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She is $60,000 in debt and has to work two jobs, just so she can send her six children to school.
In hope of a better life for them, the 54-year-old woman, Anna (not her real name), puts almost every cent she earns into her children’s education.
She spends up to 16 hours a day, five days a week, working as a full-time cleaning supervisor, and another eight hours on her days off working part-time in a kitchen.
This allows her to take home about $3,300 a month, while her 55-year-old technician husband brings home about $1,900.
Yet their salaries have not been enough to cover their children’s expenses and send them to school, resulting in them having chalked up $60,000 in debt from bank loans.
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There are various bursaries and assistance schemes available, but Anna said she does not apply for them as she feels others need them more.
“At least we have a roof over our head and can work,” she said. “There are others who don’t even have a home or who are disabled who need the help more.”
Anna herself stopped studying after secondary school, but she hopes that her children pursue further education. “I want to raise them up to have a better life than mine, and so, education is important,” she said.
“I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did, not studying when they can.” The story of parents sinking all their money into their children is a common one.
But unlike the average family, the couple have six children, and work to support all but one, a daughter, who has married and moved out. That daughter, 29, stopped studying after her O levels and is now financially independent.
But four of Anna’s children took the polytechnic route, each costing her about $20,000 for their three-year course. Anna did not use money from her Central Provident Fund (CPF) for their education as she is using it to pay for their four-room flat.
Her husband used his for their education, but even then it was not enough.
Her 23-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter have completed their polytechnic education, while two of her other sons, aged 21 and 22, are still studying in a polytechnic.
Her youngest son is 16 and she hopes that he, too, will continue his studies after secondary school.
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But money continues to be a problem. Before 2014, Anna and her husband had to carry the financial burden alone, struggling to make ends meet.
The couple ate all their meals at home, choosing to split whatever little money they had left among their children. “We couldn’t afford to eat outside, but our children had to eat in school,” she said.
“They were each given $5 a day, even when studying in poly, because that’s all we had.” She added that the family was also very careful when using utilities at home.
“We had to take money from relatives to even have electricity for lights,” she said. “There were times that we didn’t have money to even top up the gas to cook.”
The financial burden Anna carried almost caused her to break down, but then she found out about Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS). “I thought, I’m on my own in this, that nobody can help me,” she said.
“Then I happened to watch a programme on television which said I could call CCS.” Anna approached CCS in 2014 and they negotiated with the bank on her behalf, coming up with a plan for her to pay back the debt.
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She said the plan drawn up by CCS has helped her greatly and she should be able to settle her debt within five years. But if her children make it to university, she would not hesitate taking another loan and accumulating more debt.
“I would do the same thing and live with the debt. It’s very important for them to get an education,” she said. “I prefer to be poor myself and my children get good jobs. If they can go to university, we’ll work something out so they can go.”
Anna does not expect her children to pay her back for their education fees and only hopes they go on to be successful and contributing members of society.
“I want them to have better lives, to be independent,” she said. “If they give me money each month next time, then good. But if they don’t, I’m happy just to know that they can survive on their own.”
She added that her dream was always to own her own food stall, but it has to be put aside for now. “No matter how hard it is, I have to continue doing what I’m doing now, just so I can settle the debt and my children,” she said.
“It really isn’t easy at times, but I tell myself that at least I still have my two hands, and so I can work and hopefully make a better life for them.”
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MORE PARENTS GOING INTO DEBT FOR KIDS' EDUCATION
Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) figures obtained by The New Paper show that last year, 579 cited this reason as to why they got into debt.
This is nearly double that of the year before. Education is a top priority for Singaporeans, said CCS general manager Tan Huey Min.
“There are so many private education institutions, from enrichment classes for young children to tertiary degrees, set up in the past years,” she told TNP.
“It is common to hear parents spending thousands of dollars per month to send their children to expensive kindergarten or enrichment classes and that people have taken study loans.”
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This ties in with a Value of Education survey series by global bank HSBC. It asked more than 6,200 parents across 13 countries - including 395 parents from Singapore - as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, about their ambitions and concerns regarding their children’s education, reported The Straits Times.
The survey found that parents here spend an average of $21,000 a year on their child’s university education, with 52 per cent willing to go into debt to fund their child’s university or college education.
“Singaporeans are placing their children’s education at the top of their financial pyramid, often at the expense of other financial commitments and ambitions,” said the HSBC report released last month.
Ms Tan warned that without careful financial planning, it is easy to end up with overwhelming debt. Here is her advice for those intending to invest in further education:
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Before signing your children up for any enrichment classes or deciding where to send your child for further education, ensure that the overall expenses needed to be paid each month — such as food, transportation, utilities - is within the income taken home.
Otherwise, you would be incurring debt while sending your children for classes or further studies, and if this situation is left unnoticed, it will lead to a debt problem.
FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Before deciding where to study, have a discussion with your parents about their financial capabilities and do not make your parents feel guilty if they cannot afford to send you overseas.
FOR WORKING ADULTS
Use the correct loan product (such as a study loan) to pay your tuition fees, and make sure your loan instalment is within your capacity to service.
If possible, save part of, if not the whole amount, before enrolling in the course. Better still, research and apply for scholarships and grants.
The article was originally publIshed in The New Paper.