Age plays a significant role in personal finance. It’s not just a matter of how many dollars you have.
There’s a deep emotional and psychological change in the way you react to receiving windfalls, encountering financial crises, and managing debt. In order to cope with it, your mentality toward money – from saving to investing – will have to change when you reach age 35.
Different attitude towards debt
When you’re in your 20s, a lot of the debt you encounter is small enough to be paid off at one go. A typical example is credit card debt. If you tighten your belt and budget for four to six months, it’s usually possible to pay off even a maxed out a credit card.
Most credit cards are capped at two to four times your monthly income. When you are 35 and older, however, you will start to gain debts that can’t be paid off this way.
An example would be your home loan, which typically takes 25 years to pay. A car loan has a tenure of five to seven years, and university fees (perhaps for your children) can run up to five years. These loan amounts are in the hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million in the case of private property.
You can no longer rely on the old method of “budget for a few months and get rid of it”. Your financial planning has to change. As you can’t “go on a saving spree” to settle these debts, you need to treat them as fixed expenses. One method is to save enough to service these debts for six months.
For example, if your home loan costs S$4,000 a month, you might go on a tight budget until you’ve saved up six months of the mortgage (S$24,000). After that, the money could go into investing for your retirement instead. But you must accept that the debt is a fact of life, and adapt your long term spending to its presence.
Stronger internal control over money
Consider that, among the jackpot addicts in Singapore, nine out of 10 are in their 40s. You might assume that, at the age of 35 or above, we would be more financially mature; but that’s where a new issue crops up. At the peak of adulthood, society assumes you’re mature enough to handle money.
Also, as you’re nearing the peak of your earning power, it becomes easier to get larger loans. Banks hesitate to give a S$10,000 loan to a 20-year-old with a part-time job. However, the average 35-year-old can get a personal loan approved in 15 minutes.
The access to credit is accompanied by another dangerous factor: as society assumes you’re mature, fewer people will stick their nose into your spending. In your 20s, your parents or close relatives probably still keep one eye open: if they notice you’re getting addicted to gambling, or see the repeated letters from the banks, they may stage an intervention.
When you’re 35 or older, however, they may just leave you to your own devices. Overall, there’s less external control on your money – no one is managing your allowance, nagging you to save, or refusing you five digit loans.
But that means you need to evolve strong internal controls to deal with it. Financial prudence has to become a fully ingrained habit, as all the controls are in your own head.
Unexpected costs tend to be larger
As you move to the later stages of life, unexpected costs tend to be larger. In your 20s, and unexpected cost might be a broken laptop that costs you S$1,600. At 35, an unexpected cost could be your elderly parent developing a health condition, which will cost S$2,000 a month for the rest of their life.
In the event that you lose your job, you can’t simply go home to mope until you find a new one. Mum and dad probably don’t run the house anymore, so your home will have (1) an empty fridge, and (2) no one to pay the mortgage or utility bills.
Everything is now on your shoulders, and the world won’t give you a break to recover. You’re either prepared for unexpected costs, or you’re sunk. From 35 onward, there is no safety net but what you can build for yourself.
That means the measures you took before – such as having a few hundred dollars stuck in a drawer for “emergencies” – are not going to cut it. You need to have a proper savings plan, money in different places (from savings bonds to fixed deposits), and comprehensive insurance plans.
Start as early as possible
Most Singaporeans learn all this the hard way, but you don’t have to.
You can start cultivating good money habits before age 30 so that practices like saving your windfalls are ingrained in you as a 20-something. The sooner you start adapting to it, the less painful the shift will be when the time comes.
This article originally appeared on SingSaver SG.