My Personal Finance Story (Part 1) – Started Earning Young, But No Savings!

This week, the hottest topic in the financial blogger-sphere is about why we should be financial educated. Although LP is not the source
blogger causing this viral, I was influenced by his post “
why I am interested in
personal finance
”, sharing his personal finance
journey. To me, sharing of personal experiences always educates more
convincingly than just infusing streams of theories. Now, let my own story begins as
Primary School
come from a humble family, “Money Always No Enough Lar!” We initially stayed in
1-room (no living room) then upgraded to 2-room rental flat (1 living and 1
bedroom). My father worked for less than $1k with no CPF, and mum was a housewife
babysitting for extra income.
Started Earning
started earning money by catching spiders at forestry areas near Jervois road
and railway tracks! Spiders have to be masculine to fight in the “ring” which
is my fist!. The more battles my spiders win over my friends, the more
expensive I can sell. My top fighter “Blue Artillery Powder” done deal at S$8. Not
too shabby back in the 80s!
a boy, I am competitive and always wanted to win. I understand clearly that to win, you need to
master the skills and excel in it. I make use of this trait of mine to earn money! I
excelled in my “Marble or GoLi” games, and will bring back more coins with
sand, in my pocket each day. I also mastered “Eraser Flipping” techniques and win
erasers to sell.
I loved collecting stickers, “Know Your School, Ghost Busters, World Cup” etc. but
I can barely afford to buy many. Filling up sticker album was not my objective.
Instead I accumulated stickers to selling classmates who are short of the specific sticker at a higher price! 

In the absence of teachers, I will also start my sticker gambling den. I am always
the banker arranging 3 stacks of stickers, pictures face up, numbers down! Bet
your stickers on the stack with the largest number, you win! Somehow I will win
more than I lose, sometimes with unethical method. After winning, I will sell
the stickers to richer kids then. Once I had the shiny reflective 
Ghost-buster sticker collection “M, N, O, P” that I won, which allows me to exchange for a figurine priced at S$10.
I sold at S$8 to a schoolmate. 
primary school days, I am very good in table tennis and badminton and captained
both sports for my school winning competitions. I was one of my principal’s
favorite students. For doing the school proud, my principal gave me S$50.00
from his own pocket for me to buy a new table tennis bat, since mine was
already old. I was so touched! 
Both my parents are not formerly educated. They
were pre-occupied with their own financial problems and have little time for
me. I was never taught that I need to save for the future or rainy days! The
only reason I earn or save is to buy the things I really like that we could not afford.
At times what I earned will be loosely donated to “Horse
Riding or Jackpot Machines!”
Secondary School to Junior College
is no improvement in family financial situation, which means little pocket
money still. Mum stopped baby sitting and go work part-time as a cleaner. We stayed in the 2-room HDB flat until I was in Junior College
(JC), then we upgraded to a 3-room HDB unit, no longer rental. Finally, my parent’s own house, thanks to my working sister’s assistance! Financial burden was higher, since my father does not have CPF. So my brother has to sign on Airforce to support the housing loan. 
Having Things I Like for “Free”?
small roof with little privacy ensured I spend most of time on the streets. One
group of friends I hanged around after school was rowdy and troubles were imminent, often.
To save money, some of my friends will do free groceries shopping at 7-11 at wee hours. Point blocks 5-room HDB flats, which we deemed only the
rich can afford, are also our target for after-dark shopping. This is how our
favorite “Neckermann” or Ocean Pacific sandals are within reach, compared to the wealthy. I always
chickened out when it comes to stealing, but I was beneficiary of the goods
most time as a reward for my accomplice companion. Equally bad!
Doing Things I Like Cheaply
started playing snooker when I was age 11. I like the game, for it entails lots
of thinking, concentration and skills. Typical game will cost $5-6/hr. Sounds
like “a lot” of money then for a poor kid. 3 to 4 of us will always play “Punch
table”, which means loser pay for the table fees! I practiced hard to make sure
I win more than I loose! 

on days when I am an invincible snooker player, what I does not spend “punching
table”, I will lost the money saved on the snooker table, throwing into “Horse Racing Machines!” But, I 
recognized that no matter what, I cannot lost my following week food allowance! 
Started Working Part-time 
holidays, my mum will also get more “shopping plastic/paper bags” for me to
fold. The faster I fold, the more money we earned. I will also helped her to root
out bags of bean sprouts for pat S50c to S$1 per 5 Kg. If I am fast and
hardworking, my mum will reward me with more pocket money. I also started my
part-time job during holidays, working at relative recommended company as data-entry clerk. I
like working apparently. No, I like the Money! Of Course!
To Fulfill Your Dreams, Never Neglect Studies
I was often on the streets, I never neglected my studies. Since young, I hear
adults say, “This is Singapore, No Cert, No Money, No Future!” My biggest dream
as a boy, is always to own my 5-room HDB flat one day.  So I tell myself, I HAVE to study hard. I
stay aloof my hooligan friends before O Levels and stayed focus to prepare for it.
passed ‘O’ scoring L1R5 at 9 pts. I wanted to go Poly, but was convinced by my sister
to go JC as an easier path to go to university. An “Anti-Shocked” Disc Man as
JC enrollment criteria in exchange also helps me in making the decision. 
After A Levels, I
went on to study in Engineering in NTU.
National Service Full-time (NSF)
after my A Levels, my father past away. There is no issue with financial
because my Dad does not earn a lot anyway, and also because my siblings were
already working and I was enlisting soon.
NS, I was fortunate to be able to book out each day. I stopped taking pocket
money, since I have my S$200-300 allowance from Army throughout the 2 years
plus of service.
Started Giving Tuition, But Lost Everything to Singapore
also started giving tuition. My student is staying in the same HDB block as me,
thanks to my mum’s marketing. She was primary 3 then. Few months later, I added
intake of another student same education level. I was earning something like
S$500 a month from tuition. Plus my Army allowance, I was a really rich Army
boy, at that time. It was also the same period where Singapore Pool S-League
was legalized. I lost everything I earned and save from my tuition, before enrollment to university! See why/how I lost


never stop giving tuition, no matter how hectic my 4 years of University
life. Since I can earn from something I enjoyed. Why Not? 
my tuition students transited from primarily to secondary schools, my tuition
income increased.
father never leave behind any CPF for my University Tuition fees which totalled S$25k for four years. He does not
have CPF! 80% of tuition fees, i.e. S$20k can be loaned from the bank, but I
still need the 20%, i.e. S$5k paid in CASH! It was a lot of money for me back
Loans, Loans, Loans!
could not get any bursary due to my elder Brother’s income is more than the
family income limit. We were brought up to be responsible for our problems at
home, so no family help rendered to me. Eventually, I applied for Study Loan
that is able to provide me with extra S$3.6k yearly. This can pay the 20%
balance tuition fees, as well as cover my daily expenses.
had two computers during uni time. One was paid by
installments drawing from my tuition earnings, and another was via Uni computer
loan rendered for poorer family. I also stayed in hostel, but my sister did
help to offset my hostel fees each month for me. 
my Private Tuition income and Study loan, means money should be more than
sufficient. But being relatively spendthrift at times, having a girlfriend, plus
having to go through Driving Test several times certainly does not help me
Loan – S$14.4K (interest free)
Loan – S$2.6K (interest free)
Fee Bank Loan – S$20k (prevailing interest starts after grad)
Loans after Graduation – S$37K excluding interests!
another S$3k from my sister for Graduation Tour! 
day I graduated, I have no savings! and close to S$40k in debt excluding
What I Learn
  • Humble background sculpts my earning skills
  • Mastery of specific skill-set is a must for earning. Hardwork is needed to master skills.
  • Education or continuous learning is important.
  • Knowing how to earn is not sufficient. You need to know how to save and grow your money.
  • Pampering our-self from our earnings is still important since we need to live life happy.

Stay tuned to Part 2 ….

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23 thoughts on “My Personal Finance Story (Part 1) – Started Earning Young, But No Savings!

  1. Hi rolf,

    Wah, seems like you're destined for great things at a young age 🙂 I think thankfully you didn't fall into bad company and stay there, otherwise you might be gangster head lol

    Looking forward to your part 2 😉

    1. Hi LP,

      The greatest thing I done then, is to leave my group of friends, when I shifted house. Most of them ended behind bars I heard subsequently. Lucky HP is not common then, not even pager, so we lost contact.

      I am at the airport writing this comment, so part 2 will come later. Anyway, this post is inspired by your post. My wife also says you write beautifully.

  2. Hi Rolf,

    Thanks for sharing. Your story made me realized how fortunate I am. I can relate to the games you were playing but I did not have the 'entrepreneurial' mindset to profit from it. I did exchange it for stuff I want – that's when I did my first barter. I only started to make some money during the introduction of 名星卡. However, that's more of a gamble – I remember spending many fifty cents, and using a torch light to 'sniff' out the rare shiny cards.

    I look forward to part 2.

    1. Hi Derek,

      Diff people go through diff background. 🙂 We are all lucky to be Singaporeans. Happy family is extremely enviable!

      I envy n thank u for doing so much good to the financial blogger-sphere now. Just hope Singapore can be strong for generations after generations.

      Haha, I know about the "Ming Xing" Card. Vivien Chow is all the boy's favorite.

  3. Rolf : Very inspiring sharing.. We all start from different beginning and I must say that my beginning is much fortunate than yours. One thing I am sure is that you are heading for a great and bright direction…

    Waiting for the second part…

    1. Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the encouragement. Blogging brings lots of bright direction for me, I must say. I am happy to start blogging and know all you bunch of great bloggers. You are one of the most positive and passionate bloggers around. Continue to generate great postings.

  4. Rolf,

    Compared to you, I had a very privileged up-bringing, me with my HDB 3 room growing up years 😉

    I see you killer-instincts were developed at a much earlier age than mine.

    We have "played" on the streets 😉

    1. Hi SMOL,

      I am more privileged than u. I have stayed all 1,2,3,4,5-room flat before! Hahaha.

      Yes, we have "played" on the streets 😉
      Same school some more…

      Those were the days!

  5. Hi Rolf,

    I'm inspired by your story. You've been through tough times which made you who you are today. Looking forward to more of your sharing 🙂

    1. Hi SGYI,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

      Guess that is what makes Singapore today.

  6. Hi Rolf

    It's interesting to see that many of us at a young age had this entrepeneruial spirit which defined who we are today. I sold stickers on soccer and wrestling as well as trade marbles and erasers. Was very good at it so it brings back good memories. Who knows we might even be rivals at one point in time.

    As far as l1r5 is concerned you are way too good. I completely lost out on that 😉

    1. Hi B,

      Those good old days will remain in us forever.

      Hehe..rivals mentally yes… but physically maybe not. Those good old stuffs started and ended in the 80s for me. 🙂

      The L1R5 was entirely unexpected for me. Luck plays a big part!

  7. Hi Rolf,

    Thanks for sharing and I can relate to your story. Looking forward to part 2 🙂

    1. Hi Joyce,

      Thanks for dropping by. I will be more than appreciative for reading my blog already, let alone u people so kind to give comments!

  8. Hi Rolf,

    Abit late but boy am I glad to have read this post.

    Although I come from a relatively more "privileged" background than you, certain things do resonate. Like the folding of "shopping paper/plastic" bags. Even back then, I knew it was "peanuts" but I just wanted to help my Mum clear the stack. Oh well… those were the days when a dollar mattered so much.

    Looking forward to your Part 2 and you are really a true successful Singapore story!

    1. Hi 15HWW,

      Ah… the paper bags were taking up so much space at home! Yes, every dollar counts.

      I remember Mum is always bargaining when buying things.

      I think more like Singapore Success Story is over-rated. More like Singapore Scary Story.

      Anyway I think all the bloggers in our blog-sphere here deserve a big clap for spreading good to the society!

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