG & BB reach university, I have taught them well enough that they take the right actions to reach their version of success.

Again, culturally most Indian parents are snow plowers by nature and I guess I still have enough Indianness in me that I am programmed to think like that. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I made in life and live to regret it, so If I can share what they should and should not do to get ahead of the rat race, then as I see it, why not?

This is probably one of the most controversial subjects I have written about and one where I have not been objective, because I just could not be with such a topic. Are you a parent who tries to make life a little easy for your child? Let me know in the comments below.