Graduating in the middle of a pandemic is as messy as it sounds. Companies are struggling to figure their own situations out, let alone provide opportunities for fresh graduates. It’s not uncommon to see fresh graduates express their appreciation on social media for having a job at all.
But not Kate.
Kate, who is 23, tendered her resignation in late August and finished at her job a month later, hitting the reset button on her career.
Raised to be careful with money
Kate has never been a big spender. She was born into a family that had just enough to get by, but not enough for anything more. That made her tremendously careful with money.
At 18, she started working part-time and freelancing for companies on one-off projects hoping to take some financial pressure off of her parents’ shoulders. She did this while juggling her responsibilities as a full-time university student.
Before she was able to graduate, there was one more criterion she had to fulfil for her psychology degree — completing an internship.
Initially, she landed one at a small psychology start-up, but because of Covid-19 lockdowns, the internship was put on hold — and her life with it.
“I was really frustrated that I couldn’t graduate without completing an internship and the pandemic didn’t seem like it was going to end any time soon. Other psychology centres looked at young talent as a burden in this period,” she said.
“So I had no other choice — it was either having faith that the pandemic would end quickly, or diving into another industry. I did what I thought was right — I blasted [out] my resume and hoped that any company would take me in.”
Her first ‘real job’
Two weeks after switching from applying to only psychology-related companies to anything that caught her attention, a vegan-food delivery firm responded. The company would become her workplace for the next three months as it coached her in a business development role. In June 2020, she wrapped up her internship role and she graduated with a first-class degree in psychology from the International University of Malaya-Wales.
Having impressed with her dedication, Kate was offered a full-time role at the same firm right after graduation.
With a good understanding of human behaviour thanks to her psychology degree, Kate became the bridge between her company and its partners, making her critical in its operations. But she didn’t take her success for granted. Not slowing down, Kate earned herself the position of business development and partnerships manager — a role with more responsibilities — in just a few months.
Despite that, Kate was frustrated. She didn’t see room for her to grow within the lean company — just 12 to 15 employees — no matter how much effort she put in. The company was also not in a position to give her a raise to match her new role. She was getting paid only RM3,000 a month, half the industry average of RM6,000 a month, according to Glassdoor.
“It’s actually a good reminder of the importance of having side income. Because even when I ran the extra mile every single day and didn’t take any days off, my income stayed the same, whereas if I had started my own business on the side and channelled my energy towards that, maybe things wouldn’t have been the same,” she said.
Complacency is not in her blood
“Honestly, I think I’m quite lucky,”Kate told Planner Bee. “My parents still have their jobs and even in the worst-case scenario, I know I’m not going to starve and I’ll have a comfortable room to sleep in at night.”
Kate managed to save money by not spending on rent, because she still lives with her parents. Here’s how she spent the money she was earning:
- Food: About 17% (RM500)
- Transport: 10% (RM300)
- Miscellaneous bills and purchases: About 17% (RM500)
- Donations: 10% (RM300)
- Savings and investments: About 33% of her income (RM1,000)
- The final RM400 was a buffer, which went into investments if not spent
One thing looming over her, however, is her RM40,000 student loan. While there’s no pressing deadline to pay it back, it’s still a debt. The good news? The loan’s interest rate is just 1% per annum over the 15-year repayment period.
This didn’t deter her from leaving her job. It was obvious to her that staying with the company would be riskier than the uncertainty of starting again.
“Of course, giving up your biggest source of income is hard. Honestly, I’m scared, and I know how hard it is to get a job in this environment,” she said. “But I’ve got six months’ worth of savings to get me through this period. I think that taking a break to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life and how to get there is a top priority.”
Protection from yourself
Tapping into her knowledge of psychology, Kate understands her own spending behaviour and has developed a process to keep herself accountable.
Some might question her decision to donate RM300 each month, especially with that sum representing 10% of her monthly income. Kate looks at it as more of a responsibility and a commitment.
As soon as she receives her pay cheque, she pays tithes, donates, squirrels RM1,000 away into savings and investments, pays her bills, and only then allows herself to spend the rest.
She added that because Malaysia has been in a multi-month lockdown and that there has been nothing for her to spend on, her savings have gone up to more than RM1,500 a month.
Her number one rule: a hard limit on how much she can spend a month.
“Nowadays, it’s so easy to just tap, tap, tap, and spend. The next thing you know, you’ve got RM20 left in your e-wallet. Sometimes I can’t even remember where it went. The only way to be 100% sure I don’t go over my limit is to put RM500 into my e-wallet, and that’s it. If I don’t have enough, I’ll have to find another way.”
This year, Kate is living by the mantra of being realistic. She says that there is no point in trying to achieve something that you’d need a miracle to fulfil. All that does is give you more stress. Instead, she has set a goal to have at least RM15,000 in savings and investments by the end of 2021.
She is once again hunting for a job, applying for positions at different companies and going through interviews. This time though, she knows what she can bring to a company, and what her skills are worth.
She elaborated: “Being in an environment where you can learn a lot is important, but eventually, you need to be able to monetise your skills. After all, I still want to make sure my family doesn’t have to worry about having food on the table.”
She’s also taking action on her plans to further her financial literacy and dive deeper into the investing world. Whether learning how to analyse individual stocks, ETFs and cryptocurrencies, or understanding how giant financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Citadel work, it’s all like learning a new language — but Kate has no doubt that it’s a crucial step on her road to financial independence.
The dream is to have a home she can call her own in five years.
“The past year has been tough for a lot of people, especially fresh graduates like me. It’s really tested our patience and endurance,” she said. “But it’s also a reminder to not sacrifice our health or time for a company that can replace us easily.”
“Beyond that, I’m trying to find the balance between spending all my time working and spending it with people and things I love. Sure, I’d love to have a house with a big plot of land for my dogs or treat all my friends to a first-class trip, but they are not nearly as valuable as sincerity, kindness, and enthusiasm about waking up in the morning.”
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