Money Confessions: I Earn Less Than $1,000 Monthly, But I’m Perfectly Content — Here’s Why

Emma Lam

Emma Lam

Last updated 19 July, 2022

Real stories about money from real people. Money Confessions, a SingSaver series, will excite you, inspire you, and leave you wishing to get financially woke.

With inflation dramatically increasing the cost of living in recent decades, what does it mean to live comfortably within our means? Is it still feasible to live contentedly under S$1,000?

In this day and age, everyone is so conditioned to chase dollar signs and money bags. Capitalism has seemingly entrapped us in this neverending cycle of making money and climbing up the corporate ladder until we retire. Is this the life path that we’re all destined to follow after accomplishing the traditional educational route

For 32-year-old Jerald, that isn’t the case. 

Jerald is a waiter currently working in Thailand, living off an income of roughly around S$700. For many, this amount seems improbable to be a sustainable salary. For context, an average intern in Singapore already earns between S$600 to S$1,000.

So as a part-time or full-time working adult, earning anywhere less than S$1,000 sounds unacceptable to most. And yet, Jerald is more contented than ever living his current lifestyle in the land of smiles

But how did he arrive at this point? Let’s dive deeper into his story.

A passion for tourism

Jerald always had a knack for travelling. He’s always loved learning about different cultures and chasing new adventures. Otherwise, why else would he have been in the tourism industry for over a decade? That takes some serious dedication.

Previously, he lived in South America for over one and a half years — soaking in the different pace of life that afforded him newfound freedom he never had in Singapore. And it’s true; being far away from your friends and loved ones, stuck in a foreign land with only your luggage and temporary lodging. Nothing is set in stone and you’re left to your own devices.

Living abroad truly presents a new set of challenges and opportunities. More often than not, remaining in the same environment all your life impedes growth. That’s not to say that you can’t grow while living in your homeland, but the growth might not be as profound.

Thus, when the pandemic lockdown trapped Jerald at home, he felt utterly stuck, to say the least. So much so that once borders reopened, he decided to migrate to Thailand on impulse and start a new life for himself there.

Fast forward two years, he’s now found his footing in Bangkok’s F&B industry as a waiter.

Rejecting the traditional ideal of a successful job for a more balanced living

While most of us will probably land a corporate job upon graduation, Jerald had other plans. He’s never believed in the traditional rhetoric of working in a deadbeat job to earn money and get rich.

Instead, he strongly believes in working sustainably; ergo, a job that earns him just enough in favour of a simpler and more carefree approach to life. On top of that, he doesn’t have intentions to marry or have children. 

This leaves him with more financial bandwidth to spend and save as he pleases without worrying about another individual’s welfare.

Earning a salary under S$1,000 might be a dealbreaker to some, but it’s all about priorities. If you aspire to achieve financial liberation by 30, chances are, some work-life balance compromises might be made.

On the other hand, if you prefer a casual and more relaxed lifestyle fueled by personal pursuits, then a minimal salary covering your necessities would be sufficient. 

Living life to the fullest

All of this aligns with his life motto too — “Live fast, die young”. And he’s not the only one. 

Despite Singapore’s stipulated retirement age and general life expectancy increasing to 63 and 84 years old respectively, more Singaporean youths are preferring a fuller and more dynamic life before fizzling out in their mid-life. 

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with material possessions, experiences tend to be more worthwhile. Chasing happiness through materialistic goods might result in a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction where enough is never enough. Conversely, experiences are fleeting so happiness derived from them is more meaningful, precious, and fulfilling.

Regardless of what your definition of happiness is, it’s undeniable that it’s one of life’s greatest pursuits.

Read more: Best Things to Do in Singapore in July 2022 

Comfortably relying on a single salary

Investing early might be all the rage right now, but is it necessary to get by? Some might agree and some might disagree. 

What about a side hustle? Although it might not be passive income, at least it’s a secondary salary to supplement your main income. 

Basically what’s being implied here is: Do you have multiple income streams as a safety net?

For Jerald, his personal mantra is to simply spend within his means and set aside enough money every month to pay his utility bills and insurance premiums. He doesn’t depend on any form of investing or additional income to get by.

Simultaneously, Jerald got lucky with his sister being his financial advisor. While business and family can often get messy, you’d ideally want your financial advisor to be both knowledgeable and trustworthy in your books. 

All of this might sound like common sense. Still, you’d be surprised by how many people overestimate their monthly expenditure and disregard the importance of insurance — especially if they spend aimlessly with a credit card, default on bills and payments, and land themselves in debt

Rich or poor, shoddy budgeting will be the downfall of one’s finances despite owning a decent investment portfolio or side income.

Not investing or having multiple income streams might seem unheard of in this century, but it’s not essential when one is contented with a simpler life. In fact, it is possible to achieve financial freedom without investing through prudent habits.

To achieve that, here’s an example of what an investment-free financial checklist could look like:

  • Ensure you’re debt-free
  • Build a reliable emergency fund
  • Have sufficient insurance coverage
  • Supplementary income through side hustles or property rental

Out of this list, clearing your debt, committing to an emergency fund and buying sufficient insurance coverage should be among your priority. Any other form of additional income can come after.

Nonetheless, if investment still intrigues you slightly, we recommend REITs, blue chip stocks, ETFs, and bonds as great products to explore for beginners. Mutual funds and unit trusts under income-generating portfolios managed by robo-advisors are considerations too.

Related to this topic:
How to Build The Best Passive Income Portfolio For Your Future Self
How to Build a Passive Income Portfolio Using ETFs (And Why You Should)
How to Make Investing Interesting (And Work For You)

Is career progression worth the chase?

To Jerald, it’s not. As mentioned, he’s been in the tourism industry for over 10 years. What started as being an iconic Duck Tours guide, to working as a hotel concierge, to becoming a waiter overseas, one can’t exactly peg this down as career progression.

Despite that, Jerald never stopped pursuing the things that gave him the most fulfilment in life. Job-hopping as opposed to chasing promotions has made his life all the better. It allowed him to explore new cities, learn new cultures, and adopt a carpe diem philosophy. 

Make no mistake, the lesson here isn’t that money is unnecessary or unimportant. On the contrary, money is still fundamental to living, but you have to identify your personal boundaries and willing trade-offs

If living lavishly on a resort island, partaking in bougie parties, and frequently indulging in expensive experiences (e.g. skydiving, hot air balloon rides, etc.) are your happy pills, then so be it. Just make sure to have the financial stability and acumen to fund these endeavours.

But if you appreciate simpler joys like chilling by the beach, trying different cuisines, or visiting new locations, they don’t cost as much. 

And since Jerald belongs in the latter, he doesn’t see himself needing a hefty bank account to sustain living according to his standards. His approach to his adult career has always been to be in a carefree job that evokes as little stress as possible. Pay level doesn’t matter.

He values his mental health and wellbeing above all else — something that many adults overlook for the sake of monetary gain.

Keep both your mental and physical health in check by choosing an appropriate insurance plan for your needs.

Key takeaways

So what exactly are the money lessons — or ‘lack’ thereof — to learn from Jerald’s testimony? Money isn’t everything, but you should still be responsible for your finances.

Staying in a high-paying job that sucks the joy out of you isn’t worthwhile. Your couple months’ salary could fund a week-long vacation to the Bahamas but after you return, it’s back to the same miserable routine.

Neither should you be working in an advanced corporate job just because society dictates that as being successful. You don’t have to conform or bend to societal will. There are many different manifestations of success and even more methods to achieving it.

After all, all roads lead to Rome. You just have to find the right path for yourself. Or if it doesn’t exist yet, forge your own.

Help yourself to better financial shape in the new norm, with SingSaver's all-new Ultimate Savings Guide! Got your free copy yet?

Although she struggles *slightly* in resisting good deals and sales, Emma is on a lifelong journey to understand what financial independence as a Z-llennial means. That said, her inner child is still very much alive… with animals and gaming being her weaknesses.


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