The lessons of 2012

The year 2012 is another landmark in my 28-year life, because of achievements and travels, but most of all as a significant transition stage in my life. So many great life lessons were learned, and not the easy way.

I finished one of the most challenging goals of my recent life – to finish and open The Mind Museum to the public. But somehow, I had to move away and move on, because I am still meant for something else, possibly something grander than the world I moved in while still with The Mind Museum. My career was to take a big leap forward, towards where I ought to be.

However, I had to go through a rollercoaster, just to find the guts to keep on moving. At first I resisted the change. I was personally committed to the project until we finished. Everything after that was already a bonus. Then, something really made me decide to leave. Whatever that something was, it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in disguise for me.

I had about four months of “soul searching” after my resignation. Those four months involved a lot of staying at home, freelance work, travel, and job-hunting. The most challenging was the job-hunting, because there was so much possibilities, and I had to narrow down the choices and “sell” myself properly. At the end of it, I found what I wanted, and a company who seemed to want me for who I was and what I am capable of. Big career leap, I may say. We’ll see how it works this new year.

I got to travel around in 2012 too. Twice to Boracay for vacation, to Bacolod for a wedding, to Singapore for a conference, to Malaysia for a personal adventure, and to Australia for a vacation with the family. The Malaysia and Australia trips were after I resigned, and in a way it was good because I got to spend three weeks in Australia and go around a bit. We mainly visited my brother in Sydney, met up with a lot of extended relatives, and went sight-seeing. We also got to experience Canberra, Gold Coast, and visit other relatives in Melbourne.

That’s a gist of what happened in 2012. Some important realizations and lessons:

  • I am lucky to have a wonderful family who I can always rely on, and I am quite sure they will always have my back no matter what. And I also now fully appreciate when they say “mother knows best”.
  • Introspection is very important. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks about you. You can never please everyone. Just focus on the things that are important to you, and just be the best version of yourself. I am who I am. I cannot be someone else. There are parts of me that I cannot change, and I would like to be accepted the way that I am, fluff and stuff.
  • We should be careful who we trust, even with the “good friends”. Be careful how much you share with them. I’ve been burned twice before, by two people who I thought will have my back no matter what. Seems like they were the ones who judged me the most, perhaps because they knew too much. They thought they knew who and what I really was, but they were already blinded by their prejudice and their own biases.
  • Boys will be boys. I can never understand how some of them are so willing to cheat on their wives or girlfriends, but I have no plans of getting involved in such. I can’t stand to be someone’s number two or someone’s mistress, and I do not want to be the cause of hurt to spouses, partners, and children.
  • I’ve completely closed and abandoned my “hope” for my first love. Finally, first love “dies”, after 15 long years. I now understand why it was never meant to be. It never was, never is, and never will be. The book is closed.
  • I’m bankrupt. I’m almost done paying-off my liabilities though. I’m now learning a better way of managing my finances, saving on basic expenses, and eventually putting something away for the rainy days. The credit card is taking the backseat from now on.
  • I’ve found myself into Twitter. It is indeed one useful tool of communication.
  • Home is where the heart is. It is not a single place, but rather, wherever love (and family) resides.
  • Simplicity and calmness. Two wonderful things I’ve learned from yoga and meditation.
  • I know now where I want to be, and what I want to be. I’m going after that now.

Maybe the greatest lesson of the year is learning to let go. Let go of things that you don’t need anymore. Let go of things that do not work anymore. Let go of the negative emotions. Let go of expectations. When you learn how to let go of the right things, you’ll learn to travel lighter, with less baggage. Then, you’ll have more space for new things, and possibly for the best things that have yet to come.

I have all the space now for everything that 2013 will give me. I’m ready.

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Back to (a different kind of) normal

My life is back to normal. At least, it’s an entirely different kind of normal from the normal I’ve been used to for the past few years.

I’ve somehow chosen a different kind of life to live now. I’ve given up the luxury of driving to and from work five days a week. Gone is the 1.5++ hour drive (one-way) to and from work, and the thousands of pesos spent monthly on gasoline charges and other car maintenance expenses. I am back on the daily commute. I’m back to working in my comfort zone, my timezone. It’s about two-thirds of the distance I used to travel every day. My new work is a short walk from the MRT station. I take the MRT everyday now, going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening. I then take a shuttle after MRT in the evening, and take a leisurely walk (under the stars) from the village gate on my way home.

I try to pack my lunch everyday too. I make myself a yummy sandwich, enough to fill me at lunch. When I don’t get to pack my lunch, I buy a sandwich at a nearby convenience store. It costs a lot less than what I used to eat for lunch, and has a lot less calories too.

Work is both something old and new. I’m starting to get into the groove again. The project I’m doing now is pretty interesting and challenging, enough to give me just the right push to give my best, as I always would like to do with whatever I do.

My personal life is also warming up too. No lovelife yet, though. I’m just loving the time I have on my hands to write blogs, do errands, read books, study/review on some topics and interests, pamper myself, relax and meditate, and opportunities to do many other things.

There’s just something that feels really nice about the new kind of normal. There are less expenses, less calories, more walks and physical activities, more time to just look around and observe the real world, and more time to be me again. I guess I really needed this change.

A better me everyday, that’s the goal. Sometimes it happens in small moments, in baby steps. Sometimes it happens with long strides, or with some jumps. This time, it was a leap for me again. I’ve landed, and am back on the ground, but this is an entirely different land already. Time to continue walking.

Credit card hiatus

I have put my credit card under house arrest. I have taken it out from my wallet and have kept it in a special place in my room. It will not be used for the coming months until I’ve been able to clear up my credit card debt and re-learned how to live on cash alone.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my credit card in the past five years. I love it when I am using it for purchases, but I hate it when the bill arrives. Are most of us like that? Perhaps I’ve developed a terrible credit card habit. I use it to purchase, and I purchase some more using my cash. Come billing time, I pay off my entire balance, but soon after I use my card again because I’ve ran out of cash after paying my credit card bill. The cycle goes on month after month. No matter how I try to get out of the cycle, it keeps pulling me back in.

Now I’ve really taken a drastic step. I’m separating myself from my card. Time to live again on nothing but cash. And time to get my financial freedom back.

Wish me luck.

On investing

I attended a talk on investing a week ago, the very first talk about investment that I went to, and it was well worth it.

I never had an eye for finances, accounting, and investments. I know the basics but I never had a talent for effective planning in this aspect. I had lessons on some of the computational aspects of it in before, but I never truly understood what it was for and how I could use it to my advantage. This talk was a big eye-opener for me.

The talk focused on how to invest with the goal of beating inflation. They say that the reason for investing should not be just about amassing tons of wealth. The first reason for investing is to be able to keep up with inflation. Since inflation means that the actual value of money actually decreases over time, we should make sure that our money is growing alongside inflation, so that we at least have the same purchasing power with what we have. The average inflation rate of the Philippines over the past years is around 7%, although last year’s inflation rate was just 4.8%. Of course, one should consider long term values when planning to invest long term.

Second reason for investing is to be able to achieve a financial goal. If we would like to retire at a certain age and sustain ourselves with interest revenue of our money by that time, there is a certain way we can save up and invest our current money to achieve an adequate retirement fund.

Further, they discussed the portfolio concept, and the corresponding risks of certain investment instruments. Basically, the higher the potential return, the higher the risk. Sometimes, the people who invest just because of the desire to earn lots and lots of money go for investments that bring the highest possible return but with very minimal “stated” risk. These are the people who are most likely to get duped by scams and questionable investments, again because high returns will always mean higher risks. If someone offers you a high return investment but with a very low risk, think twice.

In case you are interested to find out, you can try to find a financial advisor to give you more information about your options. You can also check online. Here are two sites I’m most familiar with:

http://www.philamfunds.com.ph/

https://www.bpiassetmanagement.com/

http://www.sunlife.com.ph

A balancing act

I just came back from Singapore a week ago. It was an official trip for conference, but I extended my stay to meet up with friends and do a little shopping and sight-seeing. I stayed at my friends’ place before and after the conference, and went around Sg like I always do, like it’s my second home. And historically, I always end up spending SO MUCH while there, excluding the cost of airfare and accommodations.

I am still trying to settle all my liabilities, trying to zero out all my credit card debt. But of course, it’s much of a challenge whilst being in all the shopping glory of Singapore. I was not going to keep myself from shopping, but I didn’t intend to get into more debt during the trip. There were a lot of things I needed that I intended to buy in Sg. I just had to make sure that I spend just enough, and spend on the right things.

It was an absolute balancing act, letting myself go and shop for the things I need and enjoy the trip, while keeping myself from spending over the top. In a way, I set an “artificial goal” for myself, something tangible that equates to zeroing out my debt. At the start of the year, I resolved to buy myself a pet rabbit only when I get to clear out my debt. And thus, there was an image of the rabbit tattooed on my mind the entire time while I was shopping. I made a list of things I needed to buy. I stuck to the things in my list, and avoided purchasing things which were not on my list AT ALL COST. Every time there was a temptation to buy something else, I remind myself about the rabbit. I have to have that rabbit when I get back to Manila. It was such a big challenge.

So far so good. I just paid my credit card bill from the trip, and I think I have enough to live through to the next salary day. Hopefully I get to buy me the rabbit this May. It’s about time. 🙂

Putting my mouth where my money is

I just got my 13th month today. And it did not stay even 24 hours in my bank account, I already transferred it to a friend’s account whom I owed some money from. When I say “some money” I mean, five digits before the decimal point. That’s actually somewhat a lot.

Perhaps my finances is one of the worst aspects of my life right now, second to my lack of a decent lovelife. And to be honest, I have much more available money back in college than I have now. My friends know that I have always been good with my finances then. I was still getting allowance from my parents (but just enough, not a lot), and I had a lot of time to earn from my little “racket” here and there. And life in my university wasn’t expensive at all. Really cheap food, jeepney rides, and a lot of photocopying were all I was spending on then. I had enough money to spend for things I wanted

But now that I am earning my own dough, I don’t seem to get enough. I spend around P9,000 / month on gasoline alone. Then there are expenses for medicine, toiletries, among others. I also spend a lot on food, both for the daily lunch and the occasional eat-outs. Starbucks is also quite deadly to my pocket, since I have developed a certain fondness for it. I have also spent a lot on some out-of-town and out-of-the-country trips in the past three years. To top it off, I don’t get a big paycheck, since I’m on a “non-profit organization” payroll (but it’s all ok because I love my job).

It’s a real challenge to manage my own finances now that I am earning and spending for most of my own expenses. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and wrong decisions in my finances in the past three years, that brought me to my current dilemma. At one point these past few months, I owed two people a total amount almost equal to two months’ salary. There’s something terribly wrong there, especially I am so used to not owing anything.

One of my biggest mistake was the way I used my credit card. It must be noted that when my very first credit card was issued to me by my bank, it had a credit limit which was twice my monthly salary. That should have been a warning sign for me already. It was just so easy to take that card out of my wallet and swipe away when I see some things that I would like to purchase. Even abroad, I would use my credit card to go shopping. I accumulated a lot of payables because of this. On the brighter side, I always pay my monthly credit card bills in full, so that I won’t incur interest charges. But that always leave me with less cash than I need, and I will start charging things again. It’s an endless cycle.

I’m trying to correct my credit card attitude already. I’m forcing myself to only purchase with cash, unless utterly necessary. I’m pushing myself to charge as little as possible on my account. I still have to get used to using my credit card wisely.

In general, I need to reduce my spending and improve on my buying decisions. On top of that, I’m trying to rethink and re-plan how I manage my finances. I don’t ever want to find myself in such a financial dump again.