Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.
In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.
SINGAPORE — Some weeks ago, one of my friends invited me via text to join our friend group for a trip to Japan, extolling the value of taking a soothing soak in an onsen on a wintry day or enjoying the vibrant nightlife in Tokyo.
I was tempted. After all, as a 21-year-old university undergraduate in between semesters, such a holiday could be the sort of liberating and exhilarating milestone trip I needed.
But unlike my friends, I simply could not afford to spend another thousand bucks on travel this year. I have plans to save the allowance earned from my internship to pay for driving lessons before I graduate from university.
So, I explained the dilemma to my friend, only to be hit by a matter-of-fact rejoinder: “Start saving now, set a budget.”
Well, it’s easy for her to say this. But going on a big trip abroad isn’t only about saving. A girl’s gotta hustle too.
Like most of my peers I do get an allowance from my family that covers my basic necessities. To pay for anything beyond that, I had to juggle my side gigs alongside my studies to earn a limited income that allows me to travel with my friends.
Over the past three years, I have worked as a waitress, student care teacher, English tuition teacher, freelance transcriber, cello teacher, and windsurfing trainer.
It’s tough, but it’s an urge driven by the fear of missing out, which also meant that I had to earn my holidays.
What it also meant was that I eventually began to feel a sense of restlessness and anxiety during the school semester, unless I secured a part-time job to ensure a constant increase in my bank account balance.
Admittedly, this resulted in me having to give up on opportunities, like going on a semester-long exchange trip or obtaining my driver’s licence. It’s ironic, I know, especially since my original aim was to be able to afford experiences that would enrich my life.
Keeping up this lifestyle also meant constantly sacrificing uninterrupted time with my family and loved ones. I would come home after work exhausted, which translated to having no time or energy to hold decent conversations with my folks.
Did all this hustling come to vain? After all, despite what I thought I set out to do, I still felt incomplete next to my friends, who are happily jet-setting their way around the world accumulating experiences and memories which I thought I lacked.
Surely there was a way, short of making a windfall, for me to have my cake and eat it too? Or were my goals and my means to achieve them out of balance?
As I struggled to come to terms with constant work and missed experiences, I spoke to some experts that might shed some light on how to find a sustainable way forward.
STOPPING UNHEALTHY COMPARISONS
Six psychologists I spoke to emphasised the importance of being self-aware so as not to bite off more than I can chew.
Senior counsellor at Sofia Wellness Clinic Mariya Angelova suggested that I should reflect more on my beliefs and wants at a deeper level to give me an indication of which needs are unmet.
“Unhealthy comparison is very externally driven and there is no end to it… There will always be people who are doing better than us,” said Ms Angelova.
Psychologist Yeo Ke Xin from the SolConnect Psychological Centre added that rather than be externally influenced, it is more helpful to define my internal values and priorities.
This would allow me to figure out what a meaningful hustle is and “for what purpose we are busy”, she said.
To this, Ms Ng Jing Xuan, a clinical psychologist at Open Journey Psychology, said if I could recognise my own strengths and weaknesses, I would be able to silence the inner critic which wrongly assumes that my differences with others are signs of not being as good as them.
After all, unhealthy comparisons distort rational thinking, making it difficult to be forgiving to myself when it comes to taking much-needed breaks.
OBJECTIVE APPROACH TO MONEY
Mr Kenny Liew, a clinical psychologist at Mind What Matters, stressed the importance of taking an objective approach to evaluating my goals and choices.
“There are people who, despite having adequate resources, feel they never have enough, even if they have realistically fulfilled goals,” he said.
Dr Geraldine Tan, principal psychologist and director at The Therapy Room said that although younger people desire self-actualisation — the concept of reaching one’s full potential — many are still “hung up” about money and “articulate it as if it is necessary for survival”.
“When you put things in perspective, you will understand that you do have time to earn money and you don’t have to rush,” she said.
I realised that perhaps I was over-dramatising my situation. After all, I am just 21 and beginning my adulting journey.
To this, Ms Angelova said that my desire to pursue a path of early financial independence should not be laced with things like “I am a failure or I am not good enough”.
“Rather, take action to learn a skill or have more practice in a particular area, and challenge the thought of whether your survival will otherwise be threatened,” she said, adding that doing so requires patience.
MONEY AS A MEANS, NOT AN END
Speaking to financial advisors, I realised I could balance my budget in a way that allowed me to pursue my dreams sustainably, without experiencing burn-out.
After all, my end goal was just to save up so that I could enjoy my youthful pursuits without the guilt of overindulgence.
“Money is just a means of getting you to your other goals, be it further studies, down payment for properties, or wedding expenses,” said Ms Fiona Chew, a financial planner with Finexis Advisory.
On this, several financial advisors brought up the 50:30:20 budgeting technique, which expresses the ratio of how to spend one’s income on needs and wants, as well as how much to save.
The general rule of thumb is that our needs should receive 50 per cent of our income, whereas our wants — things like travel, hobbies and entertainment — can take up 30 per cent. The remaining 20 per cent should be saved.
Explaining the rationale behind this budgetary plan, Mr Chiak Hui Ming, financial advisor at ManulifeFA, said it allows one to stay disciplined and know how to allocate our spending, even when one’s income grows.
“Knowing you stay within the budget allows you to focus on other stuff. Depending on our life stages, this is a good gauge ensuring commitments are fulfilled and that future planning is in place, while allowing us to enjoy life,” he said.
Nevertheless, being able to spend 30 per cent of the income I earn from my part-time hustles on my hobbies and pursuits, while balancing my full-time university studies, may not amount to much.
But enjoyment and enrichment can’t be calculated in dollars and cents, and after speaking to these experts, perhaps I also failed to consider what I gained from the many jobs that I’ve done over the years.
By committing five months to working as a student care teacher, I realised that my interest for teaching and forming a rapport with children wouldn’t be discovered if I had gone on a post-junior college graduation trip.
Through my experience as an ad hoc cello instructor, it was extremely rewarding to help students pick up the instrument from scratch by adapting my teaching styles to suit different learning needs.
As Ms Ng from Open Journey Psychology said: “Experiences gained through work and travel are equally important for self exploration, be it finding our passions and strengths or finding out what gives us joy and meaning.”
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Gladys Wee, 21, is an intern journalist at TODAY.