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Women's financial literacy course pays off
by Reico Wong

FOUR years ago, she and her self-employed husband were struggling to stay afloat in a dark pool of debt.

Not only was their family of four surviving on just one person’s meagre salary each month, but they also had to pay for their son’s $26,000 diploma course in computer programming, and were more than a year behind in mortgage payments for their Housing Board flat. Daily expenditure added to their debt pile.

“It was a very stressful period for all of us,” said Madam Regina de Roza, 51. “In hindsight, if I had saved more over the years and had a clearer picture of our household expenses, I think we might have managed things better.”

Madam de Roza is just one of the many women the Tsao Foundation, in collaboration with Citibank, targets with its Financial Education Programme for Mature Women.

Launched in 2008, the programme aims to help women above 40 whose monthly family income falls between $1,500 and $3,500 to take charge of their finances.

Training sessions are conducted free-of-charge, once a week over five months, and participants learn about savings, debt management and investments, among other topics.

About 640 women have undergone the programme so far, while another 1,160 have sat through introductory sessions.

Benefits of the programme have already become apparent, as reflected in a recent study conducted by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) department of sociology on behalf of Citi and the Tsao Foundation.

A survey of 280 participants showed that more than a quarter of those who previously had no emergency savings had now either reached their goal, or were on their way to building up their savings as a result of increased financial literacy.

It was also found that, by the end of the course, about 53 per cent had better knowledge of financial products, and had started to have clear plans for retirement.

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, president of the Tsao Foundation, said the survey findings were highly encouraging. “A lot of older women do not have the benefit of education or are not well
educated, and are very dependent on their families for their finances,” she said. “They often feel at the mercy of their families. But we want them to feel empowered, to be able to  understand and manage their money.”

This is precisely what the programme has done for Madam de Roza. She said she has not only learnt how to save more effectively, but was also encouraged to re-enter the workforce.

Mr Michael Zink, country head of Citi Singapore, pointed out that financial education is important for the older generation, especially as statistics show that about 20 per cent of the Singapore population will be above 65 by 2030.

“We believe in investing in people, helping them take charge of their lives and giving them the knowledge and skills to live well,” he said.

Professor Chua Beng Huat, head of NUS’ department of sociology, added: “Financial literacy is especially important in Singapore because we don’t have a pension plan. You’re really as wealthy or as poor as your savings.”

To better reach out to mature women, the Citi-Tsao programme will roll out its first Chinese and Malay classes next month.

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