Opinion

5 Ways Singaporeans Parents Make Having Kids More Expensive Than it Has to Be

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Joanne Poh

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Everyone in Singapore knows raising kids here is expensive. That’s why the government has gone so far as to dangle cash incentives in front of would-be parents to encourage them to have more offspring.

Many expenses like milk powder, diapers and childcare (if both you and your spouse are working) are undoubtedly unavoidable. It all comes with the territory.

But just walk around any crowded shopping mall on the weekend and you’ll see families with kids seated silently at restaurant tables, each fiddling with their very own iPads and smartphones. Now, if you’re going to equip every single one of your kids with their very own suite of top-of-the-range smart devices once they’re old enough to read, parenthood is going to be a very, very expensive journey for you.

Here are five ways your kids cost you money—ways that are preventable if you’re a firm parent.

1. Going overboard with tuition

The majority of Singaporean parents (70% to be exact) stick their kid in non-stop tuition classes, while there is a small minority that refuse to buy into the hype.

There’s no denying that tuition is a huge drain on parental resources. 50% of the parents whose kids were in tuition classes spent more than $500 a month on tuition in a 2012 survey.

But there’s evidence to show that parents might be mindlessly throwing their money away. In another survey, only a third of the parents who enrolled their kids in tuition could say with certainty that their kids’ grades were improving thanks to these extra lessons.

Often, Singaporean parents spend excessively on tuition simply because they’re kiasu, and not because their kids are actually benefitting.

2. Buying gadgets for their kids

The addiction to gadgets starts early in Singapore. Parents are simply too exhausted or too busy to keep their kids entertained, and so the iPad is often a child’s first source of distraction.

Before you know it, the kid reaches school-going age, and realises that many of his classmates have smart devices and gaming consoles. Kid comes back and begs for an iPhone if he can ace his Primary 2 math test… and the rest is history.

Singaporean parents are notorious for spoiling their kids materially. Lavishing gadgets and smart devices on kids is seen as providing for them and wanting the best for them.

3. Enrolling their kids in expensive enrichment and after-school activities

Okay, we get it. When you were a child, your parents couldn’t afford to send you for horse riding lessons or golf training. Now that Junior is old enough, you want him to have his fill of all the enrichment and after school activities you never got to enjoy yourself—especially those that will distinguish him as a man of society when he grows up.

It’s pretty ironic that some parents complain about the cost of milk powder, but then go and enrol their toddlers in fencing classes and sailing lessons.

4. Spending too much when giving their kids a treat

The children of Singapore are a pretty beleaguered bunch. Their faces are weighed down by spectacles at an early age, they are often spotted lugging around school bags that weigh as much as they do, and the education system and barrage of tuition classes are so stressful we’ve seen a spike in youth suicide rates.

So it’s understandable that parents want to give their kids a treat every now and then. The only problem is that many parents pay no heed to their own savings and retirement needs when spending money on their children.

In my time, getting a treat from your parents meant a $10 Ninja Turtles figurine, or a trip to the zoo. These days, middle class parents buy PlayStations for their kids and take them on holiday to Korea. Some parents really need to be honest about what they can afford, and not be blinded by what other parents post about on social media.

5. Going on too many expensive family vacations and outings

When you have kids, going out as a family costs a lot more than when it’s just you and your spouse.

While you might only have had to worry about airfare, accommodation and food for two before you had kids, all these costs quickly add up when you have a brood of one, two or three. Going on an overseas holiday to Europe as a family of four can easily add up to a whopping $10,000.

Yet, many middle-class parents are unwilling to change their lifestyles or accept that they can’t take as many fancy vacations when they have kids. There are young families who are unable to pay off their credit card debt and turn to their friends and extended families for financial help, yet still insist on taking their kids on two expensive overseas vacations a year.

Having kids is a financial sacrifice that parents should knowingly take on. The trouble is that some people want to have their shiny, happy kids, and still enjoy the same standard of living they enjoyed before the younglings came along.

What else do Singaporean parents spend a lot of money on? 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.