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32 years to Financial Abundance? Here are my thoughts


Last week, there was an article in the Straits Times, titled “Moving from financial stability to financial abundance takes Singaporeans 32.3 years”.

As usual, when it comes to the topic of retirement… it caused quite a stir online. Based on social media comments, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that these numbers are ridiculous – that in Singapore, it is nearly impossible to achieve financial freedom / financial abundance, apart from maybe striking the lottery (or birth lottery). 

To summarise what the article mentioned, the survey found that from a starting point of financial stability, it took:

6.1 years to reach financial security; defined as being able to invest on top of saving a portion of income.  

An additional 6.5 years (cumulatively 12.6 years) to reach financial flexibility; defined as having sufficient financial investments and assets to cover living expenses for up to one year.

An additional 8.7 years (cumulatively 21.3 years) to reach financial freedom; defined as having sufficient investments and assets to generate enough passive income for life.

And finally, an additional 11 years (cumulatively 32.3 years) to reach financial abundance; defined as having more than enough income for one’s lifetime.


Comments on social media raised a few key points.

Firstly, some folks believed that this survey was “not representative” of the average Singaporean, because it only targeted the “high income” folks. Is it perspective valid? Let’s look at some figures.

The survey interviewed 1,000 participants aged between 25 and 64, with household incomes of $70k to $250k.

For perspective, the median household income for Singaporeans in 2022 was around $120k per year ($10,099 per month), which means that the 50th percentile household would be included in this survey.

At the lower end, the $70k household income would actually fall slightly under that of a median household consisting of 2 fresh graduates: $4,200/month per person (2022 figures) amounts to ~$100k per year.

While at the upper end, assuming the $250k household income are for folks in their 50s, then that works out to around $10k/month per person – reasonable for people working in middle-management roles at that age.

Thus, based on the figures above, I believe that the sampled population surveyed is reasonable. While it does skew slightly towards the wealthier segments (the article itself mentioned that respondents were “affluent”), the $70k to $120k income group falls below the median household income. Definitely not only the “rich” folks, as many have speculated.

But within the sample there could be anomalies. While a $250k household income in your 50s is would be comfortable, a $250k household income for a fresh graduate couple in their 20s is undoubtedly amazing. After all, there are fresh grads earning >$10k per month, right?


The second point that many have brought up is that: if it takes an average of 21 years to attain financial independence, and 32 years to attain financial abundance, why do we still see many elderly folks working well into their 60s and 70s? (Or, to be politically correct, some may just be “collecting cardboard for exercise”). Why isn’t everyone retiring in their 40s and 50s?

I think this is a valid challenge. I don’t have a comprehensive answer to this, but I have a few thoughts.

If we were to compare the Baby Boomers against the Millennials / Gen Z, the Boomers grew up in an environment where the priority was on survival. Literacy rates were lower, and many stopped pursuing education at a young age, in order to work to support their families. Consequently, if some Baby Boomers end up falling short on retirement adequacy, I don’t think it is fair to fault them for not managing their finances well. It was a different time.

Today, for the majority of the Millennials / Gen Zs, life isn’t solely about survival. Education in Singapore is heavily subsidised, and most go on to complete tertiary education. Singapore’s economy has grown by many multiples from the early days of independence, providing more opportunities. The internet has also democratised access to financial knowledge – we have forums like Seedly, SGFI on Reddit or telegram groups like 1M65 where folks can discuss personal finance. The FIRE movement has also increasingly gained traction in Singapore in recent years.

As a result, financial literacy today is much higher than previous generations. The barriers to entry for investing is much lower (zero / low cost brokerages), and there are a wider suite of products that cater to people who do not want to actively manage their investments (ETFs / robo-advisors). An increasing number of people realise the power of compounding and the importance of starting early, and have started investing in their 20s or even late-teens.

For further evidence of the aspirations of Millennials and Gen Zs, a survey last year found that on average, Millennials and Gen Zs want to retire earlier than the previous generations, which is ironic and contradictory to the retirement age being progressively raised. 

Therefore, I would argue that despite the rising cost of living, achieving financial freedom today would actually be easier than for the previous generation. People are more financially savvy, aware of the steps required to achieve financial freedom, and have the benefit of staring early with time on our side for compounding to work its magic.

The main contributors to the sky-high cost of living today are private properties and cars. Without these big-ticket items, I believe that it is still possible work towards financial freedom, while enjoying a reasonable standard of living in Singapore.


Putting some figures to each level of wealth

The article left out any reference to hard figures when for each milestone. Which makes perfect sense, because these milestones differ based on individual needs and wants. A luxury to someone may be a necessity to another.

But let me share what I think would be comfortable for me (for 1 person – double the amount for a couple, although there could be some synergies):

Financial Security: At least 6 months of emergency funds set aside, and starting to build an investment portfolio.

Financial Flexibility: Emergency funds able to last at least 12 months, possibly supplemented by some passive income.

Barista FIRE (Added by me): $1m to $1.25m SGD

Financial Freedom: $1.5m – $2m SGD

Financial Abundance: $3m SGD and above.

Given that I view attaining FIRE as a “cashflow” target, rather than an “asset target” (FIRE number), the way I think about the last 3 stages above would be “if I want a monthly cashflow of $X, how much capital would I need to invest, based on a reasonable portfolio yield of 3 to 5%?”

Our mindset is key

For me, the main takeaway from the fervent debate would be the different mindsets that people have. In the Financial Independence community, I am used to seeing people with targets like “Barista FIRE by 30”, “2M35 as a couple”, and “Retire by 45”.

These are very ambitious targets, but definitely possible, with a combination of 1) above average income, 2) above average savings rate, and 3) moderate investment returns.

Whereas in the general comments on social media, the sentiment seems to be that even after working for 32 years, it is impossible to even achieve financial freedom, let alone financial abundance. To me, that’s the stark difference. Those actively working towards FIRE are mostly driven, goal-oriented folks, with the conviction that FIRE can and will be achieved, even if some trade-offs are required along the way.

If we believe that something is impossible, it will remain impossible. A good example of this would be the 4-minute mile. For a long time, people believed that it was impossible for a person to run a mile in under 4 minutes. People genuinely believed that it was just not possible for the human body. But once Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier in 1959, subsequently, many people could break it as well. This shows that our beliefs play a huge role in determining the outcome. Get rid of your limiting beliefs today!

Surround yourself with like-minded people who share the same values and mindsets towards positive wealth building habits, who will inspire you on your journey. Having the belief and conviction that you will succeed. Ignore the naysayers and skeptics.

While reading through the comments, perhaps my favourite one was “I don’t even want to work for 25 years”.

Well, I don’t even want to work for 10.

“Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Earlier this year, I made a YouTube video detailing the numbers required for an average fresh graduate earning $4,200 per month to achieve financial freedom within 20 years. Do check it out!

1 comment:

  1. It is a fact that the survey is targeted on affluent Singaporens, which means the wealthier segment as they are more eligible for moving from Financial Stabiilty to Financial Abundance. It was not meant to represent the average Singaporean to begin with. The 70k annual income could be based on individuals who are above 35 and having their own property household (i.e. from a single income).