When Mr Andrew Hallam (picture) was 19, he had an epiphany in between washing buses at a bus depot. On this summer job, he met a mechanic, who happened to be a millionaire, and who told him one could become a millionaire on a middle-class wage.
Mr Hallam put this advice into practice and, by the time he was in his late 30s, he had become a debt-free millionaire because of his investment portfolio. Now 41, he teaches English at the Singapore American School and his financial outlook includes a respect for restrained spending.
“Someone with a $600,000-a-year salary, making payments on a Ferrari, isn’t necessarily rich,” he said. In fact, a survey found that the most popular car among millionaires in the United States is a Toyota, notes Mr Hallam, who wrote and recently published a book on investment, Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School.
Born in England and raised in Canada, Mr Hallam was one of four children. His father was a mechanic and his mum worked part-time at a retail store. He paid his way through college, where he majored in English and Physical Education.
“I valued money from the beginning because I didn’t have a lot. I was really happy. I recognised that you can be … and that really enabled me to build wealth,” he said, adding that studies have shown that increased wealth, beyond a certain level, doesn’t add to happiness.
His freelance work has been published in MoneySense magazine, among other publications. Some of his financial tips may seem counter-intuitive: For instance, he says, “limit trading” and “index funds yield better returns over the long run than unit trusts”. The earlier one starts investing, the better, he thinks. “Be happy when markets are falling if you’re young” and investing for your future or retirement, because this benefits an “accumulator” looking not so much to trade but to “acquire assets over the next 30 years”, he said.
As a “collector”, Mr Hallam says he made money after market plunges such as after the 9/11 attacks, when the Iraq war broke out, and after the 2008/2009 global financial crisis. He says his portfolio is worth US$1.4 million (S$1.8 million).
CLAMS ON THE BEACH
He came to Singapore eight years ago on an “adventure”. These days, Mr Hallam and his American wife Pele live in a rented condominium with verdant landscaping and the usual amenities, including a swimming pool. They drive a Mazda here and also own a classic 1974 Mercedes-Benz that’s kept in a garage in Canada.
The couple, who do not have children, appreciate travel opportunities and regular massages in Singapore, said Mr Hallam, who blogs about his life. They go on holiday “probably five times a year”, to places like Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka, said Mr Hallam, whose job gives him 13 weeks off a year.
This lifestyle is a contrast to how, once, when he wanted to spend more money investing as a proportion of his teacher’s salary in British Columbia, he used to collect clams on the beach to eat with pasta and potatoes, enlivened with little more than olive oil.
Mr Hallam believes that “the average college-educated person in Canada, America and Europe” lacks basic financial education. He gives financial seminars and will be teaching a personal finance course to his students in January.
He has given seminars to his colleagues at the American school, which fuelled his desire to write his book. “For the most part, most of them were being taken advantage of, by the financial advisory industry. It was quite upsetting.”
“I’m not going to say that advisers are bad; some of them offer fairly low fees … but there are others that are extremely self-serving,” Mr Hallam said. He points out, for instance, that hidden fees in financial products erode investors’ profits. “Advisers get paid well when you buy actively managed mutual funds (or unit trusts, as they are known outside of North America) so they love buying them for their clients’ accounts,” he wrote in his book.
But it was a health scare about two years ago that set him to seriously penning the book.
“I think the real catalyst to get me going (on my book) was recovering from cancer. It was an opportunity to get my head into something else,” said Mr Hallam, who last month got an all-clear scan from bone cancer.
An avid runner who likes to run in jungle areas in Singapore (“just me and the monkeys and the wild boars”), he can run 2.4km in under eight minutes. In 2009, he came first in the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, a 5.6km run. Last year, not long after undergoing cancer surgery – where parts of three ribs and some spinal processes were removed -he posted a decent 43rd placing out of thousands of participants. This year, he bounced back to third place.
“Some people feel that a life-threatening illness is a wake-up call. That’s kind of sad. People need to recognise that, every moment … that life is a gift that can be taken from you at any time. I like to hope that I was already awake; I did appreciate life,” said Mr Hallam.
Life is too short to be too serious, he added as he goofed around at the playground of his condominium, while posing for photographs for this story.
For someone who likes the challenge of investing and watching his money grow, an added challenge for Mr Hallam is: “How can you actually use money to enrich your life and your soul?” The answer, for him, is to selectively give his money away. For example, he helps others by giving to organisations in Cambodia and India, which help people build a living for themselves.
“In a way, it’s a really selfish thing, giving away my money, (because) it feels awesome, it’s fulfilling,” said Mr Hallam. “It’s a good selfish.”
First Published at: www.todayonline.com/Sunday/FaceintheCrowd/EDC111009-0000008/Middle-class-millionaire