June 14, 2009
Armed to the teeth in finance
Dentist believes in working for the money, then saving enough to invest
By Lorna Tan
Fresh from dental school in 1995, Dr Tan Shuh Chern, now 38, dreamt of his own practice. But he had to pay off his $10,000 study loan first.
'My net worth was negative when I walked out of dental school,' he recalled.
From day one in his first job as a government dental officer, he scrimped and saved. He paid back his loan quickly, and had enough to later do a full-time master's degree in clinical dentistry from the University of London.
He got to realise his dream too. In 2003, he set up White Dental Group, which offers a comprehensive range of dental services from fixing braces to treating breath problems.
But the going was tough then as the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic hit his business badly.
He recalled going without pay for nearly two years. He had to postpone his wedding plans twice and, as a result, his then girlfriend left him.
Today, what started as a one-man operation, located at Balmoral Plaza, has grown into a practice with three dentists and three staff.
Dr Tan first worked as a dentist at the Institute of Dental Health, then the Defence Ministry and a private clinic. In 1999, he left for London, where he worked two years in a private clinic before starting on his master's course, which he finished in 2003.
Still single, he lives with his parents and two sisters.
Q: Are you a spender or saver?
I'm more of a saver. I believe we have to work for the money, then save enough to invest. That is, work for the money first before it can work for you. I save about 50 per cent of my income and the rest is put aside for spending and investment.
Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?
My credit-card bill averages over $3,000 every month. I have six credit cards now but I tend to use only a particular one. I will pay off all charges at the end of the month. I usually withdraw about $400 a week from the ATM.
Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?
I enjoy my work very much and that is the main source of my income. A large portion of the profits from the business is re-invested into the clinic, like buying new technologies and for business expansion.
From 2006, I have been investing my spare cash mainly in blue chips like the Singapore Exchange and banks instead of leaving the money in the banks, which provide low returns. Currently, I have $200,000 invested in stocks as a long-term investment. I do not have time to speculate in the market.
I also believe in buying life insurance. I have mainly life policies with critical illness, and hospitalisation coverage. My life cover is about $1 million.
Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?
I am the third child in a big family of eight. My father is a Chinese physician and my mother, a housewife. It was not easy for my father to support us. All had tertiary education except my eldest brother who joined the army.
We grew up in a three-room Housing Board flat in Clementi. My growing up years were tough. At 10, to supplement my pocket money, I sold sweet potato balls in the neighbourhood.
Before getting my dental degree, I worked as a tutor, insurance agent, market surveyor and salesman. The advantage of coming from a big family is that we learnt a lot about sharing. My siblings and I are very close, always ready to help one another. We knew money did not come easy and we grew up very thrifty.
Q: How did you get interested in investing?
I started stock investing only in 2006. I do my own research. To equip myself, I have attended courses on options trading, forex and qualitative research. I believe we should equip ourselves with these skills when we are still working and not wait till we retire.
As much as I love my job, I know I cannot work at my present pace till I am 60. I need to generate residual income along the way. Stock investment is an art and we need time to learn and master it. We simply cannot afford to dig our well only when we are thirsty.
Q: What property do you own?
I bought a retail shop space of about 670 sq ft in Balmoral Plaza in 2006 for $660,000, which is where my clinic is located.
I also own a five-room HDB flat in Queenstown. Bought in 1997 for nearly $300,000, it is now worth more than $500,000.
Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?
I am an avid weekend golfer. Within a short span of six months last year, I spent almost $3,000 changing my golf clubs which I eventually did not use as I found them unsuitable.
Q: What's your retirement plan?
I wish to be financially independent, say, by the age of 55 when I can spend more time with my loved ones and travel around the world a little more. I still enjoy my profession very much so I don't think I will completely retire from it by then.
I'm working towards being financially independent. I think $10,000 a month in my golden years is sufficient to maintain my present lifestyle.
Q: Home is now...
The five-room HDB flat in Queenstown. I live with my parents.
Q: I drive...
A beige Toyota Camry.
BEST AND WORST BETS
Q: My worst investment to date...
I invested about $30,000 in some S-shares (China shares listed on the Singapore Exchange) at the end of 2007, before the sub-prime crisis hit, and they are really worth pennies now. They included Pine Agritech and Li Heng. My paper loss is about 60 per cent now. I had invested based on brokers' recommendations. In hindsight, I should have done my homework.
Q: My best investment to date...
My clinic. I invested $250,000 in it, of which $150,000 was from loans and the rest were personal savings. The operation broke even in two years. It was the first clinic here to treat breath problems.
Things were not easy at the beginning. My staff and I had worked hard and made sacrifices for it and it's now giving us good returns. I think this is my best investment to date.