Congratulations, You made it to the starting line on personal finance!
It may seem a daunting task to start managing your own money. This article was written in plain simple English for non-financially trained Singaporeans to answer that first question at the back of your mind:
” How should I start my financial journey on the right track? “
This series was distilled after many hours spent with the top personal finance bloggers in Singapore. At the same time, we poured through financial savvy users on Hardwarezone (HWZ) Money Mind and Reddit. We aim to share only what is essential, answering questions that beginners often have. Ultimately we feel that this is the most realistic path to getting you to a solid foundation in your financial planning journey. At the end of the series, you should feel that it is indeed possible to start now with several key actionable items at your side. If you are keen to jump the line and learn from the community, you can join our curated Personal Finance Singapore Community here.
The Seedly Money Framework
Step 1: Cut your monthly expenses
- It is most effective to look at a monthly time frame simply because most people get their income (salary or dividends) on a certain date. From there, it lasts till that same date next month.
- Download your latest bank statements from your main spending account and scrutinise them. Look out for your TOP 5 EXPENSES last month – these are usually the keys to your whole expenditure over-budget.
- Start simple, by looking for creative ways to cut at least ONE of them by the following month.
- For fixed expenses (like phone bills and utility bills) look for ways to get the best deal. After which find ways to optimise your utility consumption. As for the most common use case, check out How To Save Over $200 On Your Mobile Plan.
- For variable expenses (needs and wants) these are the key ones to start reviewing how you should be spending your hard-earned money. Check out these 3 Simple & Quick Tips To Get Better At Your Money.
- Good tips: Avoid things that are heavily discounted and sale items and focus more on the utility of these items. This happened to me recently where I was considering getting another set of shirts online. The discount at 50% or more is tempting, but the truth is told, I already had too many. Let it set in for a day or two before thinking if this is really something you NEED or WANT. Consumerism at its best. You can refer to this interesting list of 11 Things You Shouldn’t Pay For But Probably Are.
- Get into the habit of liquidating unwanted items on platforms like Carousell 🙂
- We highly recommend using an automatic budgeting app like Seedly or any other manual excel sheets or manual tracking apps to get this part of the equation sorted out, where it automatically breaks down the various monthly expenses into the different groups and allows you to compare accordingly.
Step 2: Clear your debts
- Once you have looked at cutting your expenses, your loan repayments are usually constituted to be the largest monthly expense
- A debt is some form of loan or amount of money that you had borrowed and now needs returning (usually at an interest %). It may be from a bank, CPF or parents.
- Student loans are the most common and in the range of around $20 – 25k. One should aim to clear this within a 2-year time frame.
- Being in debt does not mean that it is a bad thing, it simply means that you have a continuous outflow which draws away at your monthly cash reserves that would otherwise have been put to other uses. Read the Pros and Cons of Taking a Loan in Singapore for a comparison between the types available to Singaporeans, together with the 3 Misconceptions that Consumers have about Loans.
- There are tips around this whereby financial bloggers recommend to take another personal loan to pay off tuition fee loan. We suggest you do this only if the other loans have significantly lower interest rates of usually between 2-3%.
- We don’t mean that you have to clear it immediately but rather, you should have a goal to clear this loan off by a certain date. while making sure the repayments are not excessively too high. Read some Hacks To Clear Your Debts Fast And Effectively (Snowball & Avalanche methods)
- You never want to get into credit-card debts. The reason being that these are high-interest debt at around 24% per annum which compounds on a monthly basis. Always pay your bills on time (usually monthly) and never maximise your credit card limit.
- Some users actually recommend paying the card off in a weekly time frame (now you can do this online)
- Credit card companies prey on late fees (billed weekly) and interest fees which tend to compound.
- In Singapore, take advantage of the competitiveness of the banks where the annual card fees are usually waived for up to 2 years and you can call to waive as well. Most companies will allow you to waive them off if you have been spending on that card regularly.
You can watch this video here where they discuss the concept of how your card fees can really sky-rocket in the 3rd segment of the show!
Step 3: Get protected with basic insurance
- Insurance in its simplest definition is simply a protection from some form of financial loss. Read more on what are the key insurance policies you should buy.
- Think of this as a risk management tool. It beats the risk of you ‘dying or falling ill’ against a larger pool of people.
- Healthcare insurance (Hospitalisation and Surgical) should be your top priority. It is usually this medical costs which can really make unprotected individuals suffer, upwards of $10k for a simple surgery and ward stay.
- Usually, most insurance agents push certain products like mad because they get ridiculously high commissions from them. Develop the willpower to save and invest. A term that financial savvy people like to use is BTIR (Buy term and invest the rest, more on this in the investment section where we talk about basic ETFs and how to get started on them).
- Most financial savvy people again never buy a whole life insurance but rather just term life insurance. This is because beyond a certain age, 65 usually, your coverage ends, but premiums are way more affordable. For whole life, the premiums are heavier with coverage till death (if you continue paying for your monthly or yearly premiums which will grow exponentially as you age).
- To be honest, in today’s world, if you were to get a terminal illness or bad accident, statistics show it would happen likely before 65. And beyond that, you would probably have kids or have amassed enough passive income to cover for that. Read my Personal Story: How Insurance Saved My Family where I discuss what happened to my dad, who got hit by a taxi and got stage 4 brain cancer before 55 years old.
- Another approach is to buy a whole-life when you start having a family. This way, in the event that you pass on, your coverage is guaranteed.
- Important Tip: NEVER buy investment-linked insurance (ILP) or endowment funds. Firstly, the insurer never guarantees basic returns but instead charge exorbitant fees. If you scrutinise the investments they do, it’s similar to investing in index funds (which you will learn in step 5).
- Especially for men who served national service, you will most definitely be covered with the AVIVA group term insurance. TL: DR: You should NOT cancel this amazing deal you earned for serving the nation. Read this: Should You Cancel Your Aviva MINDEF/MHA Group Insurance After You ORD?
Step 4: Build up your savings & rainy day funds
- There are two main parts to this savings game, voluntary and forced savings.
- In Singapore, people often complain about the high cost of retirement, so do check out How Much Savings Is Enough?
- When you start to receive your salary from your employer, look out for the payslip. The equation should tabulate to something like this
- Total Salary = Take home salary + 20% CPF (you) + 17% CPF (employer)
- Often when in discussions with your HR, you will discuss on the Gross Salary. The gross salary is simply the Take home Salary + CPF (you)
- What is really interesting is that for a fresh graduate with a gross salary of $2.5k, these forced savings can amount to over $925 a month, which is a good chunk which adds up and compounds over the years.
- Your CPF is primarily a nest egg which is a pool of funds for you to use for purely essential things (eg. Retirement, Housing, Healthcare, etc.). You can read more about the details here: Your 5 Minutes Guide To CPF
- TL: DR: CPF is actually a very good plan which many financial savvy people in Singapore use to their advantage. Returns on these amount of money actually beat the market inflation numbers by a good amount. Your Special Account (SA) even yields over 4-5% returns which are more than some of the index funds as a whole. Thus, this should be a vital component for any Singaporean to get started and track over the years.
- An ambitious yet challenging goal should be to aim to save $10-15k in a year (by saving over 50% of your disposable income). Refer to the step 1 of cutting expense for some tips and budgeting strategy.
- Some readers actually advise that once you hit your rainy day fund amount, you should look to invest the rest.
- A rainy day fund is defined as an amount of cash stored in a liquid format (eg savings account, or SSB) where it allows you up to 3 to 6 months of your monthly expenses. This is a precaution in case something horribly goes wrong or you get retrenched in a bad market.
- Do note, your rainy day fund changes at different life stages, eg when planning for a wedding or when you start a family (as the committed expenses changes accordingly).
- We recommend you to consider Investing In Singapore Savings Bonds (SSB), where it is often seen as a money piñata, with higher interest rates than the bank but more liquidity. Step-By-Step Guide To Investing In Your First Singapore Savings Bond
- As financial savvy people always say, that time is on your side when in your 20s. 20s is actually the best time to start building up your wealth and habits.
- That being said, there are a ton of young adults who live paycheck to paycheck without much savings. They are simply forced to earn that monthly paycheck simply to keep up with the high-end lifestyle. That is not ideal and I think for obvious reasons. Every dollar spent is one less to help you generate returns. Ultimately, Our Savings Depend On Our Lifestyle Choices.
Step 5: Grow your passive income
- Investment is often a very over-used word. Here is the best definition of it when it comes to personal finance. With every dollar invested, it generates some form of return. Total Returns = Capital Gain + Dividend Yield.
- Simply put, if you can make your money work for you, it’s the highest nirvana of any financial savvy person. Here is the best part, it does not have to be complicated.
- For beginners, we recommend just getting your feet wet with Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) or Singapore Saving Bonds (SSBs) to get your portfolio going. Understand what ETFs are: ETFs: The Only Thing Singaporeans Need
- In fact, you can easily get started with your existing bank (e.g. DBS, OCBC, SCB etc.) Which Regular Savings Plan Is The Cheapest?
- As financial savvy readers say and investment gurus preach: Let time be on your side, compounding works wonders. No amount is too small.
- A general approach to investing is easy: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” (especially so for plans which claim to generate over 20-30% returns) Simply put, higher potential returns = higher risk, there is no free lunch in this world.
- Remember, YOU ARE NOT a day-trader, basically someone who spend days in front of large screens monitoring the market and trades. There are many courses which aim to teach you how to trade FOREX or stocks and especially with multiple testimonials etc. These courses are really running a business which feeds on greed and instant satisfaction.
- Never dabble in MLMs (Multi-level marketing) especially when they claim to be some sort of investment or running your own business unless you’re personally vested into this or are running this as your full-time job.
- Avoid investment products being sold by insurance companies, a friend had a good adage for this (would you trust a 2-in-1 hair shampoo and body foam to do a good job?).
- A simple rule, Avoid investment products which you don’t understand, a recent one popping up like cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin and Ethereum).
- Learn some basic vocabulary, it will probably take you half a day. Like, what is the difference between an ETF, an index fund, a mutual fund? Refer to Investopedia with easy explainer videos to guide you along.
- Once you hit your first investible $10k (above your rainy day funds), you may wish to consider some of the best tips on How Some Of Singapore’s Top Financial Bloggers Invest Their First $10K.
- Most importantly, always play the long game and don’t get your emotions involved.
So with that being said, life is only getting started for you, and you should be really excited. This is the first of 5 parts to thriving in the working world financially. We believe that anyone should be able to start with little effort and attain basic financial freedom.
With these ideas, you should heave learned the most important money habits and lessons when it comes to starting your own learning journey. Stay hungry stay foolish~!