By Jessica Wee

Looking back to “almost” four decades of living, and two of those decades handling money – I‘ve had my fair share of ‘‘money mistakes’. What would I have done differently? 

Here are 10 of my past money mistakes which I hope can help the twenty-somethings out there or those reading this post,  avoid:

  1. Succumbing to peer pressure to buy luxury items 

When you first get your salary, you might be tempted to buy yourself something nice to wear for work or a party.

If you’re buying an outfit for work, it can be considered as an investment as your professional persona is a crucial element in building your career and being taken seriously by your bosses.

I used to be tempted by all the branded warehouse sales popping up everywhere in town where I would end up buying all kinds of luxury clothing on sale without being specific on how I could build a classic wardrobe that could last for years.

Instead, I ended up with odd pieces of clothing that needed to be given away – all because I made purchases based on brand names and the marked down price.

Learn to live specifically, it can save you lots of money and wardrobe space!

2. Buying life insurance

This was the advice I received from many people and I ended up buying 2 life insurance policies without checking on the coverage provided by my employer.

I understand I will not be working for the same employer during my lifetime but the correct question to ask is whether you have any dependents or outstanding liabilities which need life insurance coverage.

In my 20s, I had neither so it was an absolute waste of my resources paying towards life insurance that I obviously didn’t need. Needless to say, I only realised this a few years later and went to redeem the insurance. 

3. Not investing and learning about investing earlier

I started off my career with a local boutique investment bank and then moved on to become a trader. At work, we were warned against buying stocks as we needed to get prior approvals from the head of department and the whole process is tedious and long.

Therefore, I never invested until much later in small private equity deals which were outside the purview of the bank. What I could have done differently was to start investing in equity unit trust, hedge funds or Private Retirement schemes.

My failure to invest earlier is also attributed to my lack of understanding of personal finance investment. It is indeed human nature that we often fear what we don’t know – equip yourself by learning about personal finance as early as you can. 

4. Not building new income streams

We often read that millionaires have at least seven different income streams. Unfortunately I spent too much of my time working, then travelling, partying, and dating all in the name of trying to find a work-life balance.

Instead, I should have put aside some money to invest in a business i.e. laundromat or build a small side service business as a separate income stream. 

5. Not paying credit card balances on time

It is tempting to only pay the minimum payment on your credit card every month since there is no real requirement to pay off the balance in full as your credit score is still intact.

However, if you don’t pay your credit card balance in full by the end of the statement period, the outstanding balance is going to be charged interest – generally a sizable amount of interest at that.

Plus, for every day that outstanding balance remains unpaid, your debt will increase thanks to the ongoing interest. The magic of compounding interest works as effectively on loans as in your savings!

6. Not having an emergency fund

When society tells us to save for rainy days, they don’t tell you how much you should put aside and where you should put it. To break it down, you should know your average six months expenditure (fixed cost eg: rent, car loan, telco bills + reasonable food bill).

With that amount in mind, multiply by 6x and that is the amount you need to build for an emergency fund. It is best to put this fund into a high interest savings account (please see our blogpost on this) so that if you suddenly find yourself out of work, you can have access to it. 

7. Taking out a student loan for a degree that doesn’t have high earning potential

I was fortunate that my parents paid for my education. It is not the case for many people and I do see some friends who would get themselves into debt in order to get a postgraduate degree.

These days, many big corporations do not put as much emphasis on a postgraduate degree as compared to two decades ago. That being said, I am not against more education but I feel that the objective of spending time and money in obtaining more education needs to be weighed against your future earning potential ie Return On Investment (ROI)!

If the ROI is low, you’re better off upskilling yourself by finding a different job or transferring to a different department which can give you exposure in different areas while still being paid a salary for it.

8. Not taking care of your body

The saying goes “health is wealth” but we never actually believe much of it especially when we are young, strong and feeling invincible! Then, comes the pandemic which reminds us that Darwin’s theory is still very much valid.

Rich man’s diseases i.e. hypertension, diabetes, gout – these are the common illnesses that plagues urban folks and in the age of Covid-19, will make Covid-19 recovery harder.

Do yourself a favour and start eating healthier, exercising and going for a full medical checkup every two years (if you’re below 40 years old). Most symptoms are easier and cheaper to treat when it is spotted earlier.

9. Not doing estate planning to protect loved ones

I never appointed any beneficiary for my EPF or drafted a Will when I joined the workforce as I didn’t know I needed to do it. HR didn’t mention it and my friends didn’t talk about it.

It was only much later that I learnt the inconvenience that family members have to go through in order to claim death benefits and the monies left in the deceased’s estates that I now advise all my friends to get their affairs in order early.

If you have loved ones, that would be the last ‘nice thing’ to do for them. I’m not a fan of treasure hunting and I don’t think your beneficiaries will appreciate hunting down all your assets or liabilities.

Prepare your Will as soon as you can, especially if you have children. Set the Will aside and update it on your birthday every year.

10. Not negotiating for higher salary

It’s not a myth that failing to negotiate your salary can seriously impact your earning potential from the get go.

Whether you can get an extra 5-20% on the salary being offered, you should still ask for it. That is the fastest way you can ensure having a higher income without having to create other revenue streams.

When we are young in the workforce, insecurity creeps in and it makes us afraid to ask for what we think is a fair salary.

The best way is to equip yourself with market knowledge by talking to people in the field or look through websites eg: Glassdoor.com so that you will have more confidence when negotiating for a higher salary. 

Are you making any of the mistakes above? Leave your comments below!

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