To live comfortable lives, 20-something Singaporeans need to get smart about their money habits before turning 30.
If you want to live the rest of your life in comfort (who doesn’t?), you have to learn and build good money habits.
Don’t think that reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad is enough to make you a personal finance expert. We approach money in different ways, plus we all have a whole host of cognitive biases to grapple with. The money advice that works for rich people may not work for you.
So you don’t ruin your finances with silly mistakes, you have to learn what you don’t know and practise what you know, until you build a suite of automatic behaviours.
Here are 20 money habits to have by the time you hit your 30s.
1. Bring Your Own Lunch
Get into the habit of bringing your own lunch to work. Both your body and bank account will thank you for it. Also, learning how to cook is a life skill that is way too underrated. It’ll make you more popular, and also raise your eligibility as a life partner.
2. Track Your Expenses
Never throw caution to the wind when it comes to money. Track your expenses so that when your bank account goes into the red, you at least know where the problem lies. You don’t have to obsessively record down every cent you spend, but you need to at least know if you’re spending too much money.
3. Set Up A Discretionary Fund
A discretionary fund is a sum of money that you allow yourself to use anyway you like. Set a maximum limit for how high this fund can go (say, S$1,000 for example) and build it up using whatever monies (rebates, loose change, etc) you have leftover at the end of the month.
The purpose of this fund is to stop you from overspending, by allowing you to buy whatever small indulgences as often as you want. For any purchase that will cost more than this fund, save separately for it.
4. Set Savings Goals
An extension of the discretionary fund idea (see above), regularly setting (and accomplishing!) savings goals is a good way to build up the habit of saving money. You’ll learn several important skills, such as how to set a budget, and how to plan your purchases.
And the best thing is, achieving your savings goals also means you’ll get to go on that holiday, or buy that Canon camera.
5. Start Your Emergency Fund
When you’re coming up in the world, it can be tempting to feel invincible, that nothing bad can happen to you. Enjoy those feelings – they are very motivational – but start your emergency fund all the same.
Give priority in your budget (after essentials) to building up your emergency fund, which should be large enough to fund 3 to 6 months of your living expenses. Yes, that’s easily a 5-figure sum we’re talking about. So the sooner you get started, the sooner you will achieve it.
6. Update Your Insurance Policies
By the time you hit your 30s, you should be thinking seriously about insurance protection. That endowment plan you bought when you were in the Army (because that financial planner smiled sweetly at you) is likely not going to be enough to cover your needs now.
Call up your financial planner friends and ask them about your options. At the very least, upgrade your Medishield plan.
7. Build A Proper Portfolio
Insurance plans and insurance-linked policies (ILPs) carry costs that affect how much you will receive at the end of the day. Hence, this limits their usefulness as investment vehicles.
You should look upon insurance and investment as two separate but equally important components of a true financial portfolio. Use insurance plans to get the protection you need, and use investment options (like unit trusts and bonds) to grow your money.
8. Start Your Children’s Education Fund(s)
With the costs of university education expected to skyrocket in the coming years, preparing early will bolster your ability to afford your children’s fees later on. Start an endowment plan for each child upon their first birthday. That way, you won’t have to struggle with expensive tuition fees.
9. Establish a Source of Side Income
By your 30s, you should have a clear enough grasp of where your skills and passions lie. Dedicate some time and effort to building up a sideline that will earn you a strong network and reputation, which will convert into a larger and larger income stream in your 40s and 50s.
You don’t even have to limit yourself to your career. Your hobbies and interests could be developed into a rewarding side gig.
10. Get Regular Health Checkups
We tend to associate diabetes, cancer and heart disease with the middle-aged or the elderly. However, such serious health conditions result from prolonged health imbalances that begin in your younger years. A full spectrum checkup will alert you to any worrisome developments, which could well save you a painful and financially ruinous episode later on.
11. Visit The Dentist
We don’t know which is worse about a root canal, the pain or the expensive dental bill. If you have been neglecting your dental health, you should make a dental appointment when you’re done with your 30th birthday cake.
Maintaining your chompers while you still have them will add years of serviceable life. The last thing you want is to have to spend the CPF funds you withdraw at age 55 on a new set of dentures.
12. Start An Exercise Programme
Why is getting fit a money habit? Because it will reduce sick days, anxiety and stress, while increasing work capacity and productivity. You will also have better energy, more stable moods and the stamina to take on more.You may recognise these as positive traits that boost your chances of increasing your income.
13. Give Up Smoking And Drinking
Fun as it may have been getting wasted and smoking your lungs out in your 20s, it’s time to give up these habits when you reach your 30s. Not only are they a waste of good money, damage from tobacco and alcohol increase the more you indulge. At the very least, restrict your drinking and smoking to special occasions only. That way you can have your cake and eat it too.
14. Have A “Payment Day” Each Month
As your age goes up, so do the number of bills you receive. And the more bills you receive, the less you will feel like dealing with them. But deal with them anyway, because missing payments will cost you money – especially when they’re late credit card payments.
Set aside one day a month to sort and pay all your bills. Because each bill might have different due dates, it’ll take time to figure out which day your payment day should be, in order to keep all your accounts current.
But once you work that out, mark it down on your calendar and you’ll never miss another payment again.
15. Clear Your Debts
If you’ve accumulated some debt along the way, you should work on clearing them in your 30s. That way, you can dedicate your 40s and 50s to preparing for your retirement, which is quite possibly the most financially taxing task you’ll undertake.
16. Compare Before You Buy
While you may have been able to get away with impulsive decisions in your 20s, being rash in your 30s might exact a greater cost.
Just for example: When you consider being too lazy to compare credit cards can cost you hundreds of dollars in lost rebates, you’ll quickly see the wisdom of that nitpicky auntie you used to dismiss.
17. Carry Less Cash
Cash in the wallet tends to gets spent. That’s why keeping your cash to a minimum is an effective way to control your spending. By your 30s, you should already have a good grasp on how much you need to spend on daily needs. Try keeping just a week’s worth of cash in your wallet; you can draw more, or use your credit card if necessary.
18. Budget For Seasonal Expenses
By now, you would have attended enough weddings and celebrations to know that social events are a normal part of life. And they cost money in the form of ang pows and gifts. Hence, you should set aside an annual budget to cover seasonal expenses. That way you won’t have to feel poor when you receive your credit card statement in February.
19. Track Your Mortgage Interest Rates
If you opt for a bank loan to finance your mortgage, you should be diligently checking your interest rates at least once a year. With home loans set to rise, it is more crucial than ever to keep an eye out for options to lower your monthly mortgage payments.
20. Keep a Profit-Loss Statement
Running a household is an enterprise all in itself, so why shouldn’t you borrow business tools to help keep track of everything? In order to know if your household finances are in good shape, keep an annual profit-loss statement. Not only will this help highlight the major expenses, it will also alert you early if you’re headed for dangerous levels of debt.
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By Alevin Chan
A Certified Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.