Being frugal has a bad name in Singapore. Opt to drink from your own water bottle instead of buying a drink at a hawker centre and people give you strange looks, or worse, pityingly offer to treat you. It’s not just about the $2 that you save on a drink, however. Cultivating a frugal mindset often brings other benefits as well, such as the following.
The average person is terrible at saving money, as evidenced by the rising levels of consumer debt facing Singaporeans and the fact that 4 out of 5 Singaporeans aged 20 to 35 have zero savings. In fact, I know people who cave and take a taxi the minute they’re forced to walk in the sun for more than 30 seconds.
Anyone who’s succeeded in going against the grain and cutting their spending significantly knows that you need to find creative solutions instead of throwing your money at every problem. Need to celebrate your friend’s birthday but don’t want to spend money on champagne? Plan a potluck picnic at the Botanic Gardens. Going out late at night but don’t want to pay exorbitant cab fares? Take a night rider bus to the nearest stop and then cycle home on your foldie.
A friend who studied at one of the local unis here commented that most of the students would bring their laptops into lectures. And of these, 80% of the girls would spend the entire time shopping online. In fact, I once went to a very dull work-related talk related to accounting or something like that, and all two professional women in front of me spent the entire seminar shopping for designer handbags online.
Shopping, especially if you regard it as a hobby, takes up a hell of a lot of time. I have friends who head to Orchard Road several days a week just to walk endlessly through shops. On the other hand, if you cultivate a frugal mentality, you’ll be amazed at how much less time you spend in the shops and browsing online stores. These days I avoid shopping malls altogether unless there’s something I know I need, and I can’t say I miss them.
The chance to get off the hamster wheel
Honestly, being a heavy consumer is stressful. I know because I’ve been on both sides. When your spending levels are high and you feel your happiness depends on being able to buy a certain number of new outfits each month, you do enjoy an adrenalin rush at the thought of all the cool restaurants you’ll be eating at and all the new fashion items you want to try on in the shops.
But it’s also stressful, because it never ends, there’s always something new to buy, and before you know it you’re chained to the hamster wheel. I can’t even count how many friends I have who are miserable in their jobs and slave away till close to midnight every day, just because they can’t imagine earning less than they do now.
On the other hand, if you keep your spending low you have a lot more room in your life for more. A sabbatical from work or searching for a job you actually like become actual possibilities, not just dreams.
I’m not going to go all hippie on you here, but all this endless consumption generates tons of waste—1,370kg per person per year, to be precise. Everything in Singapore always looks so new—the COE system means that all the cars on the roads are pristine, the only beat up old jalopies being the Proton Sagas driving in from Malaysia.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve asked me “Why don’t you just get a new one?”, in those exact words, upon catching sight of my 3 year old smartphone. And don’t even get me started on Chinese New Year, when people gleefully buy new outfits just for the sake of it. I have a friend who’s got five designer wallets, each costing over $500, four of which she keeps at home because you can only use one wallet at a time.
We’re caught up in an endless cycle of buying and discarding, and this either results in homes filled with clutter or huge landfills. Perhaps it’s time to stop?
How does being careful with money benefit you? Tell us in the comments!
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