Asian Chinese Little Boy Wearing Student Uniform Writting Homework in plain isolated white background.

From N-Level to Masters, From $20k at 19 to over $1m at 33

EngineerInvest.com
EngineerInvest.com

2020: The year I quit my job

My friends were in disbelief when I left my stable 6-figure per annum job as an engineer, right after I bought my new car and amidst this economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19. I was bombarded with questions from my friends during the Lunar New Year gathering. They rather believe I had a better offer and that I didn’t quit my job for good. I was lucky to have utilized Warren Buffett’s investment approach, started investing at a young age and witnessed the power of compounding in my own portfolio. When money is no longer a huge concern anymore, I could shift my focus to my family, and to do what I love. Here’s my story of how I got here.

A Slow Beginning

I had a slow start in life. My academic path was longer than most Singaporeans.

I recalled the many conversations my dad had with his acquaintances about me during Chinese New Year gatherings – commenting that I wouldn’t excel in my studies. It was demoralising to be looked down upon. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to study. I worked hard and I could only get 52 out of 100 marks. My dad said I did well and I felt good about myself, till I discovered my peers could get 80 out of 100. Regardless, my dad didn’t give up on me and I always had his unwavering support. Unfortunately, I scored a low 187 for my PSLE and was enrolled in the Normal Academic stream in secondary school.

Lost my PSLE result slip, specially paid $10 for MOE to resend it to me

Although I did not do well in school, I experienced many memorable events that a typical student would not encounter. I did egg fights in class, witnessed a gang fight, played truant and broke the bed while wrestling with my friend!

You can take a look at my terrible results in the images below but I sure did have my fair share of fun.

Rock-bottom exam results (secondary school), the lowest I’ve got was 28.5/100 for my History EXAM (not term test)

Arduous journey:

  • 1996: PSLE 187/300
  • 2000: N-Level
  • 2001: O Level (6 O level subjects)
  • 2002: Diploma
  • 2006: Advanced Diploma (Part-Time while doing NS)
  • 2007: Entered and dropped out of NUS
  • 2008: Started Electrical Engineering Degree in NTU
  • 2011: Completed Electrical Engineering Degree (NTU)
  • 2014: Completed Masters in Systems and Project Management (NTU, Part-Time)

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist. Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with a 130 IQ. Rationality is essential.”
– Warren Buffett

I wasted 2 years compared to most university graduates: an additional year due to N-level and another year as a dropout from NUS. This was 2 years’ of income that I could have saved and invested. Nevertheless, I am still grateful to be able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in NTU and even moved on to achieve a Master’s Degree (CGPA:4.25/5). This was one of my best moments in my life because I have made my parents proud. Just like the stock market, my academic years have been a roller coaster ride.

MSc Result Slip

What triggered my interest in investing?

My dad was a businessman where he made a small fortune by importing and exporting household wares. In 1996, my dad purchased multiple properties, mostly using profits generated from the business. Unfortunately, the Asian Financial Crisis arrived. There was widespread fear of an economic meltdown and caused a huge withdrawal of credit. My dad fell ill due to sleepless nights, constantly worrying about meeting the monthly mortgage payments. Our family nearly gone bankrupt. Eventually, my dad sold the properties at a huge loss. We also had to downgrade our residence from a landed property in Kew Walk to an HDB in Geylang. It was almost a “reset” for my father’s business and my family’s assets took a huge decline from the Asian Financial Crisis. This led me to realize the importance of money and not to invest at the wrong time. I still harbour an alternative history about my dad buying those properties at rock bottom prices during the Asian Financial Crisis.

I developed an interest in making money from that episode. I read numerous books on investments, biographies, and businesses. Many sources advocated the same idea which was to generate multiple streams of income. I started to sell foldable bicycles, flowers on valentine’s day and recyclable wood decking. I ventured into website development, e-commerce, etc. I taught private tuition too. Furthermore, I lived like a peasant and way below my means. I ate at home, took public transport and saved all my Ang Bao money.

This helped me to amass a savings of close to $20,000 at 19 years old. I blindly invested $1,942.50 into my first stock, Creative Technology, at $19.10 per share. I thought it was cheap compared to the historical high of over $60 per share. Creative Technology eventually crashed below $10 per share. I had disregarded all the principles I have learned from the numerous books I read. It was a painful lesson losing 10% of my wealth in a short span of time. Weirdly and thankfully, I did not give up. 

Expensive school fees

My First Pot of Gold

10% poorer, I decided to review what I did wrong. But it was confusing listening to conflicting ideas. The trend followers believe in buying high and selling higher while the value investors prefer to buy low and sell high. Both had evidence to prove their strategies were sound. I could not reconcile the two.

There were probably 1,001 investment strategies touted by different experts, and they usually contradict each other. There were financial terms I could not understand too. My initial learning journey was challenging.

I chanced upon the Forbes list of richest people in the world and Warren Buffett was the second richest man at that point in time. I thought to myself: Since it is not possible to read every investment book, why not just learn from the best investor. I began reading ferociously on Warren Buffett’s investing approach even though they were written by other authors and not by Buffett himself. I memorized all his investment principles and even got my friend’s tutor to teach me the financial terms that I could not understand. I was very excited to try out this new knowledge I have acquired.

Subsequently, my stock picks and hit rate improved. I started to witness the growth of my investment account. I was grinning from ear to ear because I felt I have figured it out. 

One of my favourite quotes from Warren Buffett was “be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.” I made use of every economic crisis to my advantage by buying stocks during the Great Financial Crisis in 2008 and the China debt crisis in 2015. It sounded easy but buying shares during those times were stressful for me. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about prices crashing further after I have bought the shares. I was also worried that the market wouldn’t recover. At the same time, I was considering buying more shares. It was an emotional roller coaster. In hindsight, it worked out as some of my purchases were made at the exact bottom during the Great Financial Crisis. Here were some of my good buys:

Bought these stocks at the bottom of the Great Financial Crisis in 2009

Economic crises are part of every investor’s journey. Without which, I would not have these tremendous opportunities to build up my wealth. Given the current bearish situation, it is important to stay rational and buy rationally! Afterall, what matters is the share price in 10 years time.

“Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.” – Warren Buffett

My initial plan was to pursue a finance-related degree and seek a career in an investment firm doing what I love. However, my poor results (PSLE 187/300, N-level, etc) could only enrol me to Electrical Engineering in polytechnic and subsequently in university. I was lucky to get a job in a reputable oil and gas company because it provided me with regular 9 months bonuses before the oil crisis hit.

While keeping my expenses low and investing as much as I could, my portfolio grew to a total value of S$750,000 in the stock market and my net worth was slightly over a million as of Dec 2017. You can check out my portfolio here.

I am not a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Charterholder and do not have any finance-related qualifications. I was not academically inclined and took a long path to complete my degree. But I made it being prudent with my spending and by investing soundly.

I did not achieve these by my own. All glory to God, I was very blessed with a wonderful family who believed in me.

You can follow me at https://www.engineerinvest.com/.

EngineerInvest.com
EngineerInvest.com
Author of EngineerInvest.com The Engineer started his investment journey at the age of 19. Despite having a slow start (PSLE score 187/300), he made his first million at the age of 33 (Year 2017) and decided to quit his stable career.
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4 thoughts on “From N-Level to Masters, From $20k at 19 to over $1m at 33”

  1. Hi, I am happy to hear that you made it good with God’s help. This society over-value those who have good academic credentials but forget that some of them don’t have good character.

    As for me, I don’t earn a lot. Since my goal is to invest in my retirement, I chose a 80/20 equities and bond combination. Even though my portfolio suffered more than 20% losses, I have peace from God because I chose a risk level that suits my goal.

    The Lord be with you.

    Reply
    • Hi Yanping,

      Sometimes I tend to forget and need to constantly remind myself that I did not achieve this on my own.

      Glad to hear that you are not in panic mode due to the crisis. Being able to keep emotions in check is fundamental to a good investor! As long as your holdings are quality companies, I am confident it will rise back to profit in time to come. Maybe just an example, can take a look at Walt Disney. The stock price almost halved during the 2008 GFC but eventually went up 8 folds!

      As with every crisis, I believe an opportunity lies within. The shares of many good companies are now offered at a discount. It is important to stay rational and buy rationally!

      Regards,
      EngineerInvest.com

      Reply
  2. Congrats! I think you made a good decision to go into Electrical Engineering, a specialised profession, the oil and gas sector, as well as stay grounded in your finances and emotions.

    Also, the lessons you have gained at a younger age set up a well of wisdom which you can draw upon when making decisions.

    Good times don’t last forever, but neither do the bad. One good decision at that point of time can snowball into a desirable outcome, and this cycle repeats.

    Thank you for sharing your life story! Hope it will inspire people to take positive action for themselves and their loved ones.

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon,

      Sorry for the late reply. Just saw your comment.

      Thank you, I am encouraged.

      Yes, hope to inspire more people out there as we all try our best to get ahead of the rat race. In the midst of it, finding brothers in arms and growing together with our loved ones.

      This verse never fails to encourage me. Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

      Jiayou everyone!!

      Cheers,
      EngineerInvest.com

      Reply

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