How I Learned About Money (And How I Continue To)

The first money lessons I can remember are from my mother: Save money and donate 10% of your income to church.

Another fond childhood memory: My father calls me to check the teletext on the television for daily stock quotes. It was in the mid-90s. I never really understood it back then, but my dad was trading during the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange’s mad rush.

Fast forward to today, and I often think about how my relationship with money is a curious mix of my parents’ styles.

So while I have the mindset of a saver and always give, I also take aggressive investment risks when they make sense. You can see this combination in my somewhat panting investment portfolio and in my fundamentals of money.

But of course, education is only part of the picture. Over the past decades, I have continued to learn about money from many sources. I thought it would be nice to remember and pay tribute to my influences.

Here is how I learned about money. And this is how I continue.

Officially Learn Money

Despite my frequent reflections, I actually have no formal qualifications to write about money. No degree in finance. No professional certificate.

I’ve only ever touched on two topics related to money. I care about them.

The first was Prinsip Akaun in high school, where I first learned about financial statements, how to calculate a company’s profit, and why new cars immediately lose 20% the moment you walk away. 20 years later, I still regularly use what I learned here. Besides math and languages, accounting has been my most useful subject.

At university, I had the ambition to be rich. I had dreams, but no idea how to achieve those dreams, and worse yet, no courage to face the truth that I had no idea. Fortunately, I had enough common sense to take an optional course called “Introduction to Finance”.

There I discovered the magic of dialing, why a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow and how “Cash Is King”. Our last group assignment was on investing, where we wrote about stocks, bonds and unit trusts. Unfortunately, Bitcoin did not yet exist.

When I was 28, I was promoted to regional director in a multinational. I was pretty much a noob at everything including sales and employee motivation. But if there was one thing I trusted, it was my ability to understand finance numbers.

I’m grateful that I once picked an optional course that I was really interested in, not something just to get an A.

Inspiration

I grew up in a Christian home, so the Bible teachings about money have influenced me from a young age. What immediately comes to mind is giving, finding satisfaction in life (it’s not just about accumulating wealth) and dealing with jealousy. Reminders also to the rich NOT to oppress the poor.

Speaking of rich and poor, THE book that inspired me to start building wealth is “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki.

It has had its fair share of criticism (is this a true story, or really just a parable?) Over the years, and I no longer agree with some of what is said inside. But for a teenager trying to figure out how the world works, reading it was life changing.

Then I read another of Kiyosaki’s classics: “Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant”. I didn’t feel like a life changing so much anymore, but it taught me the crucial differences between employees, business owners, and investors. And I have probably planted the seeds of my desire to own a business someday.

Internet is undefeated

If my inspiration to get rich started with books, it was internet articles that started to build knowledge.

It was in the mid-2000s when I was finishing my engineering degree. Some of my favorite websites were The Motley Fool and MSN Money. I vaguely remember Yahoo Finance and CNN Money.

I was really a money jerk, so I didn’t read thought leadership articles. Instead, I focused on Money 101 topics like “How Bonds Work” and “How to Buy Your First Stock”. Because I was doing all of my learning by reading (with no one to teach me), I felt like I had to read countless articles before I understood anything. Of course, I loved knowing more about money, so that sounded like fun.

Probably 99% of what I read was from foreign websites, so my first lessons on money were very much US-centric. My only Malaysian source at the time was KC Lau, a real OG. I thought it was amazing that a Malaysian could write blog posts about money and get a ton of traffic.

First lessons on money (and life)

When I graduated and started working for the National Oil Company in 2007, it was the first major source of income in my life. (Yes, lazy Aaron never found a job while in college.) Now was the time to apply what I had read.

I struggled for a few years, both with money management and the existential crisis that most young people go through. On the latter, reading Mark Manson helped. I’m old enough to have followed Mark while he was still focused on dating / relationship topics, and watched him evolve into general life advice and become a bestselling author.

On the money front, I was very inspired by the teachings of Jack Bogle: to focus on low cost index funds for maximum profit. At the time, it was difficult to access low cost funds from Malaysia; the closest thing I could find was Fundsupermart.

Somewhere in the early 2010s, I got interested in trying to maximize rewards points, cash back rewards, and credit card benefits. I spent a few years focusing on this. Much of what I learned I learned from an anonymous blog: GenXGenYGenZ. It is still the best resource on Malaysian credit cards today.

Writing and learning

In 2014, I decided to start my own blog. I wanted to share ideas on optimizing life – especially in the areas of time, money, and relationships. Over time, my articles on money and career have become the most popular.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge available. Who am I to write anything, when I have thousands of books left for the masters of the universe to read?

In retrospect, writing has helped me immensely in learning and thinking. I don’t write because I know a lot. On the contrary, writing about money forced me to learn more about money.

Of course, there are other cool perks: I even got to meet my heroes Mr. GenX and KC Lau in person. It still seems pretty surreal to me.

Some of them that I call the “second generation” Malaysian bloggers, including Suraya Ringgit Oh Ringgit, Dividend Magic and Charles from Kopiandproperty, also started in the mid-2010s. We used to have gatherings. occasional occasional.

I am so proud of what they have all accomplished. And even more grateful, I can call them friends today.

What i’m reading now

In recent years, I have fallen in love with Twitter. The 280 character limits mean that a successful tweet is primarily a great idea, crisp writing, and minimal lint. (Note: this also results in a loss of nuance, so the reader is wary.)

Where can you find CEOs, tech visionaries, and global leaders who chat directly with everyday people? Hint: not Facebook.

Some of my favorite writers today include:

Morgan Housel – for his unique ability to learn from history and nature, and use it to teach money and invest lessons. Nick Maggiulli – for his data-driven knowledge of investing (and several other Ritholtz Mafias like Ben Carlson). Ben Thompson from Stratechery writes some of the smartest things I’ve ever read.

If we’re talking about more mainstream publications – categorized from easier to harder to read – I like Inc., CNBC Make It, The Atlantic, The Edge, and Harvard Business Review.

And of course, everything Michael Lewis touches turns to gold.

– – –

There you have it: a post of my influences.

Sometimes when I’m feeling down and running out of good ideas, the only thing that works is re-reading my favorite authors. Like putting on a special pair of glasses that let you see the world in a magical way.

Aaron Tang is the founder of mr-stingy.com. He writes about making the most of time, money and relationships – to get the most out of life.

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