For those who have entered the workforce, you might have noticed your friends’ or colleagues’ obsession to grow their wealth – be it aggressively chasing a promotion, scrimping and saving ruthlessly, picking up stock investing, or taking on side projects to earn an extra income. Or perhaps you’re also doing that.
This should not come as a surprise as we’re moving onto the next life stage and it’s natural that we want to set ourselves up for independence and perhaps get ready for a new family or even early retirement.
Everyone Wants To Retire Wealthy, And Early
FIRE (Financial independence, retire early), a trending term as some people like to call it, takes a lot of effort. For those who have no idea how to get started, they often turn to forums and communities where like-minded individuals share their experience and advice on how to achieve FIRE. The problem is, personal finance is never a one-size-fit-all package.
As the term implies, personal finance should be tailored to each individual, depending on their needs, life goals, and many other circumstances. Yet, many people look up at finance bloggers, or turn to finance forums, maybe even pay $4,000 for an investing course, hoping to find a shortcut to financial independence.
To be fair, these courses, advice, and knowledge are mostly legit and they can greatly benefit someone with zero or basic financial knowledge. However, regardless of your choice to save, to build up your CPF, to invest, or to trade, there is one common factor in order to achieve success – you have to put in the hard work to understand, practice, and get better with your personal finances.
Two Similar Individuals Can Have Vastly Different Needs
To illustrate this, let me use an example of a 28 year old, with a steady job, who’s looking to settle down with his other half within the next 5 years. Compare this with another person of the same age, same gender, similar investing preferences and knowledge, but is single. How do you think their personal finance needs differ?
For the person who’s looking to settle down, he’ll probably spend his time outside of work developing his relationship. His priority is on saving and accumulating enough to afford a wedding, and a house. He’s interested in investing but might not be able to devote the time to do DIY investing, so he chooses to dedicate part of his portfolio to ETFs or robo-advisors, and possibly a bigger portion in safe assets.
In comparison, the single person might not invest his time into relationships. As such, he could spend time and effort in career advancements, and possibly spending his free time researching various stocks and investment options.
Even for financial tools like credit card, the first person might choose to get a credit card that gets him maximum air miles or cashback rewards, especially so when he might have big spending coming up in his wedding preparations and honeymoon. The second person in comparison might choose to be frugal and choose to spend only a few hundred dollars a month and may not even need a credit card.
*Do note that the above examples are purely illustrative; a single person can choose to work on relationships while an attached person can also find time to work on investments. In reality, even if someone may be in a similar situation as either of them, he may have different life goals and needs.
Nevertheless, the case in point is that personal finance is an individualised matter. We should not apply the same strategies, advice, and tools for every other person.
Personal Finance Is A Personal Journey
Personal finance should be explored in your own capacity, to satisfy your own needs. No, you do not need to get the cashback card that gets you unlimited cashback and get $200 while at it. Neither do you need to accumulate the most miles and travel like a king. Perhaps you’re just content with getting by on $500 of spending a month and to save the rest – in that case the UOB ONE (or UOB Lady’s card) might be a viable option, not to mention you get bonus interest on your UOB savings account.
And if you’re contemplating about changing jobs and thinking about how severely underpaid you are, perhaps you should think about how much do you actually need and what do you actually want from a job. A job that does not pay you the most but afford you the opportunity to learn or the network that can move you upwards in your career might be better than a high-paying stable job – but that again depends on your commitments and life goals.
When it comes to investing, whether you prefer to stick to the conventional savings account, topping up your CPF to earn 4% interest, and buying some SSB (Singapore Savings Bond), or if you prefer to spend time AND effort to learn about value and growth investing, it also comes down to your personal needs, availability, and life goals. Most importantly, invest only in what you know, so if you know nuts about equities, forex, commodities, or alternative investments, just stay away until you can devote some time to learn about them.
Define Your Personal Finance
To conclude, the message of this article has been reiterated multiple times – personal finance is personal. Rather than try to emulate the successes of finance influencers, or to find a sure-win template to accumulate wealth *cough *robo *cough *ee-tee-eff, devote the time to learn some basics. These will set you up for a long journey to success, just as the right job with great learning opportunities would.
Actionable Steps To Improve Your Personal Finance
1. Track your spending
By keeping track of your expenses, it brings to your consciousness where the bulk of your money goes. The transparency forces you to reflect on your spending habits.
2. Budget your monthly expenses
Budgeting will help you to achieve short and long-term saving and investing goals. Some people choose to be super strict with their budgets, while others prefer a more generic, let-me-not-spend-more-than-a-certain-amount approach.
3. Make use of credit
Only after you’re more aware of your spending, should you consider credit cards. They are a double-edged sword and can get you a lot more benefits than just using cash or debit cards – if you use it right.
Credit also comes in the form of loans – where the right loans taken can help you achieve long-term goals.
4. Make your money work for you
Some people like to call it passive income – whether it is buying dividend stocks or building a side hustle. But do not be fooled, a lot of work goes into making the passive income tool work for you. Learn the right investing strategies, and if you’ve no idea where to start, Dr Wealth has a pool of resources available for you to read, for free!
5. Protect yourself with insurance
While we often have negative perceptions of insurance, possibly because of the relentless agents, it’s an essential financial tool that can protect your lifestyle. Yes, all Singaporeans have a form of health insurance in MediShield but that might not be enough. The last thing you want is to have a big medical bill hit you and set you back unexpectedly in your life goals.
Ironically, one of the ways you can learn more about insurance is to speak with an insurance agent – the one you’ve always avoided. Well, do not just speak with one; speak with a few of them and you’ll get a more objective view.
6. Keep learning and adapting
Don’t just listen to one article like this or your favourite finance blogger. Hear from multiple sources and get different viewpoints; these will help you to learn better and define your personal finance. For starters, check out the valuable content dished out by our partners – The Woke Salaryman, SG Budget Babe, and Dr Wealth.
Keep learning about your personal finances, and good luck!
This is Part 4 of the GoBear Personal Finance Series. Do check out the earlier parts by The Woke Salaryman, SG Budget Babe and DrWealth. The entire series can be found here.
There’s also a Personal Finance Quiz that you can stand to win lucky draw prizes – Apple AirPods and NTUC vouchers! Take the quiz here!