Just 13, She’s a Sensible Spender

This article was first published in National Giving Week (Singapore) on November 2017.

It’s never too early to start saving and managing your own finances.

Adults like myself may, at times, face difficulties doing that, so I would imagine it would be quite a daunting task for children. However, this is not the case for 13-year-old Chia Hui Qin, who has been managing her own expenditure since she was in primary school.

Hui Qin’s parents have always advocated for her to be financially literate. Back when she was in Lianhua Primary, her parents would give her $10, on top of her monthly food coupons from the school. She would budget that money over the next two to three weeks for expenditure such as stationery and lunch on days when she needed to stay back for after-school activities.

“Having a target helps,” the former vice-head prefect of Lianhua Primary School says, when I asked her to share a tip on saving money. “Try setting aside an amount, then limiting your budget. Just like how you’d manage your own mobile data.” She smiles as she says it. To her, it’s simply common sense, and I cannot help but marvel at her maturity – a quality rare among children her age.

Beyond her wisdom and maturity, Hui Qin has done well in her studies. She attained a score of 258 for her PSLE and was accepted into the Integrated Programme at River Valley High School this year. “I actually cried that day. I didn’t expect myself to get 258,” she confesses sheepishly. When asked if her parents were ecstatic about her results, she exclaims: “Of course, lah.”

Today, Hui Qin is also among the many beneficiaries receiving pocket money from The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. Established in 2010, the Fund revolves around a single, straightforward mission: to provide pocket money for students from low-income families to help them through school.

The additional pocket money definitely eased the financial burden on Hui Qin’s family. Her father had been working as a deliveryman when he was retrenched early last year and remained unemployed for some time before eventually becoming a taxi driver. Even so, the stiff competition stemming from the popularity of private-hire car operators, such as Grab and Uber, in recent years has made his job transition a struggle. Hui Qin’s mother is a housewife who occasionally takes on simple part-time cleaning stints to earn extra income for the family.

A studious and sensible teen, Hui Qin confesses that she tries not to ask her parents for money and makes it a point to save for rainy days. “Since I do not have tuition, I would get myself some assessment books to practise,” she explains. “Now that I am in secondary school and have more subjects to study, the fund has allowed me to buy more assessment books. I do not need to ask my parents to get me stationery and school bags.”

The family of three lives in a humble three-room flat in Bukit Gombak, which belongs to Hui Qin’s uncle. Hui Qin also shares a close relationship with her mother, 52-year-old Tham Mei Ying who is also her daughter’s inspiration.

“Even though she is not well-educated, my mother has been teaching me many valuable life lessons. She taught me that results don’t necessarily matter. Who we are and what we are as a person does,”
– Hui Qin says.

I take the opportunity to ask her mother the one thing about her daughter that touches her the most. Madam Tham’s swift reply: “She’s really considerate. When she was younger, she wouldn’t demand anything from us. Even if she sees kids her age indulging in McDonald’s, she wouldn’t ask us to take her there. She knows that it’s not easy earning money. She would also hug me and proclaim her love for me.” Listening to her mother’s effusive praise, Hui Qin bursts out in giggles.

To date, The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund has been upholding and staying true to its mission “to reach out to every child in need”, disbursing over $55 million and aiding over 150,000 children and youth by providing them with monthly school pocket money. “We will not be able to do this without the strong support from the public and community at large,” says Ms Tan Bee Heong, general manager of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.

Former recipient Abigail Sim describes how the fund helped “reduce (her) working hours, freeing up time for activities such as CCA and CIP”. She also managed to catch up on sleep, which allowed her to focus better during lessons. “The ST Pocket Money Fund will provide students with more time, but how one utilises the time given will result in a completely different future,” Abigail adds.

For Hui Qin, 2017 has marked a first for many things — her first solo trip to school, her new CCA, her first performance in a school concert — but right now, she will spend her school holidays receiving cooking lessons from her mother.

Recalling how someone once donated a sum of money to her and her family, she remains grateful and hopes to pay it forward. “In the future, I want to be like this donor and help others,” she says, beaming.

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