Do you know the status of your financial health? If you do, great! If you don’t, you’re not alone. We kick off our latest season of Melissa’s Table Top Talk with Elsa Lim of Money Fit Coach as we talk about the common mistakes people make that affect their financial health.
Below is an excerpt from Elsa’s book “When Love and Money Are Gone” under the chapter entitled “Taming The Debt Monster”:
Getting your first paycheck and your first credit card is a heady experience for most 20-somethings. When I was in my early 20s, I remember feeling that sense of power when I held my first Visa credit card, knowing that it could buy me that dream outfit, vacation, designer watch, bag and indeed, anything I wished – never mind the bills that came afterwards!
Jayne, 34, was no different when she was in her early 20s. She recalls, “I was a diploma holder fresh out of polytechnic, with no clue about what I wanted in my life or career. I splurged on all sorts of things and basically lived from paycheck to paycheck.” She was in Taiwan at that time, working with a Singapore IT company as a project management executive and earning just enough to subsist on.
After five years of this hand-to-mouth existence in Taiwan, she came back to Singapore and took a long hard look at herself: a 25-year-old woman with not a single cent saved or asset to her name, stuck in a job that offered few prospects. Some young women may have accepted this situation as the norm and turned their energy to finding a life partner to provide financial and emotional security. Jayne, however, was disturbed by the thought that she would never be in control of her life.
“I remember saying to myself: I’m 25 and I still have nothing. What exactly do I want in life? I don’t want to end up 10 years down the road with no savings, no assets and having to support my parents as an only child. My income needs to grow otherwise I’d be nowhere at the end of day; I would just be another mediocre person, and I hate to be mediocre!” Jayne recalls.
Her fears of having no money and assets was partly due to her early memories watching her father splurge, borrow and gamble until their family home had to be sold off to pay his debts. From the age of 18, Jayne and her parents lived in a series of rented apartments. “I didn’t like the feeling that we couldn’t have a place to call our own,” she recalls.
Ten years on from that wake-up call, Jayne has far surpassed her family’s and friends’ expectations. Calling herself a “technologist”, Jayne has carved out a niche for herself in the world of high finance, becoming one of very few women to enter the male-dominated world of project management, where her team delivers IT systems and solutions for the banking and financial industry.
Within a span of 14 years, she has applied her project management expertise in a variety of industries from banking and finance to media and telecommunications. Her income has also grown tenfold and her career has taken her to more destinations and given her more career exposure and opportunities as compared to all her friends.
“I knew that I couldn’t get rich by investing in the stock market because I have no interest in following stocks. I had to focus on what I’m good at, which is my work, and I had to commit to a financial plan that gave me the outcomes I want,” says Jayne. She used her steadily increasing CPF Ordinary Account savings to purchase her family home with her parents – a modest HDB five-room flat. She set herself the goal of paying off her housing loan in 10 years and met her target recently. Her car loan is also settled, making her debt-free and in an enviable position to spend or invest her money in whatever way she wants.
Now married and mother of a young son, Jayne travels Business Class, enjoys dining out with her family and friends in nice restaurants, pampers herself on spa holidays and owns a few designer handbags. She and her husband, however, were very clear about how their money should be spent on big-ticket items, even before they got married five years ago.
“When we decided to get married, we did our sums and looked at our budgets. There was a lot of pressure from both our families to stage a grand fairytale wedding at a top hotel but we both agreed that every ridiculous demand from our family members would be managed according to how we want our wedding to be,” Jayne recalls.
She and her husband, who is also a project manager, managed every detail of their wedding, which was eventually held in a small, intimate hotel, attended by their closest friends, family members and relatives. “Weddings can be expensive and we said to ourselves, ‘Is it worth having a fairytale wedding followed by bills and stress in our married life? Let’s be realistic instead, and have something sweet and memorable’ – and we did,” says Jayne.
Forgoing their honeymoon, she and her husband decided to buy a car. Says Jayne, “I believe in delaying gratification – why spend unnecessarily, when you know that there are more important priorities and considerations?”
Her refusal to be financially stressed informs all her decisions about money. Jayne enrolled her son in a private kindergarten that comes with a four-figure school fee every month because she believes in giving him the best education that she can afford. Unlike many young professionals, however, she refuses to “upgrade” from her HDB flat to fancier private property, or to buy a second home. She and her husband still live happily with her parents in the flat that she bought years ago. They have no domestic help and take turns caring for their son.
“I really don’t need the kind of validation that living in a District 9 or 10 brings. Nothing is really worth paying more than $1,000 per square foot for and seeing half of your paycheck going towards housing. I prefer to have my money work for me, instead of the other way round,” says Jayne.
Taking the road less travelled instead of following the crowd has given Jayne the freedom to expand her horizons in other areas. She and her husband will be taking a big leap in their careers as they will be posted by their respective companies to work in the United States. She is looking forward to the move with much anticipation and excitement. “It’s not about the pay but about the tremendous learning opportunity for both my husband and myself, and for our son,” explains Jayne.
For a diploma holder who has worked her way up from nothing to the top of her game at age 34, Jayne has a down-to-earth philosophy about herself and her relationship with money: “Be realistic and don’t set ridiculous financial goals. I’ve always been very clear about what I want and what to do next. Everything I do is something that I can sustain,” she declares.
If money is a monster that often drives us to spend and invest recklessly, piling on debt after debt, Jayne has indeed tamed it by focusing on what’s really important and meaningful to her: professional and personal growth, the happiness of her family, and most importantly, no financial stress!
Catch the ‘live’ version of Melissa’s Table Top Talk every Tue, 8.30pm (Singapore Time) at Wellness Insider’s Facebook page. To be updated on the latest episodes, you can also subscribe via our YouTube channel.
Find out more about Money Fit Coach and Elsa Lim here.