In my personal life, I consider it a privilege to have lived in two contrasting worlds. I was born in the province and spent a good one third of my life in the farm – planting rice, corn and sugarcane with my father. After college, I lived in the city and worked as an accountant in the country’s central business district working for some really big and demanding clients. Facing a whole new arena of spreadsheets, tax returns, financial statements and conference calls, I realize that life as a farmer taught me important lessons – lessons that would equip me to face the world of finance and investments.
One important lesson I learned in farming is the importance of hard work and timing. Those two things went hand in hand in the farm.
I remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning while the sky was still at its darkest. I would awaken to the sound of Perry Como on the AM radio. My Dad would wake up ahead of us all and would already be making our breakfast. While the sun was still asleep, we would start work on the farm, tilling the damp, dark soil to plant sugar cane.
We used the sugarcane juice to make, Basi, which was a type of homemade wine which we sold in the marketplace. When making Basi, once you start, you can’t stop. Once you begin squeezing the juice from the sugarcane, you have to continue the whole process without pause until the wine is produced and bottled. Any delay and the Basi would turn to vinegar. We would boil the sugarcane juice – if you want your Basi sweet, you boil it longer. If you want it tart, you boil it for a shorter while. But you definitely cannot stop or make a mistake with timing or all your hard work will end up as vinegar. We would usually finish by 1 AM. So that would have been straight 21 hours of work starting from 4 AM.
When I became an external auditor, I saw a lot of accountants resigning and giving up because the long working hours and the intense pressure was too much for them. For me, I thought it was still manageable, plus it paid more than selling Basi. Looking back, I now realize that my life in the farm built up my tolerance for hard work and long hours.
It also taught me how to be alert with my investments through time. You cannot just leave a vat of sugarcane juice boiling on end. Similarly, you can’t just invest your money in a mutual fund or in bonds and forget about it. You need to monitor it constantly or you might end up with vinegar instead of wine. Just like I check the liquid level and the temperature of my Basi to know when it’s time to bottle it up, I have to monitor interest rates and market trends to know if it’s time for me to realize my gains or rebalance my investment portfolio.
Another time I look back to was when my mother bankrupted herself because of overexpansion. She wanted to be the biggest producer of Basi in our village. So she built a new and bigger warehouse, more vats, more equipment. She was going big time. Sadly, most of the people drinking Basi were from the older generation. At that time, they were dying off and their children didn’t really buy the product anymore. Just when my mother expanded, her customer base shriveled away. So the machines stopped and my mother closed shop and sold everything. Maybe if she just maintained a smaller level of operations, we could have continued with the business. My mom showed me how not to do it.
I usually dream of starting my own business now but I get scared knowing how a seemingly perfect business plan can go awry. Running an operating business can be complicated. You can’t just keep changing your mind about your investment if your assets are property, plant and equipment. At present, I’m happy with investing in more liquid assets such as mutual funds and stocks. I just need to constantly monitor and evaluate my strategy to adapt to changes in the market. For me it’s simpler that way.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to the farm when I retire. Hopefully my investments will continue to provide me with passive income so I don’t have to depend on sugarcane wine for my finances. Nevertheless, in honor of my mother, I might start making a little bit of Basi again.