Lessons From Madam Goh Kah Keow

I had stumbled upon Madam Goh Kah Keow’s story last week and my heart really went out to her, so much so that I had actually written in to the reporter to find out more about her situation and how some of us could help her.

Working as a cleaner for the best part of 60 years, Madam Goh managed to accumulate an astonishing sum of $400,000. Unfortunately, she was tricked by five con artists from China after they took advantage of her initial kindness. In the end, her entire life savings was lost in a single day. And according to the reporter, none of the amount was recovered even after two of the con artists were nabbed.

I can only imagine her anguish when the incident happened late last year. Even a person learning to practise Stoicism like me would probably be upset for at least a week if I had lost my entire fortune today. And that’s even when time is still on my side, at the age of 28. Not to mention Madam Goh, who is already 74 years old.

Therefore, I am really heartened by today’s follow-up report that there are many others who have stepped forward to lend help to her, especially for her little indulgences like a massage session for her rheumatic knees. Every cloud has a silver lining and I will also keep in mind three important lessons I learned from Madam Goh Kah Keow and her experience.


1. Frugality will pay off

When news broke out that a cleaner was conned of $400,000 of her savings, there were many who were perplexed as to how this lady managed to accumulate this sum.

As a cleaner, she had to work long hours and even if she had worked on weekends (which she did), it was unlikely that her monthly income would have exceeded $2,000 or even $1,500 at any point in time. In an age when young Singaporeans believe that it’s impossible to survive without a $2,500 salary, her achievement below was unfathomable.

She managed to save 50-70% of her modest income. 

This was possible due to her frugal habits and the details of them are shown below:

“A resourceful woman, she would pick up pieces of discarded cloth from the factory she was working at and use them to sew curtains, pillowcases and cushion covers for herself. She also refused to buy clothes, preferring to make blouses and pants out of fabric scraps instead.”

“She does not own a television set and goes to bed by 7pm so that she does not have to switch on any lights at home. She rarely eats out (“it’s pricey”), preferring to cook simple meals of rice, fish and vegetables. “

and She has never owned a passport because she does not believe in going overseas for holidays.”

So if you think the Mrs and I are setting a good example with our monthly expenses, you’re being too generous to us. In comparison to her, we are leading an inflated, somewhat obscene and luxurious lifestyle.

Her frugality should have enabled her to retire comfortably with little worries about money. But alas. Nonetheless frugality still pays off because I am pretty sure that her thrifty habits have impressed many and that could be a contributing factor behind the many recent offers to help her out. =)

2. Stay humble as a “black swan” event could wipe you out

You might think that you wouldn’t be as “naive” as Madam Goh and fall victim to scams. But our current good fortunes could easily come crashing down on us in other ways. Being diagnosed with a new and strange debilitating illness, a bank failure or even a war in our country will wipe out our savings, situations not too dissimilar to Madam Goh’s.

In a world where things are becoming more and more fast-paced, success does come quickly to some people. A tech start-up could attract billions of investments and even designing a relatively simple app like Flappy Bird could net you tens of thousands within a week. You might get lauded and become arrogant with your success.

But don’t. Although Mrs 15 HWW and I, with our passive income, are probably ahead of most of our peers in the wealth-building aspect, we intend to stay grounded and humble. Because like Madam Goh, one negative event could wipe us out.

One doesn’t know if he has really profited from the Market up till the very end

3. Important to keep oneself healthy and economically productive

At the age of 74, Madam Goh still works as a part-time cleaner and brings home about $700 every month. Since her studio apartment is likely to have been paid off, , this amount should be enough for her to sustain her basic expenses, considering her frugal habits. Therefore, even without her life savings of $400,000, she is able to get by.

Imagine if she was incapable of or didn’t want to go back to work anymore. Her bad experience would be exacerbated as her livelihood would be called into question. Instead, her self reliance is remarkable and it’s something I hope to emulate.

This incident also reinforces my desire not to retire fully from economic work even after accumulating enough and reaching financial independence.


If you’re keen to help Madam Goh with a small donation, you can write a cheque in her name (Goh Kah Keow), and put it under:
c/o Bryna Singh, The Straits Times Life! and SundayLife!
SPH News Centre, 1000 Toa Payoh North, S318994

Ms Singh, the reporter, will consolidate the cheques and personally pass it to Madam Goh.

8 thoughts on “Lessons From Madam Goh Kah Keow

  1. Sgpropertyinc

    Totally agree with u on this. The value of money is what we do with it. Funny, I’ve just written a post on value of money and how we should help people.

    Can I link a post in my blog (www.sgpropertyinc.blogspot.com)
    to this?

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Sgpropertyinc,

      Thanks for your comment and yes, you can definitely link this post to your blog. I enjoyed your post too!

  2. Lapis W

    Hi Mr15HWW,

    Thank you for penning this, I really felt for Mdm Goh when I first read the same ST article and just like you, these lessons you shared came to mind. One additional thought is, Mdm Goh lives alone and may not have a strong support network that she can turn to immediately, unlike many of us. Hence, we should count our own blessings and remember to care for those around us more, be it blood or non blood related.

    I will also share this link and info on how we can make a possible donation to Mdm Goh. I will definitely be making a donation to her, thanks for sharing once again.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Lapis W,

      I think the newspaper yesterday did mention that she does have some support from relatives/friends, so hopefully it isn’t all that bad. =)

      If she can get back a fraction of her savings through donation, I am sure she would be delighted.

  3. Gerald

    This case vindicate the merits of CPF Minimum Sum. Retirees and senior citizens shouldn’t hold too much cash on hand as the money is usually spent away easily. Either that, they are easy targets for con men. Feel sorry for Madam Goh. She is a good lady but unfortunately, this sort of thing has to happen to her.

    SG Wealth Builder

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Gerald,

      Yes, like you, I believe the CPF Minimum Sum has more pros than cons. She probably didn’t belong to a cohort which had to set aside a substantial Minimum Sum. It would have helped to preserve a portion of her savings.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Ron,

      I don’t think that’s possible although you can try contacting the reporter.