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Why Can’t Singaporeans Seem to Keep Their Lifestyle Spending in Check?

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Joanne Poh

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Many Singaporeans are pretty bad at separating wants from needs. Sure, property is expensive, but what many young Singaporeans are really complaining about is the fact that a cocktail at a bar costs $25, and that they need to foot a bill of at least $80 on a date. They hate the fact that high shop rentals push up the prices of clothes and accessories, which in turn means that it costs more to dress well. And let’s not even mention how much it costs to take a staycation.

The average middle class Singaporean enjoys high levels of lifestyle spending. In fact, Singaporeans are the top spenders on dining out in the Asia-Pacific region, beating out even Japan and South Korea. And judging by the number of horror stories you see in the media of young professionals who get mired in debt because of their out-of-control spending habits, it seems that many Singaporeans just can’t keep their lifestyle spending in check. Here are some reasons why this state of affairs persists.

 

Unrealistically high expectations

Ask your parents what they did for fun as kids and you’re likely to hear tales of hiding in monsoon drains waiting to ambush their friends, prodding wild snakes with bamboo poles and other such shenanigans. Fast forward to today, and it’s not rare to encounter a child who has his own personal iPad and laptop, joins his parents on luxurious ski trips during the December holidays and takes golf as a CCA.

Young working professionals have the highest expectations of all. Working in the CBD each day, they walk past hundreds of Chanel handbags, join their colleagues for daily meals at overpriced restaurants and try never to get caught wearing the same outfit twice. At lunch, in between bitching about their bosses their coworkers discuss the best sales in town or where to tailor good business shirts.

 

Bombardment with advertising

You don’t even have to be a TV addict to be bombarded by advertising these days. Singapore is an incredibly dense city, and that means we’re never free from the barrage of ads and products that accosts us from every angle.

Whether you’re looking at a massage chair-endorsing Mediacorp celebrity smiling down from the side of a bus, staring up at the Yun Nam Haircare ads on the MRT or seeing iPhones in the hands of everyone who walks past, it’s hard to avoid reminders of all these things that you don’t have, but want to buy.

Unlike less dense cities or countries with rural areas, this persists all day, every day. Shopping malls scream out at us from every corner to purchase their wares, and when we’re not walking around in a daze we’re staring at our smartphone screens, within reach of online advertisers. All this makes it pretty much impossible for the average Singaporean to go through life without an ever-growing list of restaurants to visit and things to buy.

 

Aspirational attitude

No matter what employers say about Singaporeans being unmotivated or less than engaged at work, when it comes to his lifestyle, the average Singaporean has high aspirations. We’re taught to always work towards affording an upgrade. Conversely, “downgrading” is frowned upon, whether it means moving into a smaller home or choosing a less stressful job.

A friend of mine who’s worked as a banker in major cities all over the world declared that Singapore was one of most materialistic places he’d ever experienced, second only to Dubai.

The average Singaporean might still live in an HDB flat and take the MRT to work, but 9 times out of 10 his idea of “the good life” involves a nice car, private property and enough money to buy his wife a Rolex or send his kids to a fancy university. Of course, nobody survives on basic necessities alone. But it might be time to start thinking about whether Singaporeans’ aspirations are in fact desirable ones.

What are your lifestyle spending habits like? 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.