What are you going to do with your year end bonus?

It’s the time of the year again, where Orchard Road is lined with bright glittery lights, and Xmas trees standing proud and tall in malls. My hubby and I headed to town last Saturday, hoping to do some early Xmas shopping for our yearly gift exchange with friends. But alas, the crowded mall and long lines at cashiers turn us off and we head straight to queue for our dinner instead. It’s the time of the year whereby people are generally in a good and giving mood, and it’s not just because Xmas is a few weeks away. “Most of these people must have gotten their year end bonus and increment!” I told my hubby, and he nodded in agreement! Having (more) money always put people in good mood.

So what do most Singaporeans do with their year end bonuses, after working hard for a full year? I guess it can be broken down into a few categories:

1) Buy, buy, and buy:
During the first two years of my working life, my bonus allows me to buy things I couldn’t afford to buy during the past 11 months with my miserable monthly salary. This happens to a lot of people. We see bonuses as a mean whereby we can finally buy what we have been lusting over the past months. It usually involve some big ticket items like a designer bag, gadgets, upgrading of cars etc. For boyfriends and husbands, it means splurging on your beautiful girlfriend or wife, and you get her a Tiffany and Co earring, or a Pandora bracelet for Christmas. For parents, it means buying the Wii game set or the latest iPad Air that your kid had been begging you for the past one year. For newly weds, it means a nice painting for your new home, or getting the matching set of cutleries that you absolutely need. For the materialistic princess like I was, it means getting the latest designer bag to outshine your colleagues.

2) Clearing credit card balances:
I started carrying a balance in my credit card since the age of 24. The amount started small, like 2-3k in credit card balances, and the first thing I did when I got my bonus was to clear the outstanding amount. It started with one card, then two, then three… Until I lost track of it. I sure hope not many people are like me, for it sure feels lousy to be dumping your hard earned money to repay debts.

3) It disappears from your bank account a few months after you got it:
I can so relate to this! Sometimes, after clearing my credit card debt, there will still be a little bit of left overs, but hey, it just disappears out of thin air a few months down the road. I still remember the first time I had my 5 figure bonus (about 12k after CPF contribution), and I cleared about 4k in debt. I thought to myself, after clearing my debt, I still have 8k left. That’s still ALOT of money for me to save! And I promise myself I’ll save the balance. A month later, I subscribed to 2k worth of my company’s shares, and a few months later, the remaining 6k really disappears into thin air, not to be seen ever again. And then I wonder, how many people are like that?

You save or invest it:
Yes, you decide not to splurge, to save or invest your hard earned money, and watch it like a hawk. How many of us can behave like we did not receive our bonuses, and resist not spending a single dime? I did it with my last year’s bonus. The first thing I did when I receive my bonus was to hunt for a good Fixed Deposit rate. I still remember waking up early on a Saturday morning, with hubby in tow, walking around the mall asking for rates from the different banks. I finally deposited my money with UOB, into a 4 months FD. Albeit some bad decisions and splurging on bags during my honeymoon (yes, the old me resurfaced briefly), I still have my hard earned savings and part of my past year bonus to show for in my bank account. And remember the 2k worth of shares I bought with previous bonus money? It was one of my best money decisions EVER. I sold the shares last year, and 3years down the road from the day I got that bonus, the proceeds still forms part of my net worth (albeit not a lot). I dare say, the rewards associated with saving and investing is way way way greater than splurging on a branded bag or two. And again I wonder, how many people are like that, choosing to save their bonuses rather than spending it.

I’m really really excited about getting my bonus in a few weeks’ time. Not because I have a wish list of things to buy, but for the fact that I’m getting closer and closer to my goal. That is, to retire early to do what I want and whenever I want, and gaining financial freedom.

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How I got out of debt (Part 1)

From negative to positive…

2013 had been an extremely fruitful year for me for many reasons. My financial life is finally in order for the first time ever. Friends are wondering how I got out of debt and I’m finally comfortable enough to share it now. I went from being 18K in debt, to having a savings of 25k within 10 months.

Let me share what happened and the steps I took to get out of debt and start saving:

1) A good bonus

I joined my current company in Jun 2012 and received my pro-rated bonus in Dec 2012. The day before, I already knew how much I’ll be getting and I was elated to know I’ll be getting a whooping 20k bonus. To many people, it may not be a lot of money, but I have never receive so much money before in my life. I head straight to the Chanel boutique that evening after work to get myself a bag as I’ve always wanted one. I short listed 2 bags to “reward” myself, a Jumbo bag and a GST bag. I couldn’t decide on one and decided to sleep on it until after the bonus money is safely in my bank account the next day. To my surprise, the money wasn’t credited into our bank account, but my Managing Director was giving out cheques to us individually. When it was my turn, he handed a $20k cheque to me and asked me what I want to do with the money. After looking at him blankly for probably about 10 seconds, my exact words to him was “I’m gonna save everything”. At that moment, I forgot about my Chanel bag, I forgot about Xmas shopping, and all the fanciful things I wanted to get for myself. I decided once and for all that I’m sick and tired of being in debt. Not everyone has the opportunity to turn their financial life around, so I am gonna grab this chance and improve my life.

I didn’t exactly know how much debt I had, I thought it was probably about 8 – 10k. Within the year of 2012, I bought 2 designer bags, bought a iPad, signed up for a facial package that’s worth about 3k, and also borrow about 8k from my ready credit line from my Citibank credit card. All these debt was incurred and paid for using monthly instalment plans. After a few painful hours of consolidating my credit card bills, phone calls to banks to check for balances, and creating tables on excel spreadsheets, I found out to my horror that I’m over 18K in credit card debt.

The next few days were spent thinking if I should repay my credit cards debt in full, or to clear the outstanding balances first and continue serving the monthly instalment. And suddenly I remembered 2 years back in 2010, I did receive a bonus amount of about 10k, cleared my 5k credit card debt, spent the remaining 5k within a few months, and accumulated even more debts again (yes, I DO have a spending problem). The choice was clear. If I clear all my debt now, I’ll lose the motivation to save, since I will have no money in my bank account to show for anyway. So I choose to save, and repay my debt at the same time.

2) Budgeting

I began my search for answers on how to repay debts, how to save money, and most importantly, how to cut down on expenses. I realised it’s not just how much we earn that matters, but more on how much we save. I read practically everything I can find on budgeting, debt repayment, personal finance, wealth accumulation etc. I’ve been doing budgeting for companies for years and yet I’ve never budget for myself. It’s time I put my skills into good use. I spent days going through old bills and bank statements to get a grip of how my spending habits were like, and to my horror, I spent more than I earn, EVERY SINGLE MONTH. I realised it’s the small items that are really scary. Spending on small amounts of $20 to $50 per day can lead to over $1,000 wasted in a single month. I was so surprised when I realised I spent over $1,000 on dining out every month! My lifestyle was so highly inflated that I mainly only eat in restaurants, take cabs wherever I go, and buy whatever I set my eyes on.

Setting up a budget is easy, sticking to it is hard. However I was extremely determined to follow it through and a year later, I do see light at the end of the tunnel. In the beginning of 2013, my target was to have 20k in my bank account. Now at the end of 2013, I have exceeded my targeted amount.. The most painful part was the monthly instalments that I’ve got to service. I could have saved even more if not for the debt repayment of $700 a month. I’m still over 4k in debt, but I know it’s under control and the monthly instalment is manageable.