This morning I read the news on how 1 in 5 graduates expect a starting pay of $4,000. It took me by surprise, because hidden in the middle of the article is the fact that 70% believe they should be paid up to $4,000.

It took me by surprise, because my starting pay was only $2,500 when I graduated a few years ago. After CPF deductions, my take-home pay was only $1,999 back then.

I read on to see what these graduates had to say in order to justify their expected remuneration, and these were some of their defenses:
Yu Lan, 26, a student from Nanyang Technological University, is one of them who thinks that her starting salary should be at least $4,000 as she has "strong analysis skills and trouble-shooting ability".
On the other hand, 25-year-old Samuel Tan expects to be paid up to $4,000 in starting salary as other jobs he has applied to offer similar payouts. Other reasons cited include "I have the required abilities and good work ethics and experience from my part-time jobs".
I started working a part-time job related to my industry when I was 18. Thus, you could fairly say that what these people claim they have, I had them as well. So why did I accept a starting pay that was almost half of what they expect?

Because in your first job, it is more important to learn than to earn a high salary.

The experience and demands from a part-time job may be valuable, but they are not quite the same as a full-time job. In addition, office politics is a whole new different ballgame altogether. So here's a word of advice to my juniors and anyone reading this:
It is better to start with a lower-paid job which teaches you more, rather than going into a higher-paid job where you learn less.
I strongly believe that if you are as good as you believe yourself to be, then sooner or later your abilities will be recognized and be paid fair value. I felt I was worth at least $3,000 for my starting pay, but accepted the lower pay anyway. Less than a year later, my skills and achievements had been noticed and a competitor offered me my due value together with a promotion.

If I had insisted on a role that paid me my expected salary in the beginning, all of these might not have happened. Today, I'm doing far better than most of my peers (and probably earning more).

On that note, take a look at the results of CNA's latest survey of how much the class of 2014 is earning at the workplace. While many people are questioning if the numbers are truly reflective, I was far more interested in the comments this article was receiving.

There were a number of older folks leaving surprised comments that the income has not risen since the early 2000s. Take a look.

According to this Robin Low, an engineering graduate was paid $3,000 - $3,500 back in 1999. While I don't have friends who can attest to that, I do have friends who are engineers today and earned a starting pay in that same range too. But between 1999 - 2015, our cost of living has shot up much higher.

Obviously, salaries are not catching up.

But before you start complaining, think about what else has gone up.

Our expectations.
(Read What Do We Really Need?)

Back in the 1990s, our parents were happy enough to have a roof over their head, enough food to eat without worry, and earning enough to pay the bills. Today's teenagers and young working adults, however, want so much more. We want to travel the world (I'm equally guilty), follow the latest fashion trends, own branded items and go cafe-hopping where we can take Instagram photos to show everyone what a good life we have.

Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Cost of living goes up. Societal expectations go up, along with our own expectations of what constitutes a decent life. We need increasingly more money to survive, but our earnings are not catching up fast enough.

If salaries haven't changed much in the last 16 years, what makes these graduates think it'll hit $4,000 in the next few years?

This is why I'm not content enough to simply save, but am also actively investing. And why I think you should, too. But hey, that's a post for another day.

Till then, be realistic.

With love,
Budget Babe


  1. Doesn't matter how much they earn if they all start spending more, haha. Revenue is just one side of the equation, it's more important to judge how much they can KEEP. Good post keep it up!

    1. Agreed. My friend earned $1k plus as a start but is almost reaching his 6 digit savings soon. If he can do it, so can others! Of course, not everyone may be willing to lead a frugal life to attain this. "Face" seems to count for more now

  2. Hi BB,

    I agree with Musicwhiz. It matters not how much you earn, but how much you can keep.

    Fresh graduates should be given a slap of reality before they realize how the real world works. Why would I want to pay a fresh graduate $4,000 when I can get an experienced market hire around the same rate?

    That said, it isn't possible for a fresh gradate to get more than $4,000. My company pays north of that, but it is a brutal selection process. Out of 700+ applicants, we take only less than 20 successful ones.

    As an interviewer, I have met my fair share of such dreamy candidates, which I usually ask pointed questions to break their overconfidence.

    1. Exactly. If $4k can get you an experienced hire from a competitor nowadays, so why even hire a fresh grad at this level?

      There are jobs which are willing to pay 4k at starting, sure, but this doesn't represent the majority of industries. There's apparently the error of generalizing here.

      Woohoo! Does your company want to hire me? :p

  3. I guess a lot of fresh grads are going to be disappointed then when they start receiving actual job offers. But regarding your point on taking lower pay over learning - it depends on how much lower too. When you switch jobs, your new pay is based on your existing base pay (eg they give you a x% raise over your existing pay) so it's important to get a decent starting pay because it will likely have a follow-on effect on your pay for the rest of your jobs in future. In other words, it's the base figure from which the salary of all your future jobs will be negotiated.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out! Extremely good point, I overlooked this. What do you think about the current average rate of 2.5 to 2.8k for a fresh grad though? Would that be too low?

    2. I would say somewhat, especially in this day where costs are so high.

  4. Back then I was worried about getting any jobs at all! Economy wasn't doing good and my starting pay as engineering grad is 1.7k. The young had no collective memory of recessions and economic downturn, hence the unrealistic expectations.

    1. Wah how come you're 1.7k only? This Robin said his and his peers were getting 3k in 1999. Unless you're even before that? :p

      Agreed on unrealistic expectations. I used to be guilty too. Always hankering for more pay. Then this fresh grad joined my company as a telemarketer. I was shocked and asked him why downgrade himself? He said economy tough, whatever job and pay he can get, he take first. And learn from his surroundings. And look out for chance to impress clients he encounters during work, hopefully they'll hire him then. That kind of thinking, I applaud.

    2. Hi Bb,

      That was for civil engineering in the construction industry. It boomz, so nobody is really hiring and a lot of these firms couldn't make it and collapsed. What you are now are the stronger ones or those who merged and survived.

      That fresh grad will do well in the future. Cert is one thing that gets u through the interview, but attitude will be the one that determines your altitude. I also applaud him.