This year, instead of writing about my New Year’s resolutions (that I suspect no one really cares about), I decided to do something different.
What could I write that would help my fellow Malaysians get a good start to 2017? I recalled my conversations with some of you late last year, where many of you were worried about the cost of living and making ends meet. It came up so often that I knew the first article of this year had to be about money.
I didn’t want to write it alone though. So over the past three weeks, I reached out to as many (legit) personal finance personalities as I could, and asked them a simple question:
“What’s your financial advice to Malaysians so they can do well in 2017?”
This is what I found out:
1. The CEO: Lee Ching Wei, Group CEO of iMoney
(iMoney is a Malaysian financial-comparison website, which also hosts a great personal finance Learning Center. Ching is the big boss of the whole thing.)
3 broad areas:
- Invest for the future.
- Be careful on expenses.
- Maximize benefits where you can.
1. On investment, it doesn’t have to be complicated or big. Start small, with products like Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) — which have low capital requirements but higher returns over the long term.
2. The cost of living is rising and unlikely to reduce next year. Try not to incur any additional fixed costs / commitments that aren’t necessary (e.g. more debt). Some sacrifices might be needed.
3. The 2016/17 Budget provided some opportunities / benefits around “lifestyle tax relief” e.g. becoming an Uber / Grab driver. Take the opportunity to maximize your “wealth” through these initiatives.
2. The Property Expert: Charles Tan, Founder of kopiandproperty.com
(Charles is a Malaysian property expert who writes at the beautiful kopiandproperty.com.)
In 2017, I would relook the stock market; and aim for one secondary property and one new target: potential startups. There are now more companies offering dividend yields which are at least 50 percent higher than Fixed Deposits. This includes some big names.
Buy and keep. The property market has seen both transactions and prices dropping. Negative market sentiments are positive signs for potential buyers as long as we do our due diligence. It’s time to get serious with comparisons, viewings and buying. Lastly, join equity crowd funding presentations. If you like an idea, invest in it. It may just FLY!
3. The Personal Finance Blogger: Suraya Zainudin, Founder of Ringgit Oh Ringgit
(Suraya is arguably the best new personal finance blogger in Malaysia right now. She writes at Ringgit Oh Ringgit.)
One-size-fits-all financial advice is hard to give, but if I had to provide one to Malaysians, hands down it would be: “Visit malls less.” (I’m referring to both online and offline malls here.)
Our retail spending is high, but according to the retail industry: not high enough. They try their best to entice you with promotions, creative marketing campaigns, and other goodies so you’ll spend more. Even if you’re diligent about your spending, you may cave in a few times. It’s OK if it’s money you can afford to spend, but not OK if you can’t afford it.
So, in order to resist the sales better, simply reduce your exposure to it. Out of sight, out of mind. 🙂
4. The Thinker: Chok Leong, Founder of chokleong.com
(Chok Leong shares his analytical mind and thoughts at chokleong.com. He primarily writes about investments, but shares other ideas too.)
Diversify in other currencies given the weak Ringgit. One year is too short a time-frame for a human life. Look longer term and we will all make more rational decisions by consequence.
Save more and invest. Short-term pain for long-term gain. Always believe that our best days lie ahead because there are lots of smart and hardworking people working day in and day out in the economic system making everyone’s life better — and therefore richer. Investing is one way to participate in the productive activity in the market.
5. The Financial Adviser: CF Lieu, CFP, Founder of howtofinancemoney.com
(CF Lieu, CFP is an independent financial adviser (IFA) licensed by the Securities Commission of Malaysia. His IFA means his advice is unbiased, which means he has no conflicts of interests, which means you should probably trust him.)
How to allocate your funds in 2017 amidst an ambiguous and uncertain market landscape?
(Aaron’s note: You know, because Donald Trump, unpredictable stock markets, and general uncertainty all over the world…)
There is one asset class which has consistently beaten all other asset classes for the past 15 years.
It weathered the Dot Com crash in the early 2000s, the 2008 financial crisis, the US Black Monday in 2011, and the China Stock Market crash in 2015.
In other words, it handles market volatility and ambiguity well.
I don’t know about you but here’s what I believe: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
And that is why Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are still my asset class of choice for now.
6. The KLSE Investor: CK, Founder of KLSE Malaysia Blog
(Ck5354 has been writing about the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, Financial Planning and Investment since 2009. He enjoys comparisons to get the best products, and is a father of 2 kids.)
Be prudent and optimize your money. 2017 will be another “everything increase” year. Money will be tight and we’ll be stressed. I strongly suggest doing a financial health check to know your current situation.
We need to save and invest so that money can work for us. Brace for the difficult times ahead by adapting your lifestyle. Frugality and grit are a must in 2017. Some suggestions:
- Use cash back credit cards wisely.
- Change your mobile phone provider to a cheaper one.
- Invest in REITs which give higher returns.
- Seek a financial planner’s help if you’re not good in finance.
- Invest in yourself by reading books and attending courses; be it share investment, unit trusts or property.
7. The Legend: KC Lau, Founder of KCLau.com
(I’ve been a fan of KC Lau‘s writing since a decade ago, when I was still in university. He’s a legendary pioneer in Malaysian personal finance.)
Most people start their new year with a resolution. So there will be a list of goals you want to achieve this year, be it having higher savings, making 15% more money, visiting Europe for three weeks, etc.
I like to think of long-term goals first before I break them down into annual resolutions; then further down to monthly targets, weekly activities and daily commitments. So in 2017 (or any other year), when you have your long-term goal in mind, every daily task you do should contribute to the big goal.
In actual fact though, most people fail in their New Year’s resolutions. The reason is — they don’t have a system to follow. Or they don’t set up a system that works.
So my advice for you to thrive in 2017 is to examine your current “system.” Are there any flaws you need to fix? For example, if your goal is to save 30% of the money you make, your system should be something like:
- Set up a savings account with your spouse; so he/she keeps you in check every beginning of the month — to make sure you save 30% of your income.
- Whenever your savings account reaches RM 5,000, inject it into your stock portfolio.
8. The Young Hotshot: Divvy, Founder of Dividend Magic
(Divvy is still under 30 years old, but already has a six-figure stock portfolio worth more than RM 300,000. He writes about stocks, dividends, and is fully transparent about his investment portfolio.)
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
To do well not only in 2017 but for the long road ahead, everyone should endeavor to get their financial affairs in order. Get a budget going, set your financial goals, and INVEST.
Especially to the youths of Malaysia: time is your biggest asset and you should start investing now to benefit from the magic of compound interest. Stay the course and do not let market fluctuations affect your decisions.
9. The KLSE Guru: KC Chong, Investor and Writer at I3investor
(If you’re the type that reads portals about the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, you’ll know who KC Chong is. He’s a legend around those parts. I reached out to him to get perspective from an older person who’s seen it all.)
Your best bet to do well in 2017 and beyond is to utilize the human capital in you. Focus in and advance your career. Build and extend your professional networks. Upgrade and improve your skills beyond your technical skill and profession. Read, Google and learn fervently.
Do not neglect your personal finance; and invest for long-term wealth building, using the right philosophy, proven processes and methodologies. Capitalize on the eighth wonder of the world: compounding. Be aware that if something appears too good to be true, it is.
10. The Voice: Julian Ng, Producer and Presenter of BFM 89.9’s Morning Run
(You probably don’t know what he looks like, but you’ve definitely heard his voice before. Sometimes I wish I could have Julian’s knowledge, his radio voice, and meet his cool guests. Other times, I check out his blog: The Very Long Run.)
My financial advice for 2017 is to look beyond 2017.
The sharp weakening of the Ringgit throughout the decades indicates that we have to move away from the mindset that home/Ringgit is best and think about how we can put our investments to work globally for the next few decades. The financial industry throws a lot of money into marketing short-term ideas like “What to invest in 2017?” and the idea that we need to buy into faith-based products.
This includes placing faith in the ability of fund managers, stockbrokers, financial-market gurus, get-rich-quick schemes, technical analyses, and fundamental analyses to achieve financial immortality. These faith-based products charge a small fortune for telling you to believe in miracles.
For those who aren’t billionaires and who don’t have private bankers, it’s time to think about how to get paid well from an active, fulfilling career and how to protect investments by investing passively for the long term — in low cost, market-indexed funds.
11. The Philosopher: CJ Ong, Columnist for Simply CJ, The Edge Malaysia Weekly
(CJ is a high-flying banker who also writes a financial column at The Edge Malaysia Weekly. I love the way she mixes sound financial advice with real-life examples.)
Retrenchments, rising costs, sinking Ringgit, languishing oil prices and political turmoil both domestically and abroad. If we thought 2016 was bad, the best we can hope for 2017 is that it doesn’t get any worse.
Without careful planning, your finances could resemble someone after a long night partying — disorientated with a couple of bad decisions thrown in before sinking into a sleeping mess — only to wake up realizing you feel even worse.
As any savvy partygoer will tell you, if you want to avoid the hangover of 2016, you need to:
- Stay hydrated with savings. It’s so much easier to spend, but you’re gonna need the savings more than ever.
- Buffer that hangover with a big, balanced meal of investments. Having food in your stomach slows the rate of alcohol absorption. Similarly, your investment portfolio should be buffering the negative impacts of inflation.
- That said, you need to watch what you’re consuming. Focus on risk, not returns. In doubt, do what you know best. Now is not the time for experimentation nor greed.
- Lastly, the myth that you can treat your hangover with more drinking is precisely that: a myth. For example, another loan doesn’t solve an existing loan. More of the same problem doesn’t create a solution. You might just have to quit partying altogether.
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Of course, sometimes when you only talk to a certain group of people — you end up getting blind spots. So to get a more balanced view, I decided to get some external help. Here’s additional advice from 3 of our friendly neighbors from Singapore.
12. The Friendly Neighbor: Kevin L, Founder of Turtle Investor
(Kevin L writes about index investing and personal finance at Turtle Investor.)
I would hardly call it advice, but my thoughts are rather simple, to be honest. Expect the unexpected, and learn to roll with the punches — not just for 2017, but for every single year. Expect changes, and be prepared to adapt accordingly.
Happy New Year!
13. The Rich Neighbor: Lionel Yeo, Founder of Cheerful Egg
(Lionel Yeo is a super-cool guy who helps young executives have richer lives — not just in terms of money. Find out his thoughts about living an awesome life at Cheerful Egg.)
Start a “coffee fund”: Set aside enough money for 3-4 coffee meetings a month and buy a Starbucks card. Once a week, pick someone — a colleague, a friend you’ve lost touch with, an expert — and take them out to coffee.
Use the excuse, “Hey, I have a Starbucks card that I really want to use. Do you wanna catch up for a quick coffee?” When you meet them, have fun, ask questions, and try to learn at least one useful thing from them. Before the year is over, it’ll pay off way more than any investing “hack.”
14. The Sensible Neighbor: Timothy Ho, Co-Founder & Managing Editor of DollarsAndSense.sg
(Timothy runs DollarsAndSense.sg, a personal finance website that aims to help people make better financial decisions. If you’ve run out of personal finance blogs to read in Malaysia, check out his website. I guarantee you’ll learn something new.)
Spend less, invest more. It’s really that simple. Most people fall short because they only spend less and save more. But you need to invest if you want to grow your wealth and beat inflation.
The other advice I have is to keep your transaction costs low. For most investors who do not have the knowledge nor time to beat the market, a low-cost index ETF would be a good place to get started on your investing journey in 2017.
With so many different ideas from a wide range of experts, I hope you’ve had some things to think about. In case you’re feeling overwhelmed though, here’s a summary of some common points I could find. I guess you could call it my takeaway for 2017:
- The Assets of Choice: REITs and ETFs. Low-cost investing.
- The Word of Caution: It’s going to be a rough 2017; be prepared for change. Be adaptable.
- The Evergreen Advice: Reduce Expenses, Save, and Invest for the future: both in terms of yourself, and financial investments.
Personally, I’ll be looking to get into REITs, as well as trying to generate a sustainable second source of income. It looks like uncertain economic times are upon us — but rough seas make good sailors right? Hang on tight.
I’d like to say a big Thank You to all the experts who shared their thoughts. If you’d like to show your appreciation, please take a moment to visit their websites and send them some Internet love?
Happy New Year 2017. I wish you great financial success, and an even richer life beyond that.
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