Money Advice for My Younger Self

Providend

Dear younger me,

You might be surprised to hear from the older you.

By the time you read this, you would have graduated and worked for a few years. I know that you are struggling to make sense of your personal finances.

At your current income level, you’re wondering if you would ever make enough money to buy your own flat, enjoy some of the nicer things in life or travel to far-flung places.

The older you is now working in wealth planning and management (spoiler #1). That’s why I believe that what I’m about to share with you would be helpful.

Spend as if tomorrow is your last; save as if you would live to a hundred

Sounds paradoxical, I know.

First things first, you have always been a saver. You would do well to remain as one.

If tomorrow were your last day on earth, what (or rather, who) would you be spending your money on? I’d bet that you won’t be buying clothes, a condo or a car.

You cannot take them with you.

Rather, you would be spending time with (and money on) the people who love you, and those whom you care deeply about. By spending on experiences (and they can be as extravagant as your budget allows), you would be able to create beautiful memories with the people who matter.

As your income increases over the years, try to live simply, and keep your expenses low. You may feel like you deserve better and bigger things.

Owning luxury goods can make you happy.

But that happiness is short-lived.

Do not be seduced; be happy with “enough”. Once you get used to an elevated lifestyle, it’s very painful to return to a simpler one.

That’s not the only reason for simple living.

The life expectancy of Singaporeans has been rising steadily, thanks to advances in medical science. According to SingStat, in 2021, women in Singapore are expected to live to approximately 86.

Both our grandmothers would go on to live long and healthy lives, far beyond this national average (spoiler #2). You need to possibly work longer and keep saving diligently to ensure that you have sufficient resources in your retirement years.

Protect yourself as much as you need, and for as little as possible

Insurance is really meant for protection.

As a single, young working adult, your greatest assets are time and health. Having time on your side gives you many productive years ahead.

But if a critical illness or disability strikes, you may not be able to work for a few years.

To effectively protect against this potential loss of income without hurting your wallet, a term plan that provides you with three to five years of your annual income will enable you to focus on your health and recover in peace.

While this protection need is a temporary one, you do need a hospitalisation and surgical insurance plan that covers you for life.

MediShield is a low-cost, basic national insurance plan where patients share part of the medical expenses. It covers you for Class B2/C hospitalisation bill at government hospitals.

If your budget allows, it would be good to purchase a private shield plan that covers you for Class B1/A hospitalisation bill at government hospitals, or even treatments at private hospitals. As you are relatively young, a private shield plan would give you more options at a reasonably low price.

Keep calm and keep bankrolling the right things

Next up is investments.

This topic is huge and hairy, so I’ll just talk about two things.

Firstly, let me share the wisdom of John C. Bogle, founder and Chief Executive of The Vanguard Group: “The winning formula for success in investing is owning the entire stock market through an index fund, and then doing nothing. Just stay the course.”

This is the best way for you to start bankrolling your retirement sum as you have the advantage of time.

However, it is not easy to ‘do nothing and stay the course’ because there will inevitably be market downturns. In fact, you’ve experienced this as a job seeker a few years back when you graduated during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

But you have not experienced this as an investor.

This brings me to the second point: when a downturn happens, it can be extremely scary.

You will panic.

You will want to sell your investments.

Fear will try to paralyse you – don’t let it.

Resist the urge to sell and stay invested. Financial crises, too, will come to pass, and the stock market will recover its value.

For you to make sense of what I’ve just shared, read as much as you can on investing and do your best to understand what is going on. Learn from your mistakes and continue to invest in your own financial education.

While you are at it, keep greed and complacency on extremely short leashes, and don’t let any success that you might enjoy in your investments get to your head.

Morgan Housel, columnist at The Motley Fool, who would later write The Psychology of Money, a must-read personal finance book in 2020 (spoiler #3), explains that: “Luck and risk are both the reality that every outcome in life is guided by forces other than individual effort.

They are so similar that you can’t believe in one without equally respecting the other.

They both happen because the world is too complex to allow 100% of your actions to dictate 100% of your outcomes.

They are driven by the same thing: you are one person in a game with seven billion other people and infinite moving parts.

The accidental impact of actions outside of your control can be more consequential than the ones you consciously take.”

You’re not too young to start

At this point, you may still be wondering: “I’m only in my 20s. Do I really need to ninja my finances right now?”

Absolutely.

When you plan early, you’re giving yourself a longer runway to grow your savings and investments. Armed with a financial arsenal that is growing steadily, you will have greater ability to weather poor economic conditions down the road.

Money doesn’t have the last word, you do

I know I’ve spoken a lot about money, and what to do with it.

But money isn’t the end game here.

It is a servant, not a master.

It’s a tool that will help serve your goals.

Do spend time thinking about what it is you’d like to achieve in life. Start writing that bucket list and start planning on how to tick the items off.

Last but not least

Like most things, taking the first step is always the most difficult.

If you find yourself struggling along the way, don’t feel like you need to do this alone. Find a sound and trusted wealth adviser to be your sounding board and journey with you.

Wishing you the best of life, health and happiness.

Love,
The older you

This is an original article written by Annette Lee, Associate Adviser at Providend, Singapore’s First Fee-Only Wealth Advisory Firm.

For more related resources, check out:
1. The Providend Conversation: Living the Good Life with Christopher Tan
2. Story of Evelyn: From Kampung Peddler to Deputy CEO of Providend
3. Keeping Faith Despite the Market Downdraft


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