Opinion

4 Financial Mistakes Singaporean Women are Making

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Joanne Poh

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Neither men nor women have it easy in Singapore when it comes to staying afloat in an expensive city and planning for retirement amidst a zillion financial burdens.

But there are some problems that tend to plague one gender more than the other. While men have to deal with the fact that they get financially set back by 2 years thanks to NS, women have their own set of issues to deal with.

Here are four problems that, while technically not restricted to either sex, tend to manifest as girl issues in Singapore.

 

Thinking they can rely on their spouse or kids for retirement

Despite the fact that Singapore has very high female labour force participation and, if only on paper, there seems to be an adequate level of gender equality in the workplace, our mindsets remain decidedly third-world.

A 2012 survey showed that graduate women in Singapore are largely determined to marry up, and a 2014 study showed that Singaporean husbands are still viewed as providers and breadwinners. On the other hand, Singaporean women still tend to be saddled with the lion’s share of their households’ child-rearing and caregiving duties.

That could be a big reason why so many Singaporean mothers are failing to plan for retirement: A 2015 survey showed that 75% of the mothers surveyed had not started planning for retirement, while 44% planned to rely on their children in future.

And while not all Singaporean women are like that, most of us know guys who get all stressed out because their wives wanted to go on that holiday to Paris, or housewives who go out and buy $3,000 vacuum cleaners.

If your husband earns a lot more than you, it can be tempting to assume you’ll be taken care of in retirement. But even if you’re not currently working, you need to make plans of your own. Make sure you have your own savings and investments no matter where your income comes from.

Calculate how much you’d like to save for retirement and how you plan to get there. You might realise you need to take up a part-time job or go back to work when your kids are older, or simply decide to sock away some of the money you receive each month if you’re a housewife receiving allowance from your spouse.

 

Not choosing a workplace that assesses them based on performance rather than face time

Despite the fact that on paper it seems like the gender gap is closing in the Singaporean workplace, the long hours expected by employers work against women with young children.

Now, it’s not that men can’t run off at 6pm and look after their kids. It’s just that women are not only more likely to be the ones who have to do so, and that some local bosses tend to be especially suspicious of working mothers.

Despite the government’s exhortations to implement flexi-work arrangements, the sentiment on the ground is that local employers are still largely not family-friendly, and tend to penalise workers who do not put in the expected face-time. In fact, a study conducted in 2012 showed that face-time still played a big role in helping employers determine how to reward employees.

If you’re a high performer at work and are determined to progress in your career while bringing up your kids, you want to choose your employer with care. Pick an employer that will assess your performance based on the actual work done, rather than how long you show your face in the office. Such employers are more likely to offer flexible work arrangements and consider telecommuting.

If you remain with an employer that insists on long hours at the office even when your job can be done remotely or on a flexible basis, your career, your family or both will lose out in the end.

 

Doing the same financial planning as men

It’s worth noting that your financial plan for the future shouldn’t necessarily be exactly the same as that of your spouse or your single male counterparts, whether you’re single, married, childless or a mother.

Women tend to outlive men, and this longevity is a double-edged sword when you consider that dying later in Singapore means a tougher struggle to be retirement-ready.

Women also earn less than men in Singapore–more specifically, an average of 10% less than men who perform the exact same functions across most industries.

This means women actually need to work harder to retire than men.

To complicate matters further, women’s health insurance needs can also differ. Some insurance companies now provide medical and critical illness insurance policies tailored to women, which offer extra coverage in the event of cancers more likely to hit females, such as breast cancer and cervical cancer, and/or pregnancy complications.

 

Excessive fashion consumerism

All those people who love complaining about how Singaporeans don’t dress well have gotten their wish. We’re now a city of fashion Instagrammers, at least in the non-heartland areas.

Despite the heat, I really think there are a lot of well-dressed people walking around the city areas. Even teenagers these days look less disastrous than those in the 90s and early 2000s (Fubu jeans, anyone?).

But this fashion forwardness comes at a price. And Singaporean women tend to be particularly susceptible to getting sucked into a cycle of voracious fashion consumerism. You know what I mean—they’re constantly buying into new trends which change every season, so there’s constantly something new to buy to update their look with.

Years ago it was gladiator sandals, now people are wearing those sandals with thick straps and chunky soles that look suspiciously like an updated version of the platforms from Far East Plaza ah lians used to wear in the 90s.

Of course, unless you don’t mind dressing in the same way as your pr 3 math teacher who’s still teaching in that school to this very day, you’re bound to want to update your wardrobe from time to time.

But women’s fashion is a fickle thing, and ladies should take care not to let fashion consumerism wreck their budgets. I have friends who spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on clothes and bags every month, and while they look fabulous, at some point it becomes a bit of an addiction.

(By the way, I am by no means saying that Singaporean men are any less fashionable. The days when guys would wear army singlets to Orchard Road are long over. It’s just that in my experience it’s the ladies who tend to continually overspend on clothing.)

Do you know any women who make the above mistakes? 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.

  • Xinying Ling

    Myself. I’ve been there and when faced with exigent circumstances that required savings, I realized all I had was a fancy wardrobe of luxury bags, close to 40 pairs of shoes and not much to really pay for anything really important. (ie. my unexpected pregnancy and later on, my sick child.).