3 Reasons Saving Money is Considered So Uncool in Singapore

Joanne Poh


Here at MoneySmart, we’re always talking about saving money instead of spending it all on clothes and booze. And that hasn’t exactly made us the coolest kids in town.

In fact, going public with the fact that you’d rather not spend that $7 on takeaway hipster coffee or do not use products from Prada can kind of be like declaring you have an STD, depending on the crowd you hang out with.

Confessing you actually check the prices of goods at the supermarket puts you in the same category as those aunties who would use violence to grab the last bar of soap on offer.

There’s a distinct stigma involved in admitting that the reason you won’t be ordering another $30 cocktail is because you’re not made of money, or that you think it’s acceptable not to give someone a $200 ang bao at their 5 star hotel wedding banquet.

Maybe that’s why Singaporeans have such dismal savings rates. A 2014 survey revealed that 36% of Singaporeans aged between 20 to 35 had no savings at all, while a quarter had savings of less than $6,000. We investigate why this is happening.


There’s the perception that saving money means poverty which means a loss of face

While flaunting your wealth is socially acceptable in Singapore, being poor is thought of as shameful and a sign that you’ve failed in this meritocratic system.

Choosing a career that pays you less than your peers is often interpreted as a sign you just weren’t good enough to qualify for a hotshot job. It’s sad, but that’s the stage our society is at right now.

That’s why so many people are too embarrassed to turn something down because it’s out of their budget, and continually try to impress others by buying fancy things and being seen at the right places. In our collective psyche, admitting you have to cut corners is shameful. It’s a sign you haven’t been successful enough in the eyes of society.


Singaporeans don’t like having to suffer to save money

Singaporeans are a pretty pampered lot, at least when it comes to creature comforts. We’re used to relaxing in air con and walking under the sun for even 30 seconds makes us complain like hell. There are many people well into their 30s and 40s who can’t cook a single dish decently because they’re so used to eating out or being fed by their parents.

There’s the perception that if we were to spend any less, we wouldn’t be enjoying our comfortable lives anymore. No, we’d be suffering!

If you’re used to taking taxis everywhere, having to duke it out on public transport is obviously less comfortable. Having to wear the same few outfits to work each week is less luxurious than being able to wear a different outfit every day of the month. And eating at hawker centres instead of nice, air conditioned restaurants might be cheaper but you’ve got to be prepared to perspire a little.

The problem is, the more people earn, the more they tend to inflate their lifestyles in Singapore, and then turning back and scaling back on their spending feels like suffering. If you’re used to shopping at Chanel, limiting your clothing shopping to H&M is often interpreted as suffering. If you’re used to living in a condo, moving into an HDB flat feels like a downgrade. Suggest to your princessy partner that you want to take the bus instead of the taxi and that pout will tell you that he/she is suffering.


Doing anything troublesome in order to save annoys people

While Singaporeans put in long hours at work, when it comes to doing things for themselves like cooking, cleaning and even reading, they’ll often tell you it’s too troublesome or they’re too busy. Thanks to the long working hours and hectic pace of life here, we’re addicted to convenience. And we’re willing to pay for it.

That’s why so many families hire maids to do their housework even if they live in compact HDB flats or apartments. It’s the reason many people take taxis whenever they’re tired even though cab rides cost more than 10 times the price of bus and train rides. It’s partly the reason why we spend so much money eating out—cooking at home is too troublesome for many of us. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

More often, we just resign ourselves to paying more because we’re too darned lazy—like picking up snacks at 7-11 when the much cheaper supermarket is a 5 minute walk away. Suggesting you spend a bit of extra time to save a few bucks annoys everyone around you, because Singaporeans hate being inconvenienced.

Do you receive any negative reactions from the people around you when trying to save money? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.