5 Golden Rules To Help Full-Time Freelancers Survive In This Dog-Eat-Dog-World

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This is a guest post contributed by Ling.

Gone are the days where young graduates would commit themselves to a permanent full-time job without exploring their options.

Yes, they grow up in an era where they can afford options. 

These options include taking a year off to travel around the world, taking on contract jobs to assess its suitability and the latest “in’ thing – contributing to the gig economy.

In other words, going freelance. Be your own boss and all that jazz, yeah?

Last year, there were 180,000 primary freelancers in Singapore.

A survey earlier this year revealed that out of the 89.7 percent of young graduates who found work after finishing their exams, 9.5 percent secured temporary jobs.

And honestly, when we talk about saving tips for freelancers, you know there’s nobody better to talk to than financial planners.

Mr Ng Eng Beow (left) and Ms Yip Cheu Fong (right)

We spoke to Mr Ng Eng Beow and Ms Yip Cheu Fong, financial planners who are members of the Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore (IFPAS) for some financial tips to thrive as a full-time freelancer in Singapore.

Here are 5 tips for you to consider if you dream about getting your own house, retiring comfortably at 60 and occasionally worry about having adequate medical protection.

1. Follow these golden rules of saving

First up, start saving cash. Even if you don’t have a regular income, you should set aside 10% of it in cash. If there is a big payout from a mega project, don’t be quick to spend it all away.

Instead, try to have the discipline to set the money aside. One of the golden rules is to save 3-6 months worth of monthly expenses for rainy days (in cash).

Ms Yip says her clients in the creative industry have benefitted from opening a bank account without requesting for an ATM card. This refrains them from withdrawing cash unnecessarily.

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Mr Ng adds that it’s not about how much a person makes but how well he or she apportions the money.  

The financial planner himself withdraws S$190 from the bank every Monday for his entire week of personal expenses (sometimes lasting two weeks).

$190, people. That’s like two days’ expenses for some of you?

2. Transform the mindset of “spender” to “saver”

Are you the sort that derives more enjoyment out of spending money or the sort that is generally more comfortable saving money?

If you’re more of a saver than a spender, it’s not too late to learn to adopt the traits of a saver. Freelancers need to save as much as they can since they don’t have a steady stream of income.

Ms Yip believes that it’s good to cultivate a habit of tracking your expenses religiously. This applies to the nitty-gritty things like your S$1.50 cup of Kopi C. Leakages happen in drips and drops so it’s crucial to track what you need or do not need.

Mr Ng with his Casio watch.

For Mr Ng, saving is not an uphill task. He has been wearing his S$17 Casio watch for more than a decade and is a loyal fan of Bata.

Sometimes, he doesn’t bring his wallet out when he meets people who try to “hard-sell” to him as he finds it difficult to reject people.

Perhaps this is the reason why his wife is his financial controller!

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3. Contribute to CPF based on how much you can afford

CPF contributions are not mandatory for freelancers but it’s worthwhile to contribute to CPF to have some form of social security. After all, young freelancers also aspire to own their own flat right?

Ms Yip and Mr Ng make it a habit to contribute to CPF. Ms Yip believes that CPF contribution should be systematic and automatic especially for young couples who have their own house. Mr Ng does it slightly differently – he contributes a lump sum at the end of every year.

Some believe that it’s better to extend your loan fully and not stress yourself with a high monthly mortgage payment especially if your job is not secure. Others make it a point to repay the loan as soon as they can.

According to Mr Ng, it’s better to stretch the loan duration to 25 years as it can be shortened and not extended in future. He also said that the ordinary account in CPF can grow and act as a buffer for emergency home repayment in times of retrenchment.

There may also be adjustments in priorities – i.e. either spouse decides to be a full-time homemaker to take care of a newborn. If that happens, the couple’s financial burden will be lessened.  

4. Don’t be shy to speak to a financial planner

Some people view financial advisors with skepticism and it’s understandable why they do so. But not all financial advisors exist to squeeze people dry.

Ms Yip explains that she tries to understand her freelancer clients’ situation before offering financial planning advice.

For example, employees are covered under Workplace Injury Compensation Act (WICA) but freelancers are on their own. What happens when they injure themselves when carrying out clients’ work? Therefore, it’s vital for freelancers to be properly medically insured.

Ms Yip advises freelancers to look at insuring themselves around the same time when they start to save up for emergency funds.

Some financial advisors are also experienced to do long-term financial planning which may be useful for freelancers who receive ad-hoc payments.

So don’t be shy to speak to a financial planner that you’re comfortable with!

5. Be clear on your purpose of freelancing

Who doesn’t love to have flexible working hours and earn their own keep without having to chase the corporate ladder? It sounds tempting but is it really advisable for young graduates to be full-time freelancers?

Ms Yip who was previously an auditor with one of the Big Four accounting firms in Singapore, tells us that people who have the aspiration to be a full-time freelancer should begin with an end in mind.

She believes that people should not be taking on freelancing jobs because they hate being bossed about. It should be about self-responsibility.

“Are you able to make a living based on what you enjoy? At the end of the day, what responsibility do you want to bear for your own lifestyle? The crux is that self-responsibility.”

Financial planners also enjoy flexibility due to the nature of their work but Ms Yip does not take it for granted. She goes to office at 9 am every day even though she does not need to. She says freelancers and self-employed must be disciplined.

Mr Ng shares the same sentiments. To him, freelancing is a responsibility and it has to be purposeful.

“I feel that the main purpose of freelancing should start with solving a problem and when we get really passionate about solving the problem, money will follow. Money is a tool to achieve a goal and not the goal. Passion will bring us far and purpose will make it last.”

The Labour Movement Is Now Working With Freelancers

The Labour Movement also recognises that the nature of employment is changing and there will be more workers opting to go freelance in the future.

Over the past few years, the Labour Movement has been disrupting itself by reaching out to more PMEs and freelancers through different professional bodies.

IFPAS is one of the 59 professional bodies that tied up with NTUC’s U Associate scheme.

Have any friends who are interested in going freelance? Get them to read this first.

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