The other day I was listing out all the financial tools that I personally use for money management in my notebook, and the list got kinda long.
That got me thinking – all of you must have your own money management system, right? Even if it’s in your head, even if it’s messy. You know, more or less, that the money in account X is for daily use and the money in account Y is earmarked for, say, retirement.
So here you go – an article compiling all the financial tools I use for my own money management. Please don’t @ me if any of them sucks for you – they’re just the best option for my situation right now – I’m not loyal to any of them and happy to switch to better solutions as and when it suits me. Also please don’t take anything here as investment advice.
The financial tools are arranged in this order:
International money transfers/payments
Other accounts with money inside it
Just to maintain some sort of neutrality, this article itself is free of referral links, but related articles and embedded social media posts may include links.
Recently I saw a Twitter thread on bad personal finance confessions and I must say I love it! It’s so nice when personal finance gurus admit that they’re not perfect themselves. We all do things that are not necessarily good or ‘optimal’ for our money!
So I wrote a list of *my* bad personal finance confessions and it came up to, uh, quite a few. Some were not ‘bad’ per say, just random, so that’s what I’m calling it. Here there are – don’t judge me too much!
When I typed in ‘make money in Malaysia’, Google presented me with 570 million results.
570 million! In contrast, ‘invest money in Malaysia’ showed ‘only’ 37 million results!
So it’s obvious that many of you are interested in this topic. The articles presented gave pretty good suggestions on how to make money, too. Some gave part-time ideas, some gave side income ideas (what you can try), some gave ways to make money online, etcetera.
But none of them tells you what one person has tried in their personal capacity.
Here’s my attempt to do just that. Here’s everything I’ve ever done to make money in Malaysia (and beyond), from my childhood to now adulthood.
Doing a tally of my total incomes and expenses for the third year in a row! In this annual series, I’m as financially naked as I can be – you’ll know how much I earned for the whole of 2018 and what I spent on during the year.
Seriously, I love that I keep such meticulous record of my financial data (even though it’s nowhere near perfect, but perfect is boring and not to mention impossible). I love that I can share this information with you, so you get to see how record-keeping is beneficial in practice. FYI, incomes are recorded via a Google spreadsheet while expenses are recorded via my expense-tracking app Money Lover. If you’re a regular reader, you should already be familiar with my expense breakdowns anyway – I post them every month.
My previous post was all about envy and jealousy over everyone else’s amazing-looking life. It made me feel horrible. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and lamenting on what I lack, I, Suraya Zainudin, will now choose to focus on the good things in my life. Here is my list of things that make me feel rich.
Want to know a secret? Everyone makes mistakes during our investment journey. Sometimes we pay too much in fees because we didn’t know better, sometimes we try to time the market and it didn’t work, and sometimes we trust the wrong people and get sucked into some shady Ponzi scheme.
I made plenty of mistakes myself, like the many, many times I tried to time the market but it went on the opposite direction (WHEN WILL I LEARN?!?). But this article is NOT about those kinds of mistakes. I don’t mean losing money when the market is not in your favour. Fluctuations in price and value is normal and even expected for some types of investments, like properties, gold/precious metals, things like that.
This article is about the times where I lost ALL of the money in the investment. Here they are, compiled in one post.
And then the idea hit me like a brick – a book. A personal finance book. Or to be more specific, a personal finance stories compilation, written by Malaysians for Malaysians. I got the idea after attended a writers’ retreat in Penang organised by the Malaysian Writers’ Society.
It’s perfect. Books on saving and investing money are a dime a dozen, but books on personal finance-themed stories are pretty hard to find (believe me. I consume A LOT of personal finance content.)
Plus I like the idea of producing edutainment content – it’s like you get to learn more about money but in a more fun way, you know? And I knew I have to make it a compilation of stories because if I were to write the whole thing myself, it’ll never get done. I know myself that much.
Creating the product
This was one of those moments where I was so passionate about a project that it was all I could think about. Right after I returned from the trip in July 2018, I announced a writing competition to source for the stories. I shared it in every Malaysia-specific writing circles I know. I ran a Facebook ad and tweaked the copywriting to improve the engagement and click rates.
(Btw, 1.116% combined clickthrough rates from the ads above – how many people clicking the link after exposed to the ad – is considered above-average. Apparently the average across all industries is 0.90%)
I received around 40+ stories in total. After a ruthless selection process, I’ve narrowed it down to 10 stories, including one of my own (more about that in a bit).
Figuring out how to publish a book
After the content side is more or less figured out, I reached out to published writers to find out the process of getting this book out. The book publishing industry is an industry I’m totally unfamiliar with, and I’m eternally grateful to Gina Yap and Anna Tan who patiently answered all of my questions. This whole thing became an article in itself – see Guide: How to Publish a Book in Malaysia (& Its Costs).
That was in August 2018. I planned to complete the book in two months, to get it out by September 2018.
As you probably figured out, I didn’t make that timeline. I got stuck for three and a half months.
Why I got stuck
This particular section is so damn hard to write. I took a long time to reflect on it, to recognise that despite all of my efforts to be as disciplined and productive as I can be, I am human after all. In short, I overestimated my capabilities.
Ouch, that hurt a lot to admit. Shit.
Here’s (almost) all the reasons why I got stuck:
Writing my short story. I am used to writing non-fiction, so I challenged myself to write a fictional story… and got the worst writer’s block ever. I wrote a draft, deleted it, wrote again, deleted it again. I considered many different personal finance-related storylines, from a medieval prince who got stuck in slave labour to (I’ll be there for you) FRIENDS-style comedy piece to an unapologetic high-earning sex worker. The story is finally done (it’s not one of those storylines FYI), and I’m semi-happy with it, but gosh this took a while.
Deciding on the publisher. I contacted both MPH and GerakBudaya and pitched the story. MPH expressed interest, but ultimately I’ve decided to go with the self-publishing route for all the skills I get to learn along the way. This took me a while to decide too – was deciding between profit (I’ll only get 10% if I go with traditional publishing) and visibility that MPH can give me (IF they accept the book). In the end, the possibility of getting a higher % of the profit won. But of course that means accepting the risk of a huge loss as well.
Deciding on print vs digital. Originally, I just wanted to do an ebook for this passive income project. Figured digital copies are easy to manage and distribute, you know? But the more I think about it, the more I decided that yes, I want physical books too. How many of us read ebooks anyway? I sure don’t – I much prefer to read physical books. This decision will tack on more upfront investment on my end.
Outsourcing parts of the project. I wanted to keep costs low and do all the editing/formatting myself, but soon learned that I am not suited for this task. I would doubt my editing abilities and barely get through a few pages a day, then obsessively go through the same page again and again. This anxiety turned me into a procrastinator – I just didn’t want to deal with it. Finally I decided that enough is enough, I need help, please Anna can you edit all the stories, because I can’t. So yeah, another upfront investment on my end.
I couldn’t have done all of the above if I didn’t decide to invest in a professional book coaching session in October 2018 to ‘unstuck’ myself (also with Anna btw). Despite my best efforts to work on the book every day, I’d find excuses NOT to work on it.
It got so bad that I would open the draft, stare at it for five minutes and decide to vacuum the house instead. I’ve tried everything I could, including making a timeline with datelines, getting an accountability buddy (thanks Norman!) and work at different locations to get fresh ideas. All of them didn’t work.
I want to say sorry to the writers who’ve submitted their stories and agreed to receive their payment in book profits (the others chose to be paid a flat upfront fee). Sorry that I delayed the project. Sorry that I don’t give enough updates. I feared facing you and letting you down, and instead of owning up, I procrastinated.
The current progress
As of writing time, all the stories are done and waiting to be edited and formatted. What I need to do on my end:
Get a book cover designed
Get quotations for book printing and get it printed
Figure out online and offline distribution models
Figure out how to automate distribution and sales (there’s a reason why I call this a passive income project not a side income project)
Organise a launch and possibly pre-orders
Find book reviewers
??? What else???
My current timeline is to have the book ready for distribution by January 2019. Subscribe to the Ringgit Oh Ringgit newsletter to get discounts on the book when it comes out!
Just to tease you, here are all the stories included in the book:
(My story) A small business owner living in dystopian Malaysia which implements universal basic income
Story of a single father and his young daughter (I legit shed tears)
The concept of memories as currency
A son’s account on how a Ponzi scheme affected his family after it busted, losing all their and their relatives’ money
Merfolks doing budgeting and grocery shopping and stuff
A refreshingly honest account of a smoker who knows he should quit smoking but why is the expenses not enough of a deterrent?
Trying to recover an expensive in-app purchase that you did NOT make
Reality TV-style challenge where participants have to complete gross challenges to win prize money
How a PhD holder managed her finances while studying
How much a mother’s work would sum up to, in RM
Intrigued? 😀 If yes, subscribeeeee
Also, do me a favour and let me know how much you are willing to pay for the book?
Last thoughts on publishing a book as a passive income project
Boy they weren’t kidding when they say a lot of upfront effort is required to reap long-term passive income stream.
It’s hard work, but I hope at the end of the day all these effort will be worth it. If not, around RM10k of upfront payment to complete this project will go down the drain. You didn’t think it’d cost that much to self-publish a book did you? Yep.
While doing this project, I finally empathise with other people who commit money and time for their own passive income projects. For example, many people purchase properties to rent it out. I can only imagine how costly and problematic the renovation project can be!
But you know what? Despite everything, I can genuinely say that I’m having fun – after overcoming the whole being stuck thing, that is. Now all I have to do is to get everything else done, but the hardest part is behind me.
Any of you have passive income projects going on? What can you tell me about your journey? Any of you planning one in the future? Share with me what you plan to do to earn a side income!
For the most part, I think I’m doing this financial thing right. I think.
And then I look at my financial to-do list, and go like, uuuggghhh Suraya why you so lazy one to get these done??
You probably have a running financial to-do list too. It may be written down somewhere, or it may be casually stored in your head. I thought it might be fun to share how mine looks like. So every time I open my own website I’ll keep being reminded of it. Hopefully that’ll pressure me to finally take action :p
Here are 9 things in my financial to-do list that I keep putting off..
Here are some types of investments that I have: mutual funds/unit trust, gold and crypto.
This article is all about investments I don’t have yet, but always been curious to try. I may or may not proceed with one or any of them in the future. It’s just to show you what I’ve done about them so far, and why I didn’t proceed with them yet.
I’ve tracked my expenses for many years. This means I log the amount plus some notes in one of 13 categories after every purchase. One of those categories is simply called ‘Misc Wants’ – ie things I didn’t strictly need, but simply wanted.
‘Misc Wants’ is kind of like that random drawer in your house, the one you just chuck random stuff in. Unlike ‘Misc Needs’ – another expense category meant to track things I really did need at the time – purchases under ‘Misc Wants’ tend to be more varied in motivation. I could be bored, stressed, sad, excited, depends. As long as they’re ‘technically unnecessary purchases’, I lump it in there.
In this article, I’m going to share with you some of my ‘Misc Wants’ purchases. I’m looking at data all the way from June 2014 (I have earlier data, but not as comprehensive). As I’m writing this in August 2018, that’s more than four years’ worth of data.