At 32 years old, my mother still sees me as a big kid: She still checks in on me daily and we squabble frequently over what her best dishes are.
Not married and still living with my parents, I feel out of place as many of my friends have moved on to other stages of their lives. Most of them are married and have their own families and residences.
My circumstances have given me a different perspective on motherhood and parenting. I observed how my friends became more conservative in their career goals and financial plans, and are "preparing for the worst" for their young children. I began to reflect on how my mother planned the family's finances, and the gifts and lessons she has imparted unto me.
Teaching financial prudence to children
As far as I can remember, I was taught to be careful with my money. My mother was brought up in a poor family and pursued a career in teaching. Because of that, she became the best provider of financial education for my sister and me. Growing up, we would shun convenience store chains and instead walked to the "mamak shop" a block away to get cheaper drinks. Birthdays and special occasions were celebrated at a family restaurant in the neighbourhood mall.
My parents could afford more than what they allowed us to enjoy — both my parents are university graduates with steady career progressions in the civil service. They chose to save and plan for the family expenses and the rainy days rather than indulge in material needs.
As a working adult seven years into my career, I can see how peer pressure to keep up with the Joneses can nudge people to make unnecessary spending decisions. "Treating" ourselves more as we get our pay increments and bonuses seems to be the most intuitive thing. After all, we deserve to reward ourselves for our hard work and ingenuity.
Unfortunately, many of us allow lifestyle inflation to grow faster than our wage inflation — we start to aspire to have a bigger house, and desire appliances that we rarely use.
Thankfully, I have been trained to always question the intrinsic value of my spending, and to track and manage my savings carefully.
I am built differently thanks to my mom.
Read more: Five tips to save more money
Saving for my tertiary education
While my parents were great at minimising unnecessary spend, they have always insisted that our education should never be compromised. We were given enough pocket money for us to focus on our education in secondary and tertiary education.
We were only given the option to go for tuition classes if we were struggling. Even then, my mother would harp on the high cost of tuition classes and impress on me how the tuition fees can translate to family holidays and meals out.
That said, my mother has planned and saved for my tertiary education, without being "forced" to do it through an education savings plan, or an education fund. Financial planning as a family has much to do with:
- Educating about how money is hard-earned and precious
- Exploring the differences between needs and wants
- Understanding the trade-off between spending and saving/investing
Even though my mother saved up enough for me to pursue an overseas education degree, I did not take up that option. The cost of overseas education was just too high (more than $200,000 in total), and the benefits were too intangible.
Not relying on me to be her retirement plan
Being part of an Asian family, the concept of filial piety for many of my peers centres around financially supporting their parents' retirement. When the child starts to make an income, they can be a financial safety net and a source of retirement income.
I have seen my friends become financially burdened by this, even before they start their own families. Some of them started off in the workforce with a take-home pay of $2,400, and had to give their parents almost half of that. The median monthly household income in Singapore was about S$10,099 in 2022, and for each member of the household, the median income person stood at only S$3,287. Supporting both a young family and elderly parents can be financially taxing and mentally draining.
Financial planning for the sandwich generation is challenging because of stagnating incomes, rising healthcare costs for the elderly, and also the high cost of raising a child in Singapore.
Thankfully, I do not have to worry about my mother's retirement, as she spends much less than what she earns. As a school principal for over 20 years, she has pretty much kept to the same lifestyle as when she first started out as a teacher. She does not rely on me for retirement, as our home is fully paid for and she has not overstretched her CPF savings for property investment.
I do give her a nominal allowance as a token of gratitude, and pay for our meals out together. The fact that I can focus on starting and planning my own family's finances, raising my future child, and working on my career, without worrying about my parents — that all thanks to my mum.
When I start my own family, I will also pass on the gift of financial independence and knowledge to my kid — to appreciate the value of money, to start young and small, and to plan ahead. After all, wealth can be passed down and spent, but values will always remain a part of us.
Thank you for the gift, Mum. Happy Mother's Day.
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