Ladies, here’s how to manage personal finances at different stages of your life
From being a fresh grad to being all grown up – with or without children – here’s a crash course on what to consider when dealing with your finances.
At 43, Vivian Li recounted how her mindset about personal finances has changed so much compared to when she was younger. “When I just started working in my twenties, I was more nervous about my finances and felt the need to save up so I can one day buy my own house,” she shared.
After getting married and starting her own family, Li, who’s an editor at a commodities publication, prioritised acquiring insurance for her family and building her only son’s tertiary education funds.
With prudent budgeting and planning, she and her spouse have since paid off their home loan and set aside sufficient education funds for their child. Now, her sights are focused on building her retirement nest egg via income from her stable job and low-risk investments.
Li’s experience reflects how a woman’s priorities and risk appetite can evolve alongside milestones in their lives.
WOMEN PLANNING FOR THEMSELVES
A 2017 survey conducted by United Overseas Bank and Prudential Singapore among more than 800 women in Singapore found that 37 per cent of women put the needs of their loved ones before themselves. Among married women, this figure went up to 52 per cent.
While industry practitioners note that there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation when it comes to managing personal finances, having women be confident and proactive when looking at theirs is always a good thing.
“I am happy that many women I meet are starting to take charge in the planning of their finances, learning about investment and most importantly, planning for themselves,” said Cass Naomi Poh, a financial services director at AXA Insurance.
“I believe that women today should be independent and not be reliant on anyone financially when they are old.”
Dawn Cher, who writes popular financial blog, SG Budget Babe, also advised that women take charge of their personal financial planning and not simply “leave it to the men”. “Being in control of your finances is empowering and is an essential skill for life,” she said.
So how should women manage their personal finances at various stages of their lives? CNA Lifestyle asked financial experts for tips.
FRESH GRADUATE WITH FIRST JOB
For a fresh graduate starting on her first job, “adulting” matters like saving, investing, managing credit card expenses and repaying study loans are likely to come into view.
Personal finance experts advised women to start accumulating their wealth early via savings and investments as it means having a long “runway” to grow one’s funds and recoup potential investment losses.
Leaf Tan, a personal wealth manager with 25 years of experience in managing insurance and retirement portfolios, advocated making saving and investing regular habits in order to build up healthy cash savings.
“Do not only start saving when you need to buy big-ticket items,” she said. “The earlier one starts saving, the easier they can achieve that ‘golden retirement’.”
Industry experts see setting aside between 10 to 20 per cent of one’s monthly income as a good way to kickstart a saving habit, though ultimately the amount to save still depends on one’s income level and commitments such as paying off study loans.
Cher also recommended that women utilise financial tools to help with saving and budgeting. “Be flexible and savvy about utilising new financial applications,” she said. “Many banks have launched digital versions of their financial planning services after SgFinDex was launched, which I find is very helpful for Singaporeans on the whole.”
Launched by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Financial Data Exchange or SgFinDex is a free digital service which allows individuals to access their financial information held across different government agencies and financial institutions.
It is also at that point in a woman’s life that would be a good time to look into important insurance plans like those for hospitalisation and critical illness protection.
“A good time to start buying insurance is always before one is admitted to the hospital, before one is diagnosed with a major illness, and before one passes on prematurely. Unless we know in advance when a financial loss is to occur, I will suggest to get insured while you are still insurable,” said Poh.
PLANNING FOR MARRIAGE, BIG-TICKET PURCHASES
As women mature, some could be planning a wedding or purchasing a new home or car. Hence, it is important to understand one’s state of finance like monthly cash inflows and outflows, and ascertain a realistic target to work towards when planning big-ticket purchases.
“Planning would be key. You'll need to at least figure out what amount you’ll need to reach, by when, and how you intend to get there. Do your research and come up with an estimated amount that you need, so you know what goal(s) you're working towards,” said Cher.
After knowing how much we need for the purchase, one will need to be disciplined in sticking to one’s budget. “We need to save first before paying our expenses,” says Brian Teo, a financial representative with Great Eastern.
He advised using tools like Excel to list down one’s expenses as it gives a clear picture on how one can cut down on discretionary expenses.
Cost-saving hacks, which one can easily look up on the internet, can also help reduce one’s big-ticket expenses.
For instance, money can be saved during home renovations based on the type of materials to use and where the materials are purchased, while those planning for marriages can compare bridal packages and maximise credit card cashbacks when making wedding or other big-ticket purchases.
MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, CARING FOR PARENTS
With time, women may find their resources and time stretched by different obligations, like their children’s healthcare and education needs, and caring for ageing parents.
“When you're young you might have a lot of time to research and actively manage your investments. But once you have children, juggling a full-time job with household duties and spending time with your kids can leave you with very little free time and energy to keep up the level of effort you used to be able to put into your investments,” said Cher, who advised that women review their investment and retirement strategies over time as their risk appetite and liabilities like debt and dependents change.
In addition to hospitalisation and critical illness coverage, one might also need to look into other insurances like life, early critical illness, disability income and if one is in high-risk jobs, personal accident as well. “This is especially if you have many dependents like elderly parents and young children who depend on your income,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Teo said women should address their retirement needs, if they have not already done so.
“The priority will be to plan for your retirement so that you can be financially independent. By being so, you will not have to depend on your children as you will not wish for them to be a sandwich generation burdened with taking care of elderly parents and their own families in the future,” he noted.
One can consider endowment plans which can provide steady cash flow during one’s retirement years. Depending on one’s risk appetite, one can also look at medium-risk unit trusts and equities to supplement the retirement income, he added.
Endowment plans can also be useful when planning for education funds. For instance, when a child is young, parents can embark on a plan with a maturity date that matches the age of the child when he/she is expected to need the funds for university.
Unless one is proficient in investments, Poh suggested leveraging on the expertise of fund houses and/or financial planners proficient in risk management and investment to manage one’s money and preserve its value.
“Ultimately, I believe you would rather spend time with your family and loved ones than following the ups-and-downs of financial markets,” she noted.
OLDER WOMEN WITH GROWN-UP CHILDREN OR WITHOUT CHILDREN
As we age and get closer to retirement, our risk tolerance may change, and it is important to review and rebalance the risk in our portfolio, said Tan.
“You should review your retirement to ensure you have regular retirement income from different sources,” she said. “Upon retirement, your retirement income has to be able to cover expenses including inflation, rising medical costs, and health insurance after you have stopped working.”
Tan also noted that women tend to be more anxious with their personal finance planning as the “runway” becomes shorter.
“Especially during COVID-19, I have more female clients calling me to review their retirement plans. The economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 made them rethink about their existing retirement plan,” she said.
Other than endowment plans, women can also consider investing in blue chip stocks for dividend income that can provide regular cash flow, noted Teo.
Estate planning, which sets out how one wants their estate or assets to be managed and transferred to their dependents as a form of legacy, should also be looked into, he added.