Opinion

3 Very Singaporean Problems More Money Can’t Seem to Solve

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Joanne Poh

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For Singaporeans, money is at the root of most of our problems, or at least that’s what we think. Most ordinary Singaporeans are stressed out about money. Even those with decent salaries have the fear of their savings getting wiped out by an unexpected illness hanging over their heads.

But would more money really solve all our problems? Or is the source of our worries deeper than how much change we have in our pockets? Here are three problems that may not be resolved even if you manage to strong-arm your boss into raising your salary.

 

You are unable to keep up with your own lifestyle inflation

You might be surprised to find that many Singaporeans who are drowning in debt and have booked themselves into credit counselling aren’t low income earners. In fact, on the surface some of them look like the system’s success stories, with their fancy cars and their penchant for hanging out at atas bars and restaurants.

These people have dug their own graves by letting their lifestyle inflation get out of hand. No matter how much money they earn, they will never have enough, because they’ll hike up their spending with each increase in income.

Observe how your own spending patterns have changed over the years and you’ll be able to see quite easily how drastically you tend to inflate your own lifestyle.

If you used to eat lunch at hawker centres when you were a fresh grad just starting out in the working world, and now you will only eat at places where the waiter explains the wine list, you’ve got some serious lifestyle inflation going on there my friend. You’re probably biding your time till your next annual increment so you can upgrade your car to a batmobile.

 

Poor work-life balance

If only I were a billionaire, I’d be able to nua away all the days of my life, say Singaporeans wistfully.

And indeed, on the surface, a lack of money does look like it’s the culprit behind the poor work-life balance Singapore has become famous for, especially since three quarters of Singaporeans view their jobs as nothing more than a way to put food in the table, according to a 2014 survey.

But the fact is that even as some of our incomes have risen over the years (to be fair, some groups have been left out and seen stagnant or declining incomes, but professionals in sectors like banking have seen their incomes soar), we’re working harder than ever.

For many people, more money has not equated to better work-life balance. For instance, many of my friends started careers in banking operations or compliance. Over the years, it seems like their work-life balance has been getting worse, even as their incomes have risen astronomically, with many making five figure monthly sums in less than ten years. However, many of these same friends seem to be working longer and hours, often staying in the office till 10 or 11pm.

Now, technically speaking, working hard in your 20s and 30s and saving and investing aggressively in the early years should enable you take it easy later on in your career, since investing early will enable you to reap the benefits of compound interest. That will help you to mitigate the threat of being forced to work longer and longer hours out of financial need.

 

Feelings of stress, helplessness and deprivation

Recently, I was talking to a good friend of mine. He said something which I think perfectly sums up what many Singaporeans are feeling: “I think I’m overworked. I work and work but feel like I’m getting nowhere. Singapore’s cost of living is just too high.”

Now, my friend has his own business and is earning a five figure monthly sum, which makes his income higher than over 80% of Singaporeans’. He does not have kids to support and both his parents are still working.

Yet he said this: “Now got money. But no freedom. Even though I’m not working directly under others, working for myself is just as bad. Worried about money all the time.”

While many are quick to blame the high cost of living, it seems there’s something that’s deeply embedded our psyche that gives us this constant fear of not having enough and not being able to keep up.

Do you face any of the above problems? 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.