The most important lessons I’d tell the early 20s version of myself

WARNING: This post is paid for by Hugo, a Wealthcare® app. They help you save as you spend and channel your spare change towards gold investment each time you use the Hugo Visa Debit Card.

Ah, the mid-2010s were a crazy time to be alive. 

Macaroons were the bomb. People used filters on Instagram. At some point people were all about throwing cold water on their heads.

Now at the ripe old age of 32 – with my sense of time warped thanks to long hours doing overtime – I struggle to recall what I was like in university. 

I do remember my goal when I just graduated though. 

The very first financial plan I remember making was saving $30,000 by the time I turned 30, so I could spend an entire year living out of the van in the US. 

Of course, that didn’t happen.

My mom got a stroke. I got sucked into the world of advertising, hustling and financial freedom. Life happened, and I guess my goals evolved.

With the benefit of hindsight, here are some things I wish I realised earlier. If you’re a 20-something year old student in uni reading this, I hope this will be helpful for the decade that lies ahead. 

I learnt a lot during my 20s. Here are the biggest things I wish someone had told me.

If you want to pursue wealth, focus on earning money first 

My first impression of being rich was something like this:

  • Step 1: Save up $10,000 
  • Step 2: Make a series of miraculous trades over a year, and have $100,000 
  • Step 3: Repeat this and have $1,000,000 within three years

Of course, for this to be true, then that would mean me being an investor capable of 1000% per annum returns, and it would have required me to take massive risk. 

In my experience as a non-full time investor, I’ve found it much more feasible to reach the first $100,000 (or $1,000,000, even) via increasing my earning power, rather than investing. 

Unless you’re a full-time investor, I recommend making use of your 20s to focus on building up good saving habits and improving your earning power to build your first pot of gold.

This doesn’t mean you don’t invest, but rather you don’t spend too much time growing a small capital. 

Learn skills that are valued by society, negotiate your salary often and live within or below your means. 

You can be a full-time investor once you’ve amassed substantial capital (my own benchmark of substantial is ‘$500,000’).

Further reading: The Woke Salaryman way of investing, Here’s when you should start actively investing

Focus on the big stuff, automate the little stuff

In the first three years of my financial journey, I tracked every expense. 

Every. Single. One. 

Many other financial bloggers/YouTubers might enjoy this, but I absolutely do not. 

This habit was tedious and time-consuming.

I obsessed over every single expenditure, and it was pretty miserable.

More importantly, it took away focus from me earning more money. 

 While I don’t regret doing what I had to do to hit my first $100k, I wish I spent less time on this, and more time looking at the big picture and figuring out that there are different paths to wealth.

Once I realised this, I decided to work towards automating everything else. 

Bill payments? Automate them. Nobody has time to queue up at an AXS machine.  

Investments? Automate them. Stop wondering whether the market is too high or too low. These days, some apps also help you invest a bit of your money every time you spend. (Our sponsor, Hugo is one of them). 

The less time you spend on things you feel are unproductive or unimportant, the better.

The fear of math is overplayed

“I’m not good at math, so I don’t invest” 

I’ve heard this statement many times when convincing my friends in the creative field to invest.

The misconception out there is that investing needs you to be a pHD at math, or some computer whiz. This can’t be further from the truth. In fact, your temperament is more important than intelligence. That’s what Warren Buffet says, at least.

While there are no doubt formulas to remember if you want to pick stocks, you can also opt to skip all that and become passive investors like us. 

The only concept you need to understand? Compound interest.  

Take it from us – we come from an Arts background, terribly bad at math and hate reading financial statements. 

Still, we’ve managed to grow our wealth via simple strategies like dollar-cost-averaging and diversification into various asset classes. 

If you’re risk-averse, you can always start with a core portfolio of index funds and less volatile asset classes like gold and bonds. 

Once you’ve built up enough confidence and temperament, you can then look into higher-risk, higher-reward assets – such as cryptocurrencies and individual stocks.

The key is to not give yourself any excuses, and just start on your financial journey by investing even with a small amount. 

You’ll be surprised how being consistent and staying invested can help that small amount of money grow. 

Start small, and do it early and often. 

Self-awareness is key

Till today, I don’t claim to be among the 10-15% of people who are truly self-aware, but I’m actively working on it.  

And while there are many benefits of self-awareness, I think the two most important bits for me are:  

The first: Being able to objectively evaluate yourself aka knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

This will dramatically reduce the chances of you being that entitled kid older folks seem to be always whining about. 

It will also help you sieve through advice that doesn’t apply to you, and allow you to recognise valuable and sincere feedback.


“You must slow down and take a break, because hustle culture is toxic.”

This is good advice, provided if you have indeed been burning yourself out at work.

However, if you’ve been sitting on your butt for years, the statement only validates your choice to sit on your butt even more. 

The second: Being aware of how you are perceived by others.

Like it or not, no person is an island. How you are perceived matters – a lot. People who lack self-awareness often seem to have uncontrollable emotions, lack empathy, and can be difficult to hang around.

You can YOLO at whatever age you want

Remember that dream about living in a van for a year when I was 25? I once thought I gave that up to achieve financial freedom in my 30s. The opportunity cost was too big.

In reality, I merely postponed it. At some point in the future, I’ll be planning a year-long sabbatical, which is now well within my means.

Here’s the way I see it. There’s no right answer on whether it’s better to ‘suffer now and enjoy later’, or vice versa. 

My friends who decided to YOLO during their 20s are now hustling hard to make up for lost time. I used to feel envious, but recently I came to the realisation that the next decade or so will be intense for them.

As for me, I hustled during my 20s and am financially free, so I get to take it a little more chill in my 30s and 40s. 

The important thing here is knowing exactly what trade-offs you make. I’ve sacrificed my 20s. My friends will sacrifice their 30s and 40s. 

The thing about wealth-building is that you cannot escape it. You either do it now, or do it later. Choose the one that best fits your life goals and know the risks.

Life is just beginning for you, don’t write yourself off yet

There’s something to be said about Singaporeans dogmatically pursuing the ‘model answer’ when it comes to adult life. 

It’s something like this: 

Go to university. Get a job as a management trainee in a big, stable company, or become a scholar.

If you’re not on this track, it can feel strange or even wrong, and that life is over for you. Your parents constantly comparing you with someone else’s son/daughter/cousin/parakeet probably doesn’t help as well. 

There are two things I’d like to consider here: 

The first, is that the traditional Singaporean career path often places a lot of emphasis on strong academic results from a small pool of universities. It doesn’t favour late bloomers. 

If you’re looking at your peers going to brand name firms out of university, and you’re in a not-so-famous workplace, don’t be discouraged.

As someone who spent most of his life in smaller outfits, there are plenty of learning opportunities to be had in smaller firms, or even self-employment.

Do the best you can in your current circumstances, and use it as a stepping stone. 

The second is that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.

The same qualities that make someone a great scholar or management trainee might make them a poor entrepreneur, real-estate agent, celebrity, etc.

If you’re not cut out for conventional Singaporean success, then you’ll find it hard to compete with your peers who live and breathe this meta. 

For example, having a third-class honours doesn’t make you any lousier than a first-class honours. But in environments that favour academic qualifications, this will be the judgement passed upon you.

Forcing yourself into pursuing the conventional path is indeed like teaching the proverbial fish how to climb a tree. 

Take time to discover what you’re good at, rather than jumping on bandwagons or listening to peer pressure. Yes, you’ll fail along the way, but it’s all part of the process. Experiment. Fail. Get up. Repeat. 

Remember, life is not an assessment book, or a ten-year-series. 

You can’t flip to the back page for the model answer. 

Stay woke, salaryman.

A message from our sponsor, Hugo

Starting out your financial journey in your 20s can be nerve-wracking. You don’t have a lot of money, but you have drive and want to achieve your financial goals.

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  • They have a Roundups function that helps you save for your goals as you spend by rounding up your nearest dollar and investing your spare change  in physical gold, held in your personal Hugo Gold Vault
    • So if you buy $5.30 of Bubble Tea, they’ll round that amount up to $6.00, and you get 70 cents invested in Gold.
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Look, we admit that gold may not be the sexiest asset class out there, especially when you put it beside its flashier siblings, stocks and crypto. 

But gold has a great track record as a commodity hedging against inflation and currency risk, so it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of your portfolio dedicated to gold.

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