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Learning Cantonese and learning investing? Same difference

This article on learning Cantonese and investing comes courtesy of Budgets and Beverages from Team Monevator. Check back every Monday for more fresh perspectives on personal finance and investing from the Team.

‘Yam Yam Tsaa?’

‘Hawa, hawa’.

This has become my favourite phrase when I visit my in-laws. Phonetically written, it means ‘Cup of tea?’ with my response being ‘Yes. Yes.’

They’re Chinese you see, and they speak Cantonese. I don’t. But as I’m on a constant search for where the next hot beverage is going to come from, I had to learn the essentials.

And learning the essentials has led me to trying to learn the language completely, enrolling on a ten-week beginner Cantonese course.

(Spoiler alert: It’s a really hard language to learn.)

Learning Cantonese and investing

Slowly and surely, I’m beginning to pick things up.

Every Thursday evening, I arrive at my Cantonese class (online of course) and I listen, read and practice. In really basic terms, I’m starting to see progress.

The same can also be said about my investing portfolio.

I’m in the early days with that, too.

On reflection, it appears Cantonese isn’t the only language I’m trying to learn.

The world of personal finance is completely new to me. There’s new phrases to learn, new voices to listen to, and new ideas to understand.

Six months ago, I had no idea about compound interest [1], low-cost broad-based index funds, or the world of financial independence.

But on one miserable afternoon in Manchester, with a hot cup of tea my only source of any warmth, I googled ‘how to retire early?’

And I plunged so deep into the rabbit hole of financial independence, that my beverage went cold.

Just kidding. I’d never allow that to happen.

The world of financial independence

Just like with Cantonese, I began to listen, read, and learn.

And just like with Cantonese, I quickly began to realise there is plenty of information to take on board with investing.

So I went back to basics and started with the essentials.

For me, that was reading JL Collins’ book The Simple Path To Wealth [2]. Original right?

But it worked. I began to understand the basic concept of index investing, ETFs, and the power of ‘buy and hold.’ The last being a useful lesson to learn during a global pandemic.

Enthused, excited, and energised, I wanted to learn more. And herein lies my next lesson learnt.

Ask for help

As you’ve probably gathered, my partner is Chinese. She speaks Cantonese fluently and communicates with her family in this language, even in my company. No exceptions are made on my behalf.

Side note, this was also the case when I went to Hong Kong a couple of years ago. After many months apart, my partner and her extended family caught up on each other’s lives, whilst I hoovered up as much dim sum as possible. That and green tea of course. By the end of the trip, I weighed a lot more but I was VERY refreshed.

Anyway, I digress.

Despite hearing Cantonese in my life daily, I never asked for help. I’d shut myself away, trying to learn it secretly, whilst dreaming of the day I suddenly interrupted my partner’s family conversation by joining in with Cantonese.

Their faces would be a picture! Oh how we’d laugh!

Realistically, this was never going to happen.

Until I asked for help. I not only invested in myself with an educational course, but I told my partner and her family about my intentions. Surprise, surprise, I’ve learnt more in four weeks than I did in the previous four years of sporadically and secretly trying to learn it on my own.

Again, the same can be said about investing.

With my Vanguard account open and my first deposit made, I imagined the moment of handing in my notice and walking into my new future.

‘Where are you going to?’

‘Nowhere, I’m retiring early.’

What a moment that would be!

Except, in the first month, my index fund went down. And down. And down again. Had I withdrawn, I’d have lost a decent sum of money. With ‘buy and hold!’ ringing in my ears, I left it alone [3]. Thank goodness I did.

But it was a lesson. I needed to learn more.

So I asked for help.

That came via books, podcasts, and reading blogs. Genuinely, a lot of the help I got was from this website [4]. And they haven’t even paid me to say that. Although they have sent me a box of PG Tips, so read into that what you wish.

There’s plenty of help out there, in a medium that serves you best.

As a helping hand, this is a good place to start [5].

Small steps lead to momentum

The thing is, asking for help initially has led me to learning more, meeting new people and now, writing my first blog for Monevator.

Honestly, it feels a bit surreal.

Six months ago, I had no idea about any of this. Now, I’m fortunate enough to be writing about something that I feel really passionate about.

No longer am I interested in keeping it a secret either. I want to play my part in helping others start their journey too.

Although here’s the disclaimer: I’m still learning the essentials.

The lightbulb moment

Even that can feel like a pretty big place to start. But the point is starting. Because once you start learning, it’s hard to find the brakes.

Dave Ramsey (a big player in the financial independence world) speaks about snowball momentum when it comes to paying off debt.

The idea that you pay off your smallest debt first, and once complete, you move those payments to the next largest debt, before rolling that into your next debt, and so on and so forth. With each debt paid off, your debt-clearing payments will become bigger, so the next debt gets paid off faster. You’ll gain momentum and see progress.

For me, this concept doesn’t only apply to debt.

Whether it was paying for my course or reading my first personal finance book, I got the ball rolling. Now momentum is gathering pace.

Why? Because I’ve had my lightbulb moment [6]. In fact, I’ve had a fair few of them. That moment when something clicks, when you understand it, when you feel yourself gain knowledge. It’s a wonderful release of endorphins.

Last month, I heard my partner chatting to her dad and I understood a handful of words. It was a brilliantly reassuring moment. Sure, it was a half-hour conversation, but let’s not run before we can walk.

I also recently introduced my sister to low-cost broad based index funds [7]. When she asked me why she couldn’t just put her life savings into Costa, Starbucks, and Pret a Manger (I’m not the only beverage-addict in the family), I explained the importance of diversification and why it’s vital to have an equity/bonds balance that suits her tolerance for risk and volatility.

I’ve just re-read that last sentence. It’s laughable that I can even put those words in that order. Six months ago, I had no idea about any of that. But this emphasises my point.

You don’t need to make a big statement. You don’t need to set unrealistic targets. The beauty about learning how to manage your money is that there is no finish line. And that’s not a bad thing. You can go as far down this road as you wish, at your own pace, having as many lightbulb moments as you want. Just make sure you get off the start line.

I’m not going to be fluent in Cantonese by the end of this year. I won’t be fluent by this time next year. My children will probably be able to speak it better than me.

But I know, that as long as I keep reading, listening and practicing, then I’ll get better and I’ll gain more knowledge.

The same applies to my financial independence journey.

The world of financial independence is huge. But please don’t be overwhelmed. Together, we can just start by learning the essentials [8] – and flick on some lights as we go.

As long as we flick the kettle on, too. Although I have no idea how to say that in Cantonese!

In time you will be able to see all Budgets and Beverages’ articles in his dedicated archive [9].