Former private banker Constance Lim and her husband were leading the good life back in the 1990s until a twist of fate during the 1997 Asian financial crisis left them knee-deep in debt.

They both had decent salaries and a nice car and lived in an intermediate terrace house, but things went awry when her husband lost his job as the head of one of the trading desks at a bank.

Their home loan and other liabilities, including his credit card debt, left them in a $2 million hole.

Ms Lim, 43, recalls: "It was very stressful. The mortgage was the largest expense and we could repay it for only six months, so we had to sell the house."

They moved into a rented shophouse, living upstairs while the enterprising Ms Lim set up a teakwood furniture business, with the showroom on the ground floor.

"For four years, I was working in the bank and, after work, I went to the shop to help out. We eventually went into customising furniture, and I started designing."

They had no children back then but it still took about five years to clean up their financial mess - and learn the basics of money management all over again.

Their finances returned to stability and Ms Lim, now a mother of two sons aged seven and three, left her banking job in 2013, after giving birth to her second son. She became a self-employed personal finance strategist, a job that brought flexible working hours.

Ms Lim decided to join this year's Mrs Singapore pageant as she achieved her weight-loss goal of 12kg, and she made it to the finals, which were held last night.

Her next goal is to set up her own company to help people with their finances.

"I'll do purely advisory work. I won't be converting people's cash into investments, but will point them to the right people, who are like me and are not driven by sales or commissions."

She also hopes to complete another dream involving precious stones, which she invests in as well.

"Along the way, I studied and earned some certificates from the Gemological Institute of America. I eventually want to be a graduate gemologist," she adds.

Having been through the best and worst times, coupled with her experience dealing with wealthy clients, Ms Lim says: "I don't think very wealthy people are necessarily happier than us; they have their own set of problems. For instance, they are not sure if someone is friends with them because of who they are or what they have."

Q: Are you a spender or saver?

I save with a purpose to invest in properties and education, so that it can give me security and widen my scope of knowledge.

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

I charge between $1,500 and $2,000 on average. I use only two credit cards, which give me cash rebates at supermarkets. I also buy clothes online now as it is a bit cheaper.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I have term and life policies that will expand my estate by 3.5 times in the event of my death. I have also done up my will, because I have young children so I need to have it in place, and my Advance Medical Directive (AMD).

The Lasting Power of Attorney is something that I need to get around to doing. I did my AMD after my dad passed away.

My investments are mostly in properties and investment-grade gemstones, as they do not require close monitoring.

Investing in foreign exchange, options and equities have a trading element, just because it is so easy to check market prices and be affected by it, they are not my cup of tea.

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

I come from a humble, comfortable background. I grew up with my aunt's family and there were seven of us living in a three-room Toa Payoh Housing Board flat on weekdays. I'd live with my parents on weekends when they weren't at work.

As an only child, I regard my four cousins as my siblings and my aunt is like a mother to me.

I learnt to be careful with my pocket money and I gave tuition to supplement my university expenses.

Being the youngest girl in the flat, I happily wore hand-me-downs, and now my two sons are also blessed with plenty of hand-me-downs from their cousins.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

Before my final-year exams at Nanyang Technological University, I secured a position in a Dutch bank and started my 20-year career as a private banker. Investing for clients was what I did professionally but, if I may be candid, it was all sales driven.

I started investing in property when my aunt, despite having very little education, suggested I buy an investment property and collect rental income. That was in 2003 and the start of my journey restoring and growing my family's wealth.

We owned an old HUDC condominium then. My aunt knew we didn't have any more bank loans, and one day over dinner she said, since we still had good income, why not buy an investment property?

She didn't own any, and neither did my cousins, but her simple suggestion was good.

I sat down with a banker to do my sums, to see if I could afford it, and how much the rental needed to be so that it could pay for the instalments.

I decided to look at the Newton-Novena area. It was a buyers' market then.

I bought a two-bedroom condo unit in Surrey Road, and it went en bloc and the gain was about $150,000.

Q: What investment property do you own?

I have two shoebox condominium units in Singapore. One in the east, which I bought in 2012, and one in the Central Business District, which I bought recently, as I made a profit from a London property - about 18 per cent after taking away all the costs.

That was my only overseas property.

I went in thinking Britain and Singapore laws were similar, but British laws were different and complicated. I always tell people to be careful when investing overseas.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

An investment-grade blue sapphire, for a mid six-figure sum, which I bought with some fear.

It was based on trust, as my friend told me about it being good quality sapphire. The price was quite good and she said I could consider it if I had the budget.

It was purely for investment, meant to be sold when the right buyer came along.

I sold it for a double-digit profit, about 14 per cent, less than a year after I bought it.

The money was set aside for my properties, so my investment horizon was only a year.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

As a personal finance strategist now, I've a flexible working arrangement so that I can spend time with my sons.

My mother and aunt, who are both in their seventies, are still working, just keeping themselves socially active.

I will be like these two mothers of mine. It is my plan to eventually set up my own outfit to impart financial management skills and knowledge into my old age.

Q: Home is now...

The condo unit in the east.

Q: I drive...

A Toyota Wish.