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Zen Lessons for Investing Wisely

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What is “zen personal finance”? Is it a new-age thing? Is it a type of meditation? Is it a new way of looking at our personal finances?

It might be none of those things, or it might be all of those things and more!

Now that I’ve been out on my own for a while, I’ve had some more time to think and reflect on what I want out of life, and on what personal finance means to me. This post reflects my own personal thoughts and approach, and reflects some of the lessons that I’ve learned over time.

What does it mean to “invest it wisely”?


When I first started writing, I was originally interested in learning more about the technical and investment side of finance; the sort of stuff that a CFA might be interested in. I had done well in finance in school, I enjoyed having some of these discussions with my good friend Mich @ Beating The Index, and I was a little bored with my job as a software developer at the time.

Over time, I tried to whet my appetite for learning more about the intricacies of investing in options and futures, or analyzing the balance sheets of a company, but I wasn’t able to do it. There was always a question in the back of my mind, and it was asking me “What does this do for me?” Technical knowledge on its own wasn’t going to put me on the road toward financial independence, or increase my happiness in life.

It turns out that there were some serious questions that I needed to address, long before I worried about the small details. How was I going to reduce my debt and increase my savings? How was I going to advance in my career and move toward financial independence? How was I going to move toward self-actualization?

I now believe that the most important investments we make in our lives are those that we make in ourselves. Before we can move toward self-actualization, we need to be fulfilling our life purpose. We need to be happy in our station in life. Moving toward financial independence isn’t just about money: it also means being secure in one’s own beliefs and being in an internal state of peace. We can take important steps, such as ensuring that we reduce our investment costs by investing in index funds, and lowering our debt load by not buying more house than we can afford, but these are all ancillary to the true goal: mental satisfaction and contentment with oneself and the world.

We are all born with a given amount of mental and physical capacity, and everything that we achieve in this world is achieved through the focal point of our mind and body. Our minds can become a trap, imprisoning ourselves inside of an inpenetrable fortress; our minds can also be the greatest enabler of our highest aspirations and dreams. Our minds are the ultimate resource, and we must learn to invest this resource wisely.

Why do we sometimes feel jealousy, envy, and greed?

Some of the main sources of the unease we feel can be traced to the primal emotions of jealousy, envy, and greed. Underpinning these emotions is often a base feeling of fear: fear that we’re not keeping up with our colleagues, fear that we won’t have enough saved for retirement, and fear that we won’t live life as fully as we want to.

I believe that it’s perfectly normal and healthy to feel some amount of jealousy, envy, and greed.  We are social animals, and we evolved in an environment where these emotions could have increased our chances of survival. In today’s world, these emotions don’t necessarily make as much sense. I grew up in a fatherless home with a mother who remarried, had another child, and pushed me out of her life. I spent much of my life being angry at the world.  For the longest time in my life, I was held back greatly by my own personal feelings of envy for others and the lives they lived, and fear that I couldn’t achieve the same. Why did they have good homes? Why did they have normal parents? Why were they wealthier? How come they didn’t have money problems? The world had wronged me, and it wasn’t fair!

I now believe that as humans, we can overcome any adversity. One of the main reasons that I was so unhappy was because of all of the unease I was creating for myself! A little bit of envy was good to motivate myself to change things, but letting myself be overcome by these emotions was becoming destructive. There is beauty in the world, but we must choose to see it. If we don’t see it, then we can’t achieve self-actualization; our minds will always be hungry and starving for more. How can we achieve anything in our lives if we can’t see past our own noses?

The four noble truths

There’s a concept in Buddhism known as the “Four Noble Truths“; I believe that we can learn a lot from these truths by applying the concepts to our own lives. I’ve written my paraphrase of the truths below; however, to learn more, I recommend going straight to the source.

  1. The noble truth of uneasiness: Life is filled with uneasiness from the moment we’re born. Many things in life cause uneasiness, and we don’t always get what we want.
  2. The noble truth of the source of uneasiness: We have desires, beginning with the sensual desires and pleasures, and moving up to self-actualization and contentment. We all want some degree of freedom, security, fortune, power, and success. There’s always something to go after.
  3. The noble truth of the cessation of uneasiness: It is the relinquishing of our uneasiness, and of achieving freedom from it.
  4. The noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of uneasiness: As humans, we are always acting toward reducing and eliminating the uneasiness with our lives. Some ways of acting will be more successful than others. The Noble Eightfold Path is about acting with the right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

I really believe that it comes down to that: how can we act to reduce the uneasiness in our lives? Isn’t that what financial freedom, paying down debt, and saving money is all about? The money is just a means to an end.

We can all take small, incremental actions, such as reducing the fees we pay on our investments, and eliminating high-interest debt such as a rolling credit-card balance. However, we must change the way in which we operate internally so that we can move toward reducing the unease that we feel, and move closer to that state of pure contentment. If we are always creating unease for ourselves by entering into debt to buy a bigger home than we can afford, or if we are feeling unease because someone is “luckier” than we are, richer, more attractive, and what have you, we are going to make ourselves miserable. We are doing it to ourselves.

With every action that we take, we can ask ourselves: “Does this maximize my long-term happiness and satisfaction?” Since other people are usually more willing to be nice to you if you’re nice to them, first, this is a path that leads to greater social cooperation and harmony. Since we’re focusing on the impact on our overall lives, we avoid falling into the trap of living only for the present, or worse, living only for the future when we might give up all that we can enjoy in the present, and we might even be too old to enjoy our savings.

Through the power of our minds and by following the right path, we really can overcome adversity and move closer toward happiness and peace.

Follow your own path

I haven’t always been successful at practicing what I believe in, and I won’t pretend that I’m any wiser than anyone else or even that my way is better than anyone else’s. In fact, I see this as a continuous learning experience.

Everyone has to find their own path, but I hope we can take the journey together. Your goals and dreams belong to you, and nobody can ever take them away from you.

_____

About The Author

This article was written and produced by Kevin of Invest Wisely, a fantastic resource dedicated to educating the common investor. see more.

Callum Connects

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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