In Singapore, it’s pretty much understood that if you want money you’re going to have to sacrifice time—lots and lots of time, judging by the fact that Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world and even kids are turning into mini cubicle slaves thanks to an obsession with tuition.
I sometimes wonder if Singaporeans are so prone to overspending because they have so little free time. High cost of property and cars aside, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that middle class Singaporeans are increasingly losing control over their spending. In fact, over half of the people who showed up at Credit Counselling Singapore in 2013 ended up there not because of poverty or unexpected illness but because of a lack of discipline, plain and simple.
Instead of trying to clock extra hours at the office in hopes that the boss will notice and bestow upon you a bigger bonus, perhaps it’s time to examine some ways in which a lack of free time might actually be hurting you financially.
Outsourcing your life
The image of the Filipino maid carrying a child’s school bag is by now a classic Singapore image. Our fast-paced lives and long working hours have made it necessary to outsource so many areas of our lives, from child-rearing to cooking and cleaning. On the other hand, saving money usually means doing things yourself instead of paying someone to do it.
It’s no wonder raising a child is so expensive in Singapore. Raising kids is an activity that is inherently time-consuming. You can’t cram it all in over the weekend and then forget about it on weekdays. Mothers all over the country complain about the high costs of childcare, and when their kids get older they complain about the cost of tuition and after school activities without which their kids would be left alone at home.
Saving money takes time. It often means doing your own cooking instead of eating out again, having the perseverance to take public transport instead of hailing a cab and having the patience to comparison shop. This is all well and good when you’re a Wandering Jew with all time in the world to stop and smell the roses.
But when you’re a stressed out Singaporean whose main goal is to just collapse into bed exhausted at the end of the day, that $30 cab ride can mean an extra hour of much-needed sleep. Try to imagine your life if you could leave the office at 5 or 6pm on the dot. Would you spend your time and money any differently?
Trying to make up for a lack of time and experiences by buying pleasure
If you have a hobby you’re crazy about but just don’t have much time to spend on it, you’ve probably caught yourself browsing the Internet wistfully for new accessories or equipment to buy.
For instance, one of my friends is really into photography and has a ton of gear. But he finds that the less time he spends on actually going out and taking pictures, the more he ends up amassing equipment procured online.
The problem is that when you don’t have the time to do the things you love, you start to look for ways to continue being immersed in a hobby or interest without having to spend much time actually doing it.
Let’s say you’re into yoga but haven’t had time to practise. To feed your interest, you go online and start reading articles about yoga and surfing for yoga-related merchandise. Before you know it, you’ve bought a new mat and a new outfit for those sweaty hot yoga sessions. Then you feel a bit better because you’ve indulged your interest without actually having to spend the 3 hours going to the yoga studio. But you’re also the poorer for it. On the other hand, if you went on leave for a week and suddenly had more free time, you would probably end up actually hauling yourself to your mat and practising, instead of merely consuming.
I’d like to know if any of our readers have had this experience. Leave a shout-out in the comments!
What’s the solution?
No, we’re not saying you should migrate to Australia. Admittedly, there are some aspects of our day we certainly have no control over. But that doesn’t mean we should cede control to the office/the system/the lunchtime crowds/SMRT. If the feeder bus to the MRT is going to take 45 minutes to arrive, you’re pretty much stuck at the bus stop. But you have control over what you do in those 45 minutes. You can choose to waste them on Facebook, or you can do something more useful. Here are a couple of tips.
- Schedule your work and leisure time: Productivity gurus swear by scheduling their work day. If you give yourself only 1 hour to complete a certain task at the office, it gets finished much faster. Scheduling your free time can help you get a lot more out of it, too. Let’s say you get home at 8pm every day. From 8pm to 9pm, you can either choose to practise guitar/hone your poledancing skills/spend quality time with your pet fish, or Facebook/Channel 8 will choose you.
- Get rid of social media: Deleting the Facebook app from my phone was one of the best decisions in my life. It’s a little sad that whenever we do have a sliver of space to relax and immerse ourselves in our surroundings, we immediately get sucked into our smartphones. Then we complain that we don’t have time to smell the roses etc.
- Do less: If you’re trying to juggle three jobs while practising for next year’s Singapore Idol, searching for a cure for cancer in your home lab and going for intensive kung fu training, your life is going to be a blur of missed appointments and running from one thing to the next. Take a long, hard look at what activities you really want to focus on and then cut out the stuff that’s just weighing you down.
Do you think achieving work-life balance is essential to living a financially sustainable life? Let us know in the comments!