Four common strategies for NSFs to grow money, evaluated

DISCLAIMER: Sponsored content by Singlife

“What can I do during National Service to make money” is a common question we receive from our audience.

Objectively, traditional employment during National Service will be difficult. So, making money will require some level of unconventionality (more on this later).

However, if we move away from the usual definition of making money towards ‘improving the ability to make money’, the scope of things increases quite dramatically.

In this article, we explore four common strategies people deploy when they are in NS to strengthen their financial position.

  • Penny pinching
  • Side-hustling
  • Investing/trading
  • Learn now, earn later

*Do note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive

Penny pinching

Being kiamsiap is the most straightforward thing for you to do. Many SAF vocations will provide you with food and shelter during the term of your service.

However, what I’ve found is that being kiamsiap for two years straight can be quite unpleasant.

For example, a corporal will have a total National Service allowance of S$14,230 during NS.

Assuming he lives extremely frugally, spending S$200-S$300 a month, he will emerge from NS with S$7,000 worth of savings.

You have to decide if two years of being a kiamsiap person is worth S$7,000.

Our take: This strategy is the simplest and most straightforward. It also has the lowest risk, but possibly the lowest reward.

Side hustling

In general, most of your SAF commanders will frown upon you earning additional income during your NS through some form of employment.

Some of them might close one eye and let you do so if it doesn’t interfere with your NS duties.

However, if you are creative about it, there are plenty of options these days to earn money without being a full-time employee.

Just 10 years ago, having a ‘work from home job’ sounded like a scam. These days, thanks to COVID and the gig economy, this isn’t the case anymore.

In the past, side-hustles were limited to home tuition, food delivery or private car hire. All of which required some form of physical presence.

These days, you could:

  • Ghostwrite for a publication.
  • Create NFTs that people might buy on OpenSea.
  • Create decks and presentations for clients on SlideShare.

Perhaps it’s even as simple as doing an internship before you enlist, and asking if you can work remotely during NS.

Take for example, this guy who taught himself to custom design and paint shoes during his free time in NS, and has turned his hobby into a thriving home business.

Or our friends at Seedly. Even though they did not start their business in NS, their NS work experience helped them to hone their leadership skills.

There are many options that don’t require a regular schedule or immense capital.

Our take: The key to playing this right is to keep things as low key as possible, instead of shouting out about your gig. The fewer people know, the better.


Typically, we often advocate building an emergency fund that will last 3-6 months before you start investing. This is to prepare for a scenario where you lose your job as a working adult.

But here’s the thing: the SAF conscript is not a working adult. The chance of them being discharged from service is nigh impossible.

NSFs will also receive a limited amount of money from the armed forces every month, for at least 24 months.

This equation of guaranteed allowance + young men generally have few responsibilities makes it possible for them to invest with a modest safety net.

One thing we’ve noticed is that some NSFs also tend to gravitate towards high-risk, high-reward plays – forgoing diversification to make big concentrated investments.

This is something we understand. It can be frustrating to invest slowly and steadily on an NS allowance due to low capital – you don’t even double your money.

In other words, invest heavily, or not at all – go big or go home.

Our take: Don’t get us wrong, being acquainted with investing from a young age and learning about different asset classes are things that should be encouraged. It’s far better than, say, putting your money in gambling

However, if you indeed want to adopt this approach, make sure you set your boundaries and know when to pull the plug.

Contrary to popular belief, the worst-case scenario of investing is not that you end up with S$0 in your account. Rather, it is getting into debt.

For that reason, we’ll avoid using leverage and short selling.

Being broke is better than being in debt.

Learn now, earn later

Depending on which vocation you’re posted to, you could have some downtime on your hands. If you (or your commanders) plan your time well, you may be able to develop new interests or get new certifications.

In the past, the worthy mentions include a Class 3 license or a part-time degree at a private uni.

However, these days, there are a myriad of options available, especially with the advent of online learning.

I’d split these into three groups.

Licenses that let you perform a certain role. Think a Real Estate Salesperson (RES) course, or a financial advisor’s license. You need to be 21 to be eligible for these licenses, but you can start studying for them while you’re in NS.

Technical and soft skills that will be useful in the workplace. HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification, Advanced Google Analytics course, Google Ads Search Certification, Adobe Creative Suite etc. (I learnt how to use both Photoshop and Adobe Premiere pro when I was in NS.)

General knowledge to help understand the world around you. Economics, sociology, personal finance, media literacy.

Our take: This is our favourite approach because we’ve always said your skills are the single best investment in your life.

Our suggestion is not to be overly focused on attaining some form of certification, which will limit your options to learn. More than paper qualifications, employers care that you can actually do your job well.

Make the best use of your time

NS can be a challenging time, particularly if you’re watching your friends (and female peers) without NS further their studies, or start working.

However, in some weird way, it also shields you from the realities of a working adult for two more years. One doesn’t need to worry about grades, or the job market.

Pessimists will say it’s a waste of time, and lament that NS is some sort of purgatory.

Optimists will say it’s a great learning experience, and rattle on about their doing their duty to the country.

Our true feelings about NS probably lie somewhere in the middle. Neither pessimism nor optimism, but realism.

After all, if water parades teach us anything about life, sometimes life is not about whether or not the glass (or water bottle) is half full, or half empty.

Sometimes it’s about just chugging through the water and getting through to the next task.

You know you’re going to have to drink up anyway.

Why not make the most of it?

Stay woke, salaryman.

A message from Singlife, our sponsor

Even though NS may be 2 years of your life that you may not be getting back, the truth is that for most of the male species in Singapore, there’s no escaping NS.

And no matter which approach you decide to take up, these 2 years are great for setting a good foundation for your finances.

You can consider checking out the Singlife Account.

  • Base return of up to 1% p.a on your first S$10,000
  • Additional 0.5% p.a on your first S$10k when you spend S$500 every month on their complimentary Singlife Visa Debit Card. You get to enjoy liquidity as your money is not locked-in and you can withdraw it anytime.
  • Life insurance coverage for death or terminal illness included, up to 105% of your account value

You can sign up with S$500 (around your one-month NS allowance), and maintain a minimum of S$100 in your balance to continue earning returns.

Check out the Singlife Account and find out more on how to maximise your savings.

Also, if you like what Singlife has to offer, they’re running a Member-Get-Member campaign where you and your friend can get S$5 each if you refer them to sign up for a Singlife Account and Singlife Visa Debit Card. Find out more about the campaign.

*Note: Singlife Account’s base return is 1% p.a. on first S$10,000 & 0.5% p.a. on amounts above S$10,000. There are no returns for amounts above S$100,000. Returns are not guaranteed.

The views and opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of Singlife. The information is meant for your general knowledge and does not regard any specific investment objectives, financial situations or particular needs any person might have and should not be relied upon as the provision of financial advice. This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Protected up to specified limits by SDIC. Information is correct as of 3 December 2021.

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