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Archive for March, 2008

A (very) belated round up for the week ending 20 March 08

Monday, March 31st, 2008

The week that ended the 20th March 2008 will be forever etched in my heart and mind.  

My mother passed away at 7.40 pm on the 19th. My brothers, sister and I are still coming to terms with this.  My enthusiasm for a number of things seems to have waned, including blogging.

I hope that eventually everything will settle down, God Willing.  

On a brighter note, Free Money Finance kindly gave me an opportunity to guest post on his well regarded site. I wrote a piece on how I intend to quit the rat race. So far, my plan seems to be on track.  Thanks again, FMF.  

And these are the posts, I found interesting, useful or different, from the blogosphere. They are listed in no particular order.

Agentsully interviews Barry Moltz, the writer of a business book, “Bounce”. She believes this book should be a must for anyone wanting to start a business, whether or not one is afraid of failure.

I particularly liked the statement, “How Process Trumps Outcome”. The more we keep doing the right thing, the eventual outcome will be as desired, irrespective of the occasional hiccups. This is exactly what I am bent on doing now to battling the listlessness that seems to have crept into me. 

Dumb Little Man talks about what to do when we make a mistake at work. In his case, it was a BIG mistake. He outlines the steps he took, starting with the most important…accepting responsibility and taking immediate steps to remedy the mistake. This is sound advice, as too many of us look immediately towards blaming someone. (This step is, thankfully, NOT in the wise DLM’s list!)  

This guest post by Bob Roth in Vanessa’s blog has a strong message for me to pass on to my daughters. Bob reminds us that we need to excel in 3 areas to find success after college life.  Thanks, Bob for sharing.   

If a contest is ever held to summarize this extraordinary story of Mike and Mr. Cheap into one line, I think “Mike and Mr. Cheap meet up with their old buddy, Bill Gates”, may have a chance. 

Why don’t you read the story yourself and see if what I say makes sense. (Only then should you read its sequel.) 

My Two Dollars wrote about the IMF planning to use taxpayers’ money to shore up the financial system. It looks like the IMF is taking a different stand from their policies during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/1998. Then, their stand was that market forces should have their way. 

I have some bones to pick with some of the policies of my former Prime Minister. However, on his handling of the Malaysian part of the AFC, (when he went head on against the wishes of the IMF), I salute him.  

And MTD’s grandmother has sounded a dire warning. She is saying that current events seem similar to those leading to the Great Depression. 

I’ll have to revisit a post I wrote not too long ago. I hope that I am dead wrong in my predictions. 

I participated in the Carnival of Family Life and the Carnival of Personal Finance, both of which have been themed as St. Patrick’s Day Editions.  As usual, both the Carnivals have a busload of great articles. I must admit that I have yet to do proper justice to the articles presented at either of these Carnivals.  

The respective hosts, Ms. JHS at Colloquium and Ms. Lynnae at Being Frugal have been their usual superlative best as hosts. 

My mind shut down on blogging sometime on the 17th or so, hence I must have missed many other great articles. And my Google Reader is overflowing. Hopefully by this time next week, I should be back to my normal schedule.  

Take care, and tell your loved ones that you love them. Do it now! The opportunity may be taken away from us more suddenly than we think!

My mother passed away on Wednesday, the 19th March at 7.40 pm

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I was still on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai when my mother passed away. The first message I received as I switched on the phone after landing at 9.30 pm, Indian time, was from my wife, informing me that my mother has passed away, at 7.40 pm. 

The journey home took a lot longer than expected. It was the Easter break; the Muslims had the Prophet’s birthday celebrations whilst the Hindus had also some festivals. In addition, the Indian Highways Authority was widening the arterial road between Chennai and my hometown. All these converged to create traffic levels I had never before seen and I finally arrived home at about 4.45 pm, after a delay of about 8 – 9 hours. 

Muslims have to bury their dead as soon as possible. My thoughts, as I was on the bus trapped in the never ending jam, were on this. I talked to my eldest brother on whether he should tell my other brothers that they should carry on with the required prayers and go ahead with the burial. He told me not to think about this and just pray that I would make it in time for the prayers. 

When I reached home, my mother’s body had been prepared for the prayers and burial. I am grateful; I had a few minutes with her before the body was taken way. 

God was kind to us on that day.  It had been raining heavily for days and all the so called roads in our small town were full of mud and almost impassable even to foot traffic. But on the 20th March, the sun shone brightly. There was also a major Hindu festival in our town on the 20th, where a chariot would be pulled around the town. Roads would be blocked off to traffic as huge crowds would accompany the chariot. The mosque as well as the Muslim burial grounds was on the planned path of the chariot. The chariot got stuck in the mud and it took a full hour and a half for the chariot to be freed. During which time, the prayers for my mother and the burial went without a hitch. 

The prayers were very well attended.  

I thank God; my mother passed away with three of her children and a large number of relatives and loved ones beside her. My two brothers and sister saw her drawing her last breath. 

My mother, Madam Fatima Beevi, raised us against tremendous odds. An illiterate lady, she taught us basic values about trust and honesty. She managed to see the family slowly claw ourselves out of poverty, and gain some respectability. A week or so before her death, she got to see that the Indian side of the children had their own financial base. I am sure this was a source of great comfort to her. 

On the Friday before her death, she spoke with my eldest brother. Words that my youngest brother says were clear indication that she knew of her impending demise. She focused only on asking my eldest brother to ensure that we, in Malaysia would not forget our brothers and sister in India and to remain united no matter what the circumstances. 

Tears and lamentations will not bring my mother back, nor be of any use to her.  There are only 3 things on earth that would be of any use to my late mother now.

a)    Pious children who would pray for her, 

b)    People who have benefited from her assistance, and  

c)     People who have benefited from her knowledge and teachings. 

My siblings and I will do all we can on (a), whilst I am confident that my mother has left more than her fair share of (b) and (c). 

A family emergency has cropped up

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I have just received news that my mother is gravely ill. 

She lives in India with 2 of my brothers and sister. Late last year, my other brothers who are with me in Malaysia visited her. I have not seen by mother since January 2006, when I left India after my working stint there.

The doctors have now told my brothers that the outlook is not very good.

Malaysians need a visa to visit India. I am getting one first thing in the morning and take the next flight out. Luckily its a short 3.5 hour flight followed by a 6 hour or so bus ride. God Willing, I hope to be with her by early Thursday morning, Indian time.

I doubt I’ll be able to do much in the way of this blog for the next week or so.

I hope you will bear with me.

Thank you 

My plan on making time for my personal goals

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Zen Habits recently wrote an excellent article on how to make time for our personal goals. He listed 11 points, which if followed, should achieve the intended purpose. 

I have been making, what I believed to be SMART goals for quite some time now. However the end of the year review would inevitably earn an “F”. So many of the goals would be left untouched and just carried forward to the next year. 

Even since Cash Money Life started the very useful Carnival of Financial Goals, I have been reading a lot of stories on the goals set by PF bloggers and also their reviews. Some of them even post a monthly review of their journey. 

This has trigerred the feeling of inadequacy in my goal setting and achieveing mechanism.

Thus the post by Zen Habits was most timely.  

Though currently working, I have set a goal and made plans to quit the rat race. Now more than ever, I want to ensure that my set goals are achieved. And this is how I am going about it. 

a)  Reviewing my goals and making sure that the goals set are truly, truly something that I WANT AND DESIRE. 

I attended a course on goal setting a long time ago. One statement the presenter made that has been etched permanently in my mind is “You must really want the goal! If you are not willing to spend money, effort and time in achieving that goal, then you might as well forget it now.” 

So some of the goals are being sort of discarded.  (One of them has to do with this blog. Even since I read the Baglady’s plan to start a Chinese blog, I wanted to start one in Malay. This plan has been discarded, or rather set aside.)

b) Redoing my time management  

I wrote a post sometime ago on how I plan my time. This method has worked for me for quite some time and I am very happy with it. The key drawback was in the manner I was setting up my schedules. 

I was not scheduling my priorities; rather I was prioritizing my schedule.   

 time-management-ms-picture-manager.jpg

As the chart above shows, my time management process now consists of:- 

i)                  Looking at my goals and the plans I had drawn up to achieve the goals,  

ii)                For each goal, I asked myself, “What should I do this month to achieve this goal? What should I do this week and what should I do this day?” 

iii)             Plugging these tasks in my calendar, 

iv)              And working on them. 

c)               The tasks under career etc. 

These have now taken a lower priority. I have a firm belief that I’ll never ever bite the hand that feeds me, so my boss need not have any worries that I’ll just laze away. But I must admit there is no blazing fire in me causing me to want to shine in my career. 

I have sacrificed far too many “once in a lifetime events” as far as my family is concerned. I have always put my job first. This is no longer going to be the case. For my 3 younger children, I’ll be there for their memorable days and events.

I no longer have to make a choice between career and family. This has already been predetermined.          

Now I am confident that my priorities have been scheduled! 

Welcome

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Welcome! Readers of Free Money Finance. 

maharaja-welcome.jpg

If this is your first visit here, please feel free to look around and comment to your hearts’ content. You can read and understand a little about me and the reasons behind my blog here. I hope you’ll return often.

To my regular readers, I have written a guest post on my plans to quit the rat race on Free Money Finance, a blog I admire and follow quite avidly. Do drop by and check out this blog. I’m sure it’ll be worth more than your while.    

And my sincere thanks to FMF for this  opportunity.

Cheers!  

Insurance renewal settled and now it looks like I’ll get my credit card fees waived as well

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Recently I wrote about my Bank and its insurance subsidiary forgetting to renew the insurance on my house, despite the policy having been assigned to them.

The policy had been cancelled on the 17th August 07, and I found out in February 08, about 6 months later.  We have been informed that the insurance had been reinstated on the 29th February 08. So for a good 6 months, the property or rather I, had been exposed to God knows what had any mishap occurred.  Fortunately it didn’t. And the Bank did not insist that I should backdate the policy, a move that I would have objected to most strenuously.  Now that this is settled, I called my credit card issuer and asked for a waiver of the annual fees. Yep, it’s the same bank. I am happy to report that the Customer Service representative who handled my call was a sterling example of a CSR. He has told me that he’ll process my request and that my chances are excellent. So it looks like I’ll stay on with this Bank for quite some time to come.

A major financial concern has been settled, Thank God!

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I was born in India. My father brought me over to Malaysia when I was three. (Malaysia was seen as the land of milk and honey, and my father thought that I would be able to make a better life for myself here.) 

My eldest brother and I were with my father, whilst my younger sister, 2 younger brothers and an elder brother stayed back in India. As life progressed, and my financial fortunes improved, it was my duty to do what I could to support the branch of the family in India. We managed to do what we could and my sister’s two children have made it to University and are now doing their part to support their parents. 

I have often thought about and wanted to set up a business or something in India so that my brothers could run it and hence become self supporting. Various options were tried but nothing succeeded. 

My concern was that it was unlikely that neither my eldest brother’s children nor my children would have the same sense of duty to help support the Indian branch of the family.  

In 2005 when I was working in India, we bought three pieces of land. The lands were registered in the names of my brothers and the understanding was that they would work the land and make a living out of it. Since then various improvements have been added on to the land, such as a well, electricity connections for the water pump, crops grown etc. 

India has been experiencing a tremendous rate of growth. The Government has invested lots of money in improving infrastructure and power, water and transportation systems have been vastly improved. There has also been a growth in the middle class, creating demand and generally improving the business environment. 

Now one of the smallest pieces of land have been sold for a price about 10 times, what we paid for it in 2005! This has resulted in a windfall gain for my brothers of an amount that would be akin to ten years’ of a graduate’s salary. 

I have earlier indicated that windfalls may not change people’s lives. However in this case, I believe that, after so many years of a financial struggle, my brothers will use this windfall gainfully.  

I am so happy for my brothers. Whilst I have not really neglected the building up of my own retirement funds, the thought that I should also have something for my brothers have always been at the back of my mind. 

Now, by sheer luck, and God’s Will, this nagging concern has been removed. Now my brothers are comfortably off and I can safely say that they are now on their own financially. 

The Digerati Life has included me amongst people she classifies as “great minds”

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Oh, boy, looks like my carefully nurtured bluff has just been called.  

Ms. SVB got tagged in a book meme, where she had to pick up the nearest book, open page 123, find the 5th sentence and then post the next three. And as per tagging tradition, she had to pick another 5 people for this meme. And she included me as one of the 5 great minds as she calls them.   

I have serious doubts that anyone who knows me would classify me as a great mind. Well, except for my youngest daughter, perhaps.  

I remember, many years ago, when the so called critics listed the best movies of the year, I had seen none of them. They also listed the worst movies of the year and I had seen the movie right at the bottom of the list. And twice! And I had thoroughly enjoyed the movie both times.  

So I am grateful that Ms. SVB has seen some good in me, and included me amongst illustrious company. Thank you, Ma’am.   

Coming back to the book meme, the nearest book is Robin Sieger’s “You can change your life any time you want.” This book is being used by my 4th daughter, Nana to improve her English. I have previously written a little about the system we use.  

Page 123 is the beginning of Chapter 8, titled Honesty. (At least, I was honest upfront.) 

Sentences 6 – 8 read:- 

We should not be blind to aspects of ourselves that we are not comfortable with, or imagine things to other than they truly are. In all aspects of our goals, our beliefs, our attitudes and our expectations, we should be completely honest with ourselves.         

NO LEGACY IS SO RICH AS HONESTY                                                           

                                                             William Shakespeare 

This is so apt. For years I have been spending less than wisely. I was completely blind to the fact that I was living basically beyond my means. Though I did not dig myself into a bottomless pit, I really “messed up big time” opportunities to have built up a sizeable nest egg.  

Now I am a lot more honest with myself. My wife and I are a lot more careful with our spending and it looks like I may actually have a fighting chance to “quit the rat race”, just like Ms. SVB has done. 

Well, I have fulfilled most of the terms of my being tagged. I have to beg off on the tagging of another 5 people. I am still new and I do think the few people I know have all been tagged. 

But, please feel free to jump in if you wish.  

Cheers!

Round up for week ending 13 March 08

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Two memorable blogging events happened for me this week. 

One has been my effort to seek help from the pf online world on answering a dilemma a good friend of mine has. I am truly amazed at the help, support and encouragement I have received over this matter. 

Lynnae did a full post to help me. A number of very constructive comments were made on my post. I also searched FMF’s archives and found a number of posts that should be relevant   

My friend (who is away in the Middle East now) will be digesting all the replies and strategizing on how best to resolve his dilemma.  My friend BC and I thank all of you for your efforts. 

Secondly my first ever guest post.

Flexo at Consumerism Commentary graciously gave me an opportunity to showcase one of my works on his well respected blog.

Thanks again, Flexo.  

On a personal level, our country saw off our 12th General Elections the result of which is something we have never seen in the 50 years since independence. 

My second girl is now back home, having finished her final exams. It’s   time to formally kick off the father-daughter talks on how to help her find a job that she would like. 

And these are the posts, I found interesting, useful or different, from the blogosphere this past week. They are listed in no particular order. 

Lynnae’s How to budget with an irregular income, came at the right time for me. I am a trained finance professional and yet I did our household /family budget for the first time not too long ago. I am preparing myself to “quit” the rat race and concentrate on seeking my own dreams. Lynnae’s post will be very useful in guiding me and for me to evaluate my readiness.   

Trent laid down his timetable for a typical day. Man! The weekdays are stuffed full, leaving his weekends open for his discretion. With his decision to quit his job, there may be more time. I am looking forward to the day when he tells about how he would be slotting in time for the other interests he said he wanted to do.   

Saif writes about the 7 Rules of Life he wished he knew. Perhaps we may all know the Rules unconsciously. It’s more like we never acknowledge and appreciate them. By listing out these 7 Rules, Saif has clarified our thoughts and rekindled our appreciation.

Thanks, Saif.  

Madison at My Dollar Plan writes about planning ahead for scholarships and financial aid for tertiary education.  Flexo at Consumerism Commentary has also a post on this.

This is first class advice for me. I have 3 children waiting in line, whose college education would probably be our family’s biggest expense in the horizon. Luckily I now have time to plan and plot. We missed out for the elder girls and in April 08, we shall finish payment for their studies…Phew! This has been an expensive oversight. 

JD at Get Rich Slowly shared some excerpts of personal finance advice from a 1943 literature classic. I found myself immediately transported mentally to the setting and could feel the words of wisdom etching a permanent place in my mind. 

It’s truly priceless and timeless advice. Excellent post! 

A very informative and healthy exchange of views took place on Moolanomy and Gather Little by Little on P2P lending. This P2P thing is a tool, much like credit cards and fire. We can use them carefully for good or get burnt if we use them unwisely. On the other hand, some tools may do more good by just not being easily available.  

Hop over and read them to help you make up your own mind, if you are thinking of particpating in what seems to be growing phenomenon.

Ms. SVB wrote an interesting story on some serious savers who died wealthy. It is really heartening that many of them lived so frugally but were magnanimous enough to leave their fortunes to charity.

I liked this piece by Ron at the Wisdom Journal. He has proclaimed that most successful people are FAT!. As I hope to be successful and probably would not be classified as fat, I had to read the post to find out more. And ended up a convert.   

The 143rd Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance was most ably hosted by Quest for Four Pillars. As the blog is based in Canada, QFP has used a Canadian theme.  The Carnival has attracted lots of great posts, and QFP must have had a really tough time picking his 7 favorites.

The undisputed star of this Carnival is Tivo, a cute dog, who besides being her owner’s best friend, is also giving her financial lessons.  Hop over and go through the posts. You won’t regret the visit! 

Meanwhile, Liz, the housekeeper of This Full House was the gracious and elegant host of the Carnival of Family Life.  She has a good number of great posts on family issues from Education, Relationships and Self-Improvement, Family Finance, Parenting Tips and Advice and even Family Humor. This Carnival should be a “must read” for all parents and also for kids who want to manage and understand their parents.  

Well, this is all for this week. Best regards and have a great and enjoyable weekend.

My business start up – the area where costs must not be the primary consideration

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I have written before about my farm. The farm is expected to have its trial runs next month and begin operations in September / October 08. As such, I have been keeping a sharp lookout for tips, suggestions or advice on aspects of running a business.  

I read Jason Calacanis’s post on a list of 17 tips on how to save money running a start up. Though I did not find anything that would be of special interest for me, this post appears to have raised a storm on how the post addressed the issue of workers.  

Ben Yoskovitz of The Instigator Blog went deeper into the issue of whether to hire workaholics for a start up, and lists his choice of character traits he would want his workers to have.  It is clear that we would all want workers who are :- 

-         Honest,

-         Can and want  to work hard,

-         Passionate about the business,

-         Team players,

-         Willing to go the extra mile for the business. 

I’ll certainly need to find such people to work with me on the farm. I am sure, with some adroit searching, I should be able to find someone with most of the above requirements. 

On the other hand, what would the “potential worker” be looking for? Would working in a small goat farm excite anyone enough to be willing to go the extra mile?  

Farm jobs are generally low paying ones. They also have limited scope for upward mobility and none of the usual perks found in working in a city office. In addition, they involve long hours and hard physical work. The usually lowly educated farm workers are easily enticed into other jobs by small increases in pay. 

Mistakes or carelessness may result in death of livestock. And reliable farm staff are not easily available, so when a worker walks off, it is quite painful. 

Considering all these, this is my plan to get workers who fit the “ideal worker” profile.

 a) I have to look for them in places where low pay by Malaysian standards is not too bad a deal. 

Indonesia, Myanmar and Indian workers are quite common in a lot of Malaysian farms, factories and even households as maids. Many of them come from rural background where they’ll have some idea of farm work. 

I have no intention of just getting my workers from the employment agencies. I’ll have to invest time and effort to make sure I get workers whose backgrounds “father authority” figures I get to know.  By “father authority”, I refer to his local leader whose opinion he would respect and obey.  

I plan to visit Indonesia for this specific purpose of finding suitable workers. Before the visit, I’ll get the process of short listing done by asking assistance from our Indonesian partners for the tower project as well as some other Indonesian elders whom we know.  

 b) I have to look out for them just as I would look out for my children.

These workers would have dreams that are not too different from mine. They would want to provide for their families as well as they can. They would want a good retirement fund. They would want to provide better education opportunities for their children than they themselves had.  I have to work out a way where the free funds they would be able to save from their wages would be better than whatever they have legally tried so far.  I would have to provide them with decent accommodation and food. I would have to guide them on some savings strategies such that they see a fund growing. 

c) I have to train and motivate them well 

This will be a little tricky, as I myself do not know much about goat rearing. However, I am confident that the training methods applied in Ghana with my Ghanaian colleagues will work in good stead.  The system I followed then was :-

-         being open with them,

-         discussing with them on what would be the best way to do something,

-         documenting the process in simple diagrams,

-         continuously reviewing this process with them to ensure their comprehension,

-         allowing them free room to improve on this base process and

-         documenting the new improved process and so on. 

Motivation on the other hand is not something where a standard template can be applied. On this I’ll have to tread carefully. I believe that if there is mutual trust and if I can show him that there is a great bright light ahead, I should be on the right track. 

d) Still, I cannot expect to keep increasing their wages as time passes. 

Some years ago, I was working in a hotel chain. The Hotel Staff Union of Malaysia has a good employment contract, with yearly increases in wages. This got to a state, where the bellhops, after working for umpteen years, were earning salaries on par with graduate workers with a few years of experience. Eventually this proved unsustainable and the hotel chain closed down. 

I am planning to open mirror operations, where I put up the finances and they run the farms on a profit sharing basis. Say, after 5 years. By then, both of us should be able to gauge our respective sincerities and trust in each other well. 

This way:-

a) My most experienced and trusted workers have a chance to run their own businesses,

b) I should be able to provide a way out to the problem of high cost people in low cost jobs and,

c) allow me to embark on the expansion path. 

Looks to me like a good win-win situation.  

In the final analysis, I believe that the employer should take care of the employee well and the employee then takes care of the rest.  

The human aspect of my start up is where cost considerations will not be my primary focus. 

 

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