It takes a bit of doing to rack up a $350 debt to a pal at the tender age of 12 but businessman Bernard Chua managed it all too easily.

Mr Chua, 35, recalls how he used to trade little trinkets and toys in primary school to pay for his favourite toys.

But that unfortunately led to him picking up gambling.

"It was a fast way to get money, and my classmates and I would bet among ourselves on anything from soccer to number games," he says. "There wasn't anything in black and white, and it was all done through a gentleman's agreement."

Lady Luck shone on him for a few years and Mr Chua grew his pocket money but his fortune turned when he was in Primary 6.

"I made the silly move of doubling my stakes every time I lost money," he says. "And soon the debt snowballed to about $350, which was a lot of money for a boy who got 30 cents a day!"

Mr Chua gave up all the Mask toys and Transformers he had amassed to make good his debt.

"My parents didn't know about it at that time," he says with a laugh.

But the lesson was painful enough for him to give up on gambling and focus on something meaningful.

And the natural business acumen he had as a child eventually served him well in adulthood.

Mr Chua graduated from university in 2002, a year after the Sept 11 terror attacks, and just before the Sars epidemic hit.

The banking and finance major could not get a full-time job during the economic downturn but the loss of his grandfather in early 2003 prompted Mr Chua to do what he'd always wanted - go into business.

He set up a moving company, CYC Movers, with $15,000 his parents lent him to buy the first truck and hire staff. Within the first year of business, he had wiped out his savings and was down to less than $2 in the bank.

His then-girlfriend, now wife, Patricia, asked him to keep the ATM slip showing his bank balance then as a reminder of what it is like to have no money.

He persevered and has grown the business many times over: Revenue crossed the $2.5 million mark last year.

Although he devotes most of his time to the company and family, Mr Chua says he still keeps an eye out for good investments.

"You can't stop a businessman from bargain hunting!" he says laughing.

The couple have three children aged four, three and the youngest was born on Dec 11.

Q: Are you a spender or a saver?

I've always tried to save more than 60 per cent of my income. But being a father of three, I save about 10 to 15 per cent monthly, as most of the expenses go to the children.

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

About $2,000 for personal and family expenses, and another $2,000 for business. The bulk of that is spent on entertaining clients and business partners.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

My family is my top priority, so I've ensured that we are adequately insured in the event that something untoward happens to me. I've purchased sufficient insurance policies to cover our hospitalisation needs as well as a payout of about $2 million to my family if I die prematurely.

During my army days, I also bought an endowment plan, which can be cashed out when I'm 48. Separately, I also have exposure to stocks but the investments were made on a more opportunistic approach.

My main investment would be my business, which I hope to keep as a going concern and pass on to my children.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

My dad, the sole breadwinner, ran a small business which offered repair and maintenance services for those in the oil and gas sector.

I got 30 cents a day as pocket money in primary school, which could get me either a bowl of noodles or one chicken wing.

But on top of food, I'd try to save money and buy toys, stickers or marbles and erasers. I'd then trade them for better items, which I could sell for cash to afford better toys. Making money through such trades was part and parcel of my growing-up days.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I first read about Warren Buffett in my undergraduate days at the Nanyang Technological University. That was when I learnt how he grew his wealth from investing in companies.So I opened a Central Depository (CDP) account and bought my first stake in ST Engineering when it was trading at just over $1.

Q: What property do you own?

A five-storey, 3,980 sq ft cluster house, including the rooftop terrace and basement. My wife and I bought the four-bedder home late last year for $2.5 million.

As she runs a photography business, we felt it made economic sense to have her studio in our basement, rather than rent a separate space elsewhere.

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

That would be a piano I got for my wife two years ago which cost about $10,000.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I plan to keep working as it is a blessing to be able to do what you like for a living.

Q: Home is now...

The cluster house where I live with my wife and three children.

Q: I drive...

A black Audi S5 which I bought last year for work. We also have a seven-seater Estima which is perfect for the family when we head out together.