I think it’s safe to say that no one saw Covid-19 coming. None of us thought that we would be unable to travel, unable to see our family and none of us would have foreseen so many people losing their livelihoods, their jobs, and their lives.
We may be lucky here in Singapore, but some were not so lucky. Those who lost their jobs have had to rely on their savings or may have even had to borrow money to stay afloat.
Although we could not have predicted 2020, there are ways that we can prepare for another blip in our financial prosperity. Here is what I suggest.
Manage your Debt
I feel like I’ve mentioned this already in previous articles but I cannot stress how important it is. When things go wrong, like losing a job for example, the monthly bills do not stop. Rent still has to be paid, the water bill will still have to be paid and, if you have debt, the monthly instalments don’t stop. That’s why it is imperative that you try and clear your debt or at least minimise your debt as soon as possible. That way, you can start focusing on other aspects of your financial life and focus on how you can grow money, not just how you can get through month to month.
2. Have an Emergency Fund
I really do sound like a broken record but, imagine if you lost your job and had no savings? You would either have to borrow money, or sell off your assets, neither of which are ideal. So, it is imperative that you are disciplined with keeping an emergency fund of at least 3 months of your salary. This money should be easy to access but not one that you dip into frequently. This fund should be for emergencies only, and used only when very necessary.
3. Have a Market Opportunity Fund
If you really want to take use of a market crash, it’s a good idea to have funds set aside for a market opportunity. This fund could be from extra savings each month from cutting your monthly expenses, or after managing your debt. You can then use this money for investing when markets are low. For example, buying stocks when they are cheap.
4. Be Disciplined With Your Investing
So, you bought some stocks cheap with your Market Opportunity Fund…now what? I would suggest making use of a term called ‘dollar cost averaging’. I have explained this term in my post ‘Investment Terms You Need To Know’. It is best to make your investing almost automatic; the same amount each month or year, so that you can weather the storm of market volatility. It means that you will earn more from your investments in the long run, instead of timing the market.
5. Diversify Your Investments
Look at what happened in 2020…the industries that were most affected were airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars and entertainment. People that had stocks in these companies could have lost a lot of money. Therefore, it’s best to diversify your investment portfolio so that you have a mixture of stocks, bonds etc in lots of different industries, to minimise the risk of loss.
6. Have a Side Hustle
My last point is really an optional one, to ensure that you never miss out on making money should another crash happen. Some people, like myself, are not able to have a side hustle (fyi because of my visa I cannot have more than one job). But, if you have a different skill or something that can be sold from home, it may be good to explore it further and monetise on it. For example, you may be very good at Photoshop or good at website design. These are services that you can sell and do whilst you are at home.
Follow these steps and not only survive but thrive in the next market crash!
People often ask me how I became so financially literate and what I did to make myself financially stable. So, I thought I would share with you how I planned my finances in Singapore. First of all, I will say, I’m very lucky to have parents who taught me from a young age how to save and be frugal. But, moving to Singapore I realised I needed to do more than just save. So here’s how I did it.
Step One: Have an Emergency Fund
This first step was crucial, as you will see in my story later why. I saved 6 months’ salary in my bank account, as a buffer should anything happen. This meant that rent was never an issue, even with putting a deposit on a new rental and moving apartments. It also meant that I had less buyer’s remorse and I knew how much I could afford to spend on my days off.
Step Two: Spend Wisely
Pre-covid, I travelled a lot. A lot of people, particularly those back home, would often ask me how I did it. It was really quite simple; I often travelled to countries where the Singapore dollar went far. I booked cheap accommodation and ate local food. This kept my budget quite low.
Also, in Singapore I don’t tend to buy a lot of things. I mostly spend on going out for meals or activities with friends, which I find easier to manage, especially if the restaurants are cheap!
Step Three: Get Covered
Remember earlier I mentioned why an emergency fund is so important? Here’s why. In 2019 I found out I had to have an operation- it wasn’t a particularly big surgery, but it was a crucial one. My doctor had found a growth and was unsure if it was cancerous. It was causing me a lot of discomfort and affected my personal life greatly. I was told that the estimated bill would be roughly $19,000. Thankfully, I had health insurance. Even though foreigners have to pay the cost upfront, I managed to get every penny back through my hospital plan, even the doctor’s appointments leading up to the surgery. It was a massive relief. Luckily, I had the money upfront to pay, but can you imagine if I never got that back? Expats often see insurance as unimportant, maybe because healthcare is free back at home, but it’s a fact that Singapore is not a welfare state, so don’t treat it like one.
Step Four: Don’t Leave it Too Late
I went on to purchase critical illness coverage, as I knew deep down in the back of my head that having an operation at 25 (especially one where the C word comes up) is not normal. (I’m fine by the way, it wasn’t cancer.) So, I felt that it was best to be fully covered for critical illnesses. Hospital plans are not sufficient. Imagine if I were diagnosed with Cervical Cancer, and just had a hospital plan? It wouldn’t cover my change in lifestyle; having to take taxis everywhere; maybe hiring at home help; having to maybe order personalised meals. Not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t be able to work if I was going through chemo. A hospital plan definitely wouldn’t cover all of that.
Step Five: Invest
Ok so I had an emergency fund, I was protected and covered insurance-wise. Now what? How did I make my money grow quicker than leaving it in the bank? My current DBS account has an interest rate of 0.005%…. I’m not being funny but that’s rubbish. So, I took a portion of my savings and invested it in unit trusts. I purchased investment policies that contained a mixture of sub-funds that are managed by portfolio managers. I’m not one to sit and watch stocks and manage that by myself, so I’m very happy to let a professional do that for me. This will help me achieve my long-term goals of purchasing a property and having a very comfortable retirement.
I pride myself on not living paycheque to paycheque; I actually can’t remember the last time I did live like that! I always reflect on these five things and review how on-track I am with my financial goals. I hope this helps those who are confused on where to start. How do you plan your finances? If you feel that you have any questions or need any help, please do get in touch.
Do you find that there are just too many financial terms to remember, putting you off even considering investing? Well, there is a lot, and at first glance it is definitely overwhelming. So, I have complied a list, a mini dictionary, if you will, of all thing’s money- from hedge funds to dollar cost averaging. At the end, a lot of these term won’t seem so formidable anymore, allowing you to start investing with a lot more confidence.
The first word that everyone thinks of when they hear the term ‘investment’, is stocks. Hence, why it is first in this list. But what even are stocks? And how do they work? A stock, also known as equity, represents the ownership of a part of a company. Imagine a company is like a big pie, and you want a piece of the pie. You can buy a slice, known as a share, and essentially you own a small part of that business’ assets and earnings. (Do note, however, this does not mean you own part of the company’s furniture, building or whatsoever you choose).
Shareholders (people that own the stock) can vote in shareholders’ meetings, sell said shares to others and receive dividends- more on that later.
Stocks are bought and sold on stock exchanges, although some can be sold privately. Historically, stocks out-perform other types of investments, which we will delve into further later.
But why do companies sell stocks? Don’t they want the whole pie to themselves? Simply put, companies sell stocks to raise funds so that their business can operate.
You may have heard of a bond before when the topic of investment comes up. A bond is a fixed income instrument that works similar to an I.O.U. It represents a loan made by an investor to a borrower- just like an I.O.U. Its details include the loan due date and includes the interest and terms for payment.
They are normally used by corporations or government entities to pay for projects. Imagine you are a contractor, wanting to build a block of flats. You need equipment, materials, not to mention staff to carry out the job. All this costs money, sometimes more than a bank is willing to loan. So, you can instead ask many investors to lend the money to you. This is a bond.
Like stocks, bonds can be bought and sold, publicly or privately. They pay out lower than stocks, but are a safer option; if you hold your bond until maturity (the date it was supposed to end), you will get all your principal back. Principal is the amount you paid in the first place.
All these different ways of investing can seem a bit confusing. And doesn’t it require a lot of time, sitting and watching how my stocks are doing? And how do I know which stocks to buy? Or even if I should just stick to stocks! Well, that’s where mutual funds come in. A mutual fund is a pool of money that can be invested in different investment types, such as stocks, bonds and money market instruments. They are managed by professional money managers, who will decide how much money goes into what, and will shuffle funds if necessary. This is a great investment vehicle for those who do not want to invest hands-on, or do not have the expertise to do so. Money managers will try to make profit based on the investment objective. However, remember that these managers will charge a fee for doing all this for you.
Hedge funds are very similar to mutual funds; they both are actively managed and both use a pool of funds to invest. However, they face less regulation than mutual funds, and sometimes use non-traditional investment strategies. They are more expensive than other funds, and are normally specifically for high net-worth investors.
The last type of fund I am going to talk about is index funds. These are a portfolio of stocks that are ideal for saving for retirement. They have cheaper fees and expenses than actively managed funds.
The term ‘indexing’ itself means passive fund management; instead of a fund manager picking and choosing investments, or deciding when to buy and sell, the fund manager will build a portfolio (a range of investments), which mirrors a particular index. The idea is that mirroring the stock market, the fund will match the performance. Nearly every financial market in existence has an index and index funds, the most popular index funds track S&P 500.
Overall, index funds are great for diversification (coming up) and offer strong long-term returns. But, beware, they are vulnerable to market swings and crashes and lack flexibility.
This may be a common phrase that you have heard. The term ‘diversification’ is the opposite to ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’. If you decide to invest all your money into one stock, say from Company X, and the stock crashes, you have risked it all and lost all your money. However, if you invest in several different stocks, in Company X, Company Y and Company Z, and Company X’s stocks crashed, at least you would still have your shares from the other companies. What’s even better than this is if you spilt your investments between different types of vehicles, like bonds, stocks, commodities (such as gold). This way you are not solely relying on the stock market doing well.
Diversification is also why mutual funds and index funds are so attractive- your investment is spread out between lots of different asset classes. This massively reduces risk whilst aiming to maximise returns on investments. Diversification also includes geographical location. Investing 100% in a US market is less diverse than investing in US, Asian and European markets.
Managing a diversified portfolio, with assets from different classes and foreign markets can be confusing and time-consuming, which is why mutual funds are available for the layman to purchase.
Some companies will offer dividends; the company will distribute some of its earnings to its shareholders. Dividends are the investors’ reward for putting money into the company. They can either be paid in cash, or in additional stock. They are non-guaranteed, so if the company’s profits slump, so will the dividends (this is unlike coupons, which are a fixed amount).
Dividends are good for those who have short-term investing goals and like to see the benefits of investing instantly.
If you buy a house for $100,000 and sell it for $200,000, you have a capital gain as you have sold your asset for more than you bought it for. This goes for investments too. If you buy stocks and hold onto them, selling them a year later at a higher price, you have a capital gain. Many countries will tax capital gains the same as regular income, but will tax long-term investments less. This encourages long-term investments that benefit the country’s economy. If you wish to benefit from lower tax on your investments, a long-term strategy is better. One thing to note is that there is no capital gains tax in Singapore!
Life is full of risk, and so goes the same for investments. Every investor is tolerable to a certain amount of risk. If you are a high-risk taker, you are willing to take a risk for potentially a high return. If you are quite safe with your investments and invest in say a US treasury bond, then be prepared for lower returns. Generally, in finance, the greater the risk the greater the gain. However, this means that you might risk losing all your investment that you initially put in.
Risk is measured by historical behaviours, although historical behaviour is not indicative of future outcome. Below are some investment types, ranked from low to high risk.
It is generally thought of that low risk = low reward, high risk = high reward. However, there are some ‘hidden gems’ that are low risk with a high reward, these often are too good to be true. Any investment that is high risk, low reward, is generally not worth it.
Dollar Cost Averaging
This concept really is a life-saver for those who do not wish to time the market or sit watching their stocks. The idea is that by putting the same amount of money into investments for the same period (once a month, once a year), you will gain more in the long run than if you tried to time the market.
For example, you spend $20 a month on coffee for 4 months. In January, the value of the coffee drops to $5 each- so you get 4 coffees. In February, coffee is worth $4 each, so you get 5. In March and April, coffees are worth $2.50, meaning you get 8 each month. In total, you purchased 25 coffees for an average price of $3.20. If you would have spent all your money at the same time, you would have only bought 16 coffees, for an average price of $5 per cup.
This method reduces risk and reduces the overall impact of market volatility.
We’ve come to the end of the list, and I’ve saved one of the most important ones until last. Compound interest is essentially interest on interest. Interest is added to the initial amount, and then also on the interest already earned. It makes any sum of money grow faster than simple interest, and is the beauty of investing. Money that you invest over time can compound interest either annually, monthly or any increment of time. There are many financial calculators online you can use, to see how your investment can grow over time. It’s not as simple as just multiplying your initial investment by the rate of return, as it takes into account all the interest gained over a set period of time.
I hope you have found this useful. By now you will know all the basic terms. The investing world is your oyster! Please share this with those you know who are keen to invest. Feel free to comment your questions below!