If you're like me, going into the fourth decade of your life, the topic of retirement becomes as engrossing as figuring where all your rock-hard abs from your twenties have gone. In your youth, you never think you'd lose your pace, vitality and energy like those old geezers – until it hits you as well.
Similarly, financial planning and retirement hardly crossed my mind as I bundled full force into my career, making and spending money as fast as I could. It only hit me recently in the last few years that retirement, (the "r-word" I only associated with my parents and those creatively cheesy pioneer generation ads) is something that I needed to take seriously in my early thirties.
In my mitigation, the (lazy) excuse why I didn't care more for my retirement was that there weren't as many good and free sources of financial education ten years ago as you have now all around you and all over the Internet. I had nowhere to learn all this stuff!
Today, you many have great financial & investment resources like The Fifth Person (ahem!),Dollars and Sense, and A Singaporean Stocks Investor. Even the Singapore government is getting in on the act to help Singaporeans make better financial decisions for themselves.
For example, the Institute of Financial Literacy (IFL) — a collaboration between MoneySENSE(the national financial education programme led by the MAS) and Singapore Polytechnic, gives free talks and workshops on financial matters. They also provide a series of videos and a free ebook to further educate the public.
So as it is, we have a wealth of information today to help us grow our wealth, better manage our money, and plan for our retirement. And it only makes sense to make use of the information out there if you're serious about becoming financially independent and retiring comfortably.
With that, I'd like to share five things I wish I'd done better in my roaring twenties but is still never too late to implement as we move toward retirement. So here it goes…
5 Ways You Can Earn Yourself an Early Retirement
1. Spend considerably less than you earn. In my early twenties, almost every dollar I earned was frittered away on some minor indulgence. Even though I didn't really have any big, expensive wants, all the little things here and there (restaurant dinners, new clothes, etc.) add up every month and I wasn't saving enough. The fact is – even if you're making a cool twenty grand a month and spending that same amount every month, you're still flat broke. So it's not just a question of making more money; spending less (considerably less) is the first step to accumulating wealth and planning for retirement.
2. Keep track of your cash flow. It is one thing to spend less but it's another to know where your expenses are going and how much you spend (and save) exactly every month. I personally use excel to keep track of my cash flow and finances but nowadays there are tons of money management apps for your phone that easily do the same for you. Just like a weight loss plan, it's nigh impossible to keep track of your cash flow and finances if you don't write it down.
3. Keep your debt low. It's hard to grow your wealth if you're deep in debt and you have to fork out rising interest payments month after month. The biggest culprit here for many loose spenders in their twenties is credit card debt. At 1% interest per month, those interest payments add up extremely fast. If there's one thing I did right in my younger days, it's that I never got into any massive consumer debt and I paid off my credit card bills in full every month. Debt still has its uses (buying a home, for example) but, again, we still have to spend within our means and take care not to over-extend our finances.
4. Define your "comfortable" retirement. It's sexy to think of retirement as sailing off into the golden sunset on the Queen Elizabeth headed off to exotic locales while slurping down your fortieth oyster as horrified fellow buffet guests look on. Yes, that is retirement (and someone probably is slurping down his fortieth oyster on the QE) but if you're the sort that still fancies fast cars and the fast life when you look like a dried-out prune in your sixties and seventies, then be prepared to budget for it. If not, a simpler lifestyle in your golden years would mean it is easier to reach your financial goals for your retirement. Not to say that living large is bad, it just boils down to personal choice.
5. Start investing now! This is probably the most important step in preparing for retirement. Investing is the only way you can allow money to work for you, hedge against inflation, and receive steady passive streams of income when you retire. If you don't invest, you have no means of receiving income when you stop work and every dollar you save will only be worth around 44 cents in twenty years at 4% annual inflation. A double whammy! So if you haven't started a portfolio of stable, income-producing investments like REITsand dividend stocks (with a proportion of value-growth stocks for capital gains), it's time to go going.
We always believe that financial literacy and practical investment knowledge is the key to helping Singaporeans (and people around the world) achieve financial independence. That's our mission here at The Fifth Person.
The article was written in collaboration with the Institute for Financial Literacy. All views expressed in this article are the independent views of the author.