I came across a few questions by young adults or army boys who wanted to start learning about building wealth or investing but were not sure how to start.
So I thought I will write a short operating system to point you in the right direction.
1. Endow yourself with deeper financial knowledge so you will make fewer mistakes and build strong financial foundations.
If we do not know what we are doing, we are going to lose some money or what others call “paying tuition fees”.
When you start your investing and wealth-building journey, you do not know much and your job is to know enough so that you don’t harm yourself in a financial way over time.
Too often, I observe most would prefer to learn by doing, opening the accounts and getting invested first.
Then, they will lose money, don’t know how to make sense of why they lose money, and whether this is a big deal or not. Some of the more unlucky ones will make a lot of money.
If not they will ask: “I invested x months in Syfe or Stashaway but now is negative, what should I do?”
Or “Should I have ICLN in my portfolio because Clean Energy is the future?”
Without some idea about a proper investment framework, you will make the wrong conclusions when you do well or poorly.
Sooner or later you will have more question marks than conviction in how to invest.
I used to recommend you to watch some YouTube videos or read some articles. These resources are free and some are rather entertaining.
But I realize that these resources seldom go deep enough to cover an investing topic deep enough so that someone will see the full picture.
At the end of the day, a good way to understand an investment topic better is either to go for a course or read a book.
Here are some books recommended on the /r/singaporefi subreddit:
- The Bogleheads Guide to Investing
- A Random Walk Down Wall Street
- The Four Pillars of Investing
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing
- Millionaire Teacher — Suggestion – Ignore Rule 9 regarding individual stock picking.
- The Intelligent Investor — Caution – Embark on individual stock ownership at your own risk.
- The Simple Path to Wealth
These are links to the National Library Overdrive app so you can read it for free.
If you do not know why you need to invest, I suggest reading The Simple Path to Wealth and Millionaire Teacher first.
With these books, you will understand why many recommend you to:
- Open an Interactive Brokers account
- Fund the account
- Invest all your money in VWRA (the ticker for Vanguard FTSE All-World UCITS ETF) or SWDA + EIMI
- Rinse and repeat
Or to invest in the core portfolios of Endowus or MoneyOwl.
If you can, read all of these books.
These books cover areas that are similar and different. After reading them, you might be able to identify certain areas where everyone says the same thing.
You can also write down and try to find out areas where the authors were different in their view.
If you go deep, you will know what to do.
But it might take you some time to get through all the books so what you can do is to read the simple path to wealth, then the Bogleheads guide to investing and then start investing & continue to read and deepen your knowledge over time.
With this foundation, it would be easier for you to comprehend YouTube videos or articles that you come across. If not, all you can comprehend from those articles and YouTube video is do this and do that.
The great thing is that as a young adult in the army or in school, you have more mental bandwidth and time to read and learn about this stuff.
I came across many older adults who would tell me they don’t have the time to read or learn and they would just jump into it. Our cognitive abilities also slowed down over time and we do not absorb knowledge as well as we get older.
So don’t miss a great opportunity when you have time, less mental baggage and a strong cognitive ability to equip yourself with the knowledge that will compound for the net 60-80 years.
2. Why is there such a strong focus on low-cost, diversified portfolio investing?
If you are familiar with the books I shared above, you will realize that they deal mostly with index funds, mutual funds/unit trust and perhaps one book on individual stock investing.
Why is there so much on using funds to build wealth?
I have this strong belief that for most people, the default way to invest, is to invest in a diversified portfolio made up of low-cost ETF or unit trusts. You will channel a part of your free cash flow from your take-home income on a consistent basis into this portfolio.
The portfolio is like a savings account that is volatile in the short term, but over time, it should give you a decent return.
If you ask the experienced people, even those portfolio managers, they would also struggle to refute the virtues of this strategy.
You may have gotten interested in investing because your friend invest in this individual stock or crypto and you would like to get started with it.
I think you could do that but my recommendation is for you to learn about investing in a low-cost, diversified portfolio. There are a couple of reasons:
- You may succeed or fail in these more active strategies. But if you are not successful, at least you know there is a fundamentally sound way of building wealth that you can fall back upon.
- The path to get better in investing in those stuff requires you to be able to compare and contrast against the traditional asset classes, the returns, volatility, their positives and negatives. By reading those books, at least you learn about how the investing world functioned for the past 100 years.
3. Opening Accounts to Get Started
Okay, now we are ready to open accounts to get started.
Generally, you can open most accounts when you are 18-years-old so they are available to you. Some require you to be at least 21-years-old to open. Endowus is one that requires you to be 21-years-old.
Which account to open depends on how you want to invest.
In general, if you are a DIY investor who wishes to invest in a low-cost, diversified portfolio of ETFs, or an active individual stock investor, you will need a brokerage account that allows you to invest broadly in a few markets.
My suggestion is to open an Interactive Brokers account.
Here is why:
- It is a US broker with a local Singapore entity that is MAS-regulated.
- Allows you to invest in securities in Singapore, the US, Hong Kong, London, and a lot of other exchanges.
- This allows you to invest in ETFs listed in Singapore, the US, Hong Kong, London, Australia and a lot of other brokerages.
- Interactive Brokers is listed in the US and you can check the financial standing. This is important as your securities will be custodized (store) with them.
- The commission is very low.
- You can convert your currencies to trade at near spot rates.
- Has a mobile app.
- Allows you to trade options if you wish to.
- Many international investors use it.
- No minimum monthly fee (they used to have a US$10 a month fee if your account is less than US$100,000 but they removed it).
- If you are 18-years-old you can only open a cash account but it is good enough.
You can read my guides on Interactive Brokers here.
This basically set you up to DIY invest.
If your sum to be invested is lesser, one suggestion would be to start with a Robo-adviser.
For 18-year-olds, you can start with MoneyOwl, Syfe, Stashaway. Endowus requires you to be 21-years-old. I have no idea the minimum age for Autowealth.
My suggestion is to go with MoneyOwl or Endowus.
If you are interested in investing in crypto, you may want to on-ramp with certain crypto companies.
The minimum age to open accounts with the two popular ones FTX and Genesis is 18-years-old.
4. Your Goal of Investing for the First 5-Years
I been investing and writing about it for a few years.
I also work in a place with client advisers who worked with clients of wealth at different ages.
I really don’t like to hear stories of investors losing a large chunk of money. Some of them are just 10 years away from the traditional retirement age when they impair a great chunk of their wealth.
If you lose too much of your net wealth as a percentage of what you really need, it can be very difficult to repair the situation.
My observation of why this happens a lot for the folks around my age and up (35 years old and above):
- Did not have a strong investing foundation. Some did not have a sound personal finance foundation.
- Without that, they do not have a good idea of sound investing strategies, the general do’s and don’ts of investing.
- Without early investing foundation, they also struggle with time, or heavy inertia to endow themselves with investing knowledge.
- Any investment or strategy or products that comes their way sounded sensible, real, good and safe to invest in.
As a young adult, your goal is to make sure that if you want to experiment and make mistake, don’t kill your wealth at a time when you cannot afford for your wealth to be killed.
If you want to lose 50% of your investments, lose 50% of $5,000. When you start work, many of you can add $1,500 to $3,000 a month to your investments. Losing 50% of $5,000 is no big deal.
But don’t lose 50% of $800,000 to some poorly thought out strategy when you are 56 years old when you need $1,200,000 for your financial independence.
This is why there is a strong emphasis in this article to make sure you level-up in financial knowledge.
If you are 18-24 years-old, give yourself a 5-year timeline:
- If you have a strong leaning towards some strategies or investing idea, go read-up and then try it. Level-up along the way.
- Try your best to grow your money and not lose too much.
- If you lose money now, that is ok if you learn good lessons that stick with you for the rest of your life.
- If you want to, you can just remain on the low-cost, diversified portfolio investing route.
- At the end of roughly 5-years, ask yourself if you did well or not in these strategies you been trying. What are some of the hard truths about these strategies. Do you enjoy doing them on a daily basis?
- Decide on how you should build your wealth going forward. No mucking around so much anymore. 3-5 years is enough time to muck around and if you missed that window, you miss a golden opportunity to compound your wealth.
Learn hard truths about your character, your lifestyle, whether you enjoy a lot of this wealth building process, which aspect of wealth building process you enjoy, what you do well.
If you do it well, you will build enough conviction to seriously funnel a lot of your paycheck into building wealth to realize your goals.
You learn the deep nuances that people don’t tell you about dividend investing, value investing, investing in cryptos, ETF investing that will ultimately increase or lose conviction in them.
5. How much should you invest? How should you structure your wealth?
A lot of the answers would be found in personal finance books. However, I will provide some guidelines that are more in tuned with my suggestions today.
If you are in your NS or university, you will probably have a 2-3 year window before you need to do adult stuff.
- Proposal ring
- Wedding banquet
If you have these near term goals, and they happen really fast, you might not have the money to muck around. It is better to save up for these goals first.
On top of that, start building up your emergency fund. Here is my guide how to do that.
If your mommy and daddy gave you a large sum of money to make your early life better, such as $200,000 and above, they don’t need the money back and you cannot afford to lose the money, we will tackle this later.
This section is for those who saved up diligently in army and university by doing part-time work.
The first approach is a slow-growth approach. This is how you allocate the little money you have:
Start and learn with the sound way first. Get comfortable with that and ponder about things you are unsure about the strategy. Get the answers and then you are ready to move on to the next strategy.
This is the most sound approach because at the end of 5 years, you are suppose to figure out what works and what does not work for you.
Most people would prefer this method instead:
This can work for you but most often, people doing this prefer to just execute first, then learn.
I wonder if you will have the time to learn 4 strategies at once.
4 strategies at once may feel like an overkill but I think many are curious about investing in individual stocks and low-cost portfolio investing, not sure if they should do either or both.
So what they can do is to learn and execute both at the same time. If you wish to do well in active stock investing, you need to be able to read a lot.
You need the ability to be comfortable in reading and you should have no issue putting effort to learn about low-cost ETF investing together with active stock investing.
At this phase, if you lose a sizable chunk, you can live with it better and the most important thing is to figure out the nuances, learn important lessons from it.
6. If you start off with a larger chunk of money
The previous way to structure your wealth is when you start off with no money and work towards more money.
But if someone gives you some money that you need to steward well, then this might not be the best approach.
A sum of $50,000 would allow you to split and learn & make mistakes.
For the majority of your money, allocate them in a sound manner and the most sound is to have a portfolio that matches your risk appetite, constructed well.
I would not go deep into how you should allocate this diversified portfolio, if you need help fast, speak to a trusted adviser. If you are not in a rush, you can leave this money in cash-like assets while you prioritize learning about how to construct a proper portfolio (in the books recommended above).
If you eventually find that some of the strategies you experimented suit you better, then slowly allocate some with the view of doing a different allocation in 3-5 years time.
This article should be a good primer to give you a framework how to get started. However, this article is thin on the deeper details how to invest.
That would be too much to cover today.
You should try picking up some of the books to get started.
If you are interested, here are some articles that I wrote that may be helpful for your wealth building:
- Beginner’s Guide – How to Buy and Sell Stocks, Bonds, REITs and ETFs in Singapore |My in-depth guide to kick start investing in stocks, REITs and ETF
- Build a Solid Wealth Foundation
- REIT Investing
- Active Investing
If you are no longer that young, some parts of this framework might be useful to you. The difference may be that you have less room to experiment. This means #6 is more applicable to you than #5.
I invested in a diversified portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and stocks listed in the US, Hong Kong and London.
My preferred broker to trade and custodize my investments is Interactive Brokers. Interactive Brokers allow you to trade in the US, UK, Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and many other markets. Options as well. There are no minimum monthly charges, very low forex fees for currency exchange, very low commissions for various markets.
To find out more visit Interactive Brokers today.
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I break down my resources according to these topics:
- Building Your Wealth Foundation – If you know and apply these simple financial concepts, your long term wealth should be pretty well managed. Find out what they are
- Active Investing – For active stock investors. My deeper thoughts from my stock investing experience
- Learning about REITs – My Free “Course” on REIT Investing for Beginners and Seasoned Investors
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