“How I Unlocked Financial Freedom”

"How I Unlocked Financial Freedom"

The New Savvy is an online platform aimed to empower women achieve financial happiness. After going through some financial difficulties, Former CEO Anna Vanessa Haotanto taught herself about personal finance and investing. At age 29, Anna alone managed to buy an HDB for her parents - a goal which seemed impossible to many. On #YourMoney, Michelle Martin finds out more about what spurred her to take charge of her finances and the motivation behind starting The New Savvy. 

Michelle Martin: You started investing at 21. What was it that got you going? 

Anna: Well first, it’s my family’s financial difficulties. We didn’t have a property and I was afraid that we (might get) kicked out of our house. (At that time,) I was studying and (figured) that this has to stop. So I told myself that I wanted to buy an HDB for my family before turning 30. After googling, I realised that it costs half a million dollars which is expensive for the average person. So I worked backwards, starting with the total amount of money I needed to have and calculating how much I needed to save monthly. After researching, I realised that (the plan was not feasible). From there, I tried to learn more about investing, so my money works harder than me. I believe that working in a corporate job and saving a portion of my salary will not get me where I want to be.

MM: You must be very disciplined since you managed to buy an HDB for your parents at 29. What helped you achieve your goals?

A: Being the eldest, I knew that I had to pay for my mother’s debts. At one point, I was saving 80% of what I earned. I was very conscientious about how I spent my money. Saving should be your first goal, and you fit your lifestyle into whatever you have left. I was very obsessed with my goal of buying a property. Once you know what you want, you’ll know that whatever you are sacrificing now is for the greater good. I bought (the HDB) during the crisis in 2008. To answer your question, I bought stocks that I was familiar with and I remained invested - which helps. To me, I don’t think I can beat the market because I am not smarter than anyone else.

MM: Many people seem to think that they need to be rich before starting to invest. How much did you have when you started?

A: I started with $1,000 which was my salary from my previous internship. I think the idea of needing a lot of money to start investing is not true because you should always start small. You will definitely make mistakes, so you should start small to test the water and know your comfort level. You should also start early so you can enjoy the benefits of compound interest. And for those who are not professional money managers, do not try to beat the market. If you don’t know what to buy, buy the index. 

MM: What are some golden rules of investing? 

A: Always be clear on why you’re investing. When I was actively investing, my goal is to always sell the stock after making a 10% return. Though it limited my profit and growth, I was very comfortable with it. For me, as long as I make 10% of it, I’m very happy and will use the returns to invest in more. 

MM: You have an amazing social media presence - on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Did you have a strategy for that? 

A: No, but with my presence, I can inspire more people to take charge of their money. In fact, when I first started, I wanted to reach out to children because money habits should start since young. We should teach children the importance of saving, giving and more. But my business partner left me and knowing that I am not an educator, the market I can reach out to the fastest is women. Financial products have always been catered to men. In fact, when I first started, people often wondered why because women tend to leave their finances to their husbands. 

MM: Do you think men and women manage money differently?

A: I believe so. Research has actually shown that 41% of women do not manage their money. When talking about financial goals, men tend to focus on making returns, but women will focus on saving for their children or taking care of their parents. The way both men and women attach importance to money is very different. 

MM: What do you suggest women do to get better control of their money? 

A: Education is very important. The first rule is to always be familiar with what you are investing in. Even after many years of investing, I still make the mistake of buying stocks blindly without doing my research and I lose a lot of money. One of the things people also tend to forget about is knowing your risk appetite - knowing how much you can lose. 

MM: What do you say to women who want to enter the field? 

A: I think it’s the same in any field. If you have the interest and passion, you should go for it. But the most important thing for me is to always know what you are doing and to have a process so you can be the best at where you are. Having financial goals really motivated me to be better. Up till today, I read financial reports every day. Every year I make sure that I will learn a new skill. So I’ve learned about digital marketing, coding & this year I’m taking up an investing and public speaking course. I make it a point for myself to set 15 minutes to learn something new.

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