The Moneymaker: Cynthia Koh

Are your personal finances messier than an apartment on Hoarders? CYNTHIA KOH, the newest artiste-turned-towkay on the block, has a few pearls of wisdom for you.

The Moneymaker: Cynthia Koh

The Moneymaker
: Cynthia Koh, 40. The actress made her first foray into F&B last month, setting up gastrobar Mischief with five business partners, including Michelle Chong and Twelve Cupcakes owner and erstwhile DJ Daniel Ong.

HER HOME IS: A three-bedroom condo in Thomson where she lives with her retired parents. “I bought it about 13 years ago for $630,000. I’m sitting on a pot of gold. I’m not intending to move out but I hope that my partner, if I ever find one, has his own place, then my parents can have this apartment .”

HER RIDE IS: A $152,000 Mercedes A200.

HOW MUCH SHE MAKES: “Probably an eight out of 10. I’m very satisfied right now. I have control over my time — I can juggle filming with other sidelines that I’m doing, and still find time for spinning classes. I take on fewer acting projects now, so that I have more time for other things. I still love acting, but I wanted to step out to see the real world; and being in showbiz is like [living in] a bubble. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis!”

8 DAYS: Going into business with friends is risky. Why do it?
CYNTHIA KOH: It definitely is. But I draw a very clear line between business and friendship. Dan has been proposing business ideas to Michelle and me, but we never felt the push to do anything until now. One of our initial ideas was to set up a hostel, but we couldn’t find the right location. I said yes to Mischief 'cos I liked the place and wanted to learn more about the F&B industry. Besides Michelle and I, the other partners have F&B experience. If I were to start Mischief from scratch on my own, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just treat [the money I put in to Mischief], which is a five-figure sum, as tuition fees.

What have you learned so far about doing business? 
It’s important to have service with a personal touch. When I have friends or even just regular customers over at Mischief, I’ll make sure to chat and drink with them. A friend and I set up a small manicure bar nine years ago, but the business ended after a year. We did break even, though. I learned that with just two people in the business, you need a bigger commitment from both parties, but I couldn’t commit as much time as I’d have liked. With six shareholders in Mischief now, there are more people and skill sets that we can leverage on and it makes things easier.

You’re also a national marketing director in a direct selling travel business. How did this come about? After all, direct selling companies suffered a bad rep at one point. 
A few years ago, I started thinking about what I’d be doing if I wasn’t acting anymore. Then this came along, and I gave myself six months to try it. Even if it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t have cost me that much, only a few hundred dollars. It’s a bit like a sales rep job. It's a travel club and I get people to join the club to get travel deals. The US-based company works with hotels worldwide and plans land trip itineraries, and members buy these trips at lower prices. It’s been doing well for me for the past three years. The bad rep that some direct selling companies suffers from boils down to the person who’s explaining the idea. For me, I'm very careful ’cos my reputation is at stake. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy — Singapore was their first Asian outpost and people were skeptical. So I decided that my team and I would make use of the service ourselves. We went to Phuket, and came back with pictures to show people. People want that sort of proof so [they know that it’s legit].

If you were just an artiste without these sideline businesses, how do you think your life would be right now? 
Very safe. I’d get a regular income, but there is nothing to spur you on to get moving. When you’re doing things like I am right now and juggling all these things at once, you have to be very disciplined in what you set out to do for the day.

What’s the best money lesson you’ve learned? 
How you view money boils down to how your parents view money, and you can change that. We weren’t very financially healthy — my dad was a civil servant and taught swimming on weekends; my mum’s a housewife, so growing up, I had the mindset that whatever I want, I need to work hard to earn it. I started modelling and selling cosmetics part-time at 15, and landed a big TV commercial with McDonald’s and earned $5,000. When my parents had [some extra] money, they’d spend it. And I was like that too. I can go to a shop and buy a dress that I like in every colour possible. Now, I only spend on necessary stuff. In my 20s, I wanted a Chanel bag so badly. Now, I’d rather spend that money on a holiday. I keep my attire very simple these days. My helper will tell you that I’m a jeans-and-tee sort of girl.

What sparked this change? 
I started becoming more careful with my money a few years ago. I’m not good with bonds and shares and things like that. I dabbled in those a little when I was in my mid-30s and it cost me a mid-five-figure sum. I've learnt to segment my money each month from attending financial seminars. I do overspend occasionally, but it’s the habit that counts. Once you get into this habit, you realise that there are a lot of things you don’t need.

What was the last thing you bought for $2 or less? 
My breakfast yesterday was $1.20 — two half-boiled eggs at a kopitiam.

How Cynthia splits her money every month
55 PER CENT: Necessities. Includes daily expenses, car loans, bills.

10 PER CENT: Education. “Some people go for yoga. I attend motivational talks and these can cost thousands of dollars.”

10 PER CENT: Long-term savings which goes to paying for holidays, a new home, or house or, in Cynthia’s case, an eatery.

10 PER CENT: Financial freedom assets. “I can’t touch this money at all. But it’s fine if I take this money to buy insurance or whatever that helps my fund grow.”

10 PER CENT: Play. “You can’t deprive yourself of fun. I’ll still splurge on a nice dinner or a bag.”

5 PER CENT: Donations. “It could also be a volunteer trip. I went to Guatemala last year to help build a school.”

Mischief is at #01-12 Esplanade Mall.

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