I was recently inspired by a post from a Singaporean Stocks Investor, where he shared his experiences with helping his parents to be secure in their retirement. It reminded me of my own dad.
You see, why I am so hung up on insurance and financial planning is because my dad had so many problems with it.
We were an upper middle-class family, and I lived in private property for most of my childhood. Both my parents were graduates, which was a prestigious thing because so few could attend university at the time. They had white-collar jobs and earned a fairly good living.
Then the Asian financial crisis came in 1997. Both my parents were retrenched and had difficulty finding similar paying jobs. Luckily, within a few years, the condo we were living in got sold in an en bloc, and my family exited with close to a couple of million. We then moved into a terrace house in Bukit Timah. My dad decided to stop working in his forties, and whiled away his time playing the stock market and video games. He didn’t say much to me about what he bought, but I remember him telling me how good he thought Blackberry stock was. The iPhone was released sometime later, and Blackberry stock collapsed.
Less then five years later, he had lost nearly all his money from the en bloc sale. The 2008 Great Financial Crisis was in full swing, and he had played with leverage. He were forced into selling the terrace house at a distressed price, and at the bottom of the market.
Again, he was broke within a few years of selling the terrace house. I have no idea where the money went. He told anyone who cared to listen that most of his money went towards my overseas education. But he really had gambled most of it away in the stock market. I chose the most affordable college I could find and paid for many of my living expenses through my savings. I slept on a used mattress, on the floor of a shared apartment where everything was either third-hand or free.
My dad had destructive money habits. He bought a lot of things in bulk, was overly generous, and drove an expensive car. He enjoyed collecting, and the cupboards were full of coins from the Singapore mint, original DVDs and various gadgets. I remember him coming back from a cruise in Alaska, having bought cartons of paintings from some obscure artist. He insisted they would appreciate in value, and framed them all at great cost. I can say that the vast majority of his possessions were impossible to sell, and are mostly hidden away in some storeroom.
He didn’t have real insurance either. He only had either an investment-linked plan or whole life plan, which he was paying about $800 a month. It was eventually surrendered it at a heavy loss. He had no medical insurance, which was a disaster as he suffered from heart disease and quite a few other conditions. He always had to get treated and stay in Ward C. Not having any medical insurance while paying a huge sum for a useless policy was something I was furious with. I don’t know if he had refused to buy health insurance or the agent neglected to sell to him. But not doing something as basic as buying health insurance still boggles my mind.
When my dad decided to move to Malaysia alone to save costs, I was against the decision and tried to talk him out of it. He was already in poor health, and I was worried that there would be no one looking out for him. He shouted at me and said he couldn’t stand living in Singapore any longer. I didn’t push the issue and he moved. We didn’t talk for months.
Sure enough, in about a year or two, he collapsed in a shopping mall. He was sent to the local hospital by strangers, where he was neglected by the doctors and nearly had his leg amputated due to a blood clot. That was a devastating health blow that he never really recovered from. We didn’t know for a few days because no one called us and he became uncontactable. It was his property agent who got in touch.
My relationship with my father had always felt strained. I was a pretty rebellious and disrespectful kid, and did my own thing. But I have only ever sought his approval and love, and I felt I was not able to live up to my role as a son. He passed away suddenly about five years ago, and I did not have the chance to say goodbye.
Influence on my life
Like it or not, my life was greatly influenced by my father. I learnt mostly from his negative experiences. He had never set me down and explained the world to me. Our conversations generally revolved around his health and how unfair life was to him. He never seemed interested in what was going on in my life.
To avoid his mistakes, I read up a lot about financial literacy. I bought more than an average amount of insurance. I don’t collect anything, and don’t have expensive hobbies. None of my time is spent complaining or blaming others for life’s misfortunes. Whatever he did, I tried to do the opposite.
I was lucky to have my mother who had raised and supported me. She believed in me despite the fact that I was an underachiever early in life. She put up good money when I had to do a bridging course when my results weren’t good enough for university. She helped nurture my interest in investing by letting me buy stocks through her account. Even now, she is a role model for her contributions to the church and society, and is able to support herself during retirement. It is a great relief not to have to worry about her like I did with my father.
This post isn’t meant to be disrespectful to my dad. I know that he loved me and his other children deeply, and had tried his best. I do not care at all whether he has a high status or not, and only wanted that he lived a secure and contented retirement. He showed his love in buying things for us and sharing his passions. When I was very young, he was a fun and affectionate father. But that was lost as he became unlucky in his money and dealings with people.
Besides, in many ways, I did worse than him. He only got his poor health in his forties, while I experienced it in my early thirties. I have one child, while he raised three. He had a longer and better career than I had.
I’m angry because his life could have turned out very different if he had gotten a few simple decisions right. If he had gotten good advice early. If he didn’t try to get rich quick through trading. I missed many good years with my father because of that.
I look forward to seeing my dad in heaven again, and to seek his forgiveness for not being a good son. At least I know that God is taking care of him, and that he is free of the pains on this earth.
I can only hope that I do not repeat my father’s mistakes, and give my son the best possible childhood. God forbid for him to experience any of the uncertainty or turmoil that I had. I bought health insurance for him right at birth, which was quickly followed by a whole life and endowment plan. He will be able to enjoy studying whatever he wishes, without worrying about burdening his parents. He will not have to pay anything towards our retirement.
My dearest wish is for my kids to walk a smooth path, and be able to stand on their own. I will do all I can to preserve that.