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35 and flat broke!

Her World

She's 35, single and has worked for over a decade. She earns $5,000 a month and has no mortgage to worry about.

And yet Lisa*, a publishing executive, barely has any savings to her name.

Oh, and she's $20,000 deep in credit card debt.

"It's been this way for years... I don't know when or how I'm going to pay that sum off ," she admits. She allocates about $3,000 each month to her rent, phone and utility bills. A large chunk of the remainder goes into paying off the debt on her three credit cards.

But to make matters worse, she's been regularly rolling over the amount owed for the past 10 years, which means the sum has been snowballing.

How did it get to this? Blame it on her shopaholic tendencies. She has a taste for designer bags and shoes, and enjoys eating at posh spots such as Mezza9, Otto Ristorante and Catalunya, easily racking up bills in the hundreds every time.

And when she travels? You can bet she's staying at five-star resorts in Thailand and Bali.

5 signs you are in the danger zone
  • Across Singapore, 30-something career women with no kids or mortgages are chalking up dizzying amounts of debt.
  • According to Credit Bureau Singapore, women aged 30 to 34 who have unsecured credit (this includes credit cards) owe an average of $5,445 each.
  • Even high-flyers in senior positions are guilty. They splurge and don't know how to budget, which means that they too are falling prey to the crushing effects of debt.
  • Take Stephanie*, 33, who is single and still lives with her parents. Though she's an art director at an ad and marketing agency and earns a decent $4,000 a month, she's mired in credit card debt totalling $15,000, which she's amassed since 2007.
  • "I go to the spa every week for massages, mani-pedis and hair treatments; I take cabs everywhere; I eat at expensive restaurants twice a week; and I'm always treating friends to drinks when we go out - I like being generous and I feel bad because my friends don't earn as much as I do," she explains.
  • Stephanie recalls several incidences when she depleted her bank account the day before payday and didn't have enough to take a bus or train home.
<br>
So she'd walk home from her office near Chinatown to her flat in Bukit Merah - a one-and-a-half-hour journey.
  • Living simply and within your means is the key to staying out of debt, says certified fi nancial planner Daniel Tan. <br> "Some people borrow money just so they can go on holiday, others drive cars that cost way more than they can afford… They can't distinguish between needs and wants, so they make poor money decisions that keep them in a vicious circle of debt."
  • You fall behind on your payments– mortgage, car, utilities,
credit cards, rent, etc every month because you just don’t have the
money.
  • You apply for a new loan or credit card, only to be told by the bank that your application has not been approved because you are
considered high-risk.
  • You keep taking loans from friends and family to settle bills.
  • You worry so much about how you’re going to pay your bills that it’s started to affect your work, relationships and health.
  • You frequently
fi nd yourself counting down
to your next pay cheque.
And even before the
money’s in your account,
you’ve already decided what
you’re going to spend it on.
  • 1. Pay your bills
on time. Use
Giro so you’re
never late. And
always pay
your bills in full
– once you
start rolling
over, it’s hard
to stop.
  • 2. Cancel
unused cards.
If you have
many credit
cards but are
only using a
few, cut up the
rest. Keep the
ones you are
likely to get the
best use out of
– for example, cards that give
you discounts
at the shops
you frequent.
  • 3. Use cash.
Don’t charge to
your credit card
unnecessarily.
If you have
cash to pay for
something, use
it. And if you do
roll over your
bill, clear your
debt before
charging any
more on your
card.

Sally*, 38, an accounts executive, owes her credit card company $7,000 even though she earns a comfortable $6,000 a month.

She splashes out on designer bags, expensive holidays to exotic destinations like the Maldives and Fiji, and fancy toys and clothes for her fi ve-year-old son.

Every month, she tries to dedicate at least $2,500 to servicing her credit card debts - but she always falls short. As long as she can remember, she's been struggling to pay off purchases she made months ago.

Worse, her sales manager husband - whom she calls the "conservative, frugal one" - has no clue. She borrows a few hundred from him whenever she's desperate, but only as a "last resort".

"The amounts are small, so he never suspects, but if he found out the whole truth, he'd be shocked," she confesses.

NEXT: Taxis, spas and other splurges leave her in $15k debt

16 money mistakes you are making
  • We've all learned from a young age that saving is good for you. Failing to save means you have nothing to fall back on when you need it. It also means you are more likely to borrow and increase your debt when you need funds for certain things like having a wedding, furthering your education and more.
  • Your budget is the key to achieving all your goals. Just as we have limited time, most of us have limited means. So, how you choose to spend your money can either help you take that dream trip to South Africa or can keep Cape Town in your dreams. Without a budget, you also run the risk of falling into debt, a huge hindrance to achieving goals.
  • Setting aside a bit of money every month for emergencies could save you big time when you least expect it. You never know what could happen, and having funds to turn to could help you get through bad times in life.
  • If you do not plan your expenditure, you could end up spending a lot of money on things you do not need. Just because something is on sale, does not mean you should buy it. 
<br>Always think about how much you need the item. If you don't already have it, think carefully if you will actually use it if you did own it.
  • You could be paying a lot of unnecessary fees if you don't check your bills before paying. For example, credit card insurance that you never signed up for, or telco service subscriptions you did not know about.
  • Very few people think about retirement and when they realise it, it is too late to start saving. Plan and save for retirement from your first paycheck to ensure a comfortable retirement.
  • Choosing wrong insurance plans will affect how much you can receive when you are in need. Think carefully about the policies you are offered and read up about which insurance plans work out best for your lifestyle.
  • Malls and card companies have a range of incentives which encourage people to spend more. Spending is encouraged with 'reward points', lucky draw, privilege discounts and more. Beware of these marketing gimmicks and stop yourself from spending on things you might not actually be able to afford.
  • Many people save a lot of money by doing their homework before shopping - finding out which merchant has the best price for the product they want. You can also take this further, by always trying your luck to negotiate for better prices on big item purchases. You never know when you might get a good deal.
  • It takes a certain kind of bravery for people to dabble in investments. Many experts have warned that making investment decisions based on your emotions and fear can jeopardise your ability to reap rewards.
<br>
"You can't let the outside environment dictate every single change you make," Mr Scott Thoma, investment strategist for Edward Jones told Fox Business.
  • Many consumers are guilty of this - signing away their lives to credit companies in exchange for products they want but do not need. While credit cards make it easy to spend, paying for debts is not as easy, especially with interest rates. Try not to reach your credit card limit every month and if you can, avoid using it at all.
  • Spending money on entertainment and leisure is good, but make sure that you can also afford to spend on classes and opportunities which are good for your career. Taking up a Chinese for business class, for example, could be very useful if you plan on expanding your business networks overseas.
  • If you need to take on a loan for your house, car, education or other purposes, be sure to do your research and obtain for a loan which is best for you. Don't fall for marketing gimmicks. Instead, think about interest rates and the realistic capability you have to repay the debts incurred. If you don't need to take out a loan, maybe you should not even apply for one at all.
  • Spending $5 a day on coffee adds up to a lot of money over a month. You could save a considerable amount if you cut down or stop spending so much on things you do not need to have every single day.
  • You can afford to have a meal without buying a drink when dining out. Bring your own water or wait till after the meal to drink some. This means healthier meals for you too!
  • Many people are used to having lunch out of the office because they are too lazy to prepare a meal beforehand. If you have time to spare, prepare a sandwich the night before so that you don't have to spend a single cent at lunch. Dining out could gradually damage your wallet in the long run.

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