I was very annoyed when I was leaving after work.
I had plan not to have too many surprises at work on that day because I would need to attend an event we organize after work.
However, someone at work decided to surprise us by causing some systems to go down such that I have to make a round trip to attend to it.
It wasn’t difficult to fix, its just that it take a long time before you can have access to the systems.
So I really have to thank the lucky stars there are ready taxi outside the work place that can ferry me to where the events are held.
My annoyance turned to relieve as I realize I should be just slightly late. Had that not happen, I would be doubly annoyed when the taxi driver struck up a conversation with me.
Somewhere in the conversation, the taxi driver told me he was an ex-regular. For those who aren’t familiar, a “regular” is a familiar term for the people who chose to take up working in the defense force as a profession.
The taxi driver went into the usual tirade about life and he repeatedly let me know that signing on in the army “gets you nowhere in life” and “its not as glamorous as we imagined it to be”.
Now, I am not sure about you, but most of us local guys have been in the army. Or we have friends who are regulars or ex-regulars. When it comes to army matters, we do know that there are pros and cons about making the army your profession.
And we know it well enough that we don’t get the perception it is always a very glamorous life. So what this taxi uncle said is rather strange.
I have this SOP (standard operating procedure) that if you decide to interrupt me during my taxi ride when I am not in the mood to talk, I will dig out as much information I want so that I can write about it.
So I asked him why did he leave the force, and how long ago was that. He shared that he left because he retired from the force. That was 10 years ago at the age of 50.
My taxi driver thinks his retirement from the force is no big deal and goes on to say they gave him 五十万元的退修金.
By the overall tone of his narration of his life in the army, I thought he said wrongly. So I asked whether he meant they gave him a lump sum of $50,000 or $500,000.
He clarified that its $500,000. But this is not a lot of money. This is because back in the past, there was a short window where officers that are to retire can choose to take a lump sum or a recurring monthly sum of money as long as he lives.
So an officer that he knew drew $5,000/mth for the past 20 years. So this means that this retired officer that he knew “made the better investment” since this amount to $1.2 mil which is twice the sum that he had gotten. (Note: he did say that if the assured passes away, the pension does not get transferred to the dependents)
I was very incredulous at this point. I thought they short changed him by giving him only $50,000 for slogging 30 years of his life. $500,000, in a lot of people’s dictionary is a decent sum of money.
And if you read some of my articles, $500,000 is the sum of money I used to plan a variable retirement life.
So I told him: “There are a lot of people in this country who gave their all for their company, yet get sacked when they got too expensive, when their performance dropped. Some were forced into very degrading situation, hoping that the person will leave the company on their own, thus saving the company the need to pay the normal form of severance package.”
The taxi uncle then reflected, and said that being in the army is “not that bad”. You get to be a kind in a limited domain, strike fear into your men, and some younger officer.
There are a lot of friends who left the force, only to realize that they cannot adjust to the pace and demands of the private sector, and had to request to rejoined the force. The force, took them back in.
For himself, I asked whether he started driving immediately after retirement. He said that he had some competency in cars so he went about setting up a second hand car business. That didn’t end up very well and had to close down. I wonder how much of that $500,000 did he blew on that venture.
I realize, probably not a lot, because he shared that he put the $500,000 in bank account and use only the interest.
As a financial blogger, I wonder what kind of return he is getting on that. I asked him whether the interest is high enough to live off the interest from that sum. He told me he had put it all in fixed deposits.
I was pretty burnt mentally to do any forms of mathematics but off the head, 0.25% of $500,000 is a really small sum of money.
So I tried telling him there is this very safe stuff called the Singapore Savings Bonds. (my thinking is that enjoying 2% for 10 years is at least $10,000/yr which is pretty not bad, until I came home and realize that each individual can only buy up to $100,000 in Singapore Savings Bonds)
He would hear nothing of it. He goes on about how these banks tried to sell him all sorts of structured savings plans. I told him, this is from the government and rather safe.
Without asking for more details, he dismissed it (probably thinking that putting with the government is a rather bad idea, which involves some form of locked up like the CPF)
Its a good thing we reached our destination.
I thank the taxi driver for being there and bringing me to where I wanted to go, then quickly went in to meet Alvin (DrWealth.com) and managed to catch Lionel (CheerfulEgg.com) attempting damn hard to stir up the crowd.
That night, I thought about my conversation with the taxi driver.
I realize this is sort of an evidence of what Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow. Asked to recall, we always can only remember the most memorable experiences. However, if we were to judge the quality of life on a day to day basis, you will realize that the life isn’t too bad.
After all, if life is really that bad, they would have succeeded in pushing you out of the door.
We can be a poor judge whether a sum of money provides good utility. By most of our metrics, a sum of money that is nearly $500,000 has got to be consider large enough for you to feel substantial. Most people are a poor judge of a sum relative to what you can do with it.
Had the taxi driver know what he can do with that, he could have an easier transition from the army.
If you keep looking at what others have better and not what you had better than others, you are going to not always feel happy. The taxi uncle could have looked at his situation and considered what he could do with that sum of money. Instead, he lamented that if he is an officer instead of a warrant officer, and if he is lucky enough to be enrolled within those specific years, he could have gotten a lifetime stream of income.
Sometimes we struggle to be a fair judge of what was given to us. In a few instances, my taxi uncle only remember, or states the bad part about what he has experienced, but not the benefits that his former employer have provided him. That was evident in that, while the work place couldn’t give them resilience in finding other kind of work in the private sector, they weren’t bad enough to throw them under the bus and not take them back.
They were able to take them back so that they can readjust to a pace of life that they grew accustomed to.
In his example of how good his officer acquaintance got with his pension, he shoots his mouth too soon and only upon my comment that a person may not always lived that long, did he realize not everyone will be beneficial to this.
Practice Gratitude. I reflected on what I have seen, and thought in another trajectory I could turned out to think the same way about my current employer as my taxi uncle.
If I have lived a life where I get short changed, due to not being exposed to the wealth management aspect of life, I could have been very negative about the lower pay that I get, versus my peers.
I would have thought $500,000 is not such a large sum of money, because my lifestyle have inflated so much that the minimum annual expense that I absolutely need is $50,000/yr.
A clear mind, and having enough time for introspection, possibly could make our lives happier.
If you look at what has been thrown at you like a box of chocolates, you would think that life isn’t all that bad, or not all that good.
The more things you are glad that happen to you in your job, the more stable and functioning you can be as an employee at your job.
Despite giving $500,000, I couldn’t get much pleasantries out of the taxi uncle about the employer, until I throw to him some of the other atrocious working terms I have heard of.
Perhaps that is a reflection on the life you lived. If the remembering self only remembers all the bad episodes, those might outweigh a $500,000 severance package. If you remember more good episodes than bad, you might remember $500,000 as a good way to end this off.
My taxi uncle showed me that money cannot buy you satisfaction about the life you lived.
Only you can accumulate your own satisfaction and happiness.
You might want to read about a $100,000 credit card debt on $7000/mth salary, how retirement is like, and the economy from another Taxi Uncle Wealth Talk.
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