Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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National Service Camps for Malaysian youngsters – my family’s experience

Friday, April 10th, 2009


This is a picture I took from Az’s website from her collection of her PLKN photos. (Hope you don’t mind…Az.) I was not really into photos when my daughter attended the camp.

 The uniforms give them a sense of solidarity and purpose.

National Service or Program Latihan Khidmat Negara was started in 2003 with the objectives :- 

-         Of instilling and strengthening the spirit of patriotism,

-         Promoting racial integration and unity,

-         Instilling positive attitudes by the absorption of good moral values,

-         Nurturing the spirit of volunteerism,

-         Creating a generation of young who are active, clever and self confident. 

Quite noble aims, I am sure you will all agree. Since the program is over a period of only 3 months, I suppose they’ll just be able to lay some foundations. Still it’s much better than nothing. 

The children are selected via some computer program from a database of children born in a particular year. They are then allocated training camps where they have report on a particular date. Those who have been allocated camps far away, are directed to meet at a pick up point for transport. 

(This NS cannot really be compared to a draft, where the youngsters are treated as recruits for the armed forces. The Singapore Government, for example, has a program where all 18 year olds get conscripted for a 2 year program with the Singapore Police, Civil Defence or Armed Forces.)

My eldest girl was just about 17 when the NS was announced. My wife told me that she was so looking forward to being selected for the course. (I was working in India at that time.) Unfortunately for her the computers did not pick her name. 

Azah, my second girl was totally against the National Service. When the announcements were made, she was all about hoping not to be selected. As Murphy’s Law would have it, her name came up. Azah was so nervous and even tried to get her mother to try to get her name off the list. Well, this did not happen. 

Finally the day to report drew close. The whole family drove down to the camp area to scout out the place. Incidentally that was about the first time my family had ever been to Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, about 30 kilometres from where we lived. (I never would have guessed that this would be where we would end up buying a piece of land for our rubber smallholding.)

On the day the kids were supposed to report, I drove Azah (and a friend of hers) to the camp. It was like a carnival, anxious parents giving last minute instructions and advice, the camp administrators running hither and thither etc. Azah was very nervous and I must admit, so was I. Finally, I like the other parents had to leave our (little) children there and get back home.


This was the mental picture I had of my daughter as I left her at the camp. Yes, I realise the photo is about 18 years old, but then I am a parent!. Maybe that should explain everything…..hehe 

We brought her back twice during the program for the Chinese New Year and the Christmas / New Year holidays. By then she had adapted to the environment and was enjoying herself quite a bit. 

The experience for her was good. All the nervousness was gone and she came back a more confident and responsible young lady. She also made some good friends with whom she still keeps in touch. 

For our family, this first experience with PLKN was excellent. We have another 3 young children who are waiting in the wings. Our son should be in the database pool in 2011/12. This time, our family will be hoping that he gets chosen.  

Hopefully by then, a well tried and tested personal finance module would also be in place for the trainees.  

Read about the personal PLKN experiences of other young Malaysians here. 

- CandyGurl  

- John Diew  

- DJRay 

- Az (she has some great shots of her experiences.) 

My two elder girls’ net worth computations as at the end of 2008. Now it’s all up to them.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Recently I read a fascinating article on a 25 year old lady’s thoughts on where her net worth would be without her parents’ help.  With this present entitlement generation made up largely of “the gimme, gimme, gimme types”, the article was a refreshing read. I was pleased that the lady deeply appreciated the efforts made by her parents to give her a head start. 

I am a father of five children, 4 girls and a boy. Like so many parents out there, my wife and I, too, want to give our children a far better life than the one we started off with and are going through. Still there was always a lingering fear that the children might just fritter away whatever little we gave and keep on stretching their hands out for more.  

Well, by the grace of the All Mighty, it looks like my two elder girls have their heads screwed on right. My wife and I have never had any problems with the girls coming back with requests for the “expensive, everybody has it!!! kind of thingamajig”. We have recently completed the net worth calculations for my two elder girls. Their first. (I have also done mine, which is essentially the family’s. But that is another story.) Their net worth is not going to put them up in any Forbes list. Still, the fact that their net worth is positive should put them ahead of many of their peers. 

I know that my girls read this blog fairly frequently, or at least I think so. Perhaps these  statistics will let them know where they stand. 

As per EPF 2007 Report, page 101 

As at the end of 2007, the average savings of a Malaysian male employee at age 54, was RM138,895, whilst the average for the ladies was RM84,596. My girls should be able to compare their net worth and see how they stack up against Mat Average and Minah Average. 

And these are the savings statistics for Americans when they reach retirement age.  

My wife and I have no intention of gloating or to tell our two elder girls that we have made supreme sacrifices so that they could start off their lives in a favourable position. We do not want our girls to feel guilty in any way. Where there are now financially is also a function of their relatively reasonable childhood. And after all, no one will ever love them like their Mama and Papa.  

Now it’s all up to them.  

They can live responsibly and frugally and follow the rules that FMF has listed on how to become a millionaire. And grow their net worths steadily. And grow up to be respectful and respected members of the community we live in.  

That’s all my wife and I want of our kids.   

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – The Final Part

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008


A 5S poster hanging in our goat farm. (We have 6 of these all over the farm). We got the posters from the Malaysian National Productivity Corporation, a Malaysian Government body first set up with the help of the UN and which lists amongst its objectives ”the promotion and dissemination of productivity related information and issues”.

Note that the poster is in Bahasa Malaysia, and the MPC has also used suitable words to maintain the 5S acronym.  

Continuing our series on 5 “S”….. as consistent practice and application of the Japanese “5 S” Methodology helps to form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.   Seiri – the first “S” 

Seiton – the second “S” 

Seiso – the third “S” and the fourth “S”, i.e. Seiketsu. 

The fifth and final “S” in the chain is:


“Shitsuke, means ‘Discipline.’ It denotes commitment to maintain orderliness and to practice the first 4 S as a way of life.  The emphasis of shitsuke is elimination of bad habits and constant practice of good ones.  Once true shitsuke is achieved, personnel voluntarily observe cleanliness and orderliness at all times, without having to be reminded by management.”

Once the 4 S are ingrained in us, the 5th “S” calls for us to make a commitment, implement the rules and make the practice of 5 S an ingrained habit.

Probably many of us are actually practicing the tenets of 5 S, based on what we have seen elsewhere, without actually realising. Some simple examples of 5 S in daily life are given by Dr. Chao-Hsien Chu of  Pennsylvania State University, USA. 

We have instituted the practice of 5 S in our goat farm. I am confident that consistent application and practice of these simple words of wisdom can only be of benefit to us.


A place for every broom and a broom for every place. 

Photo Credits: Zai, my partner at the goat farm

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – Part 4

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Continuing our series on 5 S….. as consistent practice and application of the Japanese “5 S” Methodology helps to form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.  We have already covered:-


- SEITON  and


The fourth of the “5 S” is SEIKETSU or STANDARDIZE.

The word “standardize” has many meanings. I follow the version that refers to having standards for every process that we do in the office, home or for ourselves.

Examples may be that all supplier files are red. All keys are in duplicated in 3 sets, one for use by the person, 1 set with Administration Department, and the last set as a final back up with someone else. Uniforms are another form of standards. All dangerous liquids being marked with a standard logo that does not allow for any mistaking it for Sprite.   Color coding, etc.

Whilst this step does not allow for much improvisation or so called individualism, it allows for very easy understanding of work functions if people have to be shifted around or if people leave.

(Improvisation and improvement is more than adequately allowed for in other parts of Kaizen. Still for Kaizen to truly grow and flourish, all players should have their 5 S well mastered.)

Imagine an organization, much like the colonies of bees or ants. Each member knows exactly what to do, when and how. All according to the standards that exist for the colonies. And many are the praises of efficiency these colonies get.

In the home, this standardization can be extended to storage of items, (including filing of documentation), buying and storing of food stuff. Having standards will help us track down abnormalities in food packaging (stuff that the marketing guys do to “fool us”. Get Rich Slowly wrote an excellent post on this.) 

Perhaps some of the preachers of better living may say that variety is the spice of life. Thus looking down at process like SEIKETSU.  Take a different route to work everyday, try a different type of food, etc.  

I think there is a place in life for both of these kinds of thinking. Some processes which are repetitive in nature may flourish based on 5 S, whiles others may be better looked at from the variety point of view. 

We just have to make our individual choices.      

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – Part 3

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Continuing our series on 5 S….. as consistent practice and application of the 5 S Methodology helps to form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.  

We have already covered SEIRI and SEITON.

Let’s now look at the 3rd S, SEISO, as quoted from SiliconFarEast.com

SEISO, the third step in “5S”, says that ‘everyone is a janitor.’  SEISO consists of cleaning up the workplace and giving it a ’shine’.  Cleaning must be done by everyone in the organization, from operators to managers. It would be a good idea to have every area of the workplace assigned to a person or group of persons for cleaning. No area should be left uncleaned. Everyone should see the ‘workplace’ through the eyes of a visitor - always thinking if it is clean enough to make a good impression.

This is so self explanatory, don’t you think?.

We should look at everything and everyplace from the view point of a visitor. Is the place clean enough? Can the place be cleaner?

I think no one can possibly dispute the benefits of having a clean environment. Be it workplace, the home or the community. Rather than letting the place go all year around, and then having one massive clean up every once in a while, SEISO calls for continuous cleanliness.

A little cleaning a day, made even littler since it is done by everyone, would make even the fabled Aegean stables as clean as a whistle.

Malaysians are notorious for not maintaining their environments. We do have some redeeming features though. The famous Gotong Royong, where everyone pitches in to participate in a community activity, which is understandably more often than not a community clean up.            


A community clean up operation in progress…Indonesia. (Image credit: Google) 

Cleanliness is next to Godliness….it has been said…..very wisely I think.

Let us practice SEISO everyday, and do our part in keeping our homes, workplaces, ourselves and our environments clean.

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – Part 2

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008


What do you want your life to look like…organized or diorganized?

Picture Credits: Google Images 

Last week we talked about “SEIRI”, the 1st “S” of the 5S methodology that forms the cornerstone of Japanese manufacturing practices. 

Consistent practice and application of the 5 S Methodology helps to form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.  

Today let’s look at the 2nd “S”. 

As quoted from SiliconFarEast.com


Seiton, or orderliness, is all about efficiency.  This step consists of putting everything in an assigned place so that it can be accessed or retrieved quickly, as well as returned to that same place after use.  If everyone has quick access to an item or materials, work flow becomes efficient, and the worker becomes productive. 

The correct place, position, or holder for every tool, item, or material must be chosen carefully in relation to how the work will be performed and who will use them.  Every single item must be allocated its own place for safekeeping, and each location must be labeled for easy identification of what it’s for.  

All of us must have at one time another seen some workshop, where more time is spent in looking for tools or parts than actually doing the service.  Examples may be motor workshops with wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers strewn all over the workshop floor. The mechanic will be spending time looking for spanners and pliers amongst a disorganized pile of tools. 

Other examples may be we ourselves spending time looking for car keys, remote controls, the fever medicine that we are sure we have, etc. 

Time wasting and unproductive activities done only because we did not store or keep them in their assigned places.                        

It is clear SEITON has its place in our daily lives, in our workplaces and our homes. 

The more established blogs have written about the usefulness of organization in our lives. I don’t think I can do better, so I am providing the links. 

a) Clever Dude’s guest post on Five Cent Nickel on organizing one aspect, i.e. tax records, 

b) Get Rich Slowly talks about how keeping everything in its place helps in organizing our finances, 

c) Dumb Little Man’s excellent write up on the 7 secrets of the super organized and

d) The Simple Dollar’s take on the value of getting organized. 

Make an attempt to be organized.  

Keeping everything back in its rightful place after use is a step that we should practice as a matter of course.  

This is SEITON at its best.

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – Part 1

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

An organaized work place - A Teppanyaki chef at work

Jeff at the Supercharged Life said it best….A better life requires continual commitment.  A commitment to relentless series of small and incremental improvements in all facets of our life. Occasionally we may hit a dramatic leap forward, but the cornerstone has to be our ability and commitment to improve slowly and steadily. 

Jeff also mentioned Kaizen, the Japanese art of continuous improvement. The Japanese, in their wisdom, have created a methodology which if learned and applied will help us achieve this continual improvement. The whole concept of Kaizen may be a little complicated, but there is one aspect of Japanese manufacturing methods which can be quite easily understood and applied.  

The 5 S Methodologies. This will help form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.  

SiliconFarEast.com, a comprehensive online resource for semiconductor manufacturing has this to say about 5 S. As their write up is simple and easily understood, I’ll quote them here. 


The 5S Process, or simply “5S”, is a structured program to systematically achieve total organization, cleanliness, and standardization in the workplace.  

A well-organized workplace results in a safer, more efficient, and more productive operation.  It boosts the morale of the workers, promoting a sense of pride in their work and ownership of their responsibilities.      

“5S” stands for five (5) Japanese words that start with the letter ‘S’: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.   


The first step of the “5S” process, Seiri, refers to the act of throwing away all unwanted, unnecessary, and unrelated materials in the workplace.  People involved in Seiri must not feel sorry about having to throw away things. The idea is to ensure that everything left in the workplace is related to work. Even the number of necessary items in the workplace must be kept to its absolute minimum.

Because of Seiri, simplification of tasks, effective use of space, and careful purchase of items follow.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Unquote  

This is the process of no mercy decluttering. Anything that is not needed is kept or thrown away. This frees the worker from having to spend time on unnecessary actions or steps in sieving through tools etc. to find the one needed.  


Can this workplace be more organized. Perhaps, perhaps not. 

This process can be done for the home or on ourselves. Much has been written about the advantages of decluttering our homes. Blog posts with tips on decluttering as well as the joys of a decluttered environment are many. You can have a look at:- 

- The Closet Entrepreneur’s 4 part series on this. (Some of the parts are still on the way.) 

- Tipnut’s 10 tips on mastering a messy home. 

Blunt Money’s one in – three out theory that works for him. 

- Clutter is alleged to breed negativity and low self esteem. 

On a personal level, we can also practice SEIRI. 

 I am sure; we have seen people or even personally experienced looking for something or another by checking each of the 20 or so pockets all over our pants and shirts. Not only is this time wasting but irritates the people who are all standing in line behind us. For example at immigration or ticketing counters. It’s all a function of having too many pockets.  

I cringe when I see people carrying 2 cell phones and answering the wrong one. Or too many credit cards, or too many store cards or handbags full of all kind of things including forks and spoons. Or two handbags!  

There are also many blog posts on how decluttering can help us at the personal level.  

- Read how decluttering even helps in promoting our career. 

In following posts, we shall look at the remaining four of the five “S”.

Though I have yet to sit down and formally talk about 5 S to my children, I have yelled 5 S, 5 S often enough while they are looking for something or another. My kids already know that 5 S is some system or method. I now have to take steps to make this a formal internal system in our household.    

Images Credit: From Google

Mind Mapping my way to retirement – Part 2

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Last week, I wrote about my present position vis-a vis my aims for retirement.  

Today, I shall show my idea of where I want to be when I retire and my intended action plan to get to where I want to go.


And the map above is the position I want to find myself in when I retire.    

With this, I sat down to think about where should I focus? The important areas are:- 

a)    The elder children’s personal finance education. My wife and I want to try and make sure that the elder two girls are financially literate and that they would not be a financial pain in anybody’s necks. They should be able to take care of themselves and be a sterling example to their younger siblings. As the formal education sector does little to prepare children for life, my wife and I have to do our part.

Thankfully, I have tons and tons of resources from the pf blogs on this.  

b)    The younger children’s education should be the biggest costs that we expect to face in the future. Their studies should be nurtured so that their grades are good enough to qualify for good scholarships.  

Not withstanding the support given by many commentators to Mighty Bargain Hunter’s “Worried about paying for college, then don’t”, my wife and I rate our kid’s education as our duty. 

We shall do what we can, in fact all we can, to ensure that the children get a better chance in life than we got.  

I also hear Flexo’s comments whilst debunking yet other retirement myth. That children cannot be 100% depended upon to support the parents in retirement. 

My wife and I just want to pay it forward. We are not expecting anything from the kids, anyway.  

c)     Health. This is an item that is “so, so important, but not urgent”. So it is usually left somewhere at the bottom of the pile. Exercise is one item that is left out when other so called more urgent things crop up. We shall focus on exercising and learning Chi Qong. This is an ancient Chinese art, geared towards guiding its users to gain tranquility, better health, fitness and also some self defense. 

d)    Take the businesses from the incubator level, nurture them and organize them such that my time involvement will be minimal. This has to be something like a 2 – 5 year plan, but should be started now.  The goat farm is in progress. The planned launch is in July 08, the critical outstanding issue being the bringing in of our farm workers.  

Another business is in the field of the leasing of telecommunication towers in Indonesia. This plan suffered a setback when the Indonesian Government issued a decree deeming this business to be closed to foreigners. However, we have come up with a workable alternative and are actively pursuing this now. 

e)    Clear my liabilities, leaving only the mortgage. Tackle the mortgage last. My family can achieve this by selling off one of our assets. This plan is currently in progress. 

f)     Nurture and grow this blog. I am not making any money from this blog. However blogging has made me really focus on the important areas of my life.

g)    Generating some passive income. I may have missed the boat in socking away some good dividend paying stocks in earlier years. It’s my loss that I did not run into people like Dividends 4 Life when I was much younger. 

I have to use all the skills I have acquired in my corporate life and put them into effect to systemize the operations of the businesses I am incubating. Much like what Michael Gerber has written in his book, E-Myth. The operations should be “engineered” in such a way that my time involvement would be minimal.  

Then I came back to the other rule of thumb that I read from Plonkee’s comment to Flexo’s post that started off all this thinking. The need for us to have about 25 years of spending money during retirement. 

The options are quite clear. Either  

-    Increase my income and get the 25 years nest egg, or 

-    Decrease my expenses. 

I shall keep working on these two very sensible things to do.  Nevertheless, the focus would be on the second option.  

Now I have a nest egg of $X. This should grow to say, $Y, by the time I retire. This should have to last me say, 25 years. So per year I can spend $Y/25. 

Where can I have a life that I want with this amount? Aha! More options fall on the table.  

I can move to the country side in my own country. We already live well away from the Federal Capital. I can still go further rural. Or I can check out other countries.

Countries, where culture, food, transportation, housing, health facilities, education for the younger children and other normal barometers of living are acceptable to my family and me. This I can do now, the checking out I mean. India (where I have worked for 3 years and still have family there), Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines are countries that come to mind. 

Suddenly the prospect of retiring as a semi derelict is no more seen as a possibility. 

Life seems to be so much rosier, the sun so much brighter, the birds singing so much sweeter and I do feel a bouncier step as I walk. 

Why not try a mind map yourself?

Mind Mapping my way to retirement – Part 1

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

A while ago, Flexo wrote in his blog a story titled, “Retirement Income Rule of Thumb Debunked.” In it, he quoted a mysterious Mole of Money Magazine, who came up with the assertion that we should estimate our full current expenses now and add 10% to that. Then we have to come up with that amount for each of our retirement years. 

This effectively debunked the previously held wisdom of needing 80% of our pre-retirement income per year of retirement.

This post was actively debated in the comments. And in her comment, Plonkee added in another rule of thumb that she was aware of. We should have about 25 times our estimated yearly expenses. (This rule was not debunked by anyone, not in the thread anyway).  

Man, is this depressing or what? 

We have rules of thumb that say, the maximum house we should go for is 1.5 - 5 times our yearly income, and another rule of thumb that says the biggest purchase of our lives would usually be the house. 

How on earth do we get 25 times of our yearly income, sorry, 25 times of 110% of our yearly income as our retirement nest egg? This is 5 – 17 times our biggest purchase.

I can hear people telling me…..Yeah! That’s why we asked you to start saving early and let the power of compunding work for you. 

Well, unfortunately, I did not hear clearly enough these wise words earlier.  

I sat back and asked myself exactly where would I stand, given all these rules of thumb. I have the fear that I may not achieve this retirement rule of thumb.

So what would be my downside, and if I were to plan to do my best and start now, where should I direct most of my energies.  

A post I read in Problogger gave me an idea of how to do this evaluation. Giving ideas on how to excite the minds of new bloggers to come up with ideas on posts, he suggested the using of mind maps.

So I drew a simple mind map of my current position.   


So, this is where I stand now.  For the next post, I shall look at where I want to be and how and what are my thoughts on what should I do to best bridge the gaps.

Applying Kaizen, the Japanese science of continual improvement in our daily lives

Monday, May 5th, 2008


Cameron wrote an excellent article on the American industrial system being “unfriendly” to continuous improvement and hence losing their leadership role. He mentioned Kaizen, the Japanese science of continuous improvement as one of the main keys that allowed the Japanese to take leadership.   

I am no expert at Kaizen, but I absolutely love the concept and the clear and simple process by which continuous improvement can and is being achieved. 

Kaizen is not a system where someone puts an idea in a suggestion in a box and the box is opened after 6 months. It’s more of a continuously ongoing carnival within the organisation. A massive living and breathing machine that comes out of ‘000’s of improvements every year, year in and year out. 

The book, Kaizen: The key to Japan’s Competitive Success gives some of the art and science of Kaizen as it is applied and practiced in the very biggest of Japanese firms.

You have to read the book to appreciate the number, type and quality of the suggestions thrown out by the system. We are talking in millions here! The prize money given is sufficient to help workers fully furnish their homes! It’s incremental improvement, little by little, step by step.

Kaizen is part of Total Quality Management (TQM), a concept, ironically, first mooted by an American, W. Edwards Deming who is also considered the father of modern quality management.  Reading Cameron’s article, something sparked in my mind.

Why can’t we apply the principles of TQM in our lives? And in our personal finances? Or are we already applying it sub consciously? 

The five pillars of TQM are:-

  • Management Commitment

Yep, my wife and I are fully committed to improving our lives. For us, our children and our extended families.

  • Employee Empowerment

If we take the family members, including all our children, as “employees of the family organisation”…..I have to say that we are empowered.

  • Fact Based Decision Making

This can be simplified at the family level. We don’t need statistical stuff. But things like the Pareto Principle and Cause and Effect Diagrams have to understood by all the family members, aka employees.

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Customer Focus

Some of the issues to be improved upon may have to be an adult issue, though children sometimes can shock us with their insight.

 This page from Mind Tools shows how to use Pareto Analysis to select the biggest issue that we should try to solve or the biggest expense that we should try to reduce.

And this page shows how we can use Cause and Effect Diagrams to help us to think through causes of a problem thoroughly. The C & E diagrams guide us to consider all possible causes of the problem.

See how Pinyo demonstrates the use of the Pareto Principle to improve personal finance.

Can we use these methods to try to reduce our commute costs, our grocery costs, our mortgage bills, increase our online income……….….or whatever?

I have not applied these rules in a formal manner at home. I have just used my own analyses and ran them with my wife before implementing some of those “frugalizing” steps that we have taken.

Now with rising costs of food that affects every single family member, maybe TQM Family Style’s time has come.

I humbly thank Shaefer’s Blog for the inspiration for this post. 

Picture Credit: Google Images

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