Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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Archive for December, 2008

How did my children fare in their 2008 goals?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

One of my bigger regrets in life is that I did not spend as much time as I should have with my two elder girls when they were growing up. I was then too engrossed in climbing up my career ladder.  I have long determined that I should and shall not repeat this mistake with my younger three kids, Abang (our only boy, now 15), Nana (14) and Ain(9).  

And one of the things I do with my three kids is joining them in setting their yearly goals. We have been doing this since December 2005. The exercise does meet some of the rules for SMART goals some of the time and all the rules some of the time. Each of them has a goal book, so that the goals set can be tracked by year. (I suppose these books would have some nostalgic value when they are much older.) 

As usual, in early December 08, we sat and reviewed the goals set for the year. 

Abang did not set any goals for himself for 2008. He got away by promising that he would set them by himself. In addition he claimed he had misplaced his goal book. Though he “escaped” in 2008, he has set himself some really worthy goals for 2009, maybe a little too many. 

Nana had set some goals covering her studies, health, religion, finance and social. And the same for Ain.

On the financial (savings) goals set by Ain and Nana, they both scored an A+. I had initially thought that the goals were too difficult to achieve, and had agreed to contribute agreed sums of money should they achieve the savings goal. Not only did they meet the goal, but surpassed it very comfortably. 

Note: Ain’s financial goals for 2008 were featured when Lynnae hosted the 2nd Carnival of Financial Goals, way back in January 08.

I am really pleased about the fact that there were no wild splurging when they received their Hari Raya duit. This refers to monetary gifts they receive during Eid from the busload of grand uncles and aunties they have from both their mother’s and my side. (I remember almost throwing a fit when in 2006, Nana wanted to buy a RM175 CD.)  

Their savings (together with my contribution) has just been banked into their savings accounts.  

There were some hiccups on the other goals set. Though we had together reviewed the goals during each of their school term holidays (and there were promises each time to do better and catch up), the progress was, shall we say “improvable”. 

The maintaining of their accounting is also something that needs some improvement. Though they had good written records of the money they received as allowances, spent and saved in their piggy bank, the year end totals did not tally! The book balances were higher than their physical balances! And by amounts that indicated the need for far better money handling skills.  

I have an idea on how to resolve this for 2009.  

I am very happy and proud that my younger kids now seem to accept this yearly goal setting as a habit. There is now some sort of an internal motivation for them to meet their goals. Goals set with some thought. Goals that any parent would consider worthy. 

I’ll talk about their 2009 goals next week. (The two elder girls, Along and Azah, have also done their goals, but I think they would prefer to let it be a private affair.)   

When facing hardship, smile, breathe, go slow and reflect on this advice

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

My daughters who have just entered the working world, seem a little too stressed up over matters I would consider relatively trivial. But then I have many more years under my belt and I am speaking with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. 

I have had times in my life when I thought the world as I knew it was coming to an end. Yet we have survived and by the Grace of the All Mighty, thrived.  

2008 has been tough, and 2009 looks even tougher. Hard times are ahead. At times like these, it is good to have a pillar of support to cling on to. I have had mine for many years. And I want to impart this practice that I follow to my daughters on this 29th of December 2008 which also coincides with the first day of the Muslim calendar, Awal Muharram.  

Also today I read an excellent article by Zen Habits on his secret weapon that helped him in running and completing the Hawaii marathon and achieve all the goals he had set for himself. I think Leo has some splendid advice and thus I want to add his to what I have been practicing all these while.  

When I have to deal with hard times, difficulties or tough decisions my source of guidance, support and inspiration is the Quran. And this is what our Holy Book has to say about difficulties. Not once but thrice in 3 different verses. 

“On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.”                                

Surah Al Baqarah, Verse 286 

“No burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear.”                    

Surah Al Araf, Verse 42 

“On no soul do we place a burden greater than it can bear.”                                

Surah Al Muminum, Verse 62 

It simply says that hardships are shelled out in such a manner that the recipient can certainly bear and overcome them.  And Leo’s secret is in the words of a wise Vietnamese Buddhist monk, “Smile, breathe and go slowly”. 

I ask my children to reflect on these words of God. The All Mighty has Himself said that we can bear and overcome any difficulty that is thrust upon us, so what is the problem? And the Buddhist monk also sets an excellent perspective.  

So, my girls, remember …Smile, breathe, go slowly and go forth and face the world with the conviction that whatever the world throws at you, it can only be something that you can handle. Be assured that whatever the outcome, it would be one better than the one that you presently have. 

Bailouts - the family versions can be even more painful

Friday, December 26th, 2008

There has been a lot of debate about some of the bailouts that are being doled out by various Governments for those businesses considered too strategic or important to fail.   

The opponents of the bailouts take the view that the companies failed because they did not produce what the market wanted, were fiscally irresponsible and / or did not practice proper and prudent financial management. And a bailout would not solve this. Rather it would only postpone the “death” of these companies. FMF puts it even better.  

The supporters of the bailouts talk about the greater good and that there would be far more pain for all should there be no bailouts.  These bailouts at least indirectly affect all the citizens of the country, since taxpayers’ money is used. Still there is a certain detachment, as the people who decide on the bailouts do not actually use their own personal funds.  

What is the bailout hits closer to home, like a family member needing one? What if the bailout is needed also because of irresponsible fiscal behaviour on the part of the family member?  And the bailout has to come from our own personal funds.

Here there are also emotional ties involved.  The affected member could be a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister or even parents. And often the bailouts take a large chunk of savings from the donating members. What should our actions be? Should we take the moral high ground and say that market forces should prevail and that the affected member should just face the consequences. Or should we cave in due to our inability to see the affected member suffer? 

A brother of a close friend of mine has on a number of times hit on his father for bailouts. The savings the father had built up as a result of his frugal ways and hard work were badly affected by these bailouts. Still he paid.  I have often wondered about what the deepest thoughts of the father about these bailouts were?

Malaysian papers often carry stories on loan sharks going after the parents or the spouse when one of the children or the other spouse runs off without meeting his or her loan obligations. There have been even cases of parents disowning their irresponsible children 

I have no idea what I would do if any member of my family needed a bailout. I suppose I would do all I could if the matter was a result of an unforeseen accident or such. But if it was a result of sheer irresponsible behaviour then I suppose my stand would have to be different.  

I am completely in agreement with Brip Blap’s well written argument that YOU are your own bailout.  Only YOU can fix YOUR problems”.

So if any of my family members ever come to me for a bailout, this would be the test that I would apply. If I cannot answer this question with thumping certainty, then it would be just more money down the drain.  

Still it is lots easier now to get way over our heads in debt, than it was when I was starting out. My two elder girls have just started out in their working lives. I hope that they have learnt enough from our talks and their own reading not to get into any financial hole too deep to climb out of. 

And I pray that I’ll never be burdened with having to apply BB’s test on any members of my family. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I found this lovely picture in  Johnny Ong’s blog. He is an Art Director from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has quite an interesting blog.

2008 has sorely tested many of us. At least it is coming to an end now.  Let’s all look forward to a much better 2009.

My family and I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

May we all have a beautiful holiday season and a new year of good health, peace, happiness and an abundance of all that is good for us!

Happy Holidays! 

Conserving water in the household – it’s all a matter of attitude

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The Simple Dollar wrote a nice post titled “5 simple water conservation methods – Do they save real money”. 

Of all our utility bills, our water bill is the cheapest. So even a 50% reduction in water usage would probably not result in a big deal in terms of real savings. Still, I feel that the thought process that goes into conserving water is a very strong and fundamental part of overall frugality.  

I was born into a household that had no tap water. We were lucky. My mother(and us once we were old enough to carry a pot ourselves) had to walk only about 300 yards to bring back water for cooking and drinking from the village drinking well. Occasionally we had to tag along to carry a pot or two ourselves. (My mother could balance one on her head and carry two more. It was usually about 2 – 3 trips a day. So conserving water was an issue drilled deep into our minds from very young. 

A tap in full flow. It would do its work just as well at half or less the flow. 

Not so for my children. They are used to the house with taps all over the place and gushing clean water coming out each and every time the tap was turned on. So my children do not have the same attitudes with water. 

The Simple Dollar has pointed out 5 simple ways to conserve water, one of which is to install a low flow shower head. I prefer to use low flow all the time we turn on the tap, when washing our hands, washing vegetables or anything. Turning the tap on full blast and washing just wastes lots and lots of water. If the tap were to be on low flow (i.e. turned on low), then the task might take a wee bit longer but save a ton of water. 

Muslims have to pray 5 times a day and each time they have to take ablution to cleanse themselves. And this process often results in tremendous waste of water. Just imagine the waste in a household such as ours with 5 children plus the 2 adults. In Ghana and Sudan, it’s the norm to use just a little bottle of water for one’s ablution. I think the Ghanaians and Sudanese and others from the dry Middle East regions probably think that Malaysians are amongst the most wasteful characters on earth.  

I yell at my kids every time I see them running the tap full blast. Imagine washing a spoon with the tap water running full blast. It’s enough to make a strong man cry!  

3 months of water gathering this way should be enough to instill good water conserving habits, don’t you think?

As I said earlier, saving water is not going to add big bucks to our savings, but it drives home the point of generally not being a wastrel. This attitude will play a very pivotal role in shaping our future lives.  

Picture Credits: Google 

A security system that Fort Knox would die for

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I am sure that I am not alone in being concerned that a slowing economy would see increases in crimes like burglaries, snatch thefts and the like. In this present environment of widespread economic gloom and doom, people take extra protection to safeguard their properties.  Some keep guard dogs, others install alarm systems and yet others rely on some serious outside help. 

Last week, The Star, a Malaysian paper carried an almost unbelievable story. Titled “Burglar who picked the wrong house”, the story is about a burglar who broke into an unoccupied home cum grocery store (the owners had gone off on holiday) and found himself trapped and unable to get out.  

When the owners (a husband and wife team) returned, they found the burglar fatigued and dehydrated after spending 72 hours without food or water. To quote the burglar,

“I was blinded once I was inside and felt like I was in a cave. Each time I wanted to flee, I felt a ‘supernatural figure’ shoving me to the ground,’’


I got this picture from a story in the Clare Herald on three cavers being trapped. Fortunately the cavers were not in any danger.

This story is more likely than not to be believed and I am sure that the reporter and / or the paper will be receiving tons of calls and letters to find out the identity of the store owner and his mysterious and very effective security system.  

A fair number of Malaysians believe in the supernatural. After all, Muslims, who make up the majority of Malaysians, believe in supernatural beings or Jinns as stated in the Quran. I have heard many stories about people who have somehow managed to learn to control some of these Jinns, some for good use, perhaps like being a stern security guard, and others for not so good uses. 

The people in charge of Fort Knox’s security systems might do themselves some good by taking to the grocery store owners! 

The Fathersez family also has some unorthodox support in our home security system. We live in a gated community and there are security guards who patrol the area fairly frequently.  In addition we follow a tip that I read in one of Lillian Too’s books on Feng Shui. At night when we lock the doors, we place a broom against the front door. I haven’t the faintest idea what this means or what it is supposed to do.  

Surprisingly this “tip” had also been told to my wife by her grandmother. Of course, grandma did not learn this from Lillian, rather she must have followed her mother who in turn most probably learnt it from her mother.  

Also I have always loved those well kept aquariums with all the colourful fishes. Our attempts at rearing fishes have been miserable. Rather than giving up altogether, we opted for the climbing perch which is quite hardy and needs negligible maintenance. Apparently this ikan puyu or climbing perch, is also supposed to have some special powers in keeping “unwanted beings” away from our home. 

All I can say is that, by the Grace of the All Mighty, our house’s security system has worked, so far, at least!

Reducing EPF contributions – Is our Government doing the right thing?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Malaysian employees have a compulsory savings scheme, the Employees Provident Fund. Legislated under the Employees Provident Fund Act 1991, all Malaysian employers must contribute 12% of the monthly gross salary whilst the employee contributes 11%. The contribution is done monthly and the Employees Provident Fund invests these contributions and pays a dividend yearly to the employees’ accounts.

The percentage contributions have varied over time and so too have the dividend rates 

The EPF is the bedrock of retirement savings for most Malaysian employees. The more financially literate ones plan and prepare better, using other investment vehicles in addition to their EPF. The EPF also allows for withdrawals by contributors to invest in approved unit trusts. (If the units are sold before retirement age, the money goes back to the EPF account of the contributor). 

In November 08, the EPF announced that it was reducing the requirement for employees’ contributions to 8%. This is to be effective from January 09 – December 10 wages / salaries. The intention was to assist the contributors by increasing their disposable income and to help stimulate the economy.  

Much has been written in the Malaysian Press about the general inadequacy of retirement savings by the Malaysian public. The EPF itself has acknowledged that the average Malaysian uses up his EPF retirement savings within 3 years of withdrawal.  This move to reduce the contribution has been welcomed by many in the lower income groups. The very same group who would most probably best benefit from higher EPF savings. The objections have also been many. 

So why is the Government allowing this reduction? Is the Government showing its concern and trying to alleviate the economic suffering of the Malaysian public?  

I don’t know. Presently I don’t contribute to EPF, now that I am no longer a working stiff. Had I been so, I would have maintained the 11%, especially since the savings would have a great compounding effect. 

There must be Malaysians who welcome the additional 3% in their take home pay. I am not belittling them at all. I am just urging them to think a little deeper to see if there are expenses that they can eliminate rather than to reduce this savings.  I hope that the younger generation reflect upon the compounding effect of this 3% and just how much it would grow into should it remain in the fund for 10, 15 or 20 years. It might be better for them to trawl their expenses to see what could be eliminated.  

The EPF is supposed to be a champion for savings and not spending. The move to reduce the contribution certainly seems anti saving. The EPF has even made it easier for the reduction by asking those who want to remain at 11% to fill in forms to confirm their stand. At the very least, the EPF should have made it easier to retain the 11% and asked those who wanted the 8% to fill up the forms.  

I hope my daughters read this post and do the right thing! 

Should I get my book published?

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Last week, I wrote my first book review on this blog. It was on ‘Top Money Tips for Malaysians” written by fellow Malaysian blogger, KC Lau.  

The book is, I think, KC’s first in hard copy print, though he has earlier released e books, including a co-authored one titled “Secrets to Writing an EBook in Three Easy Steps”.  
Holding his book in my hands, I started to wonder if I could get my book published.  

I wrote my book in 2000 whilst I was in Ghana. I spent a fair amount of time on training my Ghanaian colleagues and the thought struck me that many of the lessons I was imparting had been learnt from experience. What if I put my experiences on paper - then my children, at least could learn a bit from my experience and not have to repeat the mistakes I had made or waste the time as I had.  

Having no literary slant, I just wrote the book as I would write anything else. I did spend some time figuring out a title and the best I could come up with was “WE WISH WE KNEW ALL THESE WHEN WE WERE TWENTY YEARS OLD”. 


Here it is. My first book in print!

I got the book printed by my cousin and distributed it to some of my friends as well as my colleagues in Ghana. For my children I made special hard cover editions as it was my hope that they would keep it for the rest of their lives and if possible write an updated one to pass on to their children.   

Unlike KC’s book, which has his original ideas and thoughts, my book is a collection of lessons learnt from my experiences including those from books I had read. I have also reflected on the story told me by quite a famous and accomplished Malaysian who wrote his life story. He got his story published, about 5,000 books and I think failed to sell much.  

Still, now that KC has shown the way the desire to be an author is growing stronger. Maybe I should update the book (after all it has been 8 years) with the lessons learnt since then and also include the journey my wife and I are taking to ensure that the kids learn from our mistakes.  The book is also a little slanted towards Islam. Perhaps I should do some research into the other great religions of the world and include the comparative verses where I quote from the Quran or the Sunnah.  

Well, as at now it is still just a feeling. Let us see how it goes. I am not making any firm plans on this….yet!      

Paying yourself first – my younger daughters’ views

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Way back in November 2007, I wrote that one of my goals for 2008 would be to teach my children the two most important personal finance lessons I had learnt.

These were:- 

a)    To pay ourselves first and

b)    To join or have a peer group that has pf as an agenda item. 

In February 08, I posted a review of my progress on achieving this  goal. Now that the year is drawing to a close, its time for another review. 

The easier one first - Goal (b).  

On this, I have yet to succeed. This lesson was aimed more for my two elder girls, both of whom graduated this year and have now started their careers.  

I really cannot influence the type of friends they would be making at this stage of their lives. Or the type of friends they already would have made.  So my plan was to encourage them to read the many fine PF blogs out there written by people not much older than them. Hence they should be able to relate to the lessons and guidance from these posts even though the authors may be non Malaysians. Hopefully through these blogs, they would be able to get to know some financially responsible friends   

Well, I suspect they don’t read the pf blogs as much or as often as I would want them to.  

My eldest girl, Along, the psychologist in the family, is quite withdrawn at home. She does not talk much and pretty much keeps her thoughts to herself. With her close friends, she talks excitedly and you can be forgiven if you think that she has two different personalities. My eldest brother says, she is exactly like what I was when I was her age.  

The second one, Azah, is more like her mother. She is more outspoken and talks freely about her thoughts, wishes and wants. She has talked to her friends about my blog and some of them do follow my blog. 

It is quite a challenge to figure out how my girls are reacting to this message from me.  I am sure they know that their Papa means well.  At least the both of them do read my blog (at least occassionally), so that’s a great positive.  

Goal (a) - Paying themselves first

 This lesson was to be imparted to all the children.

I think I have talked enough to my two elder girls on this. I shall, of course, continue to do so.  

The three younger children have allowances each. The boy, Abang (14) and Nana (13) receive monthly allowances. Ain (9) receives a weekly one. They all have to maintain accounts of their allowance and I review them each time they receive the next one. The first thing they have to do when they receive the money is to save 10% of it. 

I was not sure if they understood the lesson of paying themselves first. So I asked Nana and Ain if they understood why they had to save the 10% as soon as they got their allowance. They gave answers like, “so that we would not forget” and “so that we can save before the money is lost”. 

I told them a story as I had read in the Richest Man in Babylon. About how most people receive their wages or salaries and pay the shoemaker, the landlord, the dressmaker, etc., and then try to make do with what was left. Hence paying themselves last. 

I told my daughters that they should always pay themselves first, and only after paying themselves should they worry about paying the others. They nodded wisely and then went about doing whatever it was they were doing. Hmm….I have to find more stories.

I guess I can only give myself about 45% for 2008 achievement as far as this goal is concerned. I am continuing this goal into 2009 and as long as necessary. This is a very important goal for me.

Seeking bargains for everything – movies

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008


Bond in his latest outing. A lot of shooting and killing. I went to see this movie alone. 


We loved this movie about the scientist’s assistant who finally achieves his dreams of inventing the most diabolical invention ever. And then finding out that it is better to be a little good than being the best bad. Or something like that.

I remember getting the shock of my life when my wife, the 2 elder girls and I went to see a movie in Perth, Australia way back when we took our first overseas trip as a family. I could not believe my ears when the girl at the counter asked me for what I considered a fortune just to see a movie.  

Movies in Malaysia were cheap those days before the invasion by video cassettes, CD’s, DVD’s, internet downloads and cable TV. There were plenty of theatres all over town, some quite dingy looking. There were also matinee shows which were even cheaper.

These movie theatres died off and a new breed, the so called Cineplexes took their place. More upmarket, much smaller and grouped together, they offered a different kind of experience. And they came with a higher price for the tickets. 

We have a Cineplex not too far from our house where my two younger girls and I see movies once in a while. I did grumble (though only to myself actually, since the requests from the girls were not really that frequent) but the girls enjoy the movies and it’s a really great feeling to see your kids enjoying themselves. 

Until I mentioned this to my frugal but well living friend, KC Lim. He told me that I could get to see the movies at cheaper prices on Wednesdays. Like my eldest girl says, Duh! The same movie, the same Cineplex, the same experience, but at a 33% cheaper cost. 

It seems that Wednesday is the “cheap” day. This information is available at the Cineplex’s website, but who checks?

So I saw the Bond movie “Quantum of Solace” a couple of Wednesdays ago and last Wednesday, Nana, Ain and I saw “Igor”.  

Hmm, wonder what other bargains are out there and not being used by me yet?

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