How I Learned About Money (And How I Continue To)

How I Learned About Money (And How I Continue To)

The earliest money lessons I can remember come from my mom: Save money, and give 10% of your income to the church.

Another fond childhood memory: My dad calling me to check the TV teletext for daily stock market quotes. This was back in the mid-90s. I never fully understood it back then, but my dad was trading during the crazy bullrun of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

Fast forward to today, and I often think about how my relationship with money is a curious mix of my parents’ styles.

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So while I have a saver’s mindset and still give, I also take aggressive investment risks when they make sense. You can see this mix in my somewhat barbelled investment portfolio, and my overarching money principles.

But of course, upbringing is only one part of the picture. Over the past few decades, I’ve continued to learn about money from many sources. I thought it’d be nice to reminisce and pay homage to my influences.

Here’s how I learned about money. And here’s how I continue to.

Learning about money formally

Despite my frequent musings, I actually have no formal qualifications to write about money. No finance degree. No professional certificates.

I’ve only ever taken two money-related subjects. I hold them close to heart.

The first was Prinsip Akaun in high school, where I first learned about financial statements, how to calculate a company’s profit, and why new cars immediately lose 20% the moment you drive away. 20 years later, I still regularly use what I learned here. Apart from math and languages, accounting has been my most useful subject.

In university, I had ambitions to be rich. I had dreams, but no idea how to reach those dreams, and even worse, no courage to face the truth that I was clueless. Thankfully, I had enough sense to take an elective course called “Introduction to Finance.”

There, I learned about the magic of compounding, why a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, and how “Cash Is King.” Our final group assignment was about investing, where we wrote about stocks, bonds and unit trusts. Unfortunately, Bitcoin didn’t exist yet.

When I was 28 years old, I was promoted to become a regional manager in a multinational corporation. I was pretty much a noob at everything, including sales and employee motivation. But if there was one thing I was confident about, it was my ability to understand finance numbers.

I’m thankful I once chose an elective course I was really interested in, not something just to get an A.

Inspiration

I grew up in a Christian home, so Bible teachings about money have influenced me since young. What immediately comes to mind is giving, finding satisfaction in life (it’s not just about hoarding wealth), and managing jealousy. Also reminders for the rich to NOT oppress the poor.

Speaking about rich and poor, THE book that inspired me to start building wealth is Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”

It’s had its fair share of criticism (is it a true story, or really just a parable?) over the years, and I don’t agree with some of what’s said inside anymore. But for a teenager who was trying to figure out how the world works, reading it felt life-changing.

I went on to read another of Kiyosaki’s classics: “Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant.” Didn’t feel so life-changing anymore, but it did teach me the crucial differences between employees, business owners and investors. And probably planted the seeds of me wanting to own a business someday.

The internet is undefeated

If my inspiration to get rich started with books, it was Internet articles that started filling in the knowledge.

This was during the mid 2000s when I was finishing my degree in engineering. Some of my favorite websites were The Motley Fool and MSN Money. I can vaguely remember Yahoo Finance and CNN Money too.

I was very much a fool at money, hence I wasn’t reading thought leadership pieces. Rather, I was poring through Money 101 topics, like “How bonds work” and “How to buy your first stock.” Because I was doing all my learning through reading (with nobody to teach me), it felt like I had to read countless articles before I understood anything. Of course, I loved learning about money so it just seemed like fun.

Probably 99% of what I read was from overseas websites, so my initial learnings about money were very USA-centric. My only Malaysian source back then was KC Lau, a true OG. I thought it was amazing a Malaysian could write money-related blog posts and get a ton of traffic.

Early money (& life) lessons

When I graduated and started working for the national oil company in 2007, it was the first major income source of my life. (Yes, lazy Aaron never got a job while studying.) It was now time to apply what I’d been reading.

I struggled for a couple of years, both with money management and the existential crisis most young people go through. On the latter, reading Mark Manson helped. I’m old enough to have followed Mark when he was still focused on dating/relationship topics, and watched him evolve towards general life advice and becoming a bestselling author.

On the money front, I was very much inspired by Jack Bogle‘s teachings: focusing on low-cost index funds for maximum profits. It was hard to get access to low-cost funds back then from Malaysia; the closest thing I could find was Fundsupermart.

Somewhere in the early 2010s, I got interested in trying to maximize rewards points, cashbacks and credit card benefits. I spent a few years focused on this. Much of what I learned, I learned from an anonymous blog: GenXGenYGenZ. It’s still the best resource on Malaysian credit cards today.

Writing and learning

In 2014, I decided to start my own blog. I wanted to share ideas on optimizing life — especially in the areas of time, money and relationships. Over time, my money and career articles have become the most popular.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of knowledge out there. Who am I to write anything, when I have thousands of books left to read by the masters of the universe?

In retrospect, writing has helped me tremendously in learning and thinking. I write not because I know a lot. Rather, writing about money has forced me to learn more about money.

Of course, there are some other cool benefits: I even got to meet my heroes Mr. GenX and KC Lau in person. It still feels pretty surreal for me.

Some of whom I call the “second-generation” Malaysian bloggers including Suraya Ringgit Oh RinggitDividend Magic, and Charles from Kopiandproperty started in the mid-2010s too. We used to have casual gatherings every once in a while.

I’m so proud of what they’ve all achieved. And even more thankful I can call them friends today.

What I’m reading now

In recent years, I’ve fallen in love with Twitter. 280-character limits mean a successful tweet is mostly great idea, sharp writing and minimum fluff. (Note: this also leads to a loss in nuance, so reader beware.)

Where else can you find CEOs, tech visionaries and world leaders chatting directly with everyday people? Hint: not Facebook.

Some of my favorite writers today include:

Morgan Housel — for his unique ability to learn from history + nature, and use it to teach money and investing lessons. Nick Maggiulli — for his data-driven insights about investing (and several of the other Ritholtz Mafia like Ben Carlson). Ben Thompson of Stratechery writes some of the smartest things I’ve ever read.

If we’re talking more mainstream publications — ranked from easier to harder reading — I like Inc.CNBC Make ItThe AtlanticThe Edge and Harvard Business Review.

And of course, anything Michael Lewis touches turns to gold.

– – –

There you have it: a post of my influences.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling down and have no worthwhile ideas anymore, the only thing that works is reading my favorite authors again. Like putting on a special pair of glasses which allows you to see the world in magical new ways.

Aaron Tang is the founder of mr-stingy.com. He writes about optimising time, money, and relationships – to make the most out of life.

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