Which healthy financial habits have you cultivated, and which do you still need to implement? Go through this checklist and find out what you need to work on next.
1. Calculate your monthly expenses
You should have a rough idea how much you are spending every month, for both fixed expenses (the same amount every month, like mortgage and insurance) and variable expenses (amount varies every month, like dining out and car repairs).
Don’t forget to add in expenses charged on irregular basis, such as quarterly, bi-annual, and annual payments too! If you don’t know the actual amount, an approximation will do.
2. Save up for 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses
Your monthly commitments form your living expenses. Now that you know the amount, you should aim to save up for at least 3-6 months’ worth of expenses, as a buffer against life’s unexpected costs and emergencies.
Calculating how much you need to save up is easy:
|If your monthly living expenses is||Then 3 months’ of living expenses is||And 6 months’ of living expenses is|
Have you saved up the amount yet? If no, that is one of your financial priorities.
3. Keep living expenses in low risk, liquid accounts
Funds earmarked for living expenses should be kept in low risk, liquid accounts – that is, the value does not wildly fluctuate on a daily basis and it is easy to be converted into cash.
Some good places to keep this money include:
- high-interest savings account,
- cash management account with no withdrawal fees or penalties, and
- ASNB fixed priced funds (ASB and ASM are both good choices)
4. Save up for a big purchase (rather than financing it with debt)
A big part of being financially responsible is planning ahead of a big purchase. Not buy first, figure it out how to pay it later.
Whatever big purchase you are planning to make – a downpayment for a house, a trip, a wedding, a renovation, a gadget, whatever – calculate how much you need to set aside monthly so you can achieve your goal.
For example, let’s say you want to go on a trip costing RM5000. It will take you:
- 100 months at RM50 saved per month
- 50 months at RM100 saved per month
- 25 months at RM200 saved per month
- 12.5 months at RM400 saved per month
And so on.
Note: For simplicity’s sake, interest/profit rates are omitted from calculation.
5. Save up for retirement as early as possible
If you need RM2,500 per month in living expenses now, that means you need RM7,067 per month in living expenses in 50 years’ time.
Yes, per month.
That’s why you keep hearing how inflation is a ‘silent killer’ and how important it is to save for retirement as early as possible. You will need all the time you can get to grow your savings and hedge it against inflation.
Whether you are employed or self-employed, it is a good idea to save for retirement in both EPF and PRS, so you can claim income tax relief from both.
AIA offers PRS – check out the AIA Private Retirement Scheme and its benefits.
6. Save up for children’s future (if you have children)
According to University Cost Guide 2022 published by Public Mutual, the cost of tuition fees and living costs rises between 1.7-5.6% annually, depending on the education inflation of each country.
If you want to send your child to countries like Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and USA for further studies, you can expect the total cost to double in approximately 12 to 15 years.
Plan for your child’s future as early as 14 days old with AIA’s child protection and savings plans, A-Life Joy Xtra and A-Life Wealth Treasure. Check out the products here.
7. Use financial calculators
Make use of various financial calculators online. They can help you calculate how much you need to set aside per month to achieve your retirement and savings goals, among other things.
Some of my favourite financial calculators include:
- AKPK’s tools: Budget Calculator, Credit Card Calculator, Housing Loan Calculator, Hire Purchase (Car) Calculator and Net Worth Calculator
- AIA’s Financial Health Check (see #8, below)
8. Regularly review your protection coverage levels (with AIA Financial Health Check)
You may have outgrown the insurance coverage you took in your early 20s, so it is important to review your protection regularly, especially after big life milestones like marriage and having children.
Take AIA’s Financial Health Check to find out which of your coverage – Life, Medical, Accident, Critical Illness or Savings – needs immediate attention.
I took the FHC assessment myself and it says people similar to my demographic profile have the following coverage:
- RM450k in life insurance
- RM1.5million in medical insurance
- RM640k in personal accident insurance
- RM250k in critical illness, and
- RM20k in savings
From the results, it is clear that my current protection coverage (which I got when I was younger) is outdated, and I should prioritise updating my Life and Medical coverage. This will ensure my wealth is protected if I am faced with unforeseen circumstances.
9. Learn about yourself
Learn money management tips that work for you rather than against you.
Are you a saver or a spender?
A novelty seeker or set in routine?
Do you desire luxury goods and experiences or are you happy with a simple life?
Do you prefer DIY money management or seek professional advice?
What are the most important things in life for you, and are you allocating your funds accordingly?
These are questions that invite you to reflect who you are as a person – no answer is better than the other, nor are there ‘perfect’ answers, just what works for you.
10. Build your credit history
No matter which method(s) you pick to build credit history – via PTPTN loan, via credit card, via hire purchase or others – make sure to pay them in full, and on time every month.
11. Pay off all high-interest debt
If you have credit card outstanding balance or personal loan, forget everything else on this list. Your number 1 priority is to pay off your high-interest debt first.
12. Check your credit score
After a few years of building credit history, your credit score will be available. This score determines how ‘creditworthy’ you are – the higher the score, the better the rates you will get from banks when applying for loans. This will be very useful when (if) you plan to purchase a house and need to get a mortgage.
Malaysians can purchase comprehensive credit score reports from Experian, CTOS and Credit Bureau Malaysia. You can also check your CCRIS for free.
13. Keep Housing, Transportation and Food costs to below 50% of your income
For most people, Housing, Transportation and Food are usually the top 3 expenses. There are many strategies to keep these costs low.
One of the best ‘hacks’ to keep these three expenses low is to find jobs that allow remote/hybrid work arrangements and live:
- at areas with affordable eateries/amenities OR
- within walking distance to bus/LRT stations OR
- within walking distance to work.
These options eliminate or significantly reduce the need for a car, saving at least RM1000 per month. In addition, the time saved from commuting can be diverted to home-cooking and meal-prepping, reducing eating out expenses as well.
14. Decide to rent or own a house
Rent or buy a house? Both can be good financial choices, it all depends on the situation. Don’t let property agents/ your parents/ other people peer-pressure you into owning a house before you’re ready*.
*Practically speaking, ‘ready’ means having at least RM50,000 or so in funds without touching 3-6 months of living expenses, retirement funds and children’s’ funds. If you’re not paying that much for down payment (plus legal fees), you’ll be paying for renovations and move-in costs.
15. Learn to cook at home
Even if you did the calculation and eating out is cheaper in terms of ringgit cost, it is still worth learning how to cook because of one simple reason: home cooking tends to be much healthier.
It’s true. Most restaurants use a lot of oil, sodium and sugar in their food – delicious, but will contribute to health problems in the long run.
16. Exercise regularly
In the theme of healthy living, it is worth adding in physical activities are essential to better health and directly correlated to improved quality of life. Don’t neglect your health as you are accumulating wealth.
Note: AIA Vitality rewards you for leading a healthy lifestyle. View the discounts and benefits under AIA Vitality.
17. Don’t just save, find ways to earn more too
If you are earning minimum wage or if your commitment is high (due to reasons like: medical, caretaking duties etcetera), then your priority is earning more, not saving more.
Unfortunately, you can’t budget your way out of poverty. If emergencies doesn’t, cost of living and inflation will wipe out your savings.
18. Explore side income opportunities
Side income opportunities deserve an article on its own, but let me take this chance to warn you against opportunists who scam or mislead people looking to earn extra money.
Don’t be swayed by people who dangle high income potential while selling four-figure courses. You can absolutely get started with zero cost, and there are amazing free/cheap courses out there that are just as good (if not better).
Some websites to explore gig work include goget.my and swifty.my.
19. Update your resume
The best time to look for a better paying job is when you are not looking for a job. Don’t stop yourself from getting job offers with potentially 50-100%++ pay increase – add your new skillsets in your resume and make it public; recruiters are always looking for talent.
20. Attend a resume-writing workshop
Make recruiters’ job easy by adding in keywords employers are looking for in your resume. The easier they find you, the more offers you will see coming your way.
21. Sort out estate planning
They say you should sort out estate planning for the benefit of your loved ones, and that is a good reason in itself.
But in addition to that, as someone who has made progress with estate planning, it feels great to make the decision myself. It’s a privilege to get to decide who will get my money, assets and takaful, instead of leaving it up to default inheritance laws.
My advice: unless you are familiar with legalese, do yourself a favour and consult professionals. AIA customers can enjoy discounts on will and wasiat-writing service, as well as on the insurance/takaful trust setup fee.
22. Join personal finance communities
There are personal finance communities across basically all social media. A good indication of a healthy online community is it is not centred around a cult of personality – that is, a leader that promotes only their particular type of methodology, investment or money management style.
If they (and their followers) insist theirs is the best, and the rest is wrong, then find other places encouraging more viewpoints.
23. Learn to say no
Most people are good, but some will try to take advantage of you. Learn how to say no because there are scammers, manipulators and guilt-trippers out there asking to ‘borrow’ your money or worse, get/guarantee a loan under your name.
24. Learn sales strategies
There are two good reasons to learn sales strategies. First, you can use the skillset to make money, which is always handy. Second, and more importantly, is so you can identify when it is being used on you.
For example, giving free samples is a great sales strategy because it is based on the principle of reciprocity – people generally like to return favours, so they might end up buying the product the next time they see it.
25. Read personal finance books
As great as online resources are (much of which are free), you will get a better understanding of personal finance from in-depth resources, a.k.a. books. There really is no substituting it.
26. Learn income tax strategies
Whether you are employed or self-employed or a business owner, there are ways to optimise your taxes. Depending on how much you earn, the savings can be in the thousands.
Muslims in particular should know how to claim zakat as tax rebate. This in itself will save you a lot of money.
27. Find low-cost or free leisure activities you enjoy
It would be a problem if you feel like you need to splurge every time you are stressed. Find low-cost or free leisure activities that you can do instead. ‘Reward yourself’ doesn’t have to be expensive.
28. Pick a conscientious life partner
Your life partner selection is one of the most important financial decisions you will ever make.
The heart wants who it wants, but if possible find someone conscientious. They tend to be more disciplined, organised and responsible in life and money.
29. Hire a financial planner
As much as you like DIY-ing your finances, after a certain point, go meet a financial planner. They’ll help you find the blind spots you missed, if any.
30. Engage with a reputable financial services company
There are many companies offering financial services. For something as important as wealth planning and protection, there is value in choosing a reputable and well-established company like AIA.
Not only do they have the experience, but they also offer varied services under one roof so you and your loved ones can live Healthier, Longer and Better Lives. Learn more about AIA’s Total Wealth Solution and what it can do for you.
And there you have it, 30 financial habits you should have by 30. The more financial habits you implement, the better your financial future will be. What other habits do you think should be added to this list?