Budgeting

Here’s How A Little Spending Can Make Your Life Better, But Only If You Do It Correctly

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Joanne Poh

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$5 doesn’t take you very far in Singapore. It’s a sum of money you can spend without even realising it—on a tasteless meal at some cookie cutter food court that you inhale while fiddling with your smartphone, or on a takeaway cup of Starbucks coffee you take a few sips of and then forget about until it’s cold, all because you were busy rushing work for your boss.

But when you know how to use it, that $5 can buy you so much more. It can buy you a jaw-dropping sunset at the Pinnacle@Duxton skybridge, a meal at the world’s first Michelin-starred hawker stall or an afternoon whizzing down the water slides at a public pool that looks more like a theme park.

Your money is what you make of it. So go ahead and spend it carelessly in ways that don’t enrich you—or put a bit of thought into how you use it so you make the most out of it. Here are three tips for doing the latter.

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Get maximum utility out of the money you spend by savouring every second of what it can buy you

We tend to get so hung up on what our money is buying us that we often forget that how much enjoyment you get out of any given purchase depends on you, too.

When we spend money on food, entertainment or experiences, we owe it to ourselves to do our part and try our best to focus on what we paid for, to give the experience our full attention.

Two people could drop the exact same amount of cash on a restaurant meal, but one would get a lot more enjoyment out of it than the other.

The guy who gives the meal his full attention and savours every bite, focusing on the flavours and textures of the food, gets a lot more bang for his buck than the person whose mind is on his work as he eats, and constantly interrupts his meal to reply to emails or read text messages.

Whenever you spend money on something, commit to focusing all your intention on it so you get maximum satisfaction.

So you bought a new guitar? Maybe it’s time to actually learn how to play it and throw yourself into hours of practice, rather than letting it gather dust once the initial excitement has faded. Grabbing cocktails with friends? Then commit to having a great time rather than sitting back and expecting to be entertained. Even a taxi ride becomes a little more satisfying when you think about those poor suckers standing on the MRT.

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Acknowledge that you have a role to play in getting the most out of your spending

There’s been a lot of hoohah recently about spending money on experiences rather than stuff.

But it’s useful to remember that choosing what to spend your money on is just one part of the equation. We are also personally responsible for making the most of what we’ve paid for.

The problem is that people often take a passive view of what money can buy.

You spent $80 on that art jam session, and so you assume that by virtue of the money you paid, you are entitled to have fun. If you’re not entertained, it must be the fault of the company you engaged, or the friends you’re with. You spent $10 on that movie, so if you didn’t enjoy the experience it must be the filmmaker or the cinema’s fault, even if you chose to spend half the film checking your phone.

The truth is, paying money doesn’t guarantee enjoyment, and with a bad attitude you’ll have to pay a lot more to feel good. Try complaining a little less and being a bit more appreciative.

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Know what you want before you fork out the cash

If money can buy happiness, why is it that there are so many unhappy people with more than enough money?

Chances are they aren’t spending their cash in ways that truly make them happy.

In order to ensure the things you spend on improve your life, it’s crucial to know what you want in the first place.

We often drop out cash on stuff we don’t really care for, just because all our friends are doing it, or we think it will make us look better in other people’s eyes.

Singaporeans are particularly guilty of spending money on things they think will raise their status—buying a fancy car or handbag you can’t afford as a status symbol, taking a date to an expensive restaurant to show you’ve made it in life or picking hobbies like golf or ballroom dancing not because you are genuinely interested in them but because you think that’s what a certain kind of person should do.

The better you know yourself and how you tick, the more effectively you can channel the money you spend into improving your life. Until you figure things out, you’re better off saving and investing that cash instead.

In what ways do you spend money to improve your life? 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.