How I Manage My Own Money

The more I learn about money, the more I believe there is no better way to manage money. There’s what’s right for you and there’s what’s right for me.

(The Growth Hacker in me wanted to name this one, “10 Golden Rules Every Young Millionaire MUST Follow,” but I told him to f *** off.)

As in any subject, it is worth considering several perspectives. In this article, I’ll share the Money Principles that have worked for me over the past 14 years. Note: I’m not a retired millionaire or anything – just someone who has managed to find the satisfaction of living in my thirties.

Read on and think about if these principles might help you as well.

About me

For context, here is my personal situation. So you understand where I come from.

I am 37 years old this year. I work full time (which is difficult but I like) 45-50 hours / week. In terms of position, you can call me “Senior Manager”.

I paid off my student loan before I turned 32. The only financial commitment I have is my home loan. (I drive a used car that I paid for in cash.) I’m lucky that I don’t have other expensive health or family commitments.

My wife works full time and also has a good income. We are planning soon for the kids.

We are financially stable, but far from financial independence or early retirement. At the current rate (projection of children), I can retire at 55 years old. If that sounds reasonable to you, here are my financial principles:

1. Keep expenses as low as reasonably possible

I have learned not to want much. If you are not very particular, Malaysia is an economical place to live. So other than my apartment – which is middle class comfortable, not fancy – I don’t have any other big recurring expenses.

In terms of food, I would be happy to eat at your Mamak most of the time (although I’ve learned not to for health reasons and I’m lucky enough to have married a brilliant cook).

That being said, “as low as reasonably achievable” doesn’t mean aiming to save money on everything.

So while you will find me driving an old MyVi, I will also treat my wife to a fine dinner, buy some friends a drink round or get myself a nice guitar.

Ramit Sethi put it better:

“Spend extravagantly on the things you love and mercilessly reduce the costs of the ones you don’t.”

2. Be great at work

The management of expenses (linked to desires) is part of the picture. The increase in income (related to work) is the other important one.

Sensational articles could suggest that everyone has to quit their jobs and start a business to make a lot of money. But the more I learn, the more I think entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

There is a lot to be found in a “traditional” career path.

All of the major income increases in my life have happened through internal promotions. I tripled my salary before. I also doubled it in a year.

You don’t have to be in politics or be a hole to get ahead. What you need is to be excellent at your job and have great communication skills. I also always seek to build meaningful relationships.

I believe in working for passion – as long as you take a hands-on approach, and not the over-simplified BS, everything will be perfect just because you are passionate about something.

Truth: If you love your job, you will probably be (without a guarantee) better than everyone else meh about their work. Even if you fail, you can learn faster and bounce back.

Use these perks to earn more money – whether it’s your daily job, your side business, or your own business.

3. Have sufficient emergency funds

Emergency funds are one of those things that everyone is talking about, but they’re still underestimated.

It’s not so much the funds themselves. It’s the peace of mind you get from knowing you’re financially secure. This allows you to make better financial decisions and take calculated risks to make more money (for example, quitting your job for a better one, starting a business, or investing in a high risk, high return asset).

I keep my emergency funds in my fully flexible home loan account, which means I always “earn” good interest on them.

Aim for 6 to 12 months of living expenses. If that sounds too intimidating, just aim for improvement every month.

4. Protect the disadvantages

Sh * t is coming.

Unexpected health problems can doom even the best financial plans.

So make sure you are insured. Make sure you have the will to take care of your family in case something bad happens.

Most of us focus on the benefits of life, and rightly so. We want to play an aggressive attack because that’s where the fun is. But without defense, you may not even get to the end.

money management principles

“Risk is what you don’t see” – Morgan Housel

5. Invest responsibly

With a good income and low expenses, what should I do with my money?

Here’s the fun part: I try to invest and give (Principle 8) as much as I reasonably can. I have a full article on how I invest here, but here is a summary:

  • Never borrow money to invest
  • Invest most of the funds in SAFE assets (protect the downside). Most of my money is tied up in the Malaysian EPF pension funds. My goal is not to touch them until I retire.
  • Allocate a little to high risk, high yield assets. This is my investment in Bitcoin and crypto – the asset class I understand the most. It paid off a lot.
  • A simple analogy for how I invest is a bar (inspired by Nassim Taleb). Lots of safe stuff on one side, not much in the middle and some high risk, high yielding assets.
  • Invest for retirement, decades away. I’m not looking to cash out my money anytime soon. This allows me to ignore short term price movements. I didn’t sell when Bitcoin crashed from 20K to 3K in 2018. I won’t sell if it drops from 40K to 6K in 2021.

Warren Buffett once said of the investment:

“Our preferred period of detention is eternal.”

6. Automate as much as possible

When I was in my twenties, I was a control freak over my money. I spent downtime at work filling out complex spreadsheets to track my investments, savings, and expenses.

As you can imagine, it took a long time. Although I didn’t mind because I found it funny.

As I got older with more responsibility, the time I could devote to manual tracking was gone. These days I sometimes find myself paying late credit card bills. The 25-year-old would be appalled.

I turned to technology to help me. I now use robo-advisors to invest and apps to track my spending. I try to keep 100% of my transactions online and use automatic deductions.

There is a time factor in everything we do that is often overlooked. Author Annie Dillard wrote:

“The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.”

Automating monetary tasks allows me to devote valuable time to the people and things I love.

7. Have fun – you will be good at what you love

Yes, I’m still the finance geek who once created composition spreadsheets for fun. But I’ve learned that a good life is where you focus on what you really love and try to eliminate (or outsource) the rest.

Over the past few years, my “fun” money has been less about making money and more about making money.

I have given up on following the best offers and aiming to accumulate the maximum number of credit card points. I stopped worrying about small expenses.

My dream is no longer to be the one who gets the best discounts on everything. My dream is to be the guy who gives generously to everyone.

Focusing on the things I love led me to an adventure hole. Somewhere along the way, the hours I spent trying to earn loyalty points shifted to studying and experiencing the fascinating world of cryptocurrency.

Today I am working full time in crypto. The more I learn, the more it continues to fascinate me. He also pays the bills. I can afford to tip more now.

8. Optimize meaning

What good is all the money in the world if it doesn’t add value to your life? While I like to see the monetary value of my investments increase, the money itself is just a tool.

Whether this tool improves your life depends on how you use it.

I have found these to be the most meaningful things to do with money:

  • Save and invest – create financial security for my family
  • Save time: outsource the tasks I hate doing on my own (e.g. housework)
  • Invest in my passions: books, music, sport
  • Buy gifts (and meals) for family and friends
  • Give to charity. Give to support and help others

My financial advisors have asked me to consider the donation amount (~ 26% of my gross salary), as it seems high.

But depending on how much joy it brings, I hope I can earn more so I can give more.

9. Keep learning

Life is a journey of continuous learning. To stop growing is to die.

I read from a variety of sources – mainly blogs, online posts, and FinTwit. Much of what I learned about money, I learned from free websites. I’m also trying to read more books, as they reach a level of depth that you won’t find online.

(Nothing against video and podcasts for learning, but I found the playback to be much faster.)

The way I manage my money today is very different than it was five years ago. I expect that to change again over the next five years.

I can’t wait to see what I discover.

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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