While we have a lot in common, including two children, my wife and I are opposites when it comes to managing our finances.
She’s more conservative, and prefers not to put her money into anything that she doesn’t understand. On the other hand, I only keep about 6 months’ worth of my expenses in cash and invest the rest of it.
Typically, our financial commitments only converge when there is a shared goal. We’re both contributing towards a joint renovation/down payment savings fund for our HDB BTO flat each month. We’re also starting to invest in a portfolio for our children’s university education about two decades down the road. We also recognise the value of insurance to protect our and our children’s future.
Apart from all that, we try to split bills at home evenly, and retain our own autonomy in managing the rest of our money.
Getting A Bird’s Eye View Of Our Financial Plan
This method of managing our personal finances can be empowering. However, there may also be some blindsides as we don’t know exactly what the other person’s longer term financial goals are, besides the shared goals that we have.
For us to get a macro view of our financial standing, I turned to MoneyOwl’s Comprehensive Financial Planning service. Technically, I signed myself up…and roped her in. Priced at $99 (valued at $535), the Comprehensive Financial Planning service comes with a 30-page detailed report of our financial standing and a two-hour consultation with a financial adviser.
Taking An In-depth Look At Our Financial Health
There’s a discovery phase where we need to spend about 20 minutes on a detailed online submission. This is meant to capture vital information required for MoneyOwl to create our personalised report. This is a methodical process and we can use MyInfo to save some time when creating our account.
For a start, we have to input information on our dependants. For me, this refers primarily to my children. Follow-up questions relate to whether I want to set aside funds for their education – I do, and get an instant pat on my back for starting to plan now. I suspect that this also serves another purpose, to lighten the impact of realising that I have to save more than $366,000 for their studies in about 20 years.
Next, we need to input information on our personal finances which include: our income, expenses, assets such as our home, savings, investments, CPF balances, and even other assets such as jewellery or cryptocurrencies.
During this process, I’m encouraged to create a bad mood fund. Thinking about the $366,000 I need to save for my children’s education, and how nice it would have been to tap into a bad mood fund if I had one now – I decided to start a small one.
At the end of step 2, I’m basically told that I could set aside more for my bad mood fund, though not sure if my wife would agree…
What’s nice is that we can also see how MoneyOwl derives this calculation.
The third part is to dust off our insurance policies to really understand what we’re covered or not covered for. This includes hospital plan, life protection, critical illness, disability income, and long-term care insurance. The inputs are straightforward, but we need to have the information on hand to save time.
Being a writer at DollarsAndSense, readers would expect me to be on top of my finances. I’m glad to say that I finished this portion in good time. Plus, it helps that some of my personal insurance policies are with MoneyOwl – so they already have some information.
At the end, I’m given a little nugget of information about how term life insurance can help me to cover gaps at a more affordable cost.
Moving on to the last step – whether I want to achieve Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE). I want to, but it’s going to be an uphill battle with $366,000 due in 20 years for my children’s university education. So, I input a more realistic desired retirement age: 65 years old.
I’m reminded of three must-haves for a comfortable retirement at the end of the discovery phase.
This was one of the better ways to spend 20 minutes as the exercise forced me to take stock of my personal finances across my daily life, investments and insurance. I was then directed to complete payment for the programme.
After paying the $99, I got an email the next day to book our virtual consultation. A few days after booking the session, I also received the 30-page report. I would recommend everyone to spend some time going through this report in detail in order to make the most out of the virtual consultation to clarify anything you need to.
I was also assigned an adviser with whom I already had some interactions with when I first purchased a policy from MoneyOwl. Shawn is a fully-salaried client adviser at MoneyOwl, which means he is not remunerated based on the policies and/or investments we purchase from the session, if any at all. This is one way MoneyOwl ensures that all financial advice their advisers provide is unbiased and in the clients’ best interest.
I shared the report with my wife, and we waited to attend the session the following week.
What We Learned During The Comprehensive Financial Planning Session
We were greeted with a friendly face during our Comprehensive Financial Planning session. Shawn started off by explaining how MoneyOwl functions. I’m quite familiar with it, so this was more for my wife – who by the way, had no clue that the session would be documented in an article.
MoneyOwl brands itself as a bionic adviser. This means that they use both technology and human adviser to provide value for their clients. The information discovery phase and generation of the report was the tech and algorithms at work, while Shawn – as the human adviser – helped to provide context and answer our questions, giving us the perfect mix of the efficiency of technology and the familiarity of the human touch.
The session with him was almost exactly 2 hours long, and here are 5 things my wife and I Iearned about our finances.
#1 I Am Keeping Too Much In Cash & Should Invest More Instead
Based on the report, I have been keeping too much of my money in cash. I currently have 15 months’ worth of expenses rather than 3 to 6 months. As the report suggests, it may mean that I am “not making my money work hard enough”.
This is also where we should not solely rely on what the algorithm says. I informed Shawn that we are waiting for our BTO flat and part of the savings is earmarked for our renovation budget.
The main takeaway is that we should not just fixate on keeping X months’ worth of emergency savings, but to truly understand the specific reasons for keeping more or less than the recommended 3 to 6 months.
A secondary takeaway here is that we may still not be making our funds work as hard as we can. Since our BTO key collection is going to be about 2 years away, we can invest part of it now while still continuing to save over the period.
One safe way to invest such funds could be to use MoneyOwl’s WiseSaver, a low-risk cash management account. This way, we can earn higher interest rates than what the banks are paying, while not taking on too much investment risk. There’s also no lock-in period, so we can withdraw our funds whenever we need it – almost like an emergency savings fund.
#2 Why Do I Have A Small Amount Of Debt?
The job of the human adviser is to ask questions, especially when something doesn’t add up. Shawn has probably gone through dozens of these reports, developing a keen eye for anomalies.
Even though it was in a very healthy range, he asked why I had a 1.4% debt-to-asset ratio. This was something my wife hadn’t known about as well, hence it is important to go through such comprehensive financial planning sessions together.
The reason for this small debt is because I agreed to a balance transfer facility when one of my credit card operators offered me a promo over a call. The interest rate seemed attractive and it doubled as research for potential article angles on DollarsAndSense.
Shawn agreed that this isn’t a really big amount of loan so it should be manageable. I’m not sure if he approves of it though.
#3 I Am On Course To Have Over $1 Million In My CPF (Not Really)
MoneyOwl also has a CPF Analyzer tool we can use to estimate our future balances. Based on my current CPF balances, and considering that I earn the same amount until I turn 55, I am on course to accumulate $1.3 million in my CPF. Of this, about $519,000 will flow into my Retirement Account (RA). This is a number that MoneyOwl projects to be the Enhanced Retirement Sum (ERS) when I turn 55. In turn, this will give me close to $4,000 CPF LIFE monthly payouts when I turn 65. Of course, I would still have another over half a million dollars to drawdown on according to this calculation.
Unfortunately, this does not take into account that the bulk of my Ordinary Account savings will go towards paying for my down payment when I eventually get my BTO keys in 2 years. I will also be utilising my OA balances to pay for my monthly home loan after that.
While I will not have the $1.3 million CPF savings by the time I turn 55, it gave me an insight into how much I could have if I decide to use cash for my down payment and monthly instalments. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision either, as I could use partial cash and CPF savings to boost my CPF balances.
Shawn says that he can regenerate the CPF balances with new inputs that weren’t captured during the discovery phase.
#4 I Have A Critical Illness and Long-Term Care Coverage Gap
In the report, it did not capture certain results entirely accurately – I suspect it could be because I didn’t save some of my inputs. (If you want to avoid this, do look through all your inputs one final time at the end of the discovery phase.)
I actually have adequate life insurance coverage rather than no coverage (as shown in the screenshot below). My disability coverage gap is also relatively small, so there’s no urgency to cover it.
It also looked like I had a big critical illness gap. However, since I purchased the plan from Shawn, he did a quick check and realised that the plan I was on had a $150,000 coverage upon late stage critical illness, while the base was lower. This means that the coverage gap I had was not as wide. I could consider boosting this coverage.
I also only had roughly half of my long-term care coverage needs. In Singapore, we currently have CareShield Life which covers part of our long-term care requirements. Shawn recommends that I plug this gap.
The benefit of the Comprehensive Financial Planning session was quite timely for us as well, since we just had our second child. Perhaps, this explains why I have some coverage gaps that need to be plugged.
#5 Consider Involving Your Spouse Right From The Start (Rather Than During The Consultation Only)
During most of the session, we spoke about my personal cash flow, CPF balances, and insurance coverage. This was interjected with Shawn trying to do some fact-finding with my wife to understand if what he was saying made sense from a family financial planning perspective.
Shawn suggested that my wife could have taken a separate Comprehensive Financial Planning session on her own. This would have allowed her to provide her own inputs for CPF balance, insurance coverage, investments and others. What MoneyOwl can do after that is to compile the respective reports and organise a joint session for both spouses.
By having both spouses intimately involved in the process, both parties benefit from a good understanding of their own personal finances, as well as gain an overview of their spouse’s finances. In our case, my wife saw what my finances looked like and I had a review of where my gaps were. However, I did not get an overview of my wife’s finances nor did she get an overview of her gaps. At the same time, Shawn’s recommendations were mostly specific to me.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest takeaways for my wife was how she can start making her money work harder for her (and me). Since we got married almost six years ago, she has not invested a single cent of her savings. Instead, she’s been prudently growing the size of her savings account.
In that time, she would have earned about 7% annual returns on her investment. In her lingo, she would have been able to buy a free YSL handbag each year rather than get $50 in bank interest rate.
The chart below was really the main reason she overcame her reservations to investing. Since 1926, the stock market has been on an upward trajectory. And, in more recent times, staying invested in the market for more than 10 years will always give you a positive return regardless of when you invested.
MoneyOwl’s Dimensional portfolios provide a low-cost and low-barrier investing solution for ordinary investors. By removing trailer fees and commissions, and charging up to 0.6% in annual advisory fees, MoneyOwl underscores its commitment to act in our interest. We can also start off investing without much expertise or knowledge – as our portfolio of global equities and bonds will be built based on our risk appetite – and with as little as $50 a month.
Couples who have young families, like us, could benefit from doing a Comprehensive Financial Planning session greatly as we may have insurance and investment gaps that we are not paying attention to. In our case, we just had our newborn, so it was a good time to review our financial health. My wife also abstains from investing – but we’ve overcome this thanks to the virtual session with Shawn.
Currently, MoneyOwl has an ongoing promotion. You can receive $20 NTUC FairPrice vouchers when you get your comprehensive financial plan (introductory fee of S$99). Click here to find out more and get started!
If you’re an NTUC member, you get to enjoy 75% OFF when you sign up for CFP with MoneyOwl (at only $24.75) from now till 31 December 2023.