Opinion

3 Reasons Singaporeans Constantly Overspend Even With a Decent Salary

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Joanne Poh

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Your parents told you your biggest regret in life would be not studying hard and ending up as a garbage collector. Now you’re all grown up and fortunately or unfortunately, your biggest regrets have nothing to do with garbage collecting.

Many of the Singaporeans who find themselves in ridiculous amounts of debt or unable to retire could actually have prevented themselves from suffering that fate if they had stopped making a few mistakes.

By mistakes, we’re not talking about failing to grab some incredible investment opportunity or not launching a successful business. We’re just referring to three very simple mindsets that many Singaporeans who constantly overspend have.

 

Viewing your income as a way to finance your lifestyle

You hear it all the time in Singapore. “If I had more money, I would buy an Audi.” “If only I had the money to stay at that luxury resort in the Maldives my friend posted about on Facebook.” “Next time when I’m rich, I’ll treat all of you to Martell!”

Singaporeans seem to have gotten one thing wrong… you don’t earn money in order to finance a lifestyle. You choose a lifestyle you can afford, and the money left over gets saved and invested. And when your income rises, that doesn’t give you an excuse to upgrade your lifestyle.

That attitude is why so many PMETs with otherwise healthy earnings get into credit card debt, and also why retrenchment can come as a bigger blow than it has to.

Sure, having a decent income can keep you off the streets and maybe even treat you to a nice meal now and then.

But there has to be a limit somewhere, even if your income continues increasing, and Singaporeans need to stop being too materialistic to see that just because your income increases by 50% doesn’t mean you get to buy 50% more blogshop clothes.

 

Treating yourself with no limit

Okay, we get that life in Singapore is pretty stressful, what with the crowds and the insane working hours and all. And if you don’t spend a bit of money to treat yourself every now and then, you’ll feel like a complete robot.

But it’s one thing to give yourself a budget and spend on yourself within reason, and another to take a completely exaggerated, no holds barred approach to pampering yourself.

For instance, a lot of middle income people take lavish holidays to Europe and the US, staying in nice hotels and eating at fancy restaurants the entire trip. A friend of mine once spent $7,000 on a holiday to the US, almost twice her monthly salary.

It’s also very common for women in Singapore to spend $150 to $200 on facials every one or two months, or $50 to $100 a month doing their nails… which on top of monthly clothes shopping excursions really starts to add up.

Sure, treat yourself by all means, but decide how much you’re going to spend first.

 

Pining for the high life

Not sure when it happened, but one day Singaporeans woke up and found that instead of chasing after the 5 Cs, they had become more concerned about becoming Instagram fashionistas, being seen at all the hippest restaurants and bars in the land and maintaining a Facebook account to show off all the great things they spent their time doing and buying.

Unfortunately, it’s also this desire for the high life that keeps many Singaporeans running on the hamster wheel, working like dogs to earn money that they immediately spend on luxuries. It’s gotten to the point where Singapore has become a bit of a dystopia.

It’s time for Singaporeans to take along, hard look at the kinds of lifestyles they want to live, and whether they’re willing to put in the work to get there.

After a bout of soul-searching (hopefully not at some luxurious detox retreat), it would do many Singaporeans good to figure out just how much is the maximum they’re willing to shell out for their lifestyles, instead of reaching for the sky and upgrading nonstop.

Why do Singaporeans with decent salaries overspend? 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.

  • Jie Ming

    I agreed with what you wrote but this problem don’t just happened among Singapore. South Korea, Japan or the Americans also does the same, including the emerging China market. I guess parents should also educated their children on how to use money wisely. Unless the parents themselves are also on lavish lifestyle.

    Back in the 90s when I was doing well in Singapore, I also spend lavishly. I went shopping without checking on the price tags. Ate at great restaurants almost 5 times per week. Sign on the credit cards as though I don’t have to pay them. I went broke and in the end I sold my only private condo to repay all my debts.

    I left to work in China during the early 20s and started to know what not to spend. Today, I have a few private properties. My answer is to spend wisely. You sow tomatoes, don’t expect you will get durians, right?

  • disqus_HhmXZsEIlg

    because we have a horror left over from the past about what it means to be poor materially, and in our mad rush to prove to everybody that we aren’t poor any more we end up poorer for it spiritually

    and because urbanity combined with capitalism have been known to create a strong sense of alienation and loneliness worldwide, which other people allay through cultural and artistic activities, which are however strongly repressed in Singapore even now, everything measured only by its KPI and returns on investment, even our cross-island line through the forest and citizen babies and foreign workers – human life itself! – are made policies about, strictly by the economic value they have

    are you really that surprised that in a land where nothing but money is sacrosanct any more, people buy so much useless shit to assure themselves that they matter, because their money matters?

  • Quah Huay Mao

    BECAUSE RIGHT NOW SINGAPOREANS THINK TOO HIGHLY OF THEMSELVES AND YOUNGSTERS NOW ARE TOO RELY ON BRANDED GOODS WHICH IS NOT REALISTIC AT ALL ,,,BUT AND BUY AND BUY BUT IN THE END ALL KEEP IN SIDE THE STORE ROOMS ,,I KNOW THAT LONG AGO AS I VISITED MANY OF MY FRIENDS HOUSE .WHOLE CHUNKS OF JUNKS IN THE STORE …..CREDIT CARDS ?? ONLY POOR PEOPLE APPLY FOR CARDS AND BECOME A SLAVE FOR THE BANKS ……HAVING A ROOFTOP TO COVER OUR HEAD IS THE MOST PRACTICAL …RATHER THEN SPENDING FULL OF SHIT ON UMMECESSARILY THINGS …LOOK AT ALL TYCOONS OUTSIDE THEY BUY PROPERTY IN FULL CASH OR RATHER WIRE THE MONEY OVER AND NOT CREDIT CARDS ..MOST INTERESTING PART IS TYCOONS BUY IS IN WHOLE BUILDING AND NOT SINGLE UNIT …

  • Quah Huay Mao

    WORST IS THAT YOUNGSTERS NOW ARE NOT CONTENTED OF WHAT THEY HAVE …LOOKING BACK OF WHAT I WENT TRU WHEN I TRAVEL TO INDIA ,,,MOST OF THE POVERTY HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR AT ALL NOT EVEN SHOES OR SLIPPERS …AND YET WE SINGAPOREANS ,FOOD CANNOT FINISH WE THROW AND THROW AND WASTE A HELL OF FOOD

  • Alex Tan

    I fully agreed. A lot of Sporeans keep complaining things are expensive and salary not high enough etc. However, they did not realize that they are the one who made things expensive and its their lifestyle that make their salary not high enough.
    A lot of things in life you do not need to have them, its probably the ego, wanna to be seen as being trendy, up to mkt, wanna be perceived as high class and wanting to enjoy life that make them keep spending on useless things. Seriously w/o all those items, life still going well and the world will still spin. To me all those luxury items are useless, throw to dustbin and they will get bun off too. Personally I hardly spend on lifestyle though I can truly afford, cos I feel its a waste of $, I rather save for retirement

  • Spammyface Buk

    “That attitude is why so many PMETs with otherwise healthy earnings get into credit card debt”
    “Many of the Singaporeans who find themselves in ridiculous amounts of debt”

    It would appear that the entire article is premised upon the hordes of PMETS indebted to credit card companies. I won’t dispute the points that you made about being financially prudent. That said, if unsubstantiated, these generalisation are, at best, unnecessarily alarmist. Apologies for the excessive use of commas in the last sentence.

    I am sure our GP tutor would suggest that we include a snippet of data to lend more credibility to our assertions. This might suffice http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sites/default/files/attachment/2014/12/15/BT_20141215_JLCREDIT15_1412126.pdf

    20% revolvers could be the first whiffs of an economic and social problem that will invariably come about when the economy dips and this segment of the population have no means of clearing their accumulated debt.

  • TC

    It’s simple. Take away the car and live in a 3rm hdb flat will solve all money problems.

  • James Tan

    the curse of conspicuous consumption.

  • ForumReader

    An elementary article for beginners. Writer forgot to mention the main culprits being the over priced property and car purchases.