Don’t be fooled by her sweet looks, Siti Saleha will amaze you with her financial savviness! Here she shares her plans for her career, entrepreneurship and even, retirement!
If Julia Roberts is America’s sweetheart, Siti Saleha is the Malaysian version of it. Born in Basildon, England, this Eurasian beauty has won the hearts of many through her stints on TV and also on stage.
Celebrities often seem a little different in the flesh, as though, unlit by cameras, they’ve somehow become a quieter imitation of their on-screen selves. Saleha, though, seems to light up the room with her genuine smile and infectious laughter.
She walks into the interview venue, looking effortlessly beautiful in a flowy black top and floral-print leggings.
Growing up in a middle class family, her parents divorced when she was 10. Her mother left for England with her eldest sister, and Saleha had to take over that role since then.
Having just celebrated her 25th birthday, she is determined to change her game plan this year, with a few ambitious financial goals set for herself.
Siti Saleha shares her plans and goals to become a savvy investor, entrepreneur, and to finally buy her first property.
You’ve been in the entertainment industry since you were 13. How did you get your start?
I didn’t know anything about it. It was my father’s friend who introduced me to it. He suggested that I go to a talent agent and try it out, since I have the Eurasian look. My dad didn’t know much about it, but he was willing to let me try.
Tell me a little bit about your first job.
I started doing commercials when I was 13, which was also my first time earning my own money. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was empowering nonetheless. I gave some to my dad, and kept some for myself. Of course, at that time, my only thought was, “Oh! I have money now. I can buy stuff!”
Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue this full-time?
My dad wasn’t really supportive initially because he was worried about me being cheated by con men in the industry, and he also didn’t want me to mix with the wrong crowd. You know what they say about the entertainment industry (laughs).
However, he was all right with me doing commercials because it didn’t take too much of my time, and I could still focus on my studies. At most, I would be out of town for a week.
What did growing in a single parent family teach you about money?
Growing up was quite tough. My parents were divorced when I was 10, and the family sort of split up. My mother left to England with my elder sister. So, it was just my dad and the three of us here.
Yes, we have to share things but I didn’t mind that. I only had to share with my younger sister who is a year younger than me.
How did that affect your attitude to money?
To say that the divorce didn’t affect us would be lying. Of course it took a toll on the family. My mum was a full-time housewife before the divorce, and my dad was the sole breadwinner.
It was not all roses, sometimes we didn’t get what we wanted, and we had to share things. Growing up was hard financially and I wanted to be able to earn money, to save up for rainy days and to help out at home. It does affect my attitude towards money. I became more aware of how important money is.
I was really grateful to get the opportunity to do commercials from a young age and to be able to earn an income.
How did you get into acting from commercials?
I didn’t get into acting until I was 18. Although I fell in love with the camera the first time I did a commercial, I did not really plan to get into acting. It just happened one day when I received a call for casting. I just assumed it was for a commercial.
I went for it. The casting was slightly different where I had to sing and dance. After the casting, they told me it was for a drama series called 5 Jingga for 8TV. Five months later, they called me and told me that I had the lead role!
After that I just knew that my passion was acting.
Have you been pursuing this full time ever since?
Again, it wasn’t planned. I was supposed to enrol myself to college after SPM, but I took up my first acting job. So, I told myself that I would give it a try for a year, but one year became one and a half.
After that I just told myself to stop and I enrolled myself to a diploma course, majoring in mass communications. Then, I got my big break with the drama Nora Elena after I graduated — and I started to take acting seriously as a profession.
Have you always wanted to be an actress?
Not more than any other girls growing up (laughs). Growing up I loved watching TV and movies. I would pretend or “act” in front of the mirror and I have always been very dramatic, expressive and sensitive.
So, you were a drama queen growing up! Has it been tough making it in the industry?
The first year was quite tough because I didn’t really get a variety of roles. They kept giving me the mat salleh pretty girl roles, which can get a little old after playing them a few times. I suffered with that.
Yes, the damsel in distress act can be limiting. How did you break out of the stereotype?
You just keep on challenging yourself. Take up different types of role and prove people wrong. Don’t do what people expect of you. After that more jobs started to come my way.
How did your finances change after your Nora Elena in 2011?
By the time I was 18, I started to have a solid income and I had to learn to manage my money more carefully. You can’t run away from spending money but I think it is important to strike a balance. If I have RM100, I would save RM50 and spend RM50. However, last year, I spent a little too much. I did save, but I spent more than I saved (laughs). I spent a lot on holidays and travelling. This year, I’m determined to find that balance again.
Oops. Did your success change your lifestyle?
I wouldn’t say it has changed my life drastically. I’m not the type who needs to travel every month. I would plan a big trip, somewhere far like Europe, once a year. If my finances allow, I will go, if not, it’s okay. I do get some return on investment like: experience, knowledge and exposure.
Are you planning to expand outside of Malaysia?
Of course. Every actor and actress would want that but it really depends on luck and the connection that you have. It’s nice to be well-known in Singapore and Brunei, but it would be even better to go further.
Has being more financially well-off now changed the way you manage your money?
I don’t really go crazy with my money. I have my limits. However, this year, I’m going to be stricter. I have goals that I need to achieve by next year!
Sounds exciting! Care to share what these are?
To buy my first property! I’ve been trying to buy a property since I was 20. I was really blessed to have landed a lucrative endorsement deal with Enchanteur then, and I wanted to buy a property with my brother. I wanted to live in Damansara, but my dad didn’t want to leave Klang where all his brothers and sisters are still living. So, in the end, we decided to rent a place in Kota Kemuning. I guess, my brother and I were not really ready to buy yet. But I’m determined to achieve that latest by next year!
I guess you mean business this time. What’s your game plan to achieve that?
I started looking last year, but everything was so ludicrously expensive. I knew about the down payment, but nobody told me about all the hidden costs, like lawyer’s fees and stamp duty. I was shocked when I found out how much I have to pay for all these!
But now I know what’s involved, I am saving up to get my hands on my first property!
All the best with that. How about entrepreneurship? Do you have any plans on that?
Yes. A lot of actors and actresses are starting their own businesses, diversifying into different income streams. There are people who approached me with business ideas but I am not ready yet. I want to focus on getting my first property, and only then shift my financial focus to other things.
I would love to have my own shoe brand, or clothing line. I do have a ready market with my fan club. We are planning, but we have not firmed that up just yet.
You’ve been the face of Enchanteur and SimplySiti in the past. You have done a wonderful job portraying the essence of these brands. Which is the most lucrative: being a brand ambassador, model, or actress?
I enjoy all three. Acting is the toughest for me. People only see the glamour, but they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. We work through the night, we sometimes have to eat tepi longkang. But if you are passionate about it, you won’t mind and it’s worth it at the end of the day.
However, the most lucrative would be endorsement deals.
Any new endorsement deals coming up?
My manager is working on that!
You've been in films, telemovies, drama, and even theatre. Which do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy doing theatre the most. It’s like being in a big family. You have to rehearse and practise for months.
However, theatre doesn’t pay a lot because it depends on the ticket sales. But it’s so much fun. It’s just something you do if you are passionate about it. Sometimes, the pleasure you get out of it is worth the time and effort.
With your brother being the vocalist for Bunkface, have you ever considered singing?
Oh! I’m going to be singing soon for a charity event called Tapestry of Colours for Universiti Teknologi Petronas. I will be singing a duet with my brother, Sam.
But honestly, singing is not something I’m ready to pursue yet. I’ve been approached with album deals, just because Sam is a vocalist. But they have not heard me sing, they don’t even know if I can really sing.
I like singing, but it’s not something I would want to pursue professionally at this point. I want to stick to what I’m good at and passionate about, which is acting.
That’s wise but I would still like to hear you sing! Any plans for retirement?
I’ve started saving for my retirement four years ago. With savings and investments, the earlier you start the better. As soon as I get my pay cheque I put aside money in insurance and also some investments, like Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB).
Are you a risk taker when it comes to investments?
I’m not very well-versed in investments. I don’t really understand them, so I try not to put my money in things I don’t know well.
What's been the best financial decision you have ever made?
Allowing a professional wealth adviser to guide me with my financial decisions. I have my insurance, and I also put my money aside for retirement savings.
What are your plans in the next few years? Will you be branching out to other income streams?
Yes, I’m looking forward to more endorsement deals and also starting my business. But I won’t fade away from acting because that is my passion.
Are you a saver or a spender?
This year, I’m a saver (laughs)! I’m a little bit of both. I don’t buy things on a whim, but I am also not overly frugal. Balance is everything.
Do you pay with cash, card or cheques?
Cash and debit card. I don’t own a credit card, and I never have. It scares me.
What are your financial priorities for the next five to 10 years?
First, buying a house. I will make sure this happens next year. Then starting my own business.