I have read many life interviews whereby the interviewees are asked if they were able to turn back time and change anything in their lives, would they do so? More often than not, the answer would be “no” as these were precious life experiences that made them better persons. When I was a young adult, specifically in university, I made some of the biggest money mistakes that I absolutely regret till today. And it will be an astounding yes if I could hypothetically turn back time and unwind them.
I was very fortunate to be awarded a scholarship that took care of my tuition fees so I was able to graduate debt-free. In addition, I received an annual allowance that covered my cost of living during my undergraduate days. I also gave Economics tuition then to further supplement my income. Therefore, with multiple sources of income, I should have saved up a ton of money upon graduation. However, this could not be further away from the truth as I graduated with just a few hundreds in my bank account! How did it end up this way, I often wondered as well?
1. Not acting my wage
I was already drawing a small income but I was not acting my wage. I was chasing labels and luxury products and made impulse purchases, ate out at nice restaurants and went on holidays in a bid to create a ‘cool’ image.
I definitely succeeded in cultivating this image but with all honesty and the benefit of hindsight, I would say that this was very immature thinking. While I was not living beyond my means, I was definitely living from pay cheque to pay cheque. This also meant that I had no emergency funds at all. Now that I am a father with dependents, I would never want to find myself in such a precarious situation again.
If I were to do it all over again, I would have probably lock away a good portion of my savings in a place where it is more difficult to access. As I was less disciplined back then, this method would help guard against impulse purchases and temptations. Meeting my wife earlier in university would have helped too since she is thriftier and more conservative with her perspective towards money.
2. Failing to Invest
When I entered university in 2009, the financial markets were roiling from the havoc wrecked by the Global Financial Crisis. They were at the absolute rock bottom, to the extent that any monkey would have a good chance of success in picking a winner by throwing darts towards a random pool of stocks. Even if I were to invest in STI ETF, I would have doubled my money after graduation. Yet, I did not make my first investment till 2014, 5 years after telling myself to do so.
It wasn’t that I was ignoring the stock market, it is just that I never had the courage to step out of my comfort zone. In Finance 101, I even presented a “BUY” case for First Resources. Heck, I even had my brokerage account with DBS Vickers all set up. Yet, plenty of doubts often filled my mind- eg: how do I even navigate the dashboard correctly to press “buy” on the brokerage platform? What if I made a mistake or bought a poor stock? Most importantly, where can I find a mentor who can guide and show me the way?
For those who are keen to learn how to invest, do head to The Fifth Person’s Investment Quadrant (now renamed as Alpha Quadrant) which is currently open for registration.
My procrastination meant that the learning curve was even steeper as the margin of error had narrowed considerably compared to 2009. Today, I realised that this story had a familiar ring to it when I was deciding whether to take the plunge with cryptocurrency. Fortunate or otherwise, I finally made my first cryptocurrency investment after 3 years of procrastination. The timing is obviously awful (my first Bitcoin purchase was US$48,000) but at least I take comfort from having shortened my procrastination.
3. Doing nothing to my CPF
My last personal finance mistake that I absolutely regretted was doing nothing to my CPF. By the time I started university, I actually had some funds in my CPF Ordinary Account (‘OA’) from the years of doing part-time waitressing during school holidays. They were a tidy sum, at least from a 21-year-old point of view, but not sufficient enough for me to invest anyway (i.e. did not cross the $20,000 threshold). With no girlfriend to speak of then, I harboured no BTO dreams and would have no immediate need to access the funds in my OA.
Without any in-depth knowledge of how our CPF accounts work, I did nothing and these funds were left sitting in the OA and earning 3.5% (after the additional 1% bonus) annually as a result. The opportunity cost of this inaction was missing out on the 5% interest that these funds would have earned had they been transferred to the Special Account (‘SA’) as shown in Diagram 2.
If I had possessed the knowledge, I would have transferred all of them from the OA into the SA without hesitation. I would have shortened the time it takes to achieve Full Retirement Sum, which is now on an accelerated route after I have recently reached the CPF MediSave Limit. The acquisition of knowledge is indeed a powerful tool. If I were to give advice to a younger me, that would be to stay forever thirsty for knowledge.
These sums up the biggest money mistakes that I have made when I was a young adult. Writing this article also reinforces the passion on why I have been blogging for 6 years – I hope that Heartland Boy could be the mentor that the young undergraduate Alison was crying out for then.