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Money savvyThe Star Online - Money Savvy by S. Indramalar

The Star Online
Thursday, December 11, 2008

You would be surprised to know who’s better at managing money.

WHEN it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion, said writer and philosopher Voltaire. This cuts across gender too, in this age of ours when women are in charge of countries and run companies.

A recent survey by global market research company Synovate (in Asia) found that more and more women were learning the importance of being financially independent, and want to earn, keep and manage their own income for themselves.

Far-sighted: Friends (from left)
Sheley Lim, Natalia Chan and Moo Phooi Mei
have given quite some thought about how they intend
to save and invest for their future.

Out of 2,000 women surveyed in Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia (aged between 15 and 64, across all income levels) it was discovered that Malaysian women were the least independent (only 42% said that they could afford to pay for what they want without asking for money from their partners/husbands) while their Hong Kong (81%), Chinese (75%) and Singaporean (74%) counterparts were much more financially in control.

The survey, conducted this year, was chiefly to find out about consumer attitudes and motivation on retail and spending. Overall, it revealed that 87% of the women surveyed have at least equal say on big ticket items, such as property and cars.

Young girls about town Sheley Lim, Natalia Chan and Moo Phooi Mei were shocked at the results of the survey. “I would definitely feel more comfortable buying things with my own money,” asserts Moo, 26, who recently opened her own boutique, Moosh, in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Lim, 28 and Chan, 23, were in total agreement.

“I would want to earn my own money, and be financially stable and independent before even thinking about getting married,” says Chan, an account executive at a creative communications agency.

Financial consultant Carol Yip feels gender stereotypes aren’t relevant any more when it comes to finances. “How do you come to a conclusion like that with a survey? People are still stuck on the perception that women are the weaker sex. We have to get rid of these stereotypes. I know many women who are very savvy who manage their family finances. Some even help their husbands out of debts.

“I don’t think we can generalise and say that men are better or that women are less independent,” says Yip, who has written two books on money management, Money Rules and Smart Money-User.

“Decisions are influenced by many factors – family, education and exposure (to money markets and investment), friends and so on. Some people are just not interested in managing money,” she adds.

Moo is of the same view, adding that many of her male counterparts don’t think about finance in the long term. “The guys I know have no savings whatsoever and they’re not bothered about it either. They think about the moment and whatever they earn, they spend,” says Moo.

Adds Chan: “You would not see guys our age talking about saving money for the future, or how much they would need if they were to get married and have children.”

Although they’ve only just begun their careers, the trio are already on their way to financial independence and have definite plans on how they to manage their savings in the near and distant future.

Both Lim and Moo have made their first big buy: they’ve recently invested in property.

“As I get older my priorities change and I think about the future more. I realise that if I want to live in a certain way or buy certain things, I have to start saving. My parents advised me to think about investing my money in other ways and rather than buying a car, I decided to invest in a house,” shares Lim, a senior planner at a media agency.

Having said that, the girls made it clear that they aren’t scrooges and they do spend on themselves.

“Girls must be girls! We need to shop ... I spend on shoes and pamper myself with a visit to the salon for a pedicure a couple of times a month,” Lim admits.

For Moo, apart from clothes and shoes, travel is an expense she will not forego.

“I love travelling. I make sure I take one big trip to a different destination each year.

“I have two separate accounts. One is for my savings and the other is my travelling fund!” she quips.

Like most of us, their decisions on money – how they want to earn, spend and save their money – are largely influenced by their parents.

“I take my parents as an example of how I don’t want to be,” says Chan.

“My father is retired but he still has to work because he has three kids to bring up. I am working now but my younger brothers are still studying, and my father has to work to support them.

“I don’t want to be working like that. I want to retire at 45,” she says.

Moo also has specific goals about her career and future.

“I always knew I did not want to work for a company at a nine-to-five job. That’s why I opened a boutique with the help of my two sisters who are also in the retail business.

“It’s important to diversify and I plan to, perhaps in a few years’ time, invest in a bar or a coffee shop. That way if the business falls through, I have something else to fall back on,” says the Ipoh-born entrepreneur, who sees herself retiring at 55 to spend time with her family. She has even thought of the number of children and, grandchildren she would like to have!

While acknowledging that the girls seem to have a handle of their finances, wealth planner Yeo Siew Khim says they ought to consider the amount of money they would need to retire when making decisions about their investments and savings.

“When you are in your 20s, you are still very young. But you should think about the kind of life you want when you retire and how much money you need in a month to have that kind of life. You don’t want to leave these questions until it’s too late and then, regret not making right choices earlier.”

Yip advocates that women set aside a “just in case” fund, either for retirement or unexpected circumstances like divorce or death of a spouse. For women who choose to stay home but feel under-appreciated, she suggests that the best approach is to view the husband as the employer and the household as an organisation.

“After all, they’re running the household expenses and managing the finances of the family,” she says.

By the way, most people assume that women shop more than men but a report on usnews.com entitled Debunking the Money Myth found that the percentage of compulsive shoppers amongst men aged 25 to 24 was the same for women in the same age group. The biggest spenders were single men who outspend their female counterparts on cars, alcoholic beverages, eating out and audiovisual equipment!

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Carol Yip.

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