Nat Ho may have shot to fame as an actor, but these days the star is also known for being a savvy F&B towkay. The 33-year-old co-owns three food businesses: bento stall Love Bento, franchised Taiwanese bubble tea stall Bobii Frutii and Thai cheese toast shop Say Chiizu. He’s also a silent partner in The Jock Shop, a local men’s underwear store. “I’m Hakka, and people say that Hakkas are good at counting money,” he jokes. But his money management skills are mad serious, okay?
“I won’t say I’m naturally very good at finances, but I force myself to be,” Nat muses. “I set up a private limited company called Seraph Media so I can pay myself a monthly salary and CPF. It helps with my cash flow and gives me some financial stability. What keeps me going is that I’m doing all this to fund my passion, which is music.
"I prefer to go freelance ’cos agencies usually pay you an advance fee and you have to commit to doing a certain number of shows. Then I won’t have the luxury of pushing jobs aside to pursue a project I want to do. But things have been working out for me so far.”
Here are some of Nat's nifty money-saving tips.
1. Get a budgeting app to manage your daily expenses.
“I use an app called You Need a Budget. The act of updating the app makes you conscious about spending money. I try to withdraw at most $40 from the ATM each time — it’s easier to use four $10 notes. The more money you have in your wallet, the more you’ll be tempted to spend. Everything else, I put on my credit card to gain miles.”
2. To avoid unnecessary spending, watch more, erm, Netflix.
“I pack my schedule with work and social activities, so I’ll have no time to spend money! Gaming is one of the best money-saving tips. I used to play World of Warcraft and the membership was about $25 a month. I’d stay home to play so I’m not going out and spending money. If you don’t game, just watch Netflix or Toggle!”
3. Cooking at home saves you a tidy sum.
“When I was in Taiwan and needed to save money, I would use a pressure cooker to make stews for lunch and dinner. If there are leftovers, I’d add in rice and more water, and boil it again for breakfast and lunch the next day. It wasn’t just about saving money; I don’t mind eating the same thing over and over again. Back in JC, I liked the chicken rice stall in my school canteen so much, I ate there every day for two weeks.”
4. Visit your parents.
“I don’t do that much grocery shopping these days. I’ll visit my mum once a week and she’d be like, “Oh do you need more fruits? I bought extra.” Sometimes I don’t need it, but I take it anyway. It’s her way of expressing love now that we don’t live together.”
5. Splurge practically.
“You work so hard for your money, you need to make it work for you too. I spent over $2K on an Aftershock gaming PC with better processing power that I’ll be using for production work like making music videos. I’m at an age where I don’t need things, but I want experiences. I don’t really spend on clothes, but I sometimes treat myself to expensive meals. I like going to [Cantonese restaurant] Mitzo at Grand Park Orchard Hotel for their buffet, which costs about $60 a meal.”
6. Health is also wealth.
Nat last spent $2 on: “Ginger for $1.80. I felt a sore throat coming on and wanted to boil ginger to drink. So uncle, right? (Guffaws)”
7. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
“At my current [showbiz] career stage, I think what I earn is decent,” reveals Nat. “But if I stop production work, money stops coming in. In Singapore, even if my shows are broadcast many times, I don’t get [royalty fees]. It’s not like Hollywood. So I need to work constantly. So it makes sense for me to go into business. I can potentially earn even when I’m not physically there. The idea is to create a financial infrastructure that can support me. I love my job, but as I grow older, I don’t want to be working mindlessly.”
8. When it comes to running a business, always prepare more backup moolah than you need.
“I cannot guarantee that everything I touch will turn to gold, but that’s the part I have to deal with. It’s a learning process. I set aside a buffer sum in case my businesses go over budget. Last year I had to let go of my business partner, [a chef who was running Love Bento]. I aged 10 years from that experience (laughs). We are no longer friends."
9. Do go into business with friends, but proceed with caution.
"People say, “Don’t go into business with your friends.” But I think setting up a business with someone is a bit like dating. You won’t know that person is a psycho until you try dating them (laughs). It’s a gamble you have to take. That was my most expensive money mistake. I invested more money on the stall operations than I should have, and most of it went to cleaning up my partner’s mistakes for things like admin [procedures]. I’m still paying for it now. It was frustrating ’cos our original arrangement was to have him run the business while I put in the money. Working with the right people is super important.”
10. Learn from the pros.
“Publicity-wise, being a celeb definitely helps my business. But at the end of the day, your success in business boils down to your product and service standard. I have been learning a lot from people who have been in the F&B industry way longer — [fellow Tanglin actors] who own food businesses like Adam [Chen] and Constance [Song]. They have been super supportive. Constance ordered lunch delivery from Love Bento for everyone on set to support my shop. I also take my friends to her [tapas restaurant, Bam!] for their birthdays. There’s enough ‘food’ in Singapore to go around, so there’s no need to be competitive.”
Catch Nat in Tanglin, Mon-Sat, various timings, Ch 5. Go to toggle.sg for broadcast times and to catch up on past episodes.