This must be one of the most bewildering years that I have ever lived. For a start, I felt that it passed by too quickly. My mind feels that it is probably only September now. Perhaps, this is to account for the Circuit Breaker that took place when everything was just so new and yet so abnormal. Ironically, I was counting down the days then as they were painfully long and slow. As a result, 2020 will forever be firmly imprinted on my mind. Perhaps, experiencing a pandemic as an adult weighed heavier on my shoulders compared to when I was a student during the SARS outbreak. Despite how topsy-turvy 2020 has been, I still managed to find 10 highlights in my life that I am grateful for and would look back on fondly.
1. Survived Circuit Breaker
This easily ranked as the top achievement and probably one that was the most underestimated. My wife is a counsellor and she knows first-hand the toll that Circuit Breaker had taken on the mental health of some. It is therefore not surprising that my family was not immune to some of the consequences of the Circuit Breaker either. Being cooped up in our small home for so long, it was a real test of our commitment and willpower to survive together as a family. I thought the photo in Diagram 1 encapsulated the Circuit Breaker well.
My wife and I probably had the most disagreements in those 2 months compared to the entire time that we have spent together as a couple prior to the Circuit Breaker. At the end of the day, I am just glad that we emerged better for the experience with a clearer vision of our we would like our future to be together.
2. Developed A Mini Kampong Spirit
In some ways, what carried us through was the development of a “mini kampong spirit” at my neighbourhood. I guess when everyone is staying in a new BTO development, it is easier to foster such camaraderie. We looked out for one another and rejoiced together when we progressed into Phase 2. Some heartwarming events that occurred during the year:
- A neighbour of mine who works in NTUC often gave us food that were in shortage during those frenzied supermarket runs.
- The entire estate participated in an impromptu ‘trick or treat’ during Halloween
- Olympia delivered Christmas gifts to her neighbours with items that she had selected
3. Attended Digital Parenting Workshops
Along with another prominent theme in 2020, we pivoted to attending plenty of digital workshops as we found them extremely convenient. A bulk of them was spent on parenting workshops, which were often conducted free of charge by various organisations such as SEED institute and hospitals etc.
Parenting is something that I am thrown into the deep end of and I am determined to get it right so that we can see bring out the best in the child. Hence, I do not mind spending time and effort to work on this aspect. Hearing the varied experiences of other parents enriched our own experience as young parents and sometimes we also take comfort in the common struggles faced by others.
4. Cut Down On Annual Expenses Significantly
Working from home and a closed border meant that household expenses were down significantly in 2020. Based on my recollection, the only major capital expenditure this year included Olympia’s double decker bed and an iPad Pro for myself to increase productivity while working.
The biggest expense saved this year was probably travel expenses. Travelling for a family of 3 could sometimes come up to almost a five-figure sum. However, I recognize that while we are financially richer as a result of zero travelling, we are also poorer in our experiences.
Working from home meant that we cut down on expensive lunch and coffee at the CBD. Digital fitness classes also proved that I don’t need a gym, so I did not renew it when my membership expired. Admittedly, these are small amounts saved, but they still add up at the end of the day.
5. Ignited my passion for wines
Unfortunate or not, one expense that actually went up in 2020 was my wine purchases. I find it a pleasure to wind down the night with a glass of wine. It is also a signal to my mental state that it means work is over for the day. As a result, my wine chiller was constantly restocked as I took the opportunity to explore a variety of wines from both the New and Old World. Not that the wife was entirely happy with this new-found hobby but my saving grace was that this was a phenomenon not unique to only me.
6. Tourists in our own country
As the pandemic killed any travel plans, we also spent more domestically at local attractions and F&B outlets. Actually, we took the suggestion of becoming tourists in our own country quite seriously. Every weekend during Phase 2, I tried to look for activities that are suitable for Olympia. It was an easy task because every experience would be new for her. Easy pickings were the Zoo and River Safari as I could get complimentary admission courtesy of corporate pass. (Diagram 3)
My effort in researching this area paid off when I chanced upon an off-the-beaten-path walking tour. As a result, we went on a very intriguing Red Light District Tour that clearly opened up my eyes to some neighbourhoods in Singapore. If you are still clueless about where and how to spend your $100 SingapoRediscover vouchers, I have written an article on some of the more exciting activities that you can consider.
7. Successfully Changed My Job
I took a risk when I changed my job during the middle of the pandemic. Working from home meant that I have never met most of my colleagues yet. To build up some rapport and network within the organization, I asked my colleagues individually out for lunch for some informal interaction. I consider this a highlight as adapting into this new role and work environment came in the most unusual of circumstances and I have done well by getting confirmed.
8. Market-beating return on my investment
Another highlight in 2020 would be my investment portfolio beating the market indices. As the year draws to a close (as at 27 Dec), my portfolio XIRR in 2020 stands at 22%, comfortably beating both the US and SG indexes. I will share in greater details about my portfolio next week when I write about my annual investment portfolio performance.
This vindicates that I should continue to pursue an active investment strategy, something that I almost gave up. I also took a leap of faith to venture out of the Singapore market and made my maiden investment on stock listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
9. Refinanced from HDB to bank loan
In terms of personal finance, this was easily one of the most pleasing actions and one that required little effort on my part. By refinancing from a HDB loan to a bank loan, I am guaranteed to save over $14,000 in interest expense in the next 5 years. This switch came in the 2nd year of my HDB loan as I took advantage of the low interest-rate environment.
10. Did A Family Photoshoot
To round up this eventful year, we did a family photoshoot at Equarius Hotel in Resort World Sentosa, the venue where I held my Chinese wedding reception. It was quite a poignant moment for both of us as we returned to the scene, but with an extra family member in tow (literally) this time. The photos from StudioPlay turned out splendid and I considered it as money well spent. On the advice of our fengshui master, we chose one photo to be developed into a huge canvas which is now hanging proudly in our living room.
My opinion is that this is truly a pandemic of inequality that shed further light on the bare resources for those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Low-income workers are more likely to lose their jobs due to a lockdown and even those who kept jobs are more likely to be essential workers required to work and put in harm’s way. Therefore, I recognize how fortunate my family have been this year and I am praying that 2021 will be a better year for all of us.