“I Never Want to be Controlled by Money,” A Millennial on Taking the Road Less Travelled
If theres one place I definitely want to visit in my lifetime, its Machu Picchu, an Inca citadel in Peru. I’d love to climb that mountain ridge to take in the beautiful sights at the UNESCO Heritage Site, situated more than 2,000m above sea level.

Unfortunately, that will remain a pipe dream for now.

Looking at the pathetic four-digit sum in my bank account, I suspect I would need about a hundred times that amount as savings if I want to live comfortably during my retirement and travel the world.

But just thinking about the word retirement feels like attempting to solve a question on quantum mechanics. How do I even begin planning for life after quitting my job for good, when I dont even have one yet?

Most of my friends from business school have taken up jobs in industries where their degrees are most useful, and thus would have little trouble building a career.

On the other hand, Ive decided to go against the flow and pursue my passion in the creative industry, even if it means taking the unorthodox route as a freelancer and hustling from assignment to assignment for now while I search for a full-time job.

Its immensely gratifying to do something that I truly love, even though Im not drawing a fixed salary of $4,000 every month like my friends do.

Still, the thought of not having enough savings and being forced to subsist on an allowance from my children in my old age frightens me.

This is not what I envisioned retirement to be, and it’s why even freelancers like myself need to start planning for the long-term.

A few months ago, my mum, concerned that I was not utilising my job hunt well enough, subtly reminded me that she was not going to be around forever.

It was a wake-up call that even though my life thus far has been pretty comfortable, it may not remain this way forever.

I want to be able to support my own hobbies and globetrotting adventures by being financially independent, just as my mum had taught me from the beginning.

My parents divorced when I was very young, leaving my mum to be the sole breadwinner of the family for the most part.  

She was adamant that my sister and I learn to save for a rainy day, and instilled in us from a very young age the importance of managing our finances. We never completely spent our pocket money and always deposited the remainder in our piggy bank.

Every month, she would bring us out on a luxury shopping day, which really just entailed spending not more than $20 at the Popular Bookstore. We could choose to either buy one gift or spend the money on multiple items, and that was how we learnt to be mindful of our spending, rationing our money to last the entire month.

Truth be told, the topic of money is a sensitive one to discuss with my mum because she’s still overfastidious about how I, a 27-year-old, am spending my money. Much to the horror of my peers, she still checks my bank book.

Once, while I was still serving National Service, I was a little trigger-happy with my allowance and went home carrying two pairs of sneakers. Needless to say, my mum wasnt pleased about my frivolous shopping spree and immediately gave me an uncompromising talking to.

On hindsight, that was probably one of the worst decisions I’d ever made.

Over the years Ive picked up the art of living within my means. I have most of my meals at home or at hawker centres, and if Im going out with my friends on a weekend I would plan my week in advance so I would not overspend; even if this means holing up at home like a hermit.

In fact, Ive grown so conscious of my expenditure that till this day I still use cash when I go out, just so I can keep track of how much Ive spent. For just a cab ride or a slightly more expensive meal at Astons, I already feel the pinch when two $10 notes disappear from my wallet in an instant.

For this reason, I hardly ever use my NETS card since I cant see my savings dwindle until I check my bank account. Of course, a credit card is out of the question.

My habits may seem a little eccentric, old-fashioned even, for a so-called 21st-century millennial, but thats the only way I can keep my bank account in the black when Im not drawing an income yet.

Many of my friends, in contrast, seem to be more concerned about financial wealth and health from the get go. Their need for a sizeable consistent growth in their savings may sometimes blind them when making the difficult decision of a job switch.

Often, they choose to remain stuck in a job that they hate just to collect the paycheck; some also elect to give up on a more promising career switch because that would entail a significant drop in pay which they have already gotten fairly comfortable with.

For me, being quite contented with just seeing any form of increase in my savings, giving up ones dreams just for the money may seem overboard.

But I also admit that it would be impossible to have a sustainable retirement fund by simply depositing the days leftover money into my bank account. Money doesnt grow that way. Furthermore, much of my savings would still have to go towards repaying my loans and other debt that my mum still keeps.

It’s never too early to start planning for the future and retirement, but it’s also easy to slip into the trap of being too late. Even though I always get bored by the financial jargon when my friends and I briefly discuss the topic, I get the sense that these guys have already made plans for their future financial security while I’m still thoroughly clueless.

If I get too caught up with finding my own career path, be it a freelancer or a full-time job, I may end up spending more time playing catch up and that would mean having less for retirement in the end.

Besides consulting my friends who have already had a head-start, using an online tool like 360F’s has given me a clear indication of how much work I need to put in to make my money grow.

I let out a sardonic chuckle when I see the retirement savings figure of one million dollars displayed on the 360F Retire Smart planner – a figure of 10 times of what I had estimated, and calculated for me based on my envisioned retirement lifestyle and timeline.

There’s no doubt that just pure savings alone isn’t going to help me reach this target. I need to invest my money somewhere, whether it’s stocks or forex trading, if I want to pursue my passion without having to worry if my job pays me enough.

I’ve heard horror stories about people who go into investing thinking about making a quick buck, and then losing everything. Going in blind and putting all your eggs in one basket is pure folly, but at the same time one cannot predict the unexpected.

Sometimes the unexpected takes away more than just wealth. A severe illness might make it impossible to even work for income and could disrupt a retirement plan. Thankfully, the 360F tool is able to simulate unexpected events to better prepare me, an idiot in financial planning, for the worst.

It's raining, but taking the bus is still cheaper than a cab ride.
I may not be able to completely fulfill those dreams to travel around the world, if I sit on my ass with regard to financial planning for too long.

Ultimately, I want to be assured that I can not only sustain myself comfortably as a working adult, but also be able to look after my mum in her retirement.

They say there are far greater things in life than money. But really, when you know that you are financially secure for the long term, then theres little that you truly need to worry about.

A peace of mind is what I most desire for my retirement, and I should probably get cracking now.


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