As a young Singapore Airlines stewardess, Germaine Chow scrimped and saved by eating cup noodles and biscuits.
But all it took was one bad investment decision to wipe out $12,000 of her precious savings.
That was some 10 years ago, and the 32-year-old considers it one of the more "painful" lessons she's had to learn.
Now an entrepreneur who helms multiple businesses with her husband, Germaine tells AsiaOne that the experience cemented her "fail-forward" philosophy in life, and her penchant for hard assets — property, Bearbricks and Rolex watches, to name a few.
Promises of sky-high returns
It all started when her sister-in-law's friend introduced a foreign exchange (forex) trading platform to her and assured her that she would "see the money grow".
The promised returns of 16 per cent per annum proved too attractive to resist. Admitting that she let her guard down, she invested $12,000 with the man, a "huge portion" of her savings at the time.
She wasn't the only one who took the bait — her husband also invested $12,000, and her father-in-law sank in about $60,000.
But shortly after, they realised they couldn't withdraw the money. And all their attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
This remains a common scam tactic in Singapore. In 2020, there were 1,102 investment scams. In all, victims lost at least $69.5 million.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council's ScamAlert website, people offering "unreasonably high" investment returns could potentially be scammers.
Some even go to the extent of paying out an initial profit as bait. Once would-be investors deposit their money into the scammers' accounts, they often get ghosted, with no way of recovering their funds.
Although Germaine and her family made a police report, she says that she was advised to pursue a civil lawsuit which she couldn't afford. Hence, they eventually gave up on ever getting the money back.
Recalling how she had picked up extra flights and resisted exploring the overseas destinations she flew to for work, Germaine adds derisively, "Now that I think back, that girl who was just 21 or 22 saved so hard, only to invest wrongly.
"Very wasteful, I should have just spent [it]!"
She's a material girl
As a result of the experience, she is now a lot more cautious with her money.
"I really don't trust a lot of people and don't trust investing into digital stuff," she explains. "I get very, very wary."
And while many are diving headfirst into the metaverse and non-fungible tokens, Germaine prefers to spend her money on more tangible things.
"I enjoy the hard assets because I get to enjoy them and wear them and see them and use them. It gives me a lot of security."
Some of her favourite investments are her Bearbricks, which also double as home decor.
@germainechow Intro to be@rbricks Part 1 #bearbrick ♬ original sound - mertsanimes
The collectable toys produced by Japanese company MediCom are known to appreciate in value, with some models such as the Coco Chanel one going for an average of US$19,035 (S$25,607) on StockX.
According to Germaine, patience is key when it comes to investing in Bearbricks.
"Sometimes it isn't an instant hit where [the price] just goes up like that, but if you wait another two or three years, chances are it would go up."
Another of her newer obsessions is Rolex watches. While $21,500 might seem like a steep price for a timepiece, Germaine shares that her Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has appreciated since she bought it a year ago, and is worth upwards of $30,000 today.
@germainechow I only started last year! #rolexdaytona #investing ♬ Nachos - FASSounds
But the investment that has brought the most satisfaction would likely have to be the landed home she purchased last year. It's worth over $5 million in the market today, she says.
The family home houses Germaine, her husband, their two kids, and their parents, and is a "dream come true".
Able to support her family - and then some - things are "pretty awesome" for her now, she tells us.
Looking back at the past, she says she's glad it happened when it did.
"I think it's great that we make such mistakes at a young age - you don't have so much to lose yet.
"If my story does help one person, then I think it's enough. Because we just need to focus on the good, and it will come back to you tenfold."