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The best things you can do for yourself during NS 

BE WARNED! This is a sponsored post for DBS Multiplier  which is ideal for broke af NS bois bois. If you dislike sponsored content, please exit the page now. 

I’ll be first to say that unlike many of our readers, I did not leave National Service with 5-digits in my bank account. Neither did I care much how much interest I was getting, or whether I should be investing. 

Instead, I spent my NS allowance on an iMac I used for freelance gigs (yes, I moonlighted) and got my driver’s license.

Then I spent whatever was left of that money on petrol driving to-and-fro from Tuas Naval Base and midnight joyrides with the family car.

So no, let it be clear I was not financially awakened at 21, and neither will I expect many people to be.

That said, recently we’ve been getting quite a lot of questions from National Servicemen asking us what they can do during their 2-years of conscription so they can kick start their financial journey early.

Based on my own experiences, I’ve given it a ton of thought and distilled it down to four things.

Resist peer pressure and expensive addictions

I remember the speech given by my sergeant when I first showed up at BMT and they were explaining why they cut our hair – it was part of the process of trying to make us as ‘same as possible.’ 

This uniformity is useful when you’re a soldier. In war, teamwork is literally a matter of life and death. Soldiers need to put their teammates’ survival over their own instead of bailing out on their friends out of fear. 

Of course, that’s only the good side. 

The downside is that the loss of individualism and identity can make it incredibly difficult for young 20-something-year-olds to resist peer pressure. 

Depending on the company you hang out with, you’d find it all too easy to get addicted to cigarettes, alcohol and clubbing. 

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not making a judgement call about whether these are morally right or wrong. We’re saying these are generally not the habits you’d want if you want to be financially free.

Not only do the costs quickly add up, there’s also a chance you’ll get addicted to all three. 

In that case, gg bro. 

Your Habit Cost over two years, assuming you YOLO
Smoking Up to $10,000
Drinking and Clubbing  Up to $12,840
Total $22,840

But just to give you an idea why splurging on all three is a bad idea, I just want to highlight that just smoking alone can cost up to $5,000 a year (Seedly and MoneySmart have written about this). 

Assuming you club once a week and spend $120 each time, that’s nearly $6,420 a year. 

Add that up, multiply it for the two years NS you serve and you’ll get upwards of $22,000, without even counting for other expenses such as food and transport.

More than 80% of an officers’ NS total allowance during the two year myriad.

At this point, you should just forget about saving any money. 

This is the single most important financial thing you should take away from this article (apart from considering a DBS Multiplier account kekekeke). 

 

Get used to living below your means 

Somewhat related to the previous point, is the ability to act your wage (or in this case, allowance). 

Most NSFs will get an allowance of between $580 and $1,200, depending on their rank and vocation. Which is, let’s be real, isn’t a lot of money.

Some NSFs manage to save up to $10,000 by eating at the cookhouse, buying duty, taking the shuttle bus instead of taxis and getting gold for IPPT, but this requires massive willpower and discipline. Especially when they see regulars or NSFs from wealthier backgrounds not having to scrimp and save. 

This is not to be scoffed at. With $10,000 saved, one can go on to…  

Okay, but consider this: $10,000 is definitely sizeable for most 21-year-olds for sure, but the real game changer will be cultivating a habit of living below your means. (In the future, most Singaporeans will likely earn more than $580 a month.) 

If you’re able to consistently survive and find satisfaction just by spending $580-$1,200 per month, and carry it over to your working adult life, you’ll be able to save quite a bit of money – I aimed to spend $500 per month during the first three years of my working life to save $100,000 before turning 30. 

 

Master new skills and knowledge

For sure, some skills learnt in NS are more useful than others – I cannot imagine how learning to plant a claymore mine or knowing the range of a Harpoon Missile (130 km!) will make someone a better accountant. 

Not everyone will be lucky enough to learn how to drive during NS. Or learn how to make films and handle video equipment, but we can learn in other ways. 

During my service, I spent a lot of time waiting to rush and rushing to wait in NS. Most of the time though, I’d be lying in my bunk and just waiting for time to pass (they didn’t allow smartphones yet when I was a serviceman).

Looking back, there was plenty I could have done to upgrade myself. Of course, I won’t expect everyone to be able to learn Python or UX/UI while in camp. However, there are plenty of things I could have learnt in the past that would accelerate my learning process. 

These days, there’s plenty of educational content to level up and discover new skills and perspectives. Some of my favourite resources are:

It might not seem like much, but trust me, knowledge is a serious multiplier when it comes to determining your future versatility and net worth. As we’ve said before, for longer survivability, you should work towards being a generalist. 

Get a new worldview from others  

One of the most underrated things about NS? 

Getting to befriend people you’d otherwise not meet in everyday life.

I think this is really important, because too often in life we create our own echo chambers and block out other perspectives. (Social media has only made this easier – you don’t like someone? Block. Delete. Mute.) 

Being forced to serve alongside people from different socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, interests and social circles really lets you discover different perspectives. 

For example, my younger self spent lots of days envious of kids from wealthier families, and feeling disadvantaged because I did not have parents who would gift me cars and condos when I turned 21. 

In NS however, I got to know many people from far humbler backgrounds than me who were undeterred despite the economic advantages others had. Some of them signed on in order to put food on the table for their families. Others took part-time degrees after booking out from camp, in hopes of a brighter future. 

Witnessing this made me realise that feeling envious and bitter doesn’t get you anywhere, and that in many ways, life is a lot like National Service. 

Most of us didn’t ask to be born, yes.

Most of us didn’t ask to do National Service, either. 

But there’s a reason that years from now, different people will remember NS differently. Some will find NS to be a meaningful period where you can make friends, save money, learn skills and hide from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Others tend to find it an absolute waste of their youth.

Why? 

I leave you this quote by Dolly Parton, which sums it up pretty nicely.

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.

Stay woke, Salaryman. 

If you are still in NS*, consider the DBS Multiplier account

Ah you just knew this plug was coming didn’t you? 

It’s true that interest rates of High Yields Savings Accounts have been slashed across the board (not just Singapore, but also worldwide). But during the COVID-19 pandemic, DBS has made special efforts to tweak their account to be more inclusive, especially for NSFs and students who aren’t earning a salary yet.

How? The latest changes to Multiplier that are most relevant to NSFs include: 

  • Not needing a credit card to earn extra interest. You can earn bonus interest by using PayLah! And everyone can sign up for PayLah!
  • Recognising NS allowance as Income or ‘Salary’ (NSFs won’t qualify for the salary credit category the other HYSAs have) 
  • No fall below fee until age 29, so you don’t need to worry about your account balance (pls ORD before you are 30, thanks)

All this means that NSFs can earn up to 0.5% interest with a Multiplier account – okay, it isn’t a lot – but it’s still 10x more than your run of the mill savings account (not to mention, a big step to getting your finances sorted out).

Our suggestion is the same as what we’ve always said. Instead of frantically changing accounts every time there’s an interest rate update, just start a high yield savings account that grows with you, and stick with it. 

Your working self will thank you. 

*Actually not only NSF la, but this is an article written for NSFs. This product is suitable for a wide range of people.

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PPS: Ord loh
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2 replies to “The best things you can do for yourself during NS 

  1. Hi Woke Salaryman, what you wrote reminded me of my journey during my NS days. I ORD in 2010 with roughly $8-9k in the bank, a sliver away from the $10k mark you mentioned. Looking back I wished I could have saved more while doing what I can, but there will always be peer pressure. My advise to the boys going into NS from a financial standpoint, everyone starts of the same, only your decisions makes you different from the rest. You will be forced to stretch every dollar and learn to make sacrifices. Learn to identify them early and make the sacrifices so they become a norm later on.

    That’s not to say you skimp on the enjoying parts. You can still enjoy that clubbing session. Instead of doing it every weekend, just go once every two weeks. Join your buddies to share a cab once awhile, the time you saved have to be spent well with family or friends you don’t get to see during the week. Learn a new skill with the spare time during non-training hours. Watch YouTube videos on these topics instead of just MLBB at every chance. Practice when you can because if you don’t practice, you’ll lose it. Every duty you buy means you don’t spend money and you get paid more. It’s a double positive to your financial goal! Learn to keep a tight budget and once you are able to manage and keep track of your spending as a habit, it would be one of the best fundamental financial skills you can use be it personal life or at work.

    Last of all, always plan and think of what you will be doing after you ORD. The two years will pass very quickly and you’ll want to have a plan that will execute after you ORD. Don’t wait till you have completed your NS then decide… You would be missing out on a lot of opportunities and wasted time while you are still young and alert.

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