Opinion

7 Psychological Reasons Why Singaporeans Keep Overspending

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Joanne Poh

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Oops, I did it again. That seems to be the refrain of the many Singaporeans who aren’t exactly shabbily paid but still can’t seem to pay off their credit card debt each month.

Overspending is the biggest reason Singaporeans land in credit card debt, and for many of these people, the problem is clearly not that they’re not being paid enough, but that they’re living lifestyles that are bigger than their paychecks.

Often, if the person is drawing a decent salary, the problem is a psychological one. Here are seven psychological reasons many Singaporeans just can’t seem to keep their wallets in their pants.

 

1. Keeping up with the Joneses

Raise your hands if your parents used to compare you with other people’s kids and then complain about why you didn’t score as well in the PSLE as Auntie Susan’s boy, or weren’t as well-behaved as your classmate Meiting.

Well, you’re all grown up now, and like many Singaporean adults you might still have the tendency to compare yourself with others. Everyone on our Facebook feeds seems to have visited Iceland this year, that means we must go too otherwise we’re not truly “living life”. Your colleagues all have that $7,000 quilted Chanel bag, and since you earn the same salary as them that means you can afford one too.

A small-time real estate agent I know insisted on buying a BMW because he had managed to convince himself it would impress his clients. Well, as far as I know, his clients have only complained about his lack of responsiveness, and not his car.

 

2. A penchant for gambling

There’s a reason the government decided to impose a $100 levy on Singaporean entrants to our local casinos. Many Singaporeans, largely older aunties and uncles but also some millennials, can be quite reckless with their cash when it comes to gambling.

Maybe it’s being fed on a diet of God of Gamblers, and due to the fact that The Unbeatables is just about the only local drama serial that’s not considered lame, but when it comes to gambling, be it soccer betting, 4D / Toto and casino gaming, many Singaporeans throw all logic out the window.

I know some aunties and uncles who sincerely believe their baccarat strategy and frequent trips to RWS constitute a legit investment scheme that’s going to fund their retirement.

 

3. Excess

A quick look at the Chanels, Louis Vuittons, Pradas and Celines at Raffles Place and on Orchard Road and it’s clear that subtlety is not our strongest suit here in Singapore.

Sure, we get it that you work hard for your money and that you deserve to treat yourself every once in a while. But many Singaporeans take this to the extreme.

Instead of wanting a wardrobe containing a few nice outfits, people want to have as many clothing items, pairs of shoes and handbags as they can possibly afford.

Instead of eating at nice restaurants occasionally, they think it’s their duty as self-professed foodies and cafe hoppers to eat out as much as possible, and then plaster Facebook with their food photos.

Instead of enjoying a fun overseas holiday every now and then, they want to make sure their Instagram account showcases as many trips as possible, so the world knows they’re living their lives to the fullest.

 

4. Mindless overconsumption

Sometimes we don’t even realise it when we end up overpaying for stuff. A lot of people just don’t give that much thought into how much they’re paying. Whether it’s due to the fact that they don’t want to be caught pinching pennies in public or they really can’t be bothered about losing $10 here and $50 there is debatable.

Take for instance an evening at a restaurant with a friend. Many people wildly overestimate their appetites and over-order. They then end up wasting a ton of food and money. Next time you eat out, take a look at the plates of the people dining at the next table when they leave and you’ll see what I mean.

Then there are people who buy stuff they don’t really want at sales because they were bored, the sale happened to be there and they didn’t want to have to go home empty-handed.

 

5. Ignorance

You’re probably losing money without knowing it. Many young Singaporeans, high on the receipt of their very first credit card, fail to pay their balance off in full each month, but think that so long as they manage to pay the minimum sum they’re in the clear. These people do not realise just how high credit card interest rates are.

There is also a scary number of people who sign up for home loans to pay for their first property without even comparing home loan rates, which is a major facepalm because you gain absolutely nothing by signing up for a loan just because it’s offered by the same bank you have a savings account in. If only they knew they could have compared home loan interest rates using MoneySmart’s home loan wizard.

Not refinancing your home loan when the interest rate offered by your current loan is no longer competitive is also a big booboo that causes you to spend money unnecessarily. Check out MoneySmart’s refinancing wizard if you want to know if it’s time to refinance.

 

6. Not being able to say no

Filial piety, whatever you think of it, is one thing. Paying $80,000 for a wedding just because your parents say you have to have a huge banquet to which they can invite all their mahjong kakis is another.

In a collectivistic society like ours, saying no is something a lot of people have difficulty with, especially when the social pressure comes from their own family, friends and co-workers.

How many times have you caved in and shelled out $50 for that baby shower of a colleague you hardly speak to, just because everyone was going? How many times have you agreed to meet your friends at a restaurant with shockingly high prices just because were you were afraid to look cheapskate by suggesting a more affordable place?

 

7. Kiasuism

In Singapore’s rat race, there’s always someone who’s ahead of you. That’s why so many people are willing to pay good money to ensure they or their kids are not left behind.

Otherwise, why is it that kids from top schools, who already have much stronger academic abilities than other students in their cohort, are still spending every waking hour attending tuition?

Are you guilty of any of the above? Tell us what your biggest weakness is 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.