Amber Chia shares her rise from a small town girl to a cosmopolitan supermodel, through hard work, determination, and timely investments!
From selling fish illegally at a market in Tawau, Sabah, Amber Chia has made a name for herself as a model and entrepreneur in Malaysia. This Teluk Intan born lass did not have it easy.
Financial problems tore her family apart when she had to live with foster parents at eight years old, as her birth parents could no longer afford to support her and send her to school. She did not go to school until she lived with her foster parents.
When she turned 12, she moved back to her birth parents in Tawau, and she was determined to make as much money as she could.
“I worked two jobs from the age of 12. I started out helping my dad to sell fish in the market from 3 a.m., then go to school until noon, and work the night shift at the pub as a cashier, which usually ends about 12 a.m.,” says Chia.
She left school after Form Three, and started working three jobs — selling fish with her father in the morning, sales girl in the mall during the day and also cashier at the pub at night.
It was not a bed of roses for Chia, but her determination pushed her to be who she is today — a successful supermodel and entrepreneur.
iMoney’s editor, Iris Lee, charts Amber Chia’s rise from a small town girl to a cosmopolitan supermodel.
When did you first think of becoming a model?
I have always been a girly-girl. I used to put on lipstick to sell fish in the market (laughs). Back then, the aunties at the market would comment on my height, and said that I became more beautiful as I grew up. It gave me the confidence to dream and I’m glad that my dream did come true.
How did your childhood affect your attitude to money?
Coming from a poor family, I put utmost importance on money. I equated the lack of money to suffering, and I wanted to help improve not just my financial situation, but also my family’s.
What was your first job and how much did you earn?
I stopped schooling at 15 years old and started working full-time as a sales girl in a small mall in Tawau, earning RM300 a month.
Did the financial situation at home improve significantly when you started working full-time?
Not really. At one point our home was nearly repossessed, but with the help of my ex-boss, we managed to paid up the outstanding mortgage payment. In fact, my mum wanted me to marry him (laughs), but I was too young and I really wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a model.
I worked extremely hard then and I finally managed to save up RM1,000. After paying for the flight ticket, I only had RM300 left in my pocket when I reach KL.
How did you survive on RM300 when you first moved to Kuala Lumpur?
It was tough finding a room in Kuala Lumpur on a shoestring budget, even back then. I took on as many jobs as I could, from jobs like promoter, usher to “car girl”. Somehow, I survived. I don’t believe in giving up.
So, how did your finances change as you became more successful?
Life has become better after hitting my big break as a finalist of the Guess Watches International Ambassador Search in 2004. Having experienced near foreclosure while growing up, the moment I could afford to, I bought myself a condominium and a car (It was a Honda!). Then, I bought a house for my parents back in Tawau. My success in the modelling industry has allowed me to help my family.
What was your biggest indulgence when the money started coming in?
I bought my first designer bag!
Does money make you happy?
Yes. I think it makes everyone happy to a certain extent. I used to think money is the be-all, and end-all. It was my ultimate goal, to make as much money as possible, until 2008. I suffered from some health issues, and my mother came from Tawau to visit me. She told me that earning money is important, but health is even more important. That changed my whole outlook on money, and I now believe that though money has the ability to make me happy, it is not everything. Without good health, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the money in the world.
Do you know how much is in your own bank account?
Of course! I believe it is important to know!
Are you a saver or a spender?
I’m a bit of both. I think it’s important to have a balance. However, I’m not really a risk-taker.
Do you pay with cash, card or cheques?
I usually pay by card or cheques because they are easy for me to keep a record of what I’ve spent.
Do you bank online?
Yes, it is a great convenience especially with my busy schedule.
What are your biggest financial indulgences?
I invest in properties for myself and my family.
How did you get started in property investment?
Someone once told me to save my money for the down payment and start investing in property. Then, put the property on lease so someone else’s rental will help me pay for my home loan repayment. I did that and invested in a few other properties in good locations.
Always get properties in busy and “happening” areas. They may be more expensive but the return is often worth it, in my experience.
Are you still actively investing in properties?
I’ve slowed down a few years back because it was just too stressful. The idea of having a few home loans dangling over my head was giving me too much pressure. I really am the type who like to play it safe when it comes to money. I still maintain a few properties, but others I’ve sold off, and I am not looking to buy any new ones at the moment.
What’s been the best financial decision you have ever made?
Though it was stressful, taking the plunge in property investment has paid off.
And the worst?
Back in 2007, I delved into the stock market without fully understanding how it works. Needless to say, I was burned, and I have stayed away from it ever since.
I’m also a victim of impulse buying. I bought a few things which I have not used until now. I’ve learned to differentiate needs and wants now, and it makes it easier to avoid buying unnecessary things.
Do you have a pension?
No, I don’t.
As modelling is a relatively fleeting profession, how are you managing your money to ensure longevity in your career and income?
I believe savings and planning for your future are really important, especially for people like me who don’t have EPF savings as back-up. Beauty doesn’t last forever, you need a Plan B.
Many models say there isn’t enough work after a certain age – does this worry you?
Yes, which is why I put great importance in my money management and financial planning. I also constantly look for new business ideas and opportunities to pave way for the future.
What are your plans in the next few years? Will you be branching out to other income streams?
Other than the Amber Chia Academy, I’m doing a lot more collaborations. After being the spokesperson for Pensonic for the past 10 years, I recently launched a new line of hair care products called Amber Chia Mesmerized by Pensonic. There are more collaborations coming up too!
As things settle down, I have more time to invest in myself. I’m currently taking up an English Language course, and I hope to get my A-Level certification one day. I don’t believe it’s ever too late to learn.
What are your financial priorities for the next five to 10 years?
Health is always my first priority in life, and of course, providing for my family as well.