Thursday, June 4, 2015

Saving For Retirement or Creating Income For Retirement?

Let me tell you the truth, saving for retirement no longer works in Singapore. If you're living in another high cost of living city like Singapore, most likely your money saved up for retirement isn't going to last you a long time too.

1 Million dollars isn't going to last very long for a lot of people. During the national day rally by our prime minister last year, a poll was conducted to ask the audience how much money do they think they need a month for retirement. Most agreed on the sum of $3000 on average. If we were to spend $3000 per month during retirement, 1 Million dollars is only going to last us about 27 years. This means, if you stop working at age 55, your 1 Million dollars will run out by the time you're 82. With longer life expectancy now, most of us are going to be still alive at the age of 82. If you have less money to retire, retirement is probably going to be painful for you.

Fortunately, there is always a workaround for every problem. If we know that we can't follow the traditional way of saving up for retirement, then its time to explore other ways.

Let me illustrate to you the difference between saving up for retirement and creating income for retirement.

We as Singaporean love durians. So, let's use durians as an example in this illustration.

If we save for retirement, its like we are accumulating durians all throughout our lives and consume it only when we stop working.

How long can the durians we accumulated last us? 1 year? 3 years? 10 years?

Now, how about we rack our brains a little and instead of accumulating durians from other durian trees, we plant our own durian trees?

How long will the durians last this time round? Unlimited and perhaps infinity?

Don't Just Accumulate Money, Create Money

A durian tree produces durians that can possibly last a lifetime. You might be thinking a durian tree can die so what happens to the fruits later? The trick is we can keep planting durian trees and if one dies, we still have others to rely on. As with multiple durian trees, we can also have multiple streams of income.

Most people accumulate money from other money trees. This money tree is probably from your company which pays you everytime you work. However, most people do not know that it IS POSSIBLE to plant their own money tree. By doing that, we have created money (fruits) for ourselves that can last a life time. 

If we save $1500 per month and invest it at a 5% rate of return, we would be able to create a passive income of $3000 per month after 26 years, base on a 4% withdrawal rate.

If we save $3000 per month and invest it similarly at a 5% rate of return, we would be able to create a passive income of $3000 per month after 17 years, base on a 4% withdrawal rate.

The 4% withdrawal rate means we invest in a stable asset which gives us a consistent yield of 4%. This rate is known as the safe withdrawal rate which is the maximum rate at which you can spend your retirement savings, such that you don’t run out in your lifetime.

Most of us, if we start planting our money tree in our 20s, will be able to enjoy an unlimited flow of $3000 per month in our 50s. You need to save at least $1500 per month and invest it at a 5% rate of return for it to become a reality. You either save more or increase your rate of return to accelerate the process. It can even be achieved in your 40s.

Insurance products for retirement?

If you're depending on the insurance you bought for retirement, you'll regret when the time comes. Most insurance products are for INSURANCE. That is the sole purpose of buying insurance. Some people use endowment policies as a form of savings but if you realise, even after putting your money inside the endowment policy for 25 years, you still don't get much money back.

The reason is because endowment polices mostly generate only an average 3% yield and there is also an insurance element in it which is paid as expenses. For example, assuming every $1 you pay for an endowment policy, 80 cents goes into a life fund as savings which yields on average 3% and 20 cents goes into paying for the insurance coverage. The 20 cents paid can never be retrieved back. It is expenses paid. This is similar for a whole life plan.

What happens when you get that lump sum back in your retirement years? That lump sum is just like the basket of durians in the earlier example above. How long can it last? If you draw out $3000 monthly on a $250,000 lump sum, it can only last you less than 7 years. The question is, will you even get back $250,000 on your insurance policies?

The Creation of CPF life

Knowing that Singaporeans are living longer and a sum of money cannot be enough for retirement, the Singapore government introduced CPF life as a form of annuity which pays us monthly income during our retirement years (65 years old) for the rest of our lives. This is as if a durian tree has been planted for us. It provides the money we need for our monthly expenses for life. Previously, Singaporeans could draw upon their CPF savings for only 20 years.

However, there will still be limitations of this scheme. The maximum amount of monthly income we can get now is $1750 to $1900 if we put in the maximum allowed enhanced retirement sum of $241,500. If you want a monthly income of $3000 for your retirement, you still have to find other alternative ways to create that extra $1100 of income for yourself.

That being said, if we want a stable flow of income of $1900 per month during our retirement years, we should definitely utilise the new CPF life enhanced retirement sum. $241,500 is not a lot of money to get $1900 for life. If we want to create a similar amount of monthly income on our own, we need to save up about $580,000 to get $1900 per month, base on a 4% withdrawal rate. It is more than doubled the amount required as compared to CPF life.

Now, assuming that the retirement sums in the CPF life scheme will go up over the years, we could possibly put in more money to get a $3000 or more monthly income in the future.

Earn more, save more, plant the money tree early. That's the formula for creating income for a lifelong retirement.

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Related Posts:
1. CPF Advisory Panel's Recommendations - 3 Basic Options You Need To Know
2. Make Money Investing For Passive Income


  1. Like the durian analogy. It offers a local flavour.

    1. Hi Lizardo,

      Hope the durian tree can be planted locally too. ;)

  2. In many of the examples, you need to take into account the time value of money. An inflation rate of 2.5% pa will mean the real value after 30 years is only half the amount.

    1. Hi,

      Yes you're right on the inflation part. That's why we always want a return of investment of above 3% to take into account inflation. In all my examples, i always use at least 5%.

  3. Hi,

    Interesting analogy, but don't just plant 1 tree. it may wither, may be destroyed by bad weather, or stop to bear fruit after some years. Plant more trees (diversify your investment) to be save....

    1. Hi Sanye,

      Yup, never rely on one tree only. Even when creating income, always seek to create multiple streams of income.

  4. What can yield 5% returns? Please advice.

    1. Hi Wernac,

      We need to invest our money to achieve that yield. Stocks which gives out good dividends can give us that yield. In fact, most stocks such as reits in Singapore gives out dividend yield of more than 5%. Of coure there will be risks in investing as the stock price will fluctuate. That's when we need to learn how to analyse stocks.