On any given day, you might see someone looking like Joanne Peh on the MRT train.
Except she might just be Joanne Peh in the flesh. For all the glamour shots that put this home-grown celebrity in branded clothes and shoes, the A-list actress is plainly reluctant to splurge on cab fares and parking.
“It's just I can't wrap my mind around the fact that if I can get from point A to B with just like $2, for example, taking the bus or the MRT, I just can't bring myself to pay like double or triple that to take a car, unless, of course, I have a lot of things and I don't have a choice,” she says.
Not that she has forgotten this financial adage: time is money.
“If taking a taxi is going to save me like an hour, I would just take the taxi. But otherwise, I just can't spend money on parking and taxis.”
Though where time is concerned, she does have a bigger worry about being a little behind in her investing pursuit.
“I wish I had learnt more earlier,” says Joanne, who now watches Endowus webinars, tries to unpack financial jargon through her own research, and reads up on world affairs to understand how they affect the markets. “This is a mistake that I hope people don't make — don't be like me, start early.”
Joanne recalls that in junior college, she had excelled in economics. Yet the subject never came alive to her beyond the textbooks.
“I have to say that it was really just for the grades. I didn't really understand the relevance. And I wish someone did explain why I needed to study economics and the importance of it, because now I realise that it is the precursor of financial literacy.”
That’s not to say she didn’t live and breathe the lessons behind economics. There is, of course, one principle that underpins how markets function: scarcity. She knows it all too well — scarcity is how she defines her relationship with money, and why she had been afraid to invest in the past.
"Because of this relationship I have with money, I’m terrified of losing it."
“I’ve been brought up with the mentality that I have to work for my money, and that I’ve got to save, save, save for that rainy day. I’ve got to not bite off more than I can chew, and don’t ever borrow money from the bank,” she says.
When she was younger, having new clothes was only a luxury that came about during Chinese New Year.
But as far as thriftiness goes, that too, had its setbacks. Having come from a place where money was viewed as a “scarcity”, the idea of value was something that was foreign to Joanne when she started becoming more financially independent.
“I should have bought one thing that holds its value over time rather than buy a lot of inexpensive stuff that you just toss after a while.”
The “scarcity mindset” she had also made her very risk-averse when it came to money matters.
“I have a lot of fear and insecurity when it comes to money,” says Joanne, adding that being part of the sandwich generation has deepened such fears.
For example, it was only until recently that she realised putting money in the bank was not without risks. “In my mind, that was the most zero-risk thing I could do in terms of protecting my money,” she says.
The idea of investing and generating income through passive means was also previously unheard of to her. “To me, income was just this: you’ve got to work hard.”
Taking the first step in investing not only helped Joanne to grow her wealth, it also fundamentally changed the way she viewed money.
“The whole idea of giving has been something very elusive to me. Because of this relationship I have with money, I’m terrified of losing it. We are always sort of protecting our wealth, so to speak.
“But actually, I think to be able to give is something that we will stand to benefit [from], in terms of understanding that concept of abundance. Because it’s like we have enough and we are able to give.”
Shaking off the “scarcity mindset” instilled in her as a child is going to take her a while. “Or I may never even get out of it,” says Joanne. “But at least I think I'm aware, and so being aware is the first step.”
Money also does enable some of this celebrity’s guilty pleasures. Joanne’s covetous obsessions are with toys, and a shelf of books arranged in fastidious fashion by the colour of their spines. They remind her of how more carefree her childhood could have been, had there been no shackles.
“I came up with perfect reasons to buy toys because I say it's for my kids, but actually, it's for me.”
“And I think it's important — I like what toys bring to me. I'm able to bring on this childlike quality about myself, which I think is so important in this modern day and age when you're just super stressed out by everything. So that gives me the room to express myself and to live the childhood that I wish I had.”
"What I hope to teach my children is that I don’t want them to be like me, growing up with a scarcity mindset."
Meanwhile, something that she now practises with her children — aged five and seven — is to apportion out the red packet money that they collect during Chinese New Year into three categories: one for spending, one for saving, and one for charitable giving.
That comes as being able to build her wealth through investing has provided Joanne with a greater peace of mind — to be able to enjoy life and her creative interests while shedding the scarcity guilt. It’s a precious lesson that she hopes to pass on to her children: for them to be less hasty in spending, but to also seek a life of fewer regrets by rejecting an abject fear of loss.
“What I hope to teach my children is that I don't want them to be like me, growing up with a scarcity mindset. I hope that they can have this abundance mindset and to know that, you can make your money, and you can also spend it on the things that you like and you enjoy.”
It’s never too early to start investing — Begin your investment journey with Endowus today.