To start off, I am a Singaporean boy from a very humble background. My father works blue-collar job while my mother does a regular office job. To give a clearer picture, my family’s household income per capita is slightly in excess of $1,000. Things were bleaker in the past when I had to apply for financial assistance to pay for my monthly school fees during my secondary school days.
Well, I mention about my background not because I want to gain sympathy or compliments of how I was able to tide through all these years. Instead, I want to share with everyone that anyone can achieve their financial goals with the right mindset.
So, without further ado, I will be recounting my own experience of how I am able to save for my university fees even before I step into law school.
It all began on one early Saturday afternoon when my mom brought my sister and I to the nearby POSB branch office to set up our very own savings account. I remembered vividly that I was Primary 4 back then. It was the beginning of my financial journey.
Even though I wasn’t given a lot of pocket money, I didn’t know why but I had the innate desire to save almost every time I had the opportunity to do so. During Chinese New Year, all my ang pao money would be saved and because I was young and ignorant, I will always trouble my father to help me deposit into the bank account.
Every month, I would have saved around $50 from a portion of my pocket money and I would ask my father to help me bank in too. Occasionally, I would also receive bursary awards from my MP which were saved up also.
As time passes, I managed to save around $2,000 by the time I was 12 years old. It is a small amount on hindsight, but back then, it felt like the world to me. Alas, my sacrifice was worthwhile as I managed to accumulate a 4-digit figure before I went to secondary school.
In secondary one, I actively looked for financial assistance from my school as I knew my parents were struggling financially due to the ripple effect of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2008.
My dad so happened to get retrenched from his decades-long job that year too. That was my first encounter with insecurity of money at home, which further spurred me on to save up even more.
As I continued to excel in lower secondary, I applied for bursaries after bursaries. Coupled with my usual habit of saving a portion of my pocket money, I managed to have around $5,000 worth of savings before I graduated from secondary school to attend JC.
During my Junior College days, the financial situation became slightly better as my mother started working too. I was therefore able to focus better on my academic studies. Nevertheless, money issue was still at the back of my mind.
I was still very thrifty, and I did not socialise much with my friends as I found it a waste of money to go out and have expensive lunches or go shopping for unnecessary clothings. Instead, I found most of my time using the internet at home to either play games or learn new things.
I also decided to travel to school everyday by cycling to save up on bus fares. It was a good decision as I was in control of my travel time too. It was also a good form of exercise for me. Oddly enough, I would feel tired not cycling to school on days where it rained heavily. I also continued cycling to school even during the A level examination period.
It was also during my JC days where I got exposed to the idea of investing. I remembered reading this online Straits Times article on the Singapore Savings Bond. It was a relatively new product back then and I still remembered fondly how I was discussing about it with my Economics tutor.
However, I didn’t really start investing until my Army days which I will be talking about soon enough. Before I finish JC, my bank account had $10,000 already. That was a milestone that I always wanted to complete before I turned 18 and I managed to do it.
It was a small financial victory for me and I felt confident to do more. However, if not for the large sums of bursary money I got from the government, Buddhist Lodge foundation, Singapore Police Force, DSO and many others, I wouldn’t have been able to save up a 5-digit figure.
With that $10,000 in my bank account, I happily went to Tekong to undergo BMT. Although being conscripted, I still managed to find joy every month when the allowance came through. Training was tiring enough for me to just book out and recuperate at home that I managed to save most, if not all, of my NS allowance.
It was also during my first year of NS that I made my first foray into ‘investing’ other than just saving. It wasn’t really investing per se but I set up a Save-as-you-serve account from POSB. At month 13, which was 1 year into my NS, I was credited my interest of roughly $240 (2.0% per annum) and I closed the account.
Second year into army, I became a sergeant and garnered a pay of roughly $1,000. I continued saving and invested in a variety of products such as the Singapore Savings Bond, Astrea IV bond, individual stocks, P2P lending and more. It was this period where I experienced an exponential growth in my savings, relative to the past nine years in school.
As I was about to ORD and finish NS, I began giving tuition for JC and secondary students. Along with my NS pay, investment returns and tuition job, I managed to hit past $40,000 in terms of total asset values.
After ORD, even though I did not get a proper job, my freelance tuition was able to get me to where I am today where I no longer have to worry about not getting a scholarship for my law education or burdening my parents with CPF loans. I managed to save around $50,000.
It feels good to be financially in control of my life. Even though along the way, I may have missed some opportunities to make more friends/find a girlfriend throughout my school life, at least I found it a sensible and calculated decision to make.
I hope that my story can inspire not so well-to-do kids to always be positive in life. With the right mindset and attitude, there is nothing one cannot achieve. As the late Mr Lee once said
“Life is what you make of it. You are dealt a pack of cards… Your job is to make the best of the cards that have been handed out to you.”
– Lee Kuan Yew