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Discussing Money in Singapore: What’s Acceptable and What’s Not?

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Joanne Poh

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In Singapore, we crucify people from other nationalities for what we perceive as being poor manners. But take a look around, and you’ll notice that while Singaporeans aren’t exactly shoving people out of the way or relieving themselves in public, many people here engage in a more subtle form of rudeness—talking, and often boasting—about money.

Being in a country that’s rather awkwardly perched on the cusp of third world and first, it can be hard to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. We’ve all rolled our eyes inwardly at that guy who boasts about how much his car cost him, or shrugged uncomfortably when being about salaries or bonuses by nosy colleagues. How do you know where to draw the line? Our guide to what’s acceptable when it comes to talking about money might help.

 

As a general rule, your income should remain a secret

As a general rule, you should never divulge your income to anyone in a social situation, which means it’s not appropriate to tell your friends, your grand uncle or that girl you’re trying to impress.

It’s safe to say that a huge part of the average person’s sense of self-worth derives from how much money they have. And telling someone about your income encourages people to compare themselves to you, even if that isn’t their motive for asking. You and your friend might have been happy going out for happy hour drinks before, but now that he knows you earn twice his salary, things might change.

Another problem with divulging your salary is that you give people an incomplete picture of your finances. While your salary might sound high on paper, you might be saddled with student loan repayments and a mortgage. But that won’t matter to your friends, who might wonder why you never pick up the tab when you earn more than them.

One of the few exceptions is your spouse, whom you probably need to plan your finances together with. The other two exceptions, headhunters and financial planners, will need to know your salary in order to do their jobs, so give them a break.

 

Talking about salary with your coworkers isn’t always bad

Whether or not you should disclose your salary or bonus to your coworkers falls in a gray area. On the one hand, it’s all too easy to get dragged into a cloud of pointless office gossip. By divulging your salary you become fodder for gossip, especially if you’re earning more than your coworkers.

On the other hand, if you read your employment contract closely, you might discover a clause stating that your salary is to be kept confidential. Companies try to get their staff to keep mum for a reason—so those employees who are getting shortchanged will be none the wiser.

This means that exchanging information regarding salaries with colleagues can be constructive as it can alert you if you’re getting shortchanged by your employer. If you do find out you’re being paid less than you should be, you can bring up the matter with your boss and ask for a raise or look for greener pastures.

 

It is never polite to brag about your wealth, no matter how subtly

Most people would never think they were guilty of bragging about their wealth, since the most blatant show-offs are those who boast openly about their six figure salaries and how much their Ferrari cost, right?

But humble-bragging is much more common, and usually so thinly-veiled as to be quite maddening. The most common forms of humble-bragging involve dropping hints about how expensive one’s cars, handbags, watches, apartments, etc are, or how prestigious and well-paying one’s job is. The following are all examples of humble-bragging:

  • Wow, you went backpacking? I don’t think I could ever go on that kind of holiday… I’m too high maintenance….
  • You’re so lucky you like your job! I’ve thought of doing that too but I don’t think I can survive on that salary….
  • Better not spend so much, I’m quite broke now after sending my Merc to the workshop. Can you believe they charged me $5,000 just because of that scratch?
  • Thinking of getting another Celine bag… but I just bought one this month!
  • Life is going really great! My parents just bought me an apartment!

In Singapore, comments like the above are extremely commonplace, but I think most people unanimously find them annoying and tacky.

Are there any other money-related rules of etiquette you live by? Share them with 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.