This article was written in collaboration with NTUC Income. All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg
In 2015, I took a personal risk when I decided to quit my job and work on my start-up – DollarsAndSense. Back then, we were a start-up which had raked in a grand total of $0 in revenue ever. With a small capital injection, just enough to cover about 50% of what I was earning for a year, I stepped into the unknown.
Even in the most optimistic scenarios, this was a risky bet. Not only was I putting my career on the line by quitting my day job, but I was dragging my family into the deep end of a very deep pool.
Like it or not, we live in a real world where financial commitments can weigh a person down. With monthly bills to pay for, children to support, elderly parents to care for, it’s hard to pursue the careers that we want, whether it’s a dream job in a company that we love, working for a cause we strongly believe in or venturing out on our own as an entrepreneur.
This is why, when NTUC Income shared their findings that most parents in Singapore were not confident of their own retirement, and that the majority of youths also believed that they will need to make sacrifices, including career-related sacrifices, in order to finance their parents’ retirement, I could immediately relate to it.
If you prefer watching, this video, which has gone viral in Singapore with an accumulated view of almost 10 million and has been shared by over 170,000 people across different platforms (to date), sums up perfectly the kind of dilemma many Singapore parents face when they have to balance between what their children want, against what their children really need.
Watch it with a loved one and standby some tissue, it’s all the more meaningful!
Growing Up Years
It will be impossible for anyone to think about their aspirations without considering the needs of our parents. We may have the loftiest goals and want to pursue our passions, but if our family requires the couple of thousands each month to get by, we may not have a real choice. This is why I will share a little about my parents and their retirement journey.
Like many Singaporeans who started working in the 70s, both my parents had jobs in stable organisations from the day they started working until they retired close to four decades later. For the most part of their careers, they were rank-and-file employees.
Growing up, one thing that I always knew was just how frugal my parents were. While luxuries were not part-and-parcel of our lives growing up, I never felt like we lacked anything. My parents also made a concrete effort to save as much as they could, often telling me that every dollar saved was a dollar earned.
As the youngest in the family, financial matters were not something I was bothered about. This isn’t to say that we were well-off but rather, my parents never really confided any family financial matters in me. I think this is similar across many other families in Singapore.
Funding Their Retirement
The NTUC Income study revealed that only about 15% of Singapore youths believed their parents had planned for their retirement. This is further substantiated by the fact that 67% of parents expected to outlive their savings during retirement.
As we never indulged in luxuries growing up, I was part of the 85% who believed that my parents would have problems funding their retirement. Perhaps they would need to live with either my brother or me, and also, be reliant on the allowances that we would have to give them each month.
While this wasn’t something I spent much time thinking about when I was younger, it just made sense – we weren’t rich, they didn’t earn a lot. Furthermore, they had three children, including my special-needs sister who they continue to care for till today, as well as their own parents (my grandparents) to support. On top of that, my mom also retired early.
So, imagine my surprise when my dad decided to retire months after I had just started working. I realised that both my parents had sufficient savings (in their CPF) along with a fully-paid investment property which they could also use to fund their retirement.
How My Parents Retirement Plan Helped Me
As a parent myself, we often think that our role as breadwinners is to provide our kids with the best we can afford. That’s a practical desire which all parents naturally would want to do.
But what exactly is the best?
Is sending your kids to top boarding schools the “best” thing you can do? Is it giving them expensive tuition and enrichment classes? Paying for hobbies and development courses that they want? Or is it affording them diverse experiences and global exposure through overseas holidays and exchange programmes?
According to the Income study, about 90% of Singapore parents would give up their retirement savings for their children’s education and development needs. Interestingly, the same study found that 80% of youths felt that their parents should save for their retirement and spend less on their tuition and enrichment fees.
There is distinct difference between what parents want to give to their children, versus what their children actually wants. But the goal at the end is the same – to choose what we think is the “best” for our loved ones.
Education & Development Needs Or Retirement? Which Is “Best”?
I am not surprised by the results. Growing up in Singapore, we all know just how important (and expensive) a good education is. It makes sense that our parents may believe it was the “best” thing they could do for us, as doing well in school has the potential to set us up for life – in terms of securing a good first job, earning a good wage and having a fulfilling career.
On the other hand, spending excess money and prioritising their children’s enrichment and personal development programmes over their own retirement can be a dangerous mindset as parents may be left without adequate savings to fund their retirement or may even expect that their children will contribute to their retirement.
The question we’re left with is which one we think makes more financial sense – to fund our children’s enrichment and personal development programmes or our own retirement? Of course, if we could do both, we would.
From my own experience, I would like to share that my parent’s own secured retirement has definitely helped me in my career. Truth be told, if they needed my financial support for their retirement, I would never have been able to take the risk of joining DollarsAndSense full-time.
The success and growth in the company that we have achieved over the past three years is as much theirs as it is mine, for without them, I would not have had the opportunity to explore my passions and venture out on my own.
Besides Education & Development Needs, What Else Do You Want Your Children To Have?
Education is not only compulsory, but a necessary stepping stone for a future in the working world. In Singapore, every child, regardless of family background or income, will be given an opportunity for education.
Even at the tertiary level, financial aids, scholarships and bursaries are available to those who have done well, but who may not have the financial means to further their studies. They also have access to financial assistance scheme. For example, NTU has a financial assistance scheme to ensure that no student should be denied the opportunity of a university education because of financial difficulties.
As parents, what else can we give our children besides expensive enrichment and development programmes? Based on my limited experience as a parent, and what I have learnt from my own parents, here are two things that I would like to give my children.
# 1 My Secured Retirement
Contrary to popular thinking, a secured retirement does not just give you and your spouse peace of mind. Your adult children also benefit from it, especially when they start having their own family.
With the cost of living constantly increasing, future generations of Singaporeans may find it harder to contain their cost of living, while concurrently raising their own family. Under these circumstances, adult children who do not need to financially support their parents will have an advantage – both financially and by having less stress.
# 2 Financial Literacy For Children
No amount of wealth is going to be enough if an individual is not able to manage his money. There are countless stories of how lottery winners have blown multi-million of dollar fortunes due to mismanagement of their finances.
As parents, teaching our children how to manage their money is just as important as providing them an education which includes expensive enrichment and personal development programmes. While these programmes may give them a better chance to secure the job they want, teaching them how to manage their personal finances will help them to spend, save and invest wisely forever.
The best way to impart this important life skill to them is to set a good example ourselves. And we can do this by prioritising our own retirement, at least as much as we prioritise our kids’ education and development needs.