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The Broke Student's Guide to Adulting
Heya guys, I penned a post awhile ago regarding a couple of things you should prepare for in the year leading up to graduation, and I thought I'd write another one in that vein — adulting, how to adult, how to adult without freaking out. I'm 24 and feel nothing like a 24-year-old but I am saddled with a whole bunch of 24-year-old type bills. We are culturally relevant here at jemmawei.com is what I am saying.
Earlier this year I came on board as one of the official FRANK by OCBC influencers, which meant that I got to conceptualise ideas and content for one of the best banks (imho) of which I've been a customer for years. Which is why the past couple of months have been really exciting for me in terms of the direction we're taking in 2017 (more to be revealed in, well, 2017) as well as starting to understand how to navigate postgrad life w.r.t. Adult Concerns. One of the bigger things FRANK and I have concurred on is the importance of learning to manage your money - because a big part of being an adult is learning to maximise your dollar. To be honest, this isn't all that far from what I've been talking about for the last three years. It's essentially the same spirit my Broke Student Guides are written in - not totally cutting yourself off from your wallet, but learning how to get maximum value for the minimum amount spent. This isn't a very sexy concept because nowadays everyone wants to be a baller, but unfortunately your 24 year old perception cannot be spread on a sandwich and eaten, and therefore what I am trying to say is, BE REALISTIC! Which is how I landed on today's blog post title I suppose:
The Broke Student's Guide to Adulting
Or, how do you 1. Be a responsible adult 2. Not be broke and 3. Still have a fun and balanced life?
I'm not being frivolous here with that last point. Being responsible and not broke is kind of par for the course when trying to be an adult, but fun? Fun is insanely important. Because it's less 'acceptable' to dedicate time to it, people prioritise work above it by so much (at least, the people I know..). And as a result, you get a lot of stressed out, burnt out people who always look like they're about to cry. The struggle is real, you guys. Obviously I am not saying to dedicate your whole life to having fun like some teenager. It's all about learning to balance it out because I think something we lack quite awfully in Singapore's working culture is the idea of balance. I read this Oatmeal piece lately about how we define happiness and I think it's pretty spot on. The happy-unhappy spectrum doesn't make allowances for periodic stress and fulfilment, and as a result we don't (I theorise) learn to synthesise stress into our working life. Learning to manage your stress levels and achieving workable balance in your post-grad life is important because you're pretty much going to be working the rest of your life...better get it straight earlier than later! So, yes. This little but necessary digression was just to make a point on how important mental health is when you start working, and while it's not immediately linked to the rest of my post, it had to be said. Please take note!
Okay, so. One of the main reasons why I partnered up with FRANK by OCBC exclusively for the last few years is because my own personal values tie in very much with FRANK's 4 financial pillars. That is to say:
1. I save before I spend
2. I amplify my wealth (Investing)
3. I protect myself
4. I enjoy small indulgences
In this post, I'm gonna talk a little bit more about how each individual point applies to us as baby adults (because, hands up - who's ready to be a full blown adult? I still run back to my mum if l can't figure out where to file my taxes and pay my bills!) and how we can, step by step, get better at this adulting thing. And as usual, you know the drill - if you have anything to add, comment section or email is always open. x
As an adult, you're finally going to have spending power because you're working and earning a stable income, but DON'T GO CRAZY. This seems to be common sense, but you'll be surprised at how out of hand people get in their first year of working, even when they haven't paid off their student loans yet. Figure out a finance and saving system that works for you, so that you know how much spendable money you have. Don't know what spendable money is? Read my BSG to Managing your Finances. I've spoken many many times about the importance of saving money - from my entire series of Broke Student Travel Guides, to my more to-the-point posts on personal finance management (see above, re: The Broke Student's Guide to Managing your Finances). On my Paypal Gifting Guide as well as other places, I have generally been very vocal about being SUSTAINABLE in your relationship gifting habits - because although I know you want to run off and buy your new bae a $300 gift that you know she/he'd really really love, don't. It creates a cycle of unsustainable gifting habits that honestly is a waste of money! Put your effort into thoughtfully coming up with gifts that show that you've really paid attention to the other person's life - I guarantee it will mean just as much, if not more, than your really expensive credit-carded purchase.
This is one of the reasons why I love FRANK so much - the core tenet of their beliefs is teaching and encouraging you to save money, which is exactly what you should be doing with your bank. I completely disagree with the idea that you need to spend a ton of money to be happy because living in the moment is what life is all about. I'm sorry, but it is not. That is a recipe for disaster and bankruptcy. And although it sounds significantly less sexy as a concept to ask people to be financially prudent, it is far more responsible. We live in a consumerist enough world already, guys. Stop running off to buy shit you don't need! Then you'll find that when you do buy something you want or need, your satisfaction levels are far higher, and you'll actually have more spending power anyway since you don't live from paycheque to paycheque.
Here are two ways to force yourself to save:
1. Save 50% of everything you get. Earn $2,500 a month? Put $1,250 away immediately into a separate bank account and don't touch it. Earn $100 on a part time job? Put $50 in a piggy bank that you can't touch. Once you get used to having a smaller amount of money to spend, you automatically spend less and save more, cutting out stupid shit you don't need, like that extra glass of soda when dining out.
2. Use the FRANK Account's Saving Goals feature to automatically transfer a certain amount of money towards your savings goals per month. This money is then locked away in an electronic piggy bank that you can't touch or withdraw at ATMs without going through the iBanking site first. This feature is ridiculously useful and it's what I used to save $13,000 for my exchange program in Year 3 of university. Would recommend!
Now I know next to nothing about traditional investing, so I won't bother pretending to talk about that, although FRANK has committed to bringing fresh graduates through the Young Investor‘s Programme where they teach you the basics of investing (been meaning to sign up, but haven't had the time or capacity so far, to be honest). But the idea of investing in yourself and your workﬂow is something that I heartily champion. There are certain short term expenditures you can make that will increase your income exponentially in the future, so although it sounds ironic, don't scrimp on the important things. Personally, my commitment to investing in my work process includes renting an office desk which forces me to mentally commit to my work, it has honestly improved my productivity by as much as 50% (I track my work output on excel and paper just to know where I've been and where I'm headed) since I have a place to sit and get to the grind.
I cannot emphasise how much getting an office space has helped my productivity. I think this is in part because at home, I share a room with two sisters and I don't have a proper work desk. This means I'm always hunting for cafes to sit and work at. Now, although I pay a monthly rental that looks like an additional cost, the amount I save on cafe food and the amount of extra work I manage to take on really makes a lot of sense for me. And as a millennial, freelancing is so popular as an option that I really see co-working spaces becoming a big part of our lifestyles. I personally rent at The Hive Singapore, which I really love :)
Another thing that my entrepreneurial friends also tend to invest in? Workshops and soundboard sessions. This makes a lot of sense, because people who are passionate about what they do tend to want to get better. You pay for tuition to improve in your studies. Actors and actresses pay for acting workshops to improve their craft. Photographers pay for workshops and equipment. Musicians pay to record with industry professionals to get better at what they do. So why shouldn't we invest in classes to improve ourselves? I have a friend who got an online diploma in interior design in her spare time, while working full time in something completely unrelated. And as a Singaporean above 25 (which you should be as a fresh graduate), you get a certain amount of SkillsFuture Credit from the government to take any skill-based class to improve yourself, which replenishes every year. And which you should TOTALLY MAKE USE OF.
I did a post awhile back that included understanding your liabilities when it came to insurance matters. This is still as relevant today, especially if you're someone who drives (so you need auto insurance) or someone who travels a lot (please, please don't scrimp on travel insurance). I personally think that travel insurance is more or less the same, with little variation, so the main difference lies in 1. your agent and how efﬁcient he or she is and 2. whether you get certain discounts for your travel insurance when you purchase it through different places. OCBC has its own Explorer travel insurance , which covers everything from accidents to travel delays and baggage loss. Plus, you sometimes enjoy discounts when you pay for your travel insurance with OCBC online banking! So there's that.
But no matter which insurance plan you choose to go with, please don't skip out on travel insurance. And familiarise yourself with the terms of insurance! For example, what's the buffer time for you to see a doctor if you fall sick after getting back from a trip? So on and so forth. These small details can make a huge difference to your ﬁnal bill if something goes wrong on your trip. And nobody wants to spend unnecessary money that could have been claimed from your insurance plans otherwise, so it's deﬁnitely worth ﬁguring out the small details now, before you ﬂy.
I know it seems counter intuitive, but you can save money and still lead a very fun and fulﬁlling life. NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE INSANELY EXPENSIVE, GUYS. Learning to run a search for online coupons and groupons before each purchase will only take you thirty seconds and half the time it'll save you money. I've mentioned this in my BSG NEW YORK post - but you can ﬁnd a groupon for nearly everything. More so in America than elsewhere, but even in Singapore I've majorly saved on many things just because I take a minute to run an online search for deals on things that I want before clicking the check out button. Because travel is such a big part of my content, a lot of my saving tips is in relation to travel or destination guides. But I hope you'll find that some of the tips I've put out over the years are also exportable to our local context. In general, when it comes to methods of savings, you have a couple of ways to go about it - spend less than you earn (duh), and if you have a habit, ﬁgure out how to make it cheaper.
For example! And this links to my earlier digression on mental wellbeing lol. What are the things you know you'll spend on every month? For some people, it's a yoga or gym routine. For others, it's a good meal once a month. Shopping. Weekend Trips. For me, it‘s books and wine. You can always, always ﬁnd a cheaper way of doing the same things. For example, I have a glass of wine before bed every night. So I purchase my wines wholesale from Vinomofo and also have a wine subscription (a post-semester gift to myself) that sends me a couple of bottles per month for a much lower rate than what I would pay outside normally. When my friends want to meet for a drink after work, I invite them to my office instead to chat in peace over a bottle of wine at wholesale price instead of paying total marked up price for drinks at a bar. See? You can always find a cheaper way of doing things. If you can't find a cheaper way, then you probably have found the cheapest already, and so you should start your own broke student's guides. Idea!
For those of you who like to travel, who feel like you're stuck somewhere and will literally die if you don't catch a break, I feel you. I'm very, very privileged to get the opportunity to travel frequently for work, but I remember my second year of university where I literally thought I would expire if I didn't go somewhere, soon. There are ways to indulge in travel without spending a bomb. In fact, I think that the millennial way of travel is obsessed with making every dollar count as opposed to the old way of travel where you just pay a hiked up price to a tour agency to figure all your shit out for you. Obviously you can look at my Broke Student Guides (sidebar, right) for inspiration, but other travel blogs I enjoy are A Girl and a Bald Traveller and The Travel Intern. I know Hendric (founder of The Travel Intern) personally, but I don't know the girl or the bald guy from the ﬁrst blog. Nevertheless, both are committed to the millennial way of travel - stretching your dollar, living within your means, and having a damn good time. So read and learn!
And if you're pretty happy with your 9-5 job but have this itch to do a bit more with your life, why not make a commitment to spend every other weekend trying something new?
How many weekends have you spent just lazing around on your couch or watching TV? Why not try something new, like taking on a painting class or attending a poetry slam? My 2016 resolution was to try something new every month, and committing to it really pushed me to try more and more things that I'd never considered before. I learnt to fly a plane, surf, and got my PADI Open Water Diver's license! As a result, I watched very few movies and procrastinated a lot less because I'd spent so much of my free time committing to trying new things that I hoped would enrich my life. This was time that I would normally spend doing absolutely nothing, like zoning out or just using my phone, and although it made me a lot more stressed out in 2016 (because during peak periods of work I would still push myself to try new things), it deﬁnitely left me more fulfilled at the end of the year too :)
I do think that in 2016, living by these four guidelines have helped me get my shit together a lot more than in 2015 or any other year. 2016 was the year I made a personal commitment to investing in myself, organising my work flow and consequently streamlining it much more, and it was the year I decided that as a baby adult at the prime of my youth, I would go out and Do Things. This was a result of my two months in New York last year, where I realised that the world had so much to offer - cheesy as it sounds. This mental shift helped me to decide what my priorities were, ﬁnancially, and so I cut down on a lot of unnecessary expenditure and diverted it to more important things that would help improve my productivity and help me achieve the kind of lifestyle I had decided I wanted. For years I have heard people around me aspire towards a certain type of life they see online and not actually do anything to work towards that. To which I say - sure, there are people who've been born with lots of advantages in life, like being born into money (and while money isn't the most important thing, it's pretty damned crucial) and having lots of family connections. But there are also a lot of people who are just like you and me, who stopped worrying about whether they could, and just went and did it. So why shouldn't we?
My connection with FRANK by OCBC has always been more than just the consumer-bank relationship. I've always loved the values that they espouse, and the principles they operate by, and in 2017 I'm happy to say that they are taking it past the theoretical and implementing solid ways of guiding us through this strange phase of baby adulting. Step by step, but we'll get there. I hope this post has given you guys an inkling as to how we can get another step up the ladder of this adulting process, and as we wrap up 2016 - I hope it's given you some sense of inspiration and hope for the New Year :)
To bigger and better things together, you guys!