5 Awkward Money Moments Every Singaporean Has and How to Handle Them

awkward money moments singapore

Joanne Poh


We’ve all experienced those red-faced moments when the bill arrives and everyone’s secretly shocked they have to each fork over $80, or when a friend asks to borrow money when he still hasn’t paid back the previous amount you loaned him.

The good news is that being polite doesn’t you’re doomed to a life of being a pushover and parting with cash you’re not comfortable with spending. Here are some of our most hated awkward moments and how to handle them while remaining as cool as a cucumber.


1. Asking for your money back

It’s happened to the best of us. The bill arrives, and you offer to pay using your credit card as nobody has cash on hand. Of course, everyone assures you they’ll pay you back in due course.

Here’s news for you. If you don’t ask for the money back, repeatedly in some cases, it’s not going to come looking for you. In my experience, about half the people who owe you money are going to keep quiet unless you speak up and ask for it back.

If a whole bunch of people owe you money on the same receipt, send out an email blast or WhatsApp message itemising (politely) exactly how much each person needs to pay. It’s best not to leave it to them to do the math. Because it’s a message addressed to the group, people are unlikely to get offended. At this point, at least half of them should take steps to pay you.

It gets trickier if some of these people are folks you don’t see often. Tackle this by including your bank account number and inviting them to transfer the money electronically.

Even so, some people will still find it all too easy to ignore your messages, and that’s when you’ll have to issue personal reminders. Thankfully, WhatsApp makes it oh-so-easy to do this in a friendly way, as you can always litter smiley faces everywhere to soften the blow.


2. Splitting the bill when you hardly ordered anything

Have you ever forced yourself to order the cheapest item on the menu only to later get that sinking feeling halfway through the meal that it looks like the group is going to split the bill? Especially when they’ve ordered a $100 bottle of wine that you haven’t drunk a drop from.

Saying you don’t want to split the bill evenly can be so painful and seem like jumping on the table shouting “I’m a cheapskate!” But if you’ve spent significantly less than the rest, any logical person would understand that you shouldn’t pay the same amount. The only reason nobody says anything is that they figure you would speak up if it mattered to you.

That doesn’t mean you need to start whining that you hardly ate anything. When the bill arrives and someone starts working how much each person should pay, have your change ready and slip it to him, saying “I didn’t have the wine,” or “I only ordered a starter, so my contribution should be $15.” It can be painful to say the first few times, but honestly, nobody will care.


3. Someone flat-out asks how much you earn

People who ask how much you earn might make the question sound breezy and off-hand, but this is such an intensely private question that deep down, they’re probably dying to know. That means the more thick-skinned ones aren’t going to be deterred by a mere shrug of the shoulders.

A neutral statement like “I earn enough to get by,” is a polite way to try to brush the question off. When pressed, you can try humour to deflect the attention (“My salary is in roughly in the same range as Bill Gates’”) or act blur (“Actually I’m not even sure how much I earn because after CPF gets deducted I have nothing left”).

If they still don’t get the hint, you can use this line, “I think it’s better not to say, after all salary is something that never stays the same anyway.”


4. Your friend suggests a freaking expensive restaurant

The last time you and your friend met, she bought you dinner, so this time, you’ve promised, it’s on you.

Before you can suggest an affordable restaurant that won’t send you straight to the nearest loanshark, your friend squeals, “Ooh, how about that new restaurant opened by the chef who helms Waku Ghin?” and your face instantly turns a ghastly shade of pale. How do you get out of this without sounding like a tightwad?

If it’s a friend you don’t know well, your usual reaction of, “What? So expensive?” might sound a bit crude. Besides, you don’t want to make the person feel bad about making you feel uncomfortable.

Instead, suggest an inexpensive restaurant… or five. “Ooh, craving sushi? Forget Tatsuya, I hear Sushi Express is awesome!” Your friend might even think you’re being cute.


5. Notorious friend tries to borrow money

Everyone’s known for a while never to lend that friend money. Whether due to a gambling problem or a shopping addiction, it’s been rumoured that he’s up to his ears in debt, and several of your mutual friends have already been burnt. Never, ever lend him money unless you’re sure you’re not going to miss it, they say.

Then the request comes, and he’s looking at you across the table expectantly. He promises he’ll pay you back the minute he gets paid at the end of the month.

No matter how awkward you feel, you do not have to lend anyone money if you don’t want to. But whatever you do, don’t mention that he has a reputation for not paying back borrowed money, or that people have warned you about his bad habits.

In fact, you don’t really need to mention anything else, apart from “no”. Don’t be tempted to make excuses by saying you have no money or that you’re broke. Plaster an apologetic expression on your face and use the exact phrase, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t,” and leave it at that.

Making excuses for yourself will not only make you sound lame and give him a chance to reason his way to success, probably by saying he’ll give you the money back in a few days so you won’t miss it anyway. But give no reasons and there’s nothing more he can say.

Have you ever encountered an awkward money situation and how did you handle it? Share your experiences 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.