In this Money Diaries series, we explore the lives of everyday Singaporeans and how they think about personal finance, their quality of life, and what they spend on a day to day and monthly basis.
Through this series, we'd love to discover what makes people tick, how they think about wealth, and about savings and retirement, and to keep everyone honest, we've made them all anonymous so they can share their lives openly.
In this inaugural piece, we meet a product manager at a small tech company. The following are in her words.
Current location: Singapore, lives in the west.
Current job title and industry: Product Manager, Tech (seed stage startup)
Number of years employed: 10+ (did graduate degrees and changed careers midway)
- New York Times subscription: $21. I like paying for good journalism.
- Phone bill: $30. I use Circles.Life and am happy with it.
- Electricity: $100
- Personal training: $960. This is by far my biggest expense, but as I age and find myself really thinking about health and wellness, I think this is a worthwhile investment.
- Mortgage: $1,500 split between my husband and myself. It took us six months to find a place and we decided to buy a resale HDB flat. We made the conscious decision not to buy a condo. We didn't see the value in incurring a much higher mortgage and compromising on location and cost. So we get more space and have a smaller mortgage for a HDB flat in central west. We spent $50,000 on the renovation and used cash for this.
On a day-to-day basis, I spend about $4 on public transportation.
I spend $60 on groceries twice a week. I meal prep — so each meal prep costs $5 and includes organic chicken and vegetables. I often go to NTUC Fairprice Extra at Vivocity, and get my chicken on Redmart, which is where you can find some affordable organic produce. Also, a relatively new discovery for me is the wet market — I discovered it three years ago and it blew my mind how insanely cheap things are in comparison to regular supermarkets.
Financial tools I use: ShopBack, Spendee
- ShopBack — I love it and it's helped me save $800 over the course of four years. I definitely don't underestimate the power of cashback.
- Spendee — I use this to track all my finances and expenses, and like to look at trends over the last few years.
Outlook on money: Bang for buck
Currently, I enjoy maximising bang for buck. My philosophy has changed in the last five years, because retirement planning is something that's been occupying a lot of headspace.
As I've become more conscious of my spending habits, and what I need and don't need, I've managed to reduce spending on stuff like clothes and upgrading my mobile phone.
I realise now that replacing broken things is more important than unnecessarily following trends. So I distinguish between things I need versus things I want. That said, it requires spending more time to find quality items that will last a long time, versus something fast fashion that will be worn for just one season.
Personal finances: Track well, learn more
I've been tracking my expenses for the last nine to 10 years. I've always used apps, starting with Toshl, though I've since moved to Spendee.
Every year, I like to sit down and analyse my expenditure, so I can see how my expenses and priorities have changed. I used to spend on mostly travel and rent, but since I bought a home, my mortgage is now my largest expense. It's always interesting to see how tastes and choices evolve over the years.
Lifestyle: Spend less on quantity, more on quality
In the past, I used to spend a lot more on going out and drinking — but married life has balanced me out more. We're still social (we entertain at home) and try to have date night once a week (one of my favourite restaurants is AMO on Hong Kong Street). We realised that quality, not quantity of time and experience, matters so much more to us. I'd much rather save my money and spend it overseas eating well — there are some good restaurants in Singapore, but eating out here is quite pricey.
We both enjoy arts and culture, so we try to find different things to do. We attend local plays and love going to The Projector on the weekends, once or twice a month. The Projector is also near Golden Mile Complex, where we get some really good and cheap Thai food either before or after.
Travel: Searching for experiences
My husband and I both love travelling, and it's one of our biggest expenses. Keeping that in mind, we make sure we book flights about nine to 12 months in advance if we know we're going on a big trip.
My husband comes from a family of six so, like me, he actually enjoys planning and (even more than me) is very used to making do with what he has. We shoot for mid-range hotels ($100-$200 a night), and we buy our own breakfasts in the morning to cut costs and get on the road to explore sooner. We don't usually linger too long in our hotels, though comfort is important.
Investing: Tech stocks, ETFs, crypto and SRS
My first exposure and ability to invest came in my mid-20s when I started working for a global MNC. Employee share options were available to me, so I started doing some reading and realised that it was a great way to get started in investing and a no-brainer offering that MNCs usually offer to their employees.
Growing up, my parents discouraged me from investing, likening it to gambling. I'm glad I figured things out later on my own. After getting comfortable with investing through share options, I set up my first TD Ameritrade account. That's when I started investing in other tech stocks — mostly FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google). I realised then that my investment style was to buy and hold — which has served me well.
I would say though, what I've realised is that there is always information asymmetry when you invest. Some friends told me to take more risk and buy newly-listed US tech companies, but I never felt comfortable so I didn't. Even with FANG stocks you don't know what's going on internally, so try to make sure you feel comfortable with the stocks you buy.
After FANG stocks, I started exploring exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The financial blogs I read told me they were good to buy and hold, so I bought the Vanguard S&P 500 (which has done well), and some small-cap value ETF that hasn't done well. I'm still holding on to it in some hopes for change — but ultimately, you win some, you lose some.
After ETFs, I then opened an SRS account after becoming more aware of tax savings and retirement. With an SRS account, you can only invest in SRS-approved products and SGX-listed shares, so that felt like a new world to me. Some of them, like UOB, have done well. I bought what I perceived to be (based on my own research) stable stocks such as Keppel Land, Mapletree, and SIA Engineering. At this point, I was looking for perceived "safe and stable" industries where my SRS funds could sit and grow until retirement. I was mentally prepared not to touch this money for the next 35 years.
Like any curious investor (I felt pretty ready to try something different at this time), you always sort of wonder where you can make a quick buck. On a whim, I decided to buy Ethereum, at the height of the crypto craze. My husband tripled his stash and wanted to cash out, so I decided to buy 500 euros' worth off him. The value has since tanked! Anyway, the experience of buying crypto was so inconvenient that I don't think I'll ever do it again.
Reflections: From then till now
Now in my 30s, I finally understand what delayed gratification is. As I think about my finances, prepare for retirement, and the quality of life I want to live, here's what I realised: In order to get to where I want to be, I need to combine the investing knowledge I've accumulated over the years, and marry that with day-to-day financial planning and common sense to achieve the quality of life I want.
I'm fortunate that my spouse is on the same page as me. My biggest takeaway is the biggest investment you can make is taking care of yourself — and in that alone — knowledge is power.
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