Photos: Camelia Ting
Video: Tan Shi Qi, Vanessa Lim
Homegrown actor Thomas Ong is known for his love of travelling, but his habit of spending big and showering his buddies with presents is probably less so.
“While travelling, I will buy a lot of local products and gifts for my friends,” he said. “I can buy the same item in multiples. Once I saw a shirt I thought would suit a particular friend and I bought four or five pieces, and I wanted to tell him he could regift the remainder.”
But after returning to Singapore, the 46-year-old actor got lazy about distributing the stack of shirts. When he checked his wardrobe some time later, “Wow! Why do I have so many identical tops?” he said.
The bachelor says he only learned the value of saving when he became a part-time financial consultant in 2009. “It was then that I realised I needed to start saving, because I’ll have no one to look after me when I’m old, so I’ll need a huge nest egg,” he said.
Thomas’s money habits are worlds apart from those of Qian Ren Jie, his character in the 2016 Channel 8 drama House of Fortune. Ren Jie and his wife (played by Chris Tong) are beset by financial trouble and move in with an elderly relative, with their eye on his bungalow. With the same goal in mind, Ren Jie’s sister and her failed songwriter husband (played by Kym Ng and Yao Wen Long, respectively) move in too and vie for control of the house.
Kym has had her own share of money woes. The one-time flight attendant with Singapore Airlines says she fell on hard times after she made the career switch to become a singer and sometimes suffered going without pay during those two to three years.
“When I was a flight attendant I lived it up,” Kym said. “On every trip overseas I would dine at local gourmet restaurants, watch movies and buy wines for my friends, so I had no savings at all.”
After she moved into a singing career, she worked as a secretary on the side for extra income, and colleagues called her “the secretary singer who serves tea.”
“I would decline invitations to meet former work friends over a meal,” Kym said. “They thought I was putting on airs after I became a singer, but the truth was I had no money to spare.”
The actress started saving only after embarking on a full-time showbiz career, but Kym still can’t resist the urge to shop. She admits she buys heavy coats completely ill-suited to Singapore’s climate, and even has a dedicated wardrobe for these purchases. “At present I have more than 50 coats, and the most expensive one cost more than S$1,000,” she revealed.
Kym’s on-screen husband, Yao Wen Long, plays a lackadaisical taxi driver who dreams of becoming a songwriter — he sells the family home to invest in a recording studio, but his business partner runs off with the money.
The actor says his financial situation before he got married was similar to his character’s, and though he never had to declare bankruptcy, he had been in debt.
“I didn’t know how to manage my finances when I was young, I only knew how to spend money,” Wen Long said. “I was living paycheck to paycheck and taking on credit card debt, which went as high as S$50,000 at one point.”
But after he started his business dealing in bird’s nest, he cleaned up his act. “Since becoming a boss, I have to be responsible to my employees, and they have to receive a salary even if business is slow,” he said. “I have to think of the company’s future, so I must set aside funds for emergencies.”
And as a father and family man — Wen Long welcomed his second child, a daughter, on November 3 — he is careful about teaching his 9-year-old son, Jian Yu, how to save and be thrifty. “Out of the S$2 allowance I give him every day, he will set aside S$1 on his own,” the actor said. “Thankfully the boy is like his mother and he knows he should save.”
House of Fortune debuts January 19, 2016, 9 pm on Channel 8.
This story is translated by Zara Zhuang.