When you’re in your twenties, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a trust fund or a business to inherit, chances are you’re either scrambling to find a job or to find yourself. But you should have everything figured out by the time you’re 30… right?
I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, but it seems like lots of the 30-something around me still haven’t quite gotten their act together. In fact, despite earning a lot more than they were in their 20s, it seems like more and more 30-something are getting mired in debt. I have a sneaking suspicion the following money mistakes have something to do with it. Let’s find out.
Note: As I am living in Singapore now, I will use Singapore as a reference.
Spending too much on their weddings
Speak with a typical Singaporean 30-something in a relationship and there’s an 80% chance they’ll start talking about marriage and complaining about the high cost of wedding banquets. In fact, it’s become standard practice in Singapore to spend an average of $50,000 on a wedding, with many going up to $90,000.
Truth be told, many of the grooms-to-be I’ve spoken to haven’t even been that keen on splashing out on a lavish wedding, gloomily stating that it’s their fiancées who want a dream wedding and they have no choice but to go along with it.
Shane, a 30-year-old bank analyst, is going to tie the knot next year. “While I would prefer to have a smaller, more inexpensive wedding, my fiancée has a very large family and wants to have a hotel wedding banquet, so I’m bracing myself for the cost,” he says.
Falling deeper into consumer debt instead of digging themselves out of it
In countries where young people move out of their parents’ homes during university or at least once they get their first jobs, the 20s are a time of being broke and paying off student loans, while in their 30s most start enjoying greater financial stability.
In Singapore, however, for many people the opposite is true, as they continue to live under their parents’ roofs until well into their 20s. It is only when they start working, which can be as late as the mid to late 20s for those who have advanced degrees or males who do national service, that they are suddenly forced to bear the financial responsibility of supporting aged parents or purchasing property.
That, and the persistent lifestyle inflation that dogs the young and upwardly mobile, has resulted in high levels of consumer debt amongst 30-something.
Penelope, a 34-year-old HR executive, has recently run into cash flow issues. She goes on overseas vacations twice a year during the school holidays together with her husband and three kids to locations such as London and LA. Each time, the family spends close to $10,000. While she was mostly credit card-debt free in her 20s, she now has a credit card balance which she rolls over each month.
“My family has grown, but my husband and I continue to be the only ones bringing in money. As a result, our spending has increased quite a bit.” she says.
It’s not just those with kids who face credit card debt. Albert, a 31-year-old bank executive, carries about $10,000 worth of credit card debt, which is more than 2 months’ worth of salary. He survives by paying only the minimum sum each month. Most of his debt was chalked up while spending on food, drinks and entertainment.
In fact, a recent report showed that one in five credit card holders in Singapore now pays only the minimum sum each month. And a fast-growing segment of the population with revolving debt consists of women aged 30 and above. Orchard Road might have something to do with it….
Overcommitting to houses and cars
In your 20s, most of your peers are still living at home and taking the MRT. But once you hit the big 3-oh, you look around and realise that more and more of your friends are buying property and driving cars.
This sudden shift has led to many 30-somethings committing to property and car purchases that are really a bit more than they can afford.
Many of the 30-somethings I’ve spoken to who’ve recently started paying for their own properties have admitted that their finances are tight and leave no room for error or accident. While the TDSR framework aims to stop people from overstretching themselves, it fails to consider their day-to-day expenses, which can amount to quite a bit.
In addition to paying her home loan installments, Belinda, a 30-year-old bank executive, also gives her parents $1,000 a month, spends about $1,000 a month on her car and has personal expenses of about $2,000 a month. She depleted most of her savings to make the downpayment on her new condo unit and is now treading dangerous waters.
“Basically, I can’t afford to stop working for many years to come,” she says. “I’m not really worried about losing my job as things are going well at work, but then again anything is possible.”
Not having enough insurance
Again, no one wants to think about death; but if you have anyone that depends on your income or your time, you need life/disability and medical insurance. And you have to get enough life insurance to cover the needs of your dependents, not just the minimum offered by your employer. You need enough medical insurance to cover any outrageous cost incurred in case if you are being hospitalized.
In Singapore, medical costs are extremely high and a single minor operation may simply cost $5,000 and above. Although it is cheaper at public hospitals, however, waiting for a doctor there is extremely slow and usually you will only be seen by a doctor after a 4-8 hour queue. Even worse, you may even need to wait for a room because it is too packed. Hence, getting medical insurance is essential to allow you to go to private hospital and may save your life if time is against you.
In your 30s, the chances of becoming disabled and not being able to work are higher than death. Most people have long-term disability insurance from their employer; but you should calculate how much you need and then purchase supplemental insurance. When it comes to insurance, life or long-term disability, it is better to get your own policy and not depend on your employer (unless getting your own policy is prohibitively expensive for some reason). If you change your job, you will lose that insurance and then replacing it will be that much more expensive. This type of insurance is less expensive in your 30s than it is later in life.
What other mistakes do you think people should avoid in their 30s? If you see yourself in any of these items, do you see a way to change what you’re doing?