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When we think of female financial bloggers in Singapore, the first name that springs to mind is “SG Budget Babe”. Since starting her blog in 2014, SG Budget Babe has grown to become Singapore’s largest female influencer in personal finance and a highly sought-after writer.
Dawn Cher, the lady behind SG Budget Babe, has also become a close family friend of mine. Not only do we share similar interests in life (finance), but we are also at similar life stages as parents of young children. Seeing how Dawn has grown over the years, from a sharp blogger who isn’t afraid to share her (sometimes controversial) views on financial products, to giving pregnancy advice and parenting tips for fellow moms who read her blog, it is incredible how Dawn has also grown to become one of the most trusted names in today’s cut-throat world of content creators.
Hustling Since Young
Dawn is no stranger to the term hustle. In her early working years, Dawn gave tuition as a side hustle and was at times working 7 days a week. Along with a fervent saving habit, she was able to accumulate $100,000 in savings by the age of 26. This was, of course, on top of the fact that she was also running SG Budget Babe and had a full-time job.
As part of the #MyFirstHustle series, I spoke to Dawn about the story behind why she started SG Budget Babe, how the blog has evolved over the years as she goes through life stages, and what’s her advice for anyone who is thinking of being a (financial) influencer with the aim of being able to monetise their hustle.
Timothy: I still remember the first time we met for lunch at Toa Payoh in 2015, a year after you started SG Budget Babe. Back then, did you ever think you would still be running SG Budget Babe in 2023, and that it would grow to become one of Singapore’s most popular financial blog?
Dawn: I knew I’d still be running the blog because writing has always been cathartic for me, but to be honest, I never expected the blog to grow into what it is today.
Timothy: What motivated you to start SG Budget Babe? What was your purpose for starting and has the motivation evolved over the years?
Dawn: My childhood dream was to become an author, so when the Internet gave rise to self-publishing and blogs in the early 2000s, I was actively writing and joining online storytelling competitions such as those on LiveJournal. But it wasn’t until almost 10 years ago that I decided to start my own blog – pretty randomly, I would say – as I felt I wasn’t getting enough opportunities at work to write as much as I wanted to.
I wanted to write about what I liked – without too much editorial interference – so starting my own blog sounded like the best way to do that. The name Budget Babe came about because that’s a reflection of who I am i.e. that girl who is almost always on a budget because of my family’s financial circumstances. I didn’t think I’d end up running a blog about personal finance, but it just naturally evolved into that because that’s what I was interested in at that point in time and what my friends and readers most wanted to learn from me.
Initially, I thought my audience would be limited to just my own Facebook friends, so it caught me by surprise when my first article went unexpectedly viral. While the primary motivation (to write and jot down my own learning points) has remained constant, the growing audience has sowed another seed of motivation today – to keep adding value back to those who are supporting me.
Timothy: At what point in time did you realise that SG Budget Babe was going to become more than just a passion project? Was it when you started getting enquiries from advertisers and partners?
Dawn: Yes, because that was when I realised that people were willing to pay for the quality of the work that I was producing.
The first paid enquiry probably came in only about 2 or 3 years after I started the blog. At that point, I had probably written close to 200 articles on the blog without being paid a single cent. That’s why content creators starting out today are much luckier – they can get paid sooner without having to hustle as much as we did in the past!
Timothy: A lot of us get stick from netizens who say that we are only writing and producing content on our sites and social media channels for money. What are your thoughts on these comments?
Dawn: I’m my own biggest critic, so I criticise my own work before it even gets published. A question I ask myself is, will I write this piece even if I wasn’t paid for it? If the answer is yes, then I will accept the project.
For instance, it is well-known that I only advocate one brand of formula milk powder and diapers for my child, because most of us parents would never go through the hassle of switching diaper brands (much less formula milk) unless there was a problem. It doesn’t matter how much money I’m offered to promote other brands (and I’ve said no to those), because it just isn’t something I will do, as a parent myself.
We can’t silence the critics, so I feel that we can only let our reputation speak for itself, and mine has been built over years of saying no to paid opportunities. I’ve also not been afraid to ditch a project halfway through because a client refused to include the cons/downsides of their product/service in my review, even though that meant walking away from money and letting all the work go to naught. It hurts to see so much go to waste, but I always remind myself that my reputation is worth far more.
Many of my long-time readers have literally watched me walk away from many of these engagements, so they know what my ethics are when it comes to handling sponsored content. As for the critics, I welcome constructive feedback that can help me improve, but if they’re throwing flak just because the post was paid for, then I’ll ignore their comments because they just don’t know me and my history well enough.
Timothy: Some financial bloggers, particularly in the early days, thought that getting paid for sponsored posts was akin to selling out. What advice would you share for those who may have this perception?
Dawn: They can keep that perception if they want because it is a reflection of their privilege – being able to write without getting paid by sponsors is a cost borne by the author in hours instead.
The reality is that you eventually reach a life stage where you realise every hour you spend writing is an hour taken away from something else – your job, a paid side hustle, or even time with your family and loved ones.
Would I still write on my blog and on social media today if I wasn’t paid? Of course, and I do (75% of the content I produce is unpaid work). But will I write more often, or even keep up my reviews on financial products for free (like I did when I was in my 20s with plenty of time to spare)? Probably not.
Timothy: Do you feel that what you write about has changed as you enter different stages of your life?
Dawn: Yes, my blog is simply a reflection of myself and the life journey that I’m going through. I didn’t care about parenting expenses back then in my 20s because it just wasn’t something that was relevant to me, but that’s a different story now.
I spent about a month archiving all my articles last year so that my articles from my 20s will forever remain on the blog for the younger generation who wish to learn and improve themselves, while I continue to focus on new content relevant for my life stage and/or age.
Timothy: How is it like juggling between a full-time job, running SG Budget Babe and also managing family responsibilities?
Dawn: It requires a lot less sleep and having more discipline!
For me, I believe in hustling while I still can. Every day that I’m still in good health and mental capacity is a gift, so I should make full use of it before it is gone.
Timothy: Has the thought of doing SG Budget Babe full-time crossed your mind?
Dawn: To be honest, that thought has never left my mind. But I reckon keeping SG Budget Babe as a side hustle works best for me because it gives me the power to say no to sponsored work which doesn’t align with my beliefs, since I don’t rely on the blog for my primary income.
I’ve designed my financial life for independence, and this includes creating multiple streams of income. I cannot control what I can or cannot do at my corporate job since the salary pays for my bills, but I CAN control what is being done on SG Budget Babe.
Timothy: Younger people may aspire to start a blog, YouTube Channel, Instagram Page or TikTok Channel, in the hopes that they can become popular and make money from it. Just look at Naomi Neo! As a content creator yourself, can you share your thoughts on just how challenging or easy this is? What are people not seeing?
Dawn: Being a content creator is hard work, and there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t often see. What’s more, you’re putting yourself up for public scrutiny and criticism, which can have a negative impact on your emotional well-being and mental sanity. You can also be held responsible for everything and anything you’ve said or published online. Are you really ready for that responsibility?
There’s so much competition and new content popping up every day, every second. What will you do to make yourself different? Why should advertisers pay you? If you can’t answer these questions, then maybe you should reconsider.
I always believe that if you do something just for the money, you may not last long enough to really see the money or see it grow into something more substantial. At the end of the day, you have to choose something that truly fuels your soul. For me, the only reason why I’m still around and writing is because it is something that fuels me, something that I love. If I hated writing, I would have probably given up sooner. Remember, it took me 2 years and over 200 articles before I even got paid my first dollar.
So if my kids were to tell me that they aspire to be social media influencers, I will simply tell them to choose something that they enjoy doing – be it making videos, writing or singing. Then, focus on improving your skills in that domain, every single day. When you become good enough, you’ll attract the right audience who appreciates your work, and then the money will naturally follow.
Timothy: The financial markets have evolved quite a fair bit in recent years. For example, interest rates are much higher today and growth stocks are more heavily discounted by the market as investors favour stable, cash flow business instead. How do you cope with the changing market landscape?
Dawn: Higher interest rates may seem new, but they’ve actually happened several times before in history. I find it useful to study what happened then, in aiding my understanding of today’s markets. My investment strategy hasn’t changed, but this period is in fact giving me more opportunities to find and purchase fundamentally strong businesses with high growth prospects because of how heavily their valuations have been discounted by the market.
Timothy: What are some upcoming plans for SG Budget Babe that you will want to share with us?
Dawn: I’d love to publish my own e-books and start selling them online, but it is a task I’ve been procrastinating on forever. And no, please don’t tell me to use ChatGPT because a lot of the content is already in my head, but I just need time and space to distill and organise them properly into books.
Timothy: What does the word ‘hustle’ mean to you?
Dawn: To keep working while we can.
The Passion To Succeed For The Hustles That We Take On
Sometimes, when people think about making money from a side hustle, the focus is only on how much they can make, with as little time or effort as possible.
While talking to Dawn, one thing that struck me was just how different her approach is and how passionate she is about what she works on. Though many may admire what SG Budget Babe has achieved, the truth is that the early days weren’t easy – if making money was the sole aim. In fact, given the amount of time she put into her first few years of blogging, she could have easily made thousands of dollars elsewhere doing part-time work.
However, the passion to write and to share her thoughts with others about money motivated her to continue writing. It also helps when people come up to her to share how much her blog has helped them in their lives.
When we put our effort into something that we want to succeed in, we naturally get more proficient at it over time and see better results. After years of hardwork, SG Budget Babe is Singapore’s largest female influencer in personal finance and Dawn also shared with me that she now gets offers to write for other publications as well.
Having established her reputation as a thought leader in the space of finance, it’s now easier for her to monetise her work today. Whether it’s advertising revenue from her blog, engagement fees she gets when speaking, or readers signing up for workshops she conducts, Dawn is able to generate an income through SG Budget Babe that supplements the income she gets from her day job.
That said, Dawn isn’t resting on her laurels anytime soon. When time permits, she hopes to work towards publishing an e-book.
Trading As A Side Hustle?
One common side hustle that many people do consider is trading in the financial market. Some (not all) may desire to trade with the goal of being consistently profitable from trading.
Yet, the idea that making money from trading is easy – just like some think it’s easy to make money as a content creator – is flawed.
Like content creation, trading is hard work and often, especially in the early days, won’t make you much money. In fact, given the amount of time spent and the capital that we have to invest, we might be better off taking a part-time job instead if the aim is to make money quickly.
However, having interviewed many successful traders over the past years, one thing that I have realised is that while learning how to be a profitable trader isn’t easy, for those with the passion to learn and succeed, there are ways we can improve our knowledge over time, and eventually become proficient traders.
Books, videos, articles and workshops are some of the ways we can get started on our learning journey. Through the IG Academy from IG (Singapore’s No. 1 CFD/FX broker (by total number of client relationships. Investment Trends 2022 Singapore Leverage Trading Report), we can gain free access to online courses and webinars to learn more about trading. Through the IG Community, we can also interact with like-minded traders and learn from their experiences.
Anyone can get started on trading but the journey to becoming consistently profitable will take time. Traders need to have their own trading strategies, set up their trades, execute them as planned and review and refine their strategies. Similar to learning all other skills, we have to be prepared to put in the time and effort needed to learn and improve.
For those who want to get started on trading, we can create an IG demo account that gives us virtual funds of up to $200,000 to start practising and testing our strategies. Once you are confident, you can consider trading with a live account, preferably by starting with a small amount first.
#MyFirstHustle is a content series where we feature individuals who have gone beyond their comfort zone to build something on their own. This could be starting a business, a side hustle or just taking the road less traveled. If you know of someone who fits this profile, reach out to us at [email protected]
IG provides an execution-only service. The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute (and should not be construed as containing) any form of financial or investment advice or an investment recommendation or an offer of or solicitation to invest or transact in any financial instrument. Nor does the information take into account the investment objective, financial situation, or particular need of any person. Where in doubt, you should seek advice from an independent financial adviser regarding the suitability of your investment, under a separate arrangement, as you deem fit.
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