5 Financial Habits I Wish Knew Before Starting Poly

3 years and 4 months ago, I started my Polytechnic life as a Business Studies student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It was the start of a very different schooling life compared to secondary school. Wearing your own clothes, bringing a laptop, eating at a food court (although in campus) and the list goes on. These changes might seem small, exciting and fun. But one big change wasn’t what I expected it to be, money.

Those changes changed the way money went into and out of my pocket. Everyone had it different, but this was how it was for me. I received no allowance from my parents at all during poly. (Well, it might have been because I didn’t ask for it also). I had worked a part-time job as a sales associate selling winter clothing. With that money, in addition to some bursaries I had received during secondary school, I managed to sustain my school allowance. I paid for my transportation, stationery and meals myself. Along the way I managed to pick up a scholarship, which made it easier for me.

But the reason why I’m writing this is not to tell you how to make money to fund your school life. Instead, I want to share a few things that I had learnt along the way with how I manage my money. I believe it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of money or little money. What matters is how you make full use of it. So here we go, 5 Financial Habits I Wished I Knew Before Starting Poly!

Budget and Re-Budget My Money

Okay okay budget is quite the trendy word to use when talking to others about money, but it’s something most people don’t take action with. But why budget? Well you don’t want to run into problems of not having money. Budget is essentially making sure you have enough to get certain things, for example your transportation.

So how do you budget? I had written an article on this, but I’m gonna summarise how I did it.

  1. For 1 to 3 months, keep track of your expenses. Spend like how you would normally spend.
  2. After 3 months, take a look at your expenses. Categorise them, e.g. Transportation, Meals, Snacks, Miscellaneous (like if you went out with friends)
  3. Those needs, give them a monthly amount. For Miscellaneous, find an amount that you feel you should get to spend for fun. Not too much that you are wasting money, and not too little that you get so sad over not spending money.
  4. Every end of the month, review your budget. If you’re over-budgeting or under-budgeting, adjust and re-budget.

And there you have it, a simple budgeting system. You can do these so many ways. You can go the old-fashion route of pen and paper, you can use excel, or you can find a budgeting app like Seedly. Personally I use Google Sheets as I can customise it to my own liking. But to each their own!

Save Money On Food & Snacks

Oh god okay this is a huge part of my expenses. FOOD AND DRINKS. They suck money out of you like mosquitoes. If you don’t believe me, just for one month, write down all the money that you spend on food and drinks. You will be surprised that you spend more than you actually think. Honestly, I don’t get the deal with why this happens, perhaps when you eat, you think you need to eat and you think you shouldn’t starve just to save money.

The key thing here is not to spend more than you need to. One meal and maybe a drink would suffice. (I would say water cooler water is better than milo peng everyday hahaha). But the food and snacks that I’m referring to is the waffles, potato chips, takoyaki that you might buy after classes or in between classes. They accumulate and can cause a huge dent in your bank account. And let’s not get started on how unhealthy they can be if consumed regularly!

So for this habit, it’s not just about saving money. It’s also about keeping yourself healthy. Kill two birds with one stone!

P.S.: I do feel it is okay if you indulge yourself in some snacks once in a while.  Moderation is key!

Work To Save, Not Spend

I think one of the common thing I hear is “eh want go work this event anot?? $10/hr very good!!”. And it’s all good until you spend the whole thing the next day on a buffet LOL.
The key thing here is that don’t work to just then spend on your wants. If you need to work because you need money for your lunch, for transportation, by all means you gotta do what you gotta do. But I think to work so hard just to blow the money on a want, I think it’s not financially smart to do that.
So what should you do with your money that you have earned from working? Well, first things first is to take care of your needs. Meals, transportation, learning materials, bills (if you have any). Then, if all of those are paid and accounted for, save! Create an emergency fund so that if the subsequent months for some reason you are not able to work for your needs, you still have money to survive. Click here to read more about emergency fund.

Invest, Even A Small Sum

Now let’s say you have everything in order. You’re saving money, you have cut down on unnecessary spending. Now what? It’s time to grow some money!

Now before you suddenly have crazy ideas about investing, read this first! Now that you have read it, let’s do some discussion.

The reason you would want to start investing should be because you want to get your feet wet in the world of investing. There’s just so many things, but it’s always good to take an action, even if it’s small. Don’t get wild ideas of getting a millionaire by the end of your poly life. If you managed to do that, you probably gambled your way through and I guess good job that you got lucky? HAHAH but no seriously you’re either the god of luck or you’re the rare 0.001% to be able to do just that.

But why poly? Why not when I start working when I have more money? Well, compound interest! Using the power of compound interest, the faster you start investing, the capital you need to invest is lesser. Click here to read more about it. At the same time, think about it. When you have start working, you will have so many commitments. You have your job, your family, your friends. I mean you probably have that during poly, but I guess it’s not as bad. So time is on your side. You can do as much research and you want.

Develop A Side Hustle

Now before I start this part, I must say it’s the one thing I didn’t develop while I was in poly. I only started after poly when I’m in National Service, which is now. And that is working on a side hustle!
A side hustle can be many things, but for most it’s usually a small hobby that allows someone to earn money on the side. So why a side hustle? The reason is simple. If you can earn more, you can save more and then you can invest more! (NOT SPEND MORE!!!!) This way you can grow your wealth faster, and reach your goals faster too.
So what are the side hustles that I have developed? Damn I must say I haven’t got any that is earning me money, but I am picking up some skills that I hope to develop in the near future. Writing these articles is one of them!
Must this be something specific? Like a skill that is boring but earn a lot? No, I would suggest something that you like/love doing. The idea is that when you take time to develop this, if you don’t earn money in the end, at least you enjoyed doing it. There’s no money out there that can get you an enjoyment out of doing something you love!

Closing Words

These 5 habits are just… habits. They aren’t your “5 quick steps to get rich!!1!”. They are habits. And habits don’t form overnight. As such, before you start working, it is good to develop these financial habits for you to reach your financial goals. Even better, these habits have personally made me manage my money better while I’m serving my National Service! Click here to see my NS Journey.

I know I talk a lot about saving and investing, and nothing much about spending on things for you to enjoy. But that’s because I think its natural for people to do that. There’s nothing wrong with putting aside a bit for you to enjoy your hard work. Just don’t do it too excessively!

If you’re going to start your poly life next year, great that you came upon this article! If you’re already in poly, don’t worry, that’s what happened to me. And I can tell you that it’s not too late to start developing these habits. If you’ve already graduated, there’s no stopping you from adapting these to your current life.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun