Today marks the end of the 6th week of the Singapore Circuit Breaker measures. 2 more weeks to go. Hurray?
Generally, I have been well. My work is considered “essential”, so it is business-as-usual but unusual that I have to do all my work at home with the kids around. Thankfully I put together work-from-home policies last year which came in really handy.
It’s hard to say how it would be like returning to work. I haven’t stepped out of the house in the entire week: I did not leave my condo residential compound except for Wednesday evening when I got a haircut at the barber within my condo. I do not consider that actually going “out”. The last time I left the condo was last week to drop a cheque and buy some Old Chang Kee.
When I got this tiny 2 room condo, I had never thought to have to be staying at home 24/7 with 5 persons (2 parents, 2 kids, 1 helper). Before this whole lockdown I’ve always left the house on a daily basis – obviously for work on weekdays, but also to have meals, go shopping, go to a park, etc. or to go to my parents’ on weekends. I know it’s a squeeze with 5 people in a tiny ~900sqft apartment, but seriously you could get used to it.
I do wonder if I should have gotten a larger apartment, or maybe I should go back to a bigger and cheaper HDB. Without the pandemic, I would have probably “upgraded” in a few years. But this pandemic turns out to be a very, very valuable financial lesson.
Set up a safety net
When I bought my condo, I set up a safety net by ensuring that my CPF savings are increasing as long as I remain employed. I do this by paying as much of my mortgage as possible in cash – around 70% of it. The reason why I picked CPF as a safety buffer is because the interest rates are good and requires zero management skill/knowledge/time. The plan is to switch 100% of my mortgage payments to CPF if I ever lose my job. Having this safety net was a relief for me, because I still worry about what the next 1 year would be like.
Cash is king
Often I get friends asking if they should make a lump-sum repayment of their properties: I always advocate keeping more cash as our interest rates have been very low, so there is no real benefit in paying down a property. You could gradually pay it down if you have serious excess of cash, but never empty your savings simply to be debt-free. Leverage is not a bad thing if you know how to use it. This pandemic will make it even more obvious why you should keep cash – not just to pay your mortgage, but to pay for everything else.
Diversify, diversify, diversify
I have failed miserably to diversify my investments. I’ve always been mocking people who buy gold, but look who’s laughing now? Most of my investments are in equities, and we all know where STI has gone over the past two months.
However, I fared a bit better in terms of business / income. I always believe that one should never ever rely on one single source of income. Establishing a separate source of income – however tiny may be, can be a life saver.
Patience and history lessons are important
When stocks started to fall, I was buying into the market thinking I could average down the prices of my counters. I was initially confident of a quick recovery (this was before the circuit breaker) but now that looks like a bad move; I should have taken a page or two from history books and read up on the Spanish Flu.
Now, I think the stock market will fall further as (a) the whole world is affected and will take a while to recover and (b) there will likely be a second or even third wave of infections.
Stay healthy and safe.