Opinion

How Much Are We Willing to Sacrifice in the Name of Money in Singapore?

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Joanne Poh

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Those of us without trust funds often think of money as something you have to make sacrifices to get more of. But with people dying of overwork and work-life balance becoming a bit of a buzzword, the question is, just how much should a person be willing to sacrifice in the name of money? There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much is too much, but here are some general guidelines that can alert you to the need to make some changes in your life.

 

Time

For most of us (4 Hour Work Week proponents notwithstanding), some amount of time must be spent in order to earn money. The most obvious example is when you’re an employee and have to trade most of Monday to Friday in exchange for your salary. But even if you’re an entrepreneur, unless you’ve succeeded in automating your entire business, you’re still obliged to spend a good amount of time building your business to the point where you can let go of the reins.

With working hours in Singapore some of the world’s longest and many young professionals burning out in spectacular fashion, the question becomes, just how much time should you reasonably expect to sacrifice with the aim of bringing home the bacon and building your career? And when does it get to be too much?

The truth is, it’s impossible to answer this question with a figure. There are just too many variables—what your goals in life are, how much time you want to invest in other areas in your life such as friends, family or hobbies, how much you enjoy your job and so on.

Someone who’s passionate about his work might be more comfortable working longer hours than someone who sees work simply as a way to keep from starving. Someone who can get by on 4 hours of sleep a night has a lot more time at his disposal than a person who needs his full 8 hours. Someone who’s heavily in debt obviously places greater importance on making money, at least in the short term, than someone who comfortably spends less than he earns. Ultimately, it is important to know that there is such a thing as working too much, and that everybody’s threshold is different depending on where you are and what you want in life.

However, if you spend 5 hours a day surfing Facebook after work it certainly might feel like you have no time, but that doesn’t mean you should quit your job.  A good exercise is to strictly schedule your time for a month or two, including all social and recreational activities. Then you’ll have a better idea of how much time you really need to devote to the other areas in your life.

Should you sacrifice this? Yes to a certain degree, but how much depends on your life goals.

 

Health

Most of us might not be labourers toiling under the hot sun or at risk of falling to our deaths at a worksite. Nonetheless, if you’re not careful about managing your life, you might be damaging your health from the safety your cubicle. Overwork has quite understandably been linked to a whole host of physical and mental ailments like depression and insomnia. A doctor who wrote in to the Straits Times last year blamed long hours at work as the reason for an escalating number of young professionals landing in his office.

Even if you’re not exactly checking into IMH for depression anytime soon, you’re probably no stranger to lack of sleep resulting from long working hours. Some people can handle it, but some can’t. It’s important to know your own body’s limits. For instance, if I get less than 7 hours of sleep a night for an extended period, my body shuts down and I get a fever, but other people can function well on 5 hours.

If you’re working upwards of 12 hours a day, bear in mind that you’re going to have to schedule ruthlessly to fit exercise into your day. Neglect that for the next 10 or 20 years and you’d better hope you’ve saved up enough money to foot your medical bills.

The short answer is that, no, you should never need to sacrifice your health for work with the help of scheduling and discipline. If you’re used to exercising for half an hour every day under normal circumstances, find a way to work that into your day. There’s almost always a way if you use your time wisely. On the other hand, if there’s absolutely no way to fit in even half an hour of exercise or have a more nutritious lunch than biscuits from the pantry, then it’s time to seriously reconsider your work arrangements.

Should you sacrifice this? No.

 

Interests

If you had your way, you’d be running a surf shop on the beach in Hawaii, designing handbags or flirting with groupies after your rock show. Instead, most Singaporeans find themselves doing the walk down the gangplank that is the Raffles Place MRT tunnel each morning, wishing the day would end as swiftly as possible.

In the spirit of pragmatism, most people here sacrifice their dreams in favour of something that earns them more money. Actually, to be more accurate, most people have no idea what their dreams are, because as children, instead of wanting to become astronauts or undersea explorers, all they wanted was to get straight As for their PSLE.

Just because you’re passionate about building dinosaur figurines out of toothpicks or playing the harmonium doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pursue a career doing just that. At the same time, if you loathe your work so much you contemplate going on MC every day, it’s unlikely you’ll be performing at your best.

When given the choice between a lucrative job that you hate and something you love but which offers you little chance of success, unless you feel terribly compelled to pick one over the other, try to find reasonable middle ground. You might not be able to live out your fantasies of becoming a go-kart racer, but at least pick something that you’re interested enough to succeed at. Tons of bankers, lawyers and accountants drop out of the race because they realise they don’t like it.

Should you sacrifice this? Not really, don’t pick something you have zero interest in.

What sacrifices have you made in order to make a living? 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.

  • redmists

    Hello Joanne! I just wanted to drop you a note to say I’ve been loving all of your blog posts!:) Maybe it’s because we have share the same thoughts and opinions on these things. But I’m also glad I’ve found a Singapore-based blog touching on these things, lol. I personally do think Singapore is an extremely expensive place to live in. Everything is expensive – food, transport (relatively), education, health etc. I personally can’t wait to get to live somewhere else where not only things might be cheaper (or maybe not since I have Europe on my mind), but at least a place where I can get more out of life as well (besides just shopping, eating, working late and going to the movies ugh). I will stop here since it’s a topic I can ramble on for ages, but I’m bookmarking your blog and will be returning often. Thanks alot for your thoughts, Joanne! And keep the lovely posts coming! 😀

  • Thank you for your sweet comment! I’m happy to hear the articles resonate with you. And yes, it does sound like we would see eye to eye on many issues. 😉 Be bold as you work towards the life you want. All the best!