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Balancing Work and Studies: Tough but Fulfilling

Written by Gladys Leong

I graduated debt-free from University. Yes, I don’t owe a single cent to the bank and yes, I managed this single-handedly. Growing up in a society which focuses on STEM industries and monetary success, having an academic interest in the humanities discipline seemed frowned upon. When I expressed my choice of wanting a history major, my family decided to force me into the ‘right way’ (AKA taking STEM subjects) by asking me to pay for my own university tuition fees, hostel fees (because I wanted to stay on campus), and not giving me pocket money. Devasted yet determined, I started working and making the best use out of the university tuition fees. While others were more focused on scoring the good grades, I decided to focus on learning. I decided to overload and took around 6-7 modules per semester, even taking on 2 minors (Chinese Translation and Art History). I managed squeezed in a third language, Spanish as well.

To fund for my university endeavours, I worked extremely hard. I gave tuition – my peak was 10 tutees a week and some of them had more than 1 class a week. I did the calculations and realised that the time I put into tuition was equivalent to that of a full-time employee. Additionally, I also utilised my translation skills into good use – one freelance translation job in the morning (around 630am) where I summarised and translated headlines news, and a part-time translation internship managing a Weibo account for a US think tank. My days start around 615am on a typical day and end around 12am-ish as I give tuition all around Singapore. My academic grades are surprisingly decent – I secured a second uppers (or distinction) grade because I did my readings on the way to tuition classes and late at night. I think an important reason was because earning money was a form of recognition of my skillsets, and I feel more empowered in my journey of overcoming the naysayers against my interest in history.

Eventually, I earned more money than required, so the surplus went into financial products (savings and investment plans) to grow my money passively. With more savings accumulating, I bought a wealth-accumulation plan every year as a birthday gift. I absolutely love the idea of buying yourself a birthday gift for yourself to enjoy again a few decades down the road. My passion for finance and to help others with managing money has been so intense that now I am pursuing a career in financial advisory. If you need any support in making the choice that you want (but are afraid) to make, or want to learn more about financial planning, I'm always happy to meet passionate people and help them address their money-related concerns! You can send me a Telegram message @GladYS97.

Important note

Even though my schedule sounds hectic, I would like to emphasise that while working hard, it’s also important to know yourself well, take breaks and be flexible with your time! I give myself loads of breaks for self-care and mitigate burnouts. Once a semester, I would give myself 3-5 hours of me time. When I feel burnout, I would not force myself to do more work and give myself more irregular breaks.

Cultivating gratitude helps a lot too! Instead of telling myself “I’m busy and poor”, I’ll tell myself “I’m lucky to have a tertiary education. I’m lucky to be struggling with a degree than struggling to survive”.

Beginner’s tips for financial management

1. Have a budget

Break your expenses into different categories and set a budget for each category. Throughout the week/month (depending on your preference), record your expenses for each category. If you find manually recording a hassle, there are free phone apps that make it easier to record.

Here are some recommendations:

(Some of these apps require extra payment to gain access to more features)

2. Set soft goals and hard goals

Soft goals refer to goals you set for yourself while hard goals are goals that cannot be compromised. An example of soft goal would be: “I want to have x amount of money to pay for my school fees by ____”. A hard goal would be for example, the date that you have to pay for your bills by.

3. Seek out discounts

You don't have to compromise on your social life and enjoyment to save money! There are apps such as Fave and Eatigo that allow you to pay for leisure and food at a discounted price. Apps such as Shopback also allow you to get cashback while spending money.

4. Start learning more about insurance plans

If you don’t have the financial capacity to purchase a plan yet, don’t feel pressured to purchase an insurance plan. However, it doesn’t hurt to find out more about the different plans out there and start planning which to purchase.

You can start by asking your parents if they have purchased a plan for you. If they are unsure, you can download the insurance provider’s app to check. It is important to be aware of your plan coverage as policies from years ago may be outdated.

Note from editor


Everyone's journey is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing finances. It is useful to experiment and see what works for you, or seek advice from a financial advisor when in doubt.

All the best with your financial management and goals!

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