October 24

How to start investing in Singapore as a student


In September 2016, I started my first ever investment.

Only it was in the Regular Savings Plan offered by DBS that bought the STI Exchange Traded Fund monthly.

It started small, and later became bigger
It started small, and later became bigger

I subscribed $400 each month, a princely sum, considering that I was only earning a miserly $1200 per month as a tutor.

Investing saved my life

You might read this and go,

Gosh. This guy is just boasting about how much money he has invested.

But really, that’s not my intention.

In October 2021, I left my fulltime job, without another job lined up. It was investing over those 5 years, since being a pimply 20 year old who knew nothing about the stock markets that gave me the ability to continue surviving.

Whilst these dividends didn’t seem huge, the $220 saved me the indignity of having to ask my parents for money.
These dividends saved my life
Whilst these dividends didn’t seem huge, the $220 saved me the indignity of having to ask my parents for money.

Similarly, you might end up one day wanting the ability to do your own thing, and not have to worry about asking someone else for a job. Investing can give you options, and freedom.

We all want that.

The ability to do the things we want, rather than what we have to.

A caveat

A month later, I was studying social work in the U.K., under a fully sponsored scholarship that also provided an allowance of around $2000 a month.

I say this because I want you to know, if you’re reading this, that I was in a different situation compared to you. Some of you might be putting yourself through university, and thus unable to spare much cash for investing.

If that’s so, this article should give some helpful pointers.

When I bought my first stock as a 20 year old

You can’t just go and buy stocks like you were shopping on Amazon. There’s quite a few hoops to jump first.

During the leadup to leaving Singapore, I had desperately opened many different accounts, first with the Central Depository (CDP), which allows you to hold stocks.

Open your CDP Account first

Think of the CDP account as a bank deposit account, except that this will hold your stocks. You can open one here.

You don’t need a CDP Account if you were investing with the neobrokers.

Open your brokerage accounts

Then I opened broker accounts with DBS Vickers, OCBC and Maybank, as we were in the days where we didn’t have things like Syfe or Moomoo.

The advantage these traditional brokers (just not Maybank) gives you is that you directly hold these stocks, rather than through a proxy.

Consider the neobrokers

The neobrokers like Moomoo and Syfe offer you free trades. That can make them much more attractive than the $25 you might pay for the traditional brokers.

Which should you choose?

  New brokers like Syfe or Moomoo Traditional brokers by the banks like DBS Vickers, UOB Kay Hian
Pricing Definitely cheaper, with each trade being about $2 More expensive, averaging $25 per trade
Convenience No extra applications for the likes of CDP needed You need a CDP account
Withdrawal fees if you get dividends $0 The dividends are directly credited to your linked bank account
Recommendation? For US stocks , as it’s much cheaper For SG Stocks, as the dividends flows directly through to your bank account, preventing additional time wasted logging in to withdraw the funds

How should you choose?

Well, don’t learn from me.

I bought my first stocks using most of my savings from the army, spending a ridiculous $7300 on Raffles Medical and SATS.

My thesis?

I just saw SATS as a clean-shaved army boy, and thought they had a lot of business catering food to hungry army boys. Raffles Medical? I just saw them having fancy hospitals and a defensible business in serving rich overseas tourists.

It was probably the stupidest reason.

When I eventually sold them, it was at a total loss of about $2000.

That’s not a tiny amount.

But as I look back and try to piece together just how I got all these money to invest, I realise that it was because of these healthy habits.

This was what allowed me to accumulate almost $10,000 of ETFs, and $16,953 of shares in individual companies.

Looking back, I definitely wouldn’t recommend some of these actions today. Instead, this is what I will do.

Let me break those down for you.

Spend less than you make, so you can invest

You wouldn’t want to know how I was eating in university, because it was horrid.

I would cycle to the supermarket at 9pm every Monday, and then grab everything that was reduced to clear.

That kept my bills low but it also meant that I didn’t enjoy most of what I ate.

This is the current framework I use.

Putting your head in the sand and not looking at how much money you have is a definite recipe for failure.

Having a simple spreadsheet like that where you

  1. Set a target
  2. Record every expense
  3. Reflect on why you spend more/less than your target,

can really help you in terms of growing your consciousness around how you spend.

Set up a recurring buy with Syfe

Whilst the Regular Savings Plan can be a useful start if you don’t know where to start, the truth is that you would most likely end up losing money.

The STI ETF and even the REIT ETF offered by DBS moves sideways.

Take it from me. I’ve bought $14,000 of STI ETFs, and $4000 of REIT ETF from our good old DBS.

But I’ve always, always lost money.

Taken from the STI REIT ETF Factsheet
Taken from the STI REIT ETF Factsheet

My suggestion is that if you do want to make money, to buy the S&P 500 via Syfe Trade, rather than with the DBS Regular Savings Plan.

It will grow much faster.


You definitely shouldn’t be expecting your money to grow on trees and no, putting it under your pillow is also not a way for it to grow.

Use Stockopedia to screen

Stockopedia uses a factor-based investing approach, which research has shown as one of the winning investment methods.

I love this approach because it automatically brings out the best performing stocks fundamentally, based on a set of clear financial ratios.

It can stop you from picking stocks that sound fancy, but don’t have strong fundamental ratios.

You can see stocks like this listed, and slowly go through them
You can see stocks like this listed, and slowly go through them

Use your brain to decide

But here’s a warning. You can’t just use the numbers there to decide. You need to use your brain too.

That’s where investing becomes both an art and a science.

One example I always raise is my experience with Sino Grandness, a Chinese company selling fruit beverages. It showed up strongly on the Stockopedia screen, together with The Hour Glass, which I also bought.

But it had a low market cap. Worse still, it was on its way to defaulting on its debt.

The dangers of just looking at the StockRank
The dangers of just looking at the StockRank
I had failed to pick up on the bankruptcy risk, which later materialised when it failed to pay its debtor on time.
I had failed to pick up on the bankruptcy risk, which later materialised when it failed to pay its debtor on time.

I lost more than $3000 on that trade.

It’s lucky that I pulled out, because it eventually was suspended from trading.

Thus, here is my advice on what you should take note of when you start investing with Stockopedia.

Invest in a mix of Singapore and US markets

The Singaporean market may not offer you the best chance for doubling your money, fast.

You can see below that whilst Singaporean stocks like Hour Glass and PropNex did help me to make much gains – doubling before I went to add more recently, the Alphabet and Amazon positions were up more than 90% from the time I bought them in December 2022, which some might say may have been the market low.

The biggest percentage gains were from the US
The biggest percentage gains were from the US

The US market offers stocks that grow faster because of how it’s by far the biggest stock market in the world, and how money begets more money.

The big get bigger.

Just start, and learn along the way

There’s no faster way of learning than having your skin in the game, and just whacking it.

You will learn faster that way, over reading more articles like mine.



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