From The Invest Editor

Mums, pay attention to finances

Nine out of 10 mums will have to manage their finances on their own at some point in their life

Family comes first for most mothers, but it's prudent that you mums take care of yourselves and your money matters, just as you take care of your kids.

Surveys have shown that mothers typically don't put themselves first and do not hesitate to indulge their adult children when asked for financial help.

Financial experts advise that it makes sense for mothers (and just about anyone) to pay attention to their financial affairs. According to the US-based National Centre for Women and Retirement Research, nine out of 10 women will eventually have to manage their finances on their own at some point, due to circumstances ranging from leaving the workforce to care for a family member, to becoming divorced or finding themselves widowed.

With Mother's Day round the corner, here are some financial tips.

BE FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

First, your husband is not your financial plan. When it comes to financial security, it's best to depend on ourselves.

Second, your family's financial well-being will be enhanced if you and your other half both get a handle on the family's financial affairs rather than having one party content to be left in the dark. That way, both can help to look out for opportunities to protect and grow family funds and nest eggs.

At the very least, try to have a full picture of the family's financial situation. For instance, keep an updated spreadsheet of the accounts, insurance, loans and investments that you and your husband have. After all, anything can happen - illness, accidents, disability, divorce and death.

I take it as a personal responsibility as an adult and parent to participate in decision-making in all financial matters, particularly big-ticket ones like buying a car and property.

PAY YOURSELF FIRST

Protecting your family's financial future includes addressing your own personal finances, even if you are a housewife.

Paying yourself first is a simple yet powerful concept, and it applies to everyone. Take my mum for instance. She stopped working as a hairstylist when I was born and became a housewife. Every month, she dutifully socks away some money from the allowance that my dad (until he retired) and her children give her for her golden years.

Rather than letting your cash sit idle in your bank account earning a pittance, you could invest some of it in risk-free, principal-guaranteed Singapore Savings Bonds or low-risk index funds after setting aside an emergency fund. Of course, the asset allocation is dependent on your financial knowledge, time horizon and risk appetite.

LOOK INTO INSURANCE NEEDS

Ms Charissa Lim (not her real name) was my colleague when I was working in the now-defunct Insurance Corp of Singapore. Her husband was killed in an accident, leaving her with a 10-year-old son.

To her dismay, she realised that the family had no insurance cover to fall back on. She and her husband had neglected to look into their insurance needs despite her working in an insurance firm.

Leverage life insurance as a means to protect yourself and your family from certain risks. Top of the list is health insurance like hospitalisation, followed by term, critical illness and disability insurance.

Emergencies can happen any time and to anyone, so it is wise to take the necessary steps to ensure that you and your loved ones are protected. Have your family's insurance policies all in one place for easy access, and understand the coverage and benefits.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON RETIREMENT

A fruitful and enjoyable retirement requires early planning. While saving money on daily expenses is important, don't lose sight of what lies ahead after the kids have flown the coop.

When that time comes, I want to be able to enjoy my well-deserved retirement. At the same time, I want to ensure that I do not outlive my savings and it will be a bonus if I can have some to pass on to the next generation. So keep a lookout for investments that will help protect and grow your savings and assets for your golden days.

If you have a low Central Provident Fund (CPF) balance because you have stopped working, ask your husband to consider topping up your account using his CPF or cash. That way you can both have peace of mind knowing you have your own source of retirement payouts via the national annuity CPF Life scheme. And you both get to enjoy the extra interest that will be paid in the respective CPF accounts.

Since Jan 1, changes were made so that a CPF member need only set aside the Basic Retirement Savings in his own account before topping up his spouse's CPF account up to the Enhanced Retirement Sum.

PROTECT YOUR LEGACY

You can continue to care for your loved ones even after you are no longer around. To ensure that what you have is distributed to the people and organisations you care about most, it is essential to do legacy planning while you are still healthy.

Today, having a will is no longer enough. There is also a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and an Advance Medical Directive (AMD). Some people might even want to set up a trust for their children or siblings, particularly if they are mentally or physically handicapped.

Each document fulfils a different estate planning objective. A will takes effect upon death, an LPA is effective when you are still alive but have lost your mental faculties, while an AMD takes effect if terminal illness strikes. And if you have CPF assets, remember to make a nomination.

By planning well, you would have covered yourself for most contingencies while saving much inconvenience, uncertainty and cost to your family and loved ones.

JOINT TENANCY VERSUS TENANTS IN COMMON

When it comes to my matrimonial home, one pet peeve is that I can't will the apartment I'm living in to my kids as it was bought under joint tenancy with my other half.

If I were to kick the bucket first, my interest in the property automatically goes to my husband. This is the most common and traditional way for couples to own property.

But if a couple holds the property as tenants in common, their shares will go to their respective estates on their deaths. This means the tenant's interest in the property can be passed on according to the terms of the will. If there is no will, it is distributed according to intestacy rules.

It is important to be clear on the holding status of your property as it will have a bearing on what happens to it when one owner dies.

After weighing the pros and cons, you can opt to change the manner of holding from joint tenancy to tenancy in common. You may want to ensure that your husband wills his share of the property to you, even under tenants in common.

STAY RELEVANT

Even if you are a stay-at-home mum, try to stay up to date by reading about the world and finance, and blocking out time for your own projects. With the Internet, it is possible to look for some side income, maybe in the form of freelance writing or selling stuff online.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'Mums, pay attention to finances'. Print Edition | Subscribe