All Lavinia* wants is to get her financial act together. The communications director has next-to-nothing in her bank account and is tens of thousands of dollars in debt. As told to Melissa Wong.
*Name has been changed
"Looking at me, you wouldn't know that I lived from pay cheque to pay cheque because I seem to always have money. But that's exactly my financial situation right now. It's not that I don't earn a lot; I do. In fact, I make about $7,000 a month, which is pretty impressive compared to most of my peers. I think I'm just bad with money, and ever since I started working at 23, I've not been able to put aside much for a rainy day."
Shopping habit taken too far
"I grew up in a frugal family. My parents worked hard and earned a decent salary, but they hardly bought anything. We never went on family holidays, my older sister and I didn't get huge allowances, and I usually made do with my sister's old clothes and books. My parents just saw material things and holidays as a waste of money.
"When I was 18, I got a part-time job in a cafe. Finally, I was earning my own money and didn't have to ask my parents to buy me nice clothes, makeup or skincare products. Over a year I made about $8,000, but instead of saving it, I spent the money on frivolous things, like movie outings with friends, designer wallets, and trendy clothes and shoes. The more I bought the more I thought I needed.
"After graduating from university at 23 I got my first full-time job, earning $2,500 a month. That was a lot of money for a girl my age, and over the next few years I frittered away whatever I made. I went on designer shopping sprees, took extravagant holidays, indulged in spa treatments, bought expensive gifts for family and friends, took taxis everywhere, treated myself to fancy gadgets, and dined in nice restaurants. By the time I turned 30 - after seven years of working and making good money - I only had about $1,500 in my savings account. Even then, I wasn't too worried. I convinced myself that I was still young and had plenty of time to grow my nest egg.
At 33 I got a new job making $5,000 a month - more money than I'd ever seen in my life. That would have been the perfect opportunity to get some expert financial advice and start planning my financial future, but I did the exact opposite and wasted my salary on things I probably didn't need. When I turned 37 last year, I had a mere $3,000 stashed away in a regular savings account."
Just can't seem to save
"I'm embarrassed about not being able to save, despite having worked for so many years already. I have a couple of theories as to why I have such a bad relationship with money - one, I grew up not having a lot of it, so once I started making it, I became hooked on the rush of spending it. And second, I tend to live every day as if it were my last. A part of me thinks, 'Sure, I could squirrel all my money away and forgo enjoying myself, but then I could die tomorrow and I wouldn't be able to take my money with me. It's a silly rationale but it's true, isn't it?
"Many times, I've asked myself why I can't seem to be more prudent with my money, and the answer's always the same - shopping, travelling and spending on myself make me happy. I love this lifestyle.
"I'm staying in a private condo right now with a friend. The rent is not cheap, but I don't mind spending a bit extra for the location and facilities. My parents have asked me to move back in with them so that I can save money - about $2,700 a month - but I value my independence too much."
Is it too late to be financially responsible?
"I'm thankful that I don't have any children to support and no major financial commitments. Most of my friends have young kids and their pay cheques go to their children's education, enrichment classes, hobbies and so on. They hardly have any money left over to do the things they want to do. I can't imagine ever making that sort of financial sacrifice. I don't understand how they can afford to have kids in the first place.
"If I do decide to get married and have kids, I'll have to be a lot more financially responsible - I guess I wouldn't have much of a choice. But right now I'm enjoying the money I earn and being able to buy the things I want and travel to places I've always dreamed of.
"I do worry about the future. I worry about losing my job or being faced with an emergency that would drive me deeper into debt. I worry about what will happen to me when I'm too old to work - who will look after me or provide for me, seeing as I don't have a lot of money stashed away? I don't want to go to my family for money - my parents have no idea that I'm broke most of the time and in debt up to my eyeballs. My friends have no idea about my financial situation, either. They know me as a 'big spender' because of the way I shop and travel, so they assume I'm rich.
"I met a financial expert recently and explained my situation to him. He told me that it's never too late to start saving for the future. Of course, I would have to save a lot more than my friends who started saving 10 or 20 years ago, and I'd have to invest that money wisely. It's something I'm thinking about for next year. My goal is to have a decent nest egg by the time I'm 50. That means being more disciplined with my spending, clearing my debts, making smart investments, and getting a part-time job if I have to.
Hopefully I'll be able to reach my goal - the older I get the more panicked I feel about not being able to take care of myself."
This article was first published in Her World.