Sharing is Caring

A few months ago, I organised a Treasure Hunt event for our freegan community. The purpose of the event was to give a live demo for aspiring freegans on how to go about getting free stuff. Learning from the first-hand experience, they can then go back to their own neighbourhoods and practice it on their own.

During the Treasure Hunt, one participant was horrified at the sheer amount of merchadise we found, especially the ones that are in good condition.

“There must be a more efficient way of distributing these items,” she remarked. “Why don’t you designate an area at your block and tell everyone that they can leave their unwanted items here? Then anyone can come and help themselves to whatever they want?”

The thought of jumping through hoops and getting this approved by the town council was enough to turn me off the idea. But it stayed at the back of my mind, ruminating. Also, back then, I was early in my freegan journey, and I was still keeping most of the free stuff for myself.

Now, a few months later, when all my material needs and wants are met, and I have so much more than enough for myself, I’ve started looking outwards. This has led me to find avenues to channel the excess stuff

One clear channel is to charity. Not charitable organisations; they also have more than enough stuff. For example, Salvation Army receives 10 tonnes of stuff every day! My preferred mode of charity is to donate it directly to poor people in the Philippines via a freegan contact in Singapore. We give away the stuff that we don’t want every month to our contact whose team packs the stuff in large boxes and ships it to her village in the Philippines.

However, the logistics of this operation means that:

  1. It makes sense to transport the stuff to the collection point only when we have enough of it to make the trip worthwhile; and
  2. It doesn’t make sense to ship some items over, because it takes up space in the container, and is not that valuable to the recipients.

This means there are still things that we don’t give to charity because it’s not efficient to do so. Which also means that I need to find other means to share these items.

Last night, on my regular round, I chanced across a decent bookshelf. My first thought was, “I want to bring this back with me!”

My second thought was, “Where in my home can I put this?”

I’m out of space. I’ve brought back so much furniture that I don’t have any more space unless I get rid of some. So I left the bookshelf behind and continued on my rounds. As I continued, the image of the bookshelf kept coming to mind. I wanted it but had no place for it at home. But…

What if I don’t use it at home?

By the time I finished my rounds, I knew what to do. After unloading my finds, I took my trusty trolley to the bookshelf and trundled it home on a wheelchair-friendly route, thanks to the town council. My elderly neighbour uses an electric wheelchair to get around. Sometimes I see her zooming around the neighbourhood, and I take note of the wheelchair-friendly routes for situations such as these.

I brought the bookshelf home, dusted it and wiped it with disinfectant. Then I printed out two notices and posted them on the bookshelf and the insides of lifts.


Finally, I brought the bookshelf down to the void deck, and positioned it where it would be noticeable. It looked a bit bare, so I went back home and picked out certain sample items. I furnished the bookshelf with them, and hoped for the best.


In the morning, I received a phone call asking about the bookshelf. There were some items that no one knew what to do with.

“Don’t throw them away,” I said, in halting Mandarin. “If you don’t want it, someone else will.”

I left home around noon and brought with me a few more items for the Sharing-is-Caring shelf. The elderly folks gather and commune daily in that area. There were a lot more people than I was prepared to meet, and the usual questions spewed forth:

“Are these still usable?” Yes.

“Why don’t you want them?” I have too much of it, or, I don’t use it.

“Must pay or not?” No. It’s free.

“Did you buy these things to give us?” No. It’s free.

In exchange, I got a McDonald’s Happy Meal for free.


One elderly man picked up a Monopod (selfie stick) with glee. “I can use this to take photos!” he exclaimed. I never would have thought that he, of all people, would want a Monopod. But it just goes to show that the thing that you don’t want is the thing that another person is dying to have.


Among us freegans, especially the new ones, there is a burning question that always pops up.

“Why do people throw this away??”

I used to think that there is no answer to this question, but now I realise the answer:

“Because they don’t know who would want it.”

If you want something, it is up to you to make known to others that you want it. Then you leave it up to others to decide whether or not to give it to you.

Ask and you shall receive.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened to you.

If you’d like to know more about the freegan lifestyle, come for our Singapore Saving Money Meetup that will be held on Sat 15 Apr, 3-6pm at National Library Hanis Cafe.

UPDATE (14/4/17):

The shelf soaked up water from today’s rain and the wood disintegrated. The shelf had to be thrown away. I’ve retrieved the items from the shelf. Oh well, I tried.


The road to business failure is paved with good ideas

There are many good ideas floating around. People who create ideas often guard them jealously. However, an idea without execution is just imagination. Our imaginations are powerful, so powerful that it can convince us that we’re doing something when we’re not actually producing any real results.

It is planning and execution that turn these ideas into reality.

I’m not a guy with many ideas. A good friend calls me unoriginal because I just copy his ideas.

Another friend likens business to the army:

  • Officers strategise. They instruct the unit to conquer a hill because of the location.
  • Specialists plan. They figure out how to flank the enemy at the hill.
  • Men execute. They are the ones who do the actual flanking.

I’m a specialist. I’m good at figuring out how to turn a strategy or idea into an actionable plan. I can initiate the execution, but I’m pretty bad at follow-up and improvising. When I have a plan, I stick to it. I find it hard to deviate from the plan, and I’m really bad at thinking on the spot.

However, on the flip side, when I’ve had time to think and plan, I can come up with a really comprehensive response. I go really deep in. That’s where I do my best work.

Knowing yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses is very important in figuring out how to always be doing your best work. I don’t spend much time working on my weaknesses. I’d rather be outstanding at what I’m good at than average in everything.

I learned this when I was in JC. Throughout my academic life, I’ve been weak in Mandarin. I was told that I needed to pass my Mandarin in order to make it to university. So I worked hard at Mandarin. I scored an F9 in my first year in JC, and Cs and Ds for my other subjects. In my second year, I scored F9 again at my second attempt at passing Mandarin. I was still struggling with my other subjects. After the second attempt, I made an important decision:

I would not study for Mandarin anymore.

Despite my best efforts, my grade sucked. So I was not going to put in any more effort into it. If I failed in my third attempt, so be it. I’ve tried my best and it wasn’t good enough. I was going to divert all that time and energy towards my other subjects.

For my ‘A’ Levels, I scored an E8 for Mandarin. Apparently not studying and randomly answering the questions improved the grade. I got an A in Chemistry, and a B in Physics and Mathematics. And I got into university, though I did have to attend a one-month Chinese camp.

This life experience taught me not to waste time and energy working on my weaknesses, but instead to focus on maximising my strengths.

Over time, I came to learn my strengths.

I’m not the one who comes up with ideas. I’m the one who figures out how to turn those ideas into action. I’m the one who initiates that action, but I’m not the one who improvises it.

I work with those whose strengths are to think of ideas and those whose strengths are to improvise on the fly.

I’ve summed up my Unique Ability as follows:

To listen to people’s ideas,
organise the information,
in order to create systems
that execute their plans.

If you’ve got an idea that you can’t seem to translate into action, talk to me.

As a holistic planner, I listen to my clients’ hopes and dreams. They’ve got all these wonderful ideas of how they want to live their lives. But they get stuck at the numbers, information, and details.

That’s where I take all their information and organise it to help them figure out where they are and where they want to go. Together, we work out a plan that gets them where they want to go. Then my team starts executing the plan.

There is no shortage of good ideas floating around, only a shortage of people who can turn those ideas into action.

How to create your own modern kampong

I live in a 3-room HDB flat. This means that space inside my home is quite limited. There is a hobby that I spend about an hour or so every night that requires a little bit more open space than there is inside my home.

I sit on a stool in the shared space outside my flat and engage in my hobby. Tonight was one of the most memorable nights.


Because for the first time, all my immediate neighbours joined in. We brought out our little stools and just sat around chatting with each other for the better part of 2 hours this evening.

It’s pretty amazing actually, where I live.

When I first moved in, I wanted to create a sense of community among my neighbours. But I didn’t know how to do it.

Over time, it seems we have bonded over food. Part of my dinner tonight was this amazing bowl of tom yum soup that my neighbour cooked.


My neighbour loves to cook. And she cooks really well. As any frequent cook knows, it can be hard to get the exact portion each time. And it is better to have cooked too much than too little. At the same time, you probably don’t want to eat leftovers the next day. So what do you do with your leftovers?

You share them with your friendly neighbours.

I started this trend of sharing food among my neighbours a few months ago. No, not by sharing my food with them, but the reverse. I asked them to share with me their leftovers.

At around December 2016, I unexpectedly learned that many families have too much food. As part of a comfort challenge — which was really a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone challenge — I approached my neighbours individually to ask them what they do with their leftover food.

They throw away their leftover food.

I asked 3 neighbours, and all 3 neighbours told me that whenever they have too much food, they throw it away.

“Why?” I asked.

Because, they said, although they wanted to give their leftover food to the other neighbours, they weren’t sure if the neighbours wanted it, and they kind of felt bad to give leftover food.

“Don’t feel bad!” I said.

At that point, I explicitly made known to each of them that if ever, they had too much food, they could always give it to me. I accept all foods, so long as it’s edible.

Nowadays, I receive a regular supply of food. Actually, at times I too have too much food. It was this sharing of food that got me and my neighbours to open up to each other. I spoke to each of them more. Not just the families, but also their domestic helpers. And over time, I facilitated conversations which enabled the neighbours to get to know each other better too.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find that we all leave our doors and gates wide open when we are home. It’s so beautiful to see the level of trust we have in each other.

I’ve never lived in a real kampong before, but perhaps this is the closest I’ll get to living in a modern day kampong.

A Virtual Reality world

The first time I put on a Virtual Reality helmet was 20 to 25 years ago.

That’s right, Virtual Reality isn’t new. The basic technology has been around for decades. But it is only in recent years that technology has improved this field to the point that the mind can believe it is real.

Back then, I remember it was during a trip to Genting Highlands. At the video arcade where I spent most of my time while my parents were at the casino, there was a booth promoting the latest technology of Virtual Reality. At that time, I was already wearing thick glasses because of my high astigmatism. The Virtual Reality helmet back then did not allow the use of glasses. In order to play the game, I had to take off my glasses.

I suppose that improved the graphics of the blocky pixelated game I played. But it also meant that I could not experience depth of field. So I didn’t have a good first experience with Virtual Reality. Or perhaps there was no depth of field to begin with. I never could tell.

For whatever reason, Virtual Reality didn’t catch on until recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the opportunity to try Virtual Reality in the 21st century. It was mind-blowing.

21st century Virtual Reality allows you to wear glasses inside the helmet. That was already a marked improvement. My good friend insisted I play a survival horror game. Gawd, it was so realistic and so freaky! I had to keep telling myself, “There is no monster here. It’s all in my mind. There’s nothing right in front of me.”

Besides seeing the gory monster face right in front of mine, the experience of walking into a dark and deserted house was so haunting. It was so freaky that I didn’t dare to go in even though there was nothing scary inside it. Just the atmosphere alone was enough to make me think that I was really the one entering.

The experience that really blew me away was a kiddy game. I forget the name of it, but I remember at one point, my character was supposed to go down a slide. I was sitting on a chair (in reality) when it happened. As my character came to a halt at the bottom of the slide, my body jerked. In my mind, I had experienced a real feeling of coming to a halt, even though my body was not moving at all.


I suppose it’s a little like how you can experience motion sickness while watching a movie such as Gravity. The scene tricks your mind into believing it is experiencing what you’re watching as reality.

There were other games where you could play a tank driver, a Godzilla monster, a power ranger, and even as Batman. Standing at the edge of a ledge, overlooking Gotham City was absolutely amazing.


Source: Fandom

We played video games from 10am to 6pm, as we usually do… as we have been doing since we were teenagers. After I left his home, I couldn’t stop thinking about Virtual Reality. The technology today allows you to put on a helmet and immerse yourself in a totally different environment. It is a matter of time before we can give our minds the experience of a Pathfinder on Mars, exploring a new planet from the comfort of our living room.

In time, technology will allow us not just to see and hear the world around us, but also to smell, taste and touch it. We may even be able to experience pain.

But what got me really thinking was this.

What if we are already living in a Virtual Reality world? And the means of experiencing the world is our physical body? What if we are actually just consciousness experiencing the world in a Virtual Reality machine that allows us to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the world around us?

The game ends when our physical body can no longer function. When it stops functioning, we exit the game and find ourselves in the true Reality. We can then decide if we want to continue to play the game. Or maybe it’s already been decided for us, and we have to keep playing the game, downloading our consciousness into another body to continue the experience. What if the cycle repeats itself until we realise that the world around us is just a game?

Perhaps this is why Elon Musk says that …

The chance that we’re not living in an artificial simulation is one in billions.

The gift of charity

I never saw the point giving to charity.

They say you should give till it hurts.

Well, back when I was still giving money to charity, it hurt. And when I saw other donors giving hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, I thought to myself, “What difference does my $100 or even $1,000 make?”

I couldn’t see the point. And after a while, I stopped giving altogether. No one noticed. No one missed it.

I was right — it didn’t make any difference whatsoever. But to me, it made a difference; I had more money to spend.

I always thought that if you wanted to do charity work, it should make a difference. Otherwise, why do it?

I thought that charity work was reserved for the wealthy, the ones who had become rich from taking from society. That’s why they were always giving back to society.

I thought giving to charity was the topmost of the financial pyramid.


First, you need to protect your income, pay off debt, save for your life goals, invest for retirement. And only after you’ve provided for yourself and your family, do you start to provide for others.

After all, what’s the point of helping others if you yourself are in need of help?

I thought charity was something that was done only by those who no longer worry about money, only by those who have more than enough.

They say that you don’t know the meaning of enough until you have more than enough. You need to really experience what it means to have so much that you can’t possibly consume it all by yourself.

That’s more than enough.

You don’t need to be wealthy to have more than enough. In fact, you don’t even need money to have more than enough. And it’s not just a feeling; it’s reality. You really have so much more than enough that you cannot finish consuming it before it spoils.

I’m not talking just about food.

Let’s talk clothes. I have so many shirts that even if I were to wear one and throw it away every day for the rest of my life, I still would not run out of clothes to wear. And the clothes would have been eaten by insects and moths long before I finished wearing them.

That’s more than enough.

When you have more than enough, you start to experience the pain of waste. Even letting your excess sit and rot at home is waste, because someone else out there could be putting it to use.

Nowadays, people like to declutter and live a minimalist lifestyle. That involves getting rid of a lot of stuff, which also go to waste. When people renovate their homes, shift houses or declutter, they throw away a lot of stuff that they have accumulated. I’ve been guilty of it too when I shifted from a 4-room flat to a 3-room flat. The stuff just can’t fit, so they had to go.

That’s waste. And we waste a lot. So much that it hurts. I feel guilty of having wasted so much.

You probably do too.

Did you know that almost every physical thing that you have spent money to buy, can be obtained for free? Because someone out there has already thrown it away. They would have given it to you if they knew you wanted it and could use it.


Because like you and me, people don’t like to waste. But it costs time, money, and mental occupation to hold on to something until they find the right person to give it to. So what do they do? They wrap it in plastic bags and leave it for other people to find and take.

You probably do too.

So if you can get for free almost every physical thing that you normally buy, your expenses will drop significantly, possibly by a few hundred dollars, or even thousands of dollars a month.

This means two things:

  1. You get to spend more on the things that are hard to get for free, such as holidays.
  2. You get to spend less time working for money.

People these days are always talking about work-life balance.

People these days are always worried about having enough money for retirement, yet they want to retire before they’re 50 years old.

In the past, I thought that this was not possible. But now I’ve seen that it is possible for an average person to retire at age 35, that you don’t need a lot of money to retire early. There is a way, a way that everyone can do. But not everyone will do.

Because unfortunately, this way also leads you to experience having more than enough. In fact, because you have more than enough, it can be quite distressing to live with it. Everywhere you walk at home, you bump into things because there’s just so much stuff.

You have to do something about it.

You have to give it away.


We got it wrong.



Charity isn’t really about helping other people; it’s about helping yourself. You are the main beneficiary of charity.



The more you give, the more generous you feel.
The more generous you feel, the less you want.
The less you want, the happier you feel.

That is why charity is present in every religion. Not mainly to help the less fortunate, but charity exists so that you can find happiness in life.

Not everyone can find happiness in doing charity work, just like how I was in the past. Back then, when I was still having the perspective of not having enough, I found no happiness in giving to charity.

But after having experienced the anguish of more than enough, charity became a salve and solution.

Only the ones who have first experienced the anguish of having more than enough can find happiness from doing charity work.

Charity is not giving till you hurt; it’s hurting till you give.

How I overcame anger

Ten years ago, a very close friend ghosted from my life.

I knew him from church. Together we organised a big event for our church ministry where we were supposed to speak to all the Catholic priests in Singapore. It was the opportunity to get their buy-in for what we were doing. My close friend was the main speaker for the event.

On that day, he didn’t show up. He sent me a text message to say that he was not coming. We scrambled to find a replacement, but his absence from the event made it all go awry. The ministry went downhill from then on.

After the event, I contacted my close friend to find out what happened. But he did not respond to my emails or phone calls. We were close friends and I spent many weekend afternoons at his place chatting. I visited his home, but he hid inside the house and wouldn’t come out to see me.

It was the first time that someone had ever cut off all contact with me without giving an explanation. And it made me feel very angry.

To this day, I have not heard from him. However, the effects of that cowardly act continue to have a lasting impact on me. I carried the burden of anger with me for 3 years, before the anger turned into depression.

Years on, I would find out that I had anger management issues. You wouldn’t expect it of me. It’s always the quiet, soft-spoken, mild-mannered ones who have anger issues. And only their loved ones know about it. Sometimes their neighbours.

I spent years trying to learn how to let go of my anger.

I tried everything.

When I was still Catholic, friends told me: “Just forgive.”

“How?” I asked. “How do I forgive?”

“Just let go,” they said.

“How do I let it go?” I asked.

“Just do it. Just make a decision to let go and just do it.”

I did decide to. But it wouldn’t go away, and my friends weren’t of much help.

Some said, “Pray to God and ask him to help you to forgive.”

I did. Every day. But it didn’t work.

“Punch a pillow,” someone said. “Imagine the guy’s face in the centre of the pillow and punch his lights out.”

I did. But it didn’t work.

“Meditate on the anger,” another person said. “See what it is telling you.”

It told me that someone had done something unfair to me. But the anger did not go away.

“Get even,” still another said.

“How?” I asked.

That wasn’t much help too.

I tried everything I could find on dealing with the anger, but nothing worked. I continued to carry the anger with me for years, because I didn’t know how to get rid of it.

“Anger harms you,” I was told. “Being angry is like stabbing yourself and hoping the other person gets hurt.”

I know that. But no one could tell me how to get rid of it. I knew all the reasons why I had to let go of the anger, and I very much wanted to. I just had no way of doing it.

Until one day, my inability to manage my anger hurt someone very important to me. Then I knew I had to get professional help, or else.

I sought help, and I found it. I got to know a hypnotherapist helped immensely. In just two weeks, he helped me to resolve my anger issues that I carried for many years. He taught me a tool to use which helped me to let go of all the anger I’ve been carrying for many years.

I’ve had a problem with anger for a long time. It extended to way before I knew that friend.

One by one, I revisited all the angry feelings I had and their causes.

One by one, I let go of all of them.

One by one, I forgave the people who hurt me.

And lastly, I forgave myself for allowing myself to get hurt by them.

I forgave myself for not rescuing my cat when it was trapped by a neighbour.

I forgave myself for not standing up to my best friend when he moved in on the girl I liked when I fell ill.

I forgave myself for the shame I felt in my childhood years of not being good enough.

I forgave myself. I set myself free.

You see, sometimes we tell ourselves that we’ve forgiven, but actually all we did was to bury the anger deep inside. We hope that it doesn’t surface again.

But it always does.

Anger never stays buried. The pressure just continues to build up with each hurt we suppress. Until one day it just all blows up in our faces. And it will keep blowing up so long as the anger isn’t processed. And it leads to all sorts of nasty physical, psychological, and spiritual ailments.


It’s not that I don’t get angry anymore. I’ve learnt how to let go of anger the moment I identify it, how to tell when something unfair is being done to me and what to do about it.

Most of all, I learnt how to not let my anger control me anymore.


The gift of time

Today I watched a young man with his girlfriend. She was staring adoringly into his eyes, but he didn’t notice. His focus was on the Straits Times app on his mobile phone. Throughout the whole train journey, she just kept staring into his eyes, but his attention never wavered from his mobile phone.

Which was more important: Time spent with his girlfriend or time spent reading the news?

The news won’t go away. Whatever is published on the internet stays on the internet. He can read it in his own free time. But his girlfriend gave up her free time to be with him. It is time that she will never get back. Yet he was more interested in what’s going on in the world around him instead of what was directly in front of him.

Isn’t this poor time management? Is he alone?

At least 7 out of 10 people use their mobile phones while taking the bus or train.

This is an observation, not a study. If you don’t believe me, stop using your mobile phone while on the bus or train and just observe the people around you.

Some use it to listen to music, to play games, to watch videos, to communicate with friends, to read. Most use it to distract themselves from what’s going on in their lives. Many of us are afraid of silence. We are afraid of letting our minds be still. We have been conditioned to a constant stream of information. When that flow of information stops, we feel uncomfortable. We feel connected to our mobile phones and cannot spend two minutes away from it.

Try it. Try going out without carrying your mobile phone. Or try suggesting it to whoever it is you’re going out with. The reactions are surprising.

A few weeks ago, I sent my mobile phone in for repairs. My next few days without a mobile phone were life-changing. I felt so liberated. I made myself uncontactable by not using a replacement phone. I could not be reached except via email and Facebook Messenger.

It was an awesome experience!

I had time once again to think, to read, to daydream. I had time to observe other people. I became more aware of my own emotions and changes within me.

A few days later, when I collected my phone from the service centre, immediately I felt shackled once more. It was a noticeable change inside of me. That was when I decided to consider how could I merge the best of both worlds – living without a phone yet experiencing its benefits.

FIRST, I decided on the apps I really needed to have:

Alarm Clock: Because I didn’t have one.

SMS: Because I needed OTPs for online banking and services

Phone: Because sometimes I needed to make or receive calls

Camera + Carousell: Because these are income generating

Whatsapp: Because people know that they can reach me with this

That’s about it. Every other app on the phone is not really needed because there is a web or desktop version of it. If not, then it’s not really needed at all. This saves time managing multiple apps with its updates or finding the app that I want to use.

NEXT, I decided not to bring my mobile phone out with me.

This meant that I was not contactable when I was out. This meant that if I set an appointment with someone, I would let them know that they would not be able to reach me by phone. This meant that if they were late, they could not let me know. So they better not be late. This also meant that if I was late, I could not let them know either, so I better not be late.

Once, I had an appointment at Ya Kun at Chinatown Point at 12 noon. When I reached at 11.55am, I discovered that there was no Ya Kun at Chinatown Point. But there was a Ya Kun at People’s Park Complex across the road. I made my way over and waited for 5 minutes. The person didn’t show. I headed back to Chinatown Point and parked myself at the Toastbox there. I reasoned that if the person would first come to Chinatown Point and if he didn’t see me, would follow the same path I did. He finally arrived at 12.20pm.

The lesson I learned was to be precise in meeting venue, to recce beforehand and make sure that the meeting place is easy to find. Because there are few things more frustrating than people having arranged to meet and then they cannot find each other even if they are in the same location.

Someone asked me, “What if there is an emergency and the person cannot contact you to let you know?”

This hasn’t happened yet. But if it was a real emergency, I would find out later when I contacted the person or when I got back to check my phone for messages. If it was a real emergency, I would surely forgive the person.

But you know it as well as I do, there are very few real emergencies.

Most of the time, it is just poor time management. Actually, being unreachable increases the probability that the other person will show up because they can’t contact you to tell you otherwise.

This saves time in two ways. First, it makes your appointments more likely to happen. Second, you learn early on if the other person respects your time. If not, cut him from your life. Time is too precious to waste on people who don’t respect your time. It’s the only thing that you can give away and never get back.

THIRD, I learned to plan my route before embarking on my journey.

Previously, I used to rely on Google Maps or to help me find my way to my destination once I was nearby. That often resulted in me being late because I did not know the direction or route to take. But if I wasn’t able to rely on these tools in the general area, I realised that I had to plan my route beforehand, and leave about 15 minutes earlier than I would normally do so. This has resulted in me being early or on time for my appointments, particularly in unfamiliar locations.

FOURTH, I discovered that I was a more sociable person than I initially thought.

I’m the kind of person who, when the conversation dies down, whip out my mobile phone and start using it, just as most people around me do so. But when I do not have a mobile phone on me, it is up to me to keep the conversation flowing. It is up to me to fill the silence and not drop the ball when it’s my turn to speak.

Once, I had a manager who would be talking to you one minute, and in the middle of the conversation, raise his mobile phone to his ear to take a phone call. It was extremely rude, particularly if he was the one who called you in to talk. I was patient with him the first few times, but after a while, whenever this happened, I rose from my chair and told him to come find me in the office if he still wanted to talk.

Without the temptation to check what messages, phone calls and notifications I might have missed out, I can now give the other person my full attention.

FIFTH, I gave other people the opportunity to learn.

I do check my phone for messages. Typically once in the morning, and once in the evening. Sometimes I would check the phone and see messages such as, “Daniel, how do you do this and this?” Four hours later, there would be another message from the person saying, “Never mind, I got it.”

This tells me that my help was never needed and the person learned how to find the resources to get done what he needed. Of course sometimes my response was needed, so I reply.

But really, there are very few real emergencies. There are only the ones we create for ourselves because we like to think that we are indispensable.

SIXTH, I have better focus and fewer distractions.

By not having my phone with me when I work, I am far better able to focus on what really needs my attention. I get blocks of uninterrupted time when I can work on my projects. I’m the kind of person that needs to enter the ‘flow’ to trigger my creativity. I detest being constantly interrupted as it affects my concentration. By being uncontactable for periods of time, I create these blocks of creative time where I get most of my work done.

This too is time management, as it allows me to get something done in a much shorter time with much better results than if I tried to multitask.


Sadly, I also experienced phone creep. Bit by bit, I started to use my phone more and more while at home. Bit by bit, I started to reinstall apps on my phone.

Today, I sent my phone in for servicing again, because of battery issues. It was still under warranty. But this time, I did not feel the same feeling of liberation. Instead, I felt stress. Because it takes me about 3-4 hours to restore the backup on my phone, update it and reinstall apps. I dread spending that time to do it again.

Still, I am grateful for the lessons learnt from not having a mobile phone with me. It has taught me that so much of my time is wasted on my mobile phone. Yes, it does help me to be more efficient in some ways. But for the most part, because I’m multitasking while on my phone, I’m actually far less productive than I can be without it.

This experience has also taught me just how addicted I am to my mobile phone. Nowadays when I’m out with family, I try suggesting that we leave our mobile phone at home. The reactions are always negative.

But I understand.

We’re addicted to our mobile phones.

It’s painful to try to separate us from it. So often, our eyes and our attention are glued to our mobile phone screens. And we miss out the beautiful moments that are taking place right in front of us.

It is typical of human life.

Our minds are so often lost in a different time and a different place that we are unable to appreciate the here and now, the present:

The gift of time.

Normal is an illusion

Today I accompanied a friend to a bankruptcy hearing. It turned out well and got the best possible outcome. 

Bankrupt. Divorce. Affair. Lawsuit. Orphan. Shotgun. Addiction. Mental illness. Broken family. Parental abandonment. Autism. Gay. Death of a child. 
These are things that don’t happen to you, you think. No one you know goes through this, you think. 

But we’re all connected. 

Someone close to you is going through this now. They don’t tell you because of how you react to it. They’ve seen you react, pass judgement on others, laugh at or dismiss others. You have shaken your head at other people’s poor life decisions. 

So they don’t tell you about it. Because no one likes to be judged. 

They pretend that all is fine. You go through life not realising that the people close to you go through these things that you think happen only to other people. 

Then it happens to you. 

Then you realise you’ve become one of those people you’ve judged for making poor life decisions. 

Who do you tell? 

No one, because you don’t like to be judged. You can’t even acknowledge it has happened to you. 

You bear it silently, alone. The feelings build up. You need to tell someone but you have no one to say it to. 

Then one day, you let slip your situation to a friend because the burden is too much to bear. And your friend says to you, “Actually, we’re not so different. Actually, I have this problem too.”

Or maybe they will say, “Actually, my so-and-so also has the problem, so I know how you feel.”

You find this pattern being repeated as you share your struggles with more people. 

And then comes the sigh of relief. Because for the longest time, you’ve been pretending that everything is normal, that you’re just like everyone else. But now you’ve come to realise that normal doesn’t exist and everyone else is also pretending to be normal. 

Normalcy is a wool that we pull over our eyes, because no one wants to be different. 

Yet we all are. 

There is a story to this. 

Normal feet don't exist

Once, there were two villages. In the first were people with big feet. In the other were people with small feet. 

One day, a shoe company decided to equip the villagers with shoes. It would be good publicity for their company. They first went to the Big Feet village and found that size 10 shoes would fit them. Then they went to the other village and found that size 6 shoes would fit them. 

They analysed this data and decided to make shoes for the average. They brought size 8 shoes to the villages and told them that this was the average size.  

The Big Feet villagers squeezed their feet into the size 8s. And the Small Feet villagers felt the size 8s were too big. But no one wanted to feel left out. 

When they met and saw that everyone else wore the same shoes as they, they all thought it was normal. 

Generations later, the Big Feet people still think it is normal to get blisters from wearing shoes too small for them, and the Small Feet people still think it’s normal for their shoes to slip off every now and then. 

No one talks about the misfit. It’s taboo. 

Yet no one is average. Normal doesn’t exist. 

We just pretend it does. 

How to stop worrying about money

Money is simple. But people make it complicated.

If you’re just learning about how money works, you’ll definitely come across terms such as investing, debt, inflation, rate of return, risk, savings, assets, liabilities, income replacement, protection, index funds, stocks, bonds, trading, forex, options, CFDs, fixed deposits, unit trusts, mutual funds, and so on. This is enough to scare away anyone who wants to learn about money.

But money is actually very simple to understand. I have spent the last 10 years learning about how money works. Let me show you the 3 simple rules that govern personal finances:

Rule #1: Income – Expenses = Savings

Savings is the crucial thing in this equation. But most people are interested only in increasing income. The trouble is, for most people, when their income goes up, their expenses go up too. This is not good, and I will explain why shortly.

The goal is not to increase income, but to increase savings. To increase savings, you can either increase income, or reduce expenses, or both.

Some people say that they don’t want to focus on reducing expenses because there’s a limit to how low your expenses can go.

I agree.

The limit is zero. There are people who actually have reduced their expenses to zero. Further down, I will show you how to achieve this.

So the goal is to increase savings. Some people increase their income, but their expenses increase correspondingly, and their savings do not. This is not good.

Other people reduce their expenses but their income reduces accordingly. This is also not good, but this is better than the previous outcome.

The best way to increase savings is to increase income while at the same time reducing expenses. To learn more ways to save money, come for our Saving Money Meetup taking place tonight.

Rule #2: Savings → Investment → Passive income

Savings is what we used to achieve all our life goals. From paying off debt, to paying for specific items. Cultivating a savings habit is essential when in personal finances. If a person cannot save money, he will never get anywhere financially even if he makes a million dollars. Because he will spend that million dollars and not be better off than before he earned it.

Beyond paying for other life goals, savings is channelled into investments. Not any kind of investments, but those that generate passive income. Naturally, the less risky the investment, the better it tends to be. In my money philosophy, I go for low-risk investments.


High-risk investments can mean potentially making more money, but it often tends to also mean a higher potential of losing capital. That is not what we are looking for when we want passive income. I’ll explain why in the next part.

We don’t want high-risk investment because risk is best diversified across time. But if you have a short time to invest, then you may not want to take on that kind of risk.

Why do we have a short time to invest? Because this formula can help you reach retirement in under 10 years. Most high-risk investments are done over time spans of more than 10 years.

Because this formula can help you reach financial freedom in under 10 years. Most high-risk investments are done either over time spans of more than 10 years, or done with the aim of increasing income while increasing expenses. The losses from high-risk investments are expenses incurred to obtain that income.

So the goal is to channel savings into low-risk investments that will generate passive income. This passive income can be one way of increasing income (in Rule #1), so as to increase savings, without increasing expenses.

Rule #3: Passive income > Expenses = Financial freedom

The purpose of building passive income is to increase it to the level that it exceeds your expenses. Naturally, the lower your expenses, the more quickly you will reach this goal. This is why I said earlier that lower income – lower expenses is better than higher income – higher expenses.

Higher expenses mean you need more savings, which means more investments, which means more passive income needed to fund your expenses.

The reason why you don’t want high-risk investments is because these mean that you stand a higher chance of not getting your passive income. Imagine a scenario where you have achieved financial freedom for a while now, but then you lose your capital because of the high-risk investment you made. Then you also lose your financial freedom.

Freedom is a very expensive prize. Don’t gamble it away with speculative investments.

How to have zero expenses

The reason why many people prefer to increase income instead of reducing expenses is because they have been conditioned to believe that the only way of getting things is to buy them.

What they do not realise is that many things that they use money to buy can actually be obtained for free, and quite easily too. If you want to know more, check out the Freegan in Singapore Facebook group. You will be amazed at what you can get for free.

Before I learnt about freeganism, I was spending about $300 a month on food alone. In my first month as a freegan, I reduced my food expenses by 10x to $33. In my second month as a freegan, I reduced my food expenses by another 10x to $4. In my third month as a freegan, I got all my food for free.

My personal expenses per month right now are lower than how much I used to spend on food every month in the past. And yet I have more than enough of everything and have want of nothing. I no longer worry about money, and I no longer have wants that are not met. I do not scrimp and save as I used to, suppressing my desires as I get almost everything I need for free.

This allows me to channel my savings into the things that cannot be obtained for free, and paying off my mortgage.

One more thing. Because I get a lot of things for free, I have an excess of stuff. I either give or sell these away. The stuff I sell gets me about $200 to $300 a month, which pays for the things I can’t get for free.

Therefore my personal expenses have been reduced to zero.

The non-freegan route

Freegan living is not for everyone. To receive free gifts, you need to set aside your ego. This can be very hard for some people.You’ll be amazed to discover how many people cannot bring themselves to receive free gifts.

As a result, these people still use money to get things. If you’re one of these people, then the best way to achieve your goals and achieving financial freedom is to plan your finances.

Take note, however, that this is, by far, the more difficult route. Because you will need to work many more decades to build up enough savings to turn into investments that generate you sufficient passive income to offset your expenses.

While freegans can reach financial freedom in under 10 years, you will likely have to work for 30 or 40 years to reach the same level of freedom. It is true – if you wish to send your children to overseas universities, to live in a big house, to travel overseas for holidays frequently – then freegan living may not be for you.

For that, you have to be prepared to work very hard for your money for many, many years. And you have to be careful not to waste your money in bad investments and buying things that don’t really help you to reach your goals or create lasting value for you.

To do this, you need to plan your finances carefully, making sure you don’t miss out anything.

When anxiety attacks

When I awoke yesterday morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to go back to sleep. While this may be normal for some people, it was definitely usual for me.

I have trained myself to get out of bed when my alarm clock rings. Yesterday was definitely unusual for me. Throughout the day, I felt really lousy. I could not focus on the work I needed to do. I was so very easily distracted and just could not concentrate.

Now again while that may be normal for some people, it was definitely not normal for me. I gave up at about

I gave up at about 2pm and decided to visit a friend. I stayed at his house for about 4 hours, listening to his life story before I realised that I was staring into space. Nothing was going in, and I think I missed some paragraphs of his story. Again that was not normal.

I decided to leave and head home.

While I was on the bus, it struck. The background sounds, the voices from the crowd, the jarring sounds of the bus’ gearbox transmission, the hum of the engine, they started to get to me. I stuck fingers into my ears, trying in vain to block out the noise, but I couldn’t filter it out. I started to hyperventilate and forced myself to focus on my breathing.

I have been practising meditating, so that helped.

The bus driver was going so slowly that I felt like shouting at him to drive more quickly. I’m not sure if he was really driving that slowly or was it my perspective of it. I needed to make it to the train station. I needed to get out of the bus. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, counting from 1 to 100 breaths.

When I reached the train station I ran to the platform and boarded the train. I was only 4 stops away from my destination. But at the first stop, the train was delayed. I started to bang my head against the door and must have drawn some stares. I didn’t really care.

I closed my eyes again, focusing on my breathing. I made it up to 50 before I bailed out. I could not stand the crowd. I had to get out of the train.

I went to Passenger Control and demanded to know why the train wasn’t moving. It had felt like an hour and the train was still not moving.

“Nothing’s wrong with the train,” the station officer told me. “Just wait.”

I took the next train. The journey was slow. I nearly screamed when the train stopped for two minutes on the track. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. At 75, I reached my destination.

I didn’t go straight home. I walked a circuitous route around the blocks in the neighbourhood, trying to expend the pent-up energy. I managed to work up a sweat by the time I reached home. Almost immediately, I collapsed in bed and didn’t move from there till morning. I was physically exhausted.

Anxiety attacks tend to last about half an hour or so. Thirty minutes of being in a fight-or-flight state with adrenaline pumping through your body. Afterwards, it’s only natural to be completely exhausted. I haven’t had one for a long time.

The last time I was hit with regular anxiety attacks was my first year of depression back in 2010. I could not stand crowded public areas or places with kids screaming. Even the sound of a mobile phone ringing in public is enough to trigger an anxiety attack. Sometimes I would just sit down on the pavement, close my eyes and cover my ears, screaming into my arms. It was terrible not knowing what caused it or how to resolve it.

Now I know.

It passes. The attacks pass. They always do. I just have to wait it out.

This post was written to give you an idea of what an anxiety attack feels like.