This week, the hottest topic in the financial blogger-sphere is about why we should be financial educated. Although LP is not the source blogger causing this viral, I was influenced by his post “why I am interested in personal finance”, sharing his personal finance journey. To me, sharing of personal experiences always educates more convincingly than just infusing streams of theories. Now, let my own story begins as follows.
I come from a humble family, “Money Always No Enough Lar!” We initially stayed in 1-room (no living room) then upgraded to 2-room rental flat (1 living and 1 bedroom). My father worked for less than $1k with no CPF, and mum was a housewife babysitting for extra income.
I started earning money by catching spiders at forestry areas near Jervois road and railway tracks! Spiders have to be masculine to fight in the “ring” which is my fist!. The more battles my spiders win over my friends, the more expensive I can sell. My top fighter “Blue Artillery Powder” done deal at S$8. Not too shabby back in the 80s!
As a boy, I am competitive and always wanted to win. I understand clearly that to win, you need to master the skills and excel in it. I make use of this trait of mine to earn money! I excelled in my “Marble or GoLi” games, and will bring back more coins with sand, in my pocket each day. I also mastered “Eraser Flipping” techniques and win erasers to sell.
While I loved collecting stickers, “Know Your School, Ghost Busters, World Cup” etc. but I can barely afford to buy many. Filling up sticker album was not my objective. Instead I accumulated stickers to selling classmates who are short of the specific sticker at a higher price!
In the absence of teachers, I will also start my sticker gambling den. I am always the banker arranging 3 stacks of stickers, pictures face up, numbers down! Bet your stickers on the stack with the largest number, you win! Somehow I will win more than I lose, sometimes with unethical method. After winning, I will sell the stickers to richer kids then. Once I had the shiny reflective Ghost-buster sticker collection “M, N, O, P” that I won, which allows me to exchange for a figurine priced at S$10. I sold at S$8 to a schoolmate.
During primary school days, I am very good in table tennis and badminton and captained both sports for my school winning competitions. I was one of my principal’s favorite students. For doing the school proud, my principal gave me S$50.00 from his own pocket for me to buy a new table tennis bat, since mine was already old. I was so touched!
Both my parents are not formerly educated. They were pre-occupied with their own financial problems and have little time for me. I was never taught that I need to save for the future or rainy days! The only reason I earn or save is to buy the things I really like that we could not afford.
At times what I earned will be loosely donated to “Horse Riding or Jackpot Machines!”
Secondary School to Junior College
There is no improvement in family financial situation, which means little pocket money still. Mum stopped baby sitting and go work part-time as a cleaner. We stayed in the 2-room HDB flat until I was in Junior College (JC), then we upgraded to a 3-room HDB unit, no longer rental. Finally, my parent’s own house, thanks to my working sister’s assistance! Financial burden was higher, since my father does not have CPF. So my brother has to sign on Airforce to support the housing loan.
Having Things I Like for “Free”?
The small roof with little privacy ensured I spend most of time on the streets. One group of friends I hanged around after school was rowdy and troubles were imminent, often. To save money, some of my friends will do free groceries shopping at 7-11 at wee hours. Point blocks 5-room HDB flats, which we deemed only the rich can afford, are also our target for after-dark shopping. This is how our favorite “Neckermann” or Ocean Pacific sandals are within reach, compared to the wealthy. I always chickened out when it comes to stealing, but I was beneficiary of the goods most time as a reward for my accomplice companion. Equally bad!
Doing Things I Like Cheaply
I started playing snooker when I was age 11. I like the game, for it entails lots of thinking, concentration and skills. Typical game will cost $5-6/hr. Sounds like “a lot” of money then for a poor kid. 3 to 4 of us will always play “Punch table”, which means loser pay for the table fees! I practiced hard to make sure I win more than I loose!
Despite on days when I am an invincible snooker player, what I does not spend “punching table”, I will lost the money saved on the snooker table, throwing into “Horse Racing Machines!” But, I recognized that no matter what, I cannot lost my following week food allowance!
Started Working Part-time
During holidays, my mum will also get more “shopping plastic/paper bags” for me to fold. The faster I fold, the more money we earned. I will also helped her to root out bags of bean sprouts for pat S50c to S$1 per 5 Kg. If I am fast and hardworking, my mum will reward me with more pocket money. I also started my part-time job during holidays, working at relative recommended company as data-entry clerk. I like working apparently. No, I like the Money! Of Course!
To Fulfill Your Dreams, Never Neglect Studies
Although I was often on the streets, I never neglected my studies. Since young, I hear adults say, “This is Singapore, No Cert, No Money, No Future!” My biggest dream as a boy, is always to own my 5-room HDB flat one day. So I tell myself, I HAVE to study hard. I stay aloof my hooligan friends before O Levels and stayed focus to prepare for it.
I passed 'O' scoring L1R5 at 9 pts. I wanted to go Poly, but was convinced by my sister to go JC as an easier path to go to university. An “Anti-Shocked” Disc Man as JC enrollment criteria in exchange also helps me in making the decision.
After A Levels, I went on to study in Engineering in NTU.
National Service Full-time (NSF)
Just after my A Levels, my father past away. There is no issue with financial because my Dad does not earn a lot anyway, and also because my siblings were already working and I was enlisting soon.
During NS, I was fortunate to be able to book out each day. I stopped taking pocket money, since I have my S$200-300 allowance from Army throughout the 2 years plus of service.
Started Giving Tuition, But Lost Everything to Singapore Pools
I also started giving tuition. My student is staying in the same HDB block as me, thanks to my mum’s marketing. She was primary 3 then. Few months later, I added intake of another student same education level. I was earning something like S$500 a month from tuition. Plus my Army allowance, I was a really rich Army boy, at that time. It was also the same period where Singapore Pool S-League was legalized. I lost everything I earned and save from my tuition, before enrollment to university! See why/how I lost here.
I never stop giving tuition, no matter how hectic my 4 years of University life. Since I can earn from something I enjoyed. Why Not? As my tuition students transited from primarily to secondary schools, my tuition income increased.
My father never leave behind any CPF for my University Tuition fees which totalled S$25k for four years. He does not have CPF! 80% of tuition fees, i.e. S$20k can be loaned from the bank, but I still need the 20%, i.e. S$5k paid in CASH! It was a lot of money for me back then.
Loans, Loans, Loans!
I could not get any bursary due to my elder Brother’s income is more than the family income limit. We were brought up to be responsible for our problems at home, so no family help rendered to me. Eventually, I applied for Study Loan that is able to provide me with extra S$3.6k yearly. This can pay the 20% balance tuition fees, as well as cover my daily expenses.
I had two computers during uni time. One was paid by installments drawing from my tuition earnings, and another was via Uni computer loan rendered for poorer family. I also stayed in hostel, but my sister did help to offset my hostel fees each month for me.
Having my Private Tuition income and Study loan, means money should be more than sufficient. But being relatively spendthrift at times, having a girlfriend, plus having to go through Driving Test several times certainly does not help me financially.
Study Loan – S$14.4K (interest free)
Computer Loan – S$2.6K (interest free)
Tuition Fee Bank Loan – S$20k (prevailing interest starts after grad)
Total Loans after Graduation – S$37K excluding interests!
Borrowed another S$3k from my sister for Graduation Tour! The day I graduated, I have no savings! and close to S$40k in debt excluding interest!
What I Learn
- Humble background sculpts my earning skills
- Mastery of specific skill-set is a must for earning. Hardwork is needed to master skills.
- Education or continuous learning is important.
- Knowing how to earn is not sufficient. You need to know how to save and grow your money.
- Pampering our-self from our earnings is still important since we need to live life happy.
Stay tuned to Part 2 ….