From the tender age of eight, Ms Sally Chua took on odd jobs such as sewing bits of cloth together to supplement the family's meagre income.

But sheer hard work has taken her a long way.

Ms Chua, 45, the eldest of four siblings, grew up in an attap house in a kampung in Tampines. Her father was a construction worker.

She took pride in helping with the family finances and being the "fastest worker in the kampung".

"I could paste the silver foil on incense paper five times faster than the rest and would earn the most money," she recalls.

"I never felt a sense of shame coming from a humble background; instead there was this sense of achievement that I could provide for my family through hard work."

Ms Chua laughs as she describes how her mother would let everyone in the kampung know her daughter was the fastest paster in town.

Fast-forward nearly four decades, and Ms Chua has defied the odds to become the managing director of Singapore Kitchen Equipment, which was recently listed on the Singapore Exchange's secondary Catalist board.

"In my late teens, I started taking on clerical positions but was made to do everything - like a one-woman show," she says.

"About 10 years later, my salary was only $1,600 - a bargain for the employers who made me take care of all sorts of matters."

In 1996, her husband Alan Lee, now 52, encouraged her to start a business so that she could reap the rewards of her hard work.

With several former colleagues, the husband-and-wife team put in $30,000 from their joint account to start a kitchen equipment business.

Today, their combined stake in Singapore Kitchen Equipment is worth about $12 million based on the current share price.

Ms Chua and her husband have two sons, aged 18 and 12.

Q: Are you a spender or a saver?

A mix of both. I save about 40 per cent of my salary and devote about 30 per cent to investments and the remainder to spending on the family and my staff.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

On average, between $4,000 and $5,000 on groceries, my children's expenses as well as staff in the office.

I'm happy when my family and employees enjoy the food, or what we call makan sessions.

Q: What financial planning have you done foryourself?

I was first introduced to insurance policies when I was 17 years old by a friend, who was an insurance agent. Over time, I bought different types of policies including health insurance as well as endowment plans for my two sons.

I also invest in the stock market, but limit my investments to firms in the food and beverage industry. Some of them are my clients at work, so I trust their business planning and strategy.

But investing in landed, freehold property has been a favourite of mine because owning something physical is more safe and secure.

With the cooling measures and loan restrictions, however, it will be harder to make money out of investment properties.

I don't go for condominiums because there could be a situation of oversupply, as we are starting to see in the market now.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up yearslike?

My dad was a construction worker with a meagre and unstable income, and had to provide for my mum, me and my three siblings.

So we'd help with the family finances by doing all sorts of odd jobs.

When I was 12, my father met with an accident and was unable to work for a year. So I collected bits of cloth and sewed them together so that they could be sold to factory mechanics as "rags" to clean their equipment.

Our relatives also chipped in to help us during that bleak year.

Up till the time I got my first full-time job at 17, I don't think I ever held more than $20 at one time.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I'd always wanted a home with a garden.

Some time in 1997, before the Asian financial crisis, I found this property in Stirling Road which came with a garden, so my husband and I sold our HDB flat in Pasir Ris.

Surprisingly, we made $300,000 from that sale. It made me realise that if I bought and sold property at the right place, time and price, it could help me make some money.

Q: What property do you own?

In 2009, my husband and I bought a 3,000 sq ft freehold semi-detached house in Pasir Panjang for about $1.8 million.

We also have a 2,400 sq ft freehold terraced house in the vicinity which we are renting out. We bought it in 2010 for about $2 million.

And there is a three-room HDB flat in Tanglin Halt, occupied by my mother-in-law, which cost us $250,000 when we got it that same year.

Q: What is the most extravagant thing you have bought?

I seldom splurge on myself. But there was a one-off purchase of an Audemars Piguet watch I bought a few months ago for $30,000. It is an accessory for business functions after Singapore Kitchen Equipment went public.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I plan to reduce my hours in the corporate world when I'm about 65.

I work from about 7.30am to 8.30pm six days a week now, but make it a point to spend time with my family on weekday nights and on Sundays.

In my golden years, I hope to help out in a charitable organisation, which I intend to start, and give back to others - like how my family received financial help during tough times.

Q: Home is now...

A five-bedroom freehold semi-detached house with my husband and two sons.

Its value has more than doubled to about $4 million since we bought it in 2009.

Q: I drive...

A black BMW 7 series.