Whenever the topic of building a comfortable retirement nest egg turns up, investing is almost always mentioned. Personally, I would not put investing at the top of the list of recommendations to build retirement fund to the general public. It will be a disaster if your investment gets wiped out just when you are about to retire. In fact, this did happen and the person got so aggrieved that he suggested that CPF funds be banned for investment.
There are less risky ways which I highly recommend to achieve financial independence. They are slower but surer. However, they will not make you very rich but will allow you to retire with dignity and avoid becoming a burden to society. The methods are as follows;
1. Saving money
Unlike investing where luck plays a role (at least in the short-term), saving money is within anyone's control. A middle-income person with financial discipline should be able to set aside at least 10% of their salary per month. Assuming there is no extended period of unemployment, the person should be able to accumulate a respectable nest-egg by the time he retires. My next series of posts will be on saving.
2. Using insurance for protection
Saving money alone is not enough as an unexpected disaster can take them away. You can lead a frugal lifestyle and save lots of money. However, without insurance protection, you can still be bankrupted by unexpected disasters like medical illnesses or accidents that hits you with a huge bill and disables you from earning an income for an extended period of time.
Therefore, it is prudent to buy insurance to transfer such risks away.
3. Work hard at your job and be good at it
For the majority of us, our major source of income comes from our job. Not many of us can have investment income that exceed our salary. Hence, it makes sense to concentrate your efforts on doing a good job in your career rather than dream of the day when you can shake leg and solely depend on your passive investment income.
Many people have said that one cannot get rich being a salary worker. That depends on who you are talking to. Fund managers, bankers, proprietary traders will disagree. People who work in the highly competitive consumer electronics sector (like me) whose profit margins get squeezed and major companies moving out to China every year will agree. The lesson learnt is to join the right industry. The right industry is the one with the highest median salary.
Speaking from experience, I have seen mediocre people working in the right industry getting paid more than smart people working in a bad industry. If someone is in the right place at the right time, he can work less hard and be less smart and yet earn much more than someone who works very hard and is very smart.
Choosing the right industry is a matter of luck. My advice to fresh graduates is not to choose a job simply because it pays well and end up becoming miserable. I believe it is more important to choose a job suited to your personality and natural abilities so that you can perform well and even come to love it.
4. Arm yourself with financial knowledge to protect against the financial sharks
In a modern economy in which financial services have become dominant, it is important to be financially literate to protect yourselves against the financial sharks who work in this industry. The compensation of Wall-Street kind of jobs is so out of whack with reality that I have to wonder about the source of their income. One income source is the financially illiterate suckers that they prey upon. You can do the right things financially all your life - saving hard and working hard. Without adequate financial knowledge, one commission-minded financial adviser intent on sucking you dry will succeed in persuading you to part with your hard-earned nest-egg. Remember the Lehman Brothers Minibonds?