Wilson Poh, 53 , has just returned from holiday. Soon, he will be travelling again – this time with his wife and two children. He says it is a retirement treat he gives himself now and then.
Poh is not your typical workaholic. He has decided to retire at the ripe early age of 53 – something out of the ordinary for a middle-income manager.
He puts it all down to a carefully crafted, decades-long investment plan.
“It is impossible to retire as a salaried worker. You need something else – a small business, an investment maybe – because the cost of living is simply too high.”
Poh can easily qualify to be the poster boy for a recent DBS survey which revealed that middle-income retirees would outlive their savings in 13 years. The survey revealed that 73 per cent of respondents plan to retire between the ages of 55 and 65 with savings of $571,715 on average.
They hope to spend $3,500 a month in their retirement which means their savings will run out in 13 years, according to DBS.
Will this mean the death of the middle-class, or the birth of a new middle-class in Singapore, where everyone has to invest, or start a business on the side, in order to retire before they kick the bucket?
Poh started investing in his late 20s when he bought his matrimonial home. He took a housing loan – but he quickly sold his property when it went en bloc and paid off his loan. With the little profit he made, he bought another property.
Wash, rinse, and repeat. At his peak, Poh had three properties under his name.
“I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we have to be financially independent [in order to] retire. We got to re-examine our lifestyle and ask what are we living for and what is important to us – and make plans for that.”
The DBS survey showed that while retirement is a priority for most people, only 49 per cent actually have a financial plan in place.
Regional economist at CIMB Song Seng Wun believes one reason may be “the younger generation is not saving enough. They may be spending more now because they have the flexibilities and opportunities to do so.”
Compare them to the previous generation. There are more choices in terms of career, income and material luxuries these days, he says.
“When you have an environment where there are diverse jobs and income growth, there is a certain degree of confidence to spend.”
But the future is not bleak, he insists.
“There are opportunities to upgrade yourself. One way is to invest. To do that you must be financially savvy. You can take basic financial classes. By generating income [through investments], it is one way to overcome this problem.”
On the contrary, Poh feels the current generation is in for a rough ride.
“When I bought my first property, I paid it off in 10 years. Now properties are at least more than $1 million. It is impossible for people to generate that kind of money to invest so easily.”
Dr Teoh Ren Shang, 35, remarks that balancing off investments, loans and family obligations is challenging.
Teoh has a one-year-old son and is still paying off his housing loan. He works as a doctor in a community hospital and considers himself a middle-income earner.
“Doctors are not high earners, unless you are high up in the hierarchy. People like me are in the middle class and we are being squeezed.
“Living cost is getting higher and salaries are not catching up. We are not getting the bang for our buck. What worries me the most is the government might not be in tune with what we are experiencing.
“I visited my MP to complain about the bees in my unit recently. He kind of said that I am a doctor, and I surely can afford to turn on the air-conditioner the whole day to keep the bees out. I can’t afford that! It’s expensive.”
He does not believe that investments are the only way to generate income for retirement. He has only dabbled in some low-risk investments so far.
“I do feel like the new poor sometimes. I feel insecure and that I do not have enough. I have to watch my bills all the time.”
He is hopeful that there will be new economic opportunities in the future, especially in his medical career.
Calvin Goh, 44, also has his doubts about investments.
“I saw how my father lose his entire CPF savings because of investments. So I rather trust reputable low-risk investments. I don’t want to end up like my father.”
A middle-income earner, the workplace safety and health officer says he has yet to come up with a plan for his golden years.
“I doubt I can retire. The total cost of my HDB flat is $350,000, which means by my second appointment, all my CPF savings will be wiped out and I still have to take God-knows how many years of loan.
The last word goes to economist Song: “If you aspire for more, you must be sharp, smart and nimble enough to know how and where to invest. And be prepared for outcomes that may not be what you planned for.”