Opinion

If Singaporeans Knew These 4 Things, They Might Change Their Spending Habits

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Joanne Poh

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A 2011 survey found that only 1% of the Singaporeans surveyed said they didn’t like shopping. The overwhelming majority—70% to be exact, either liked or loved shopping.

Loved shopping.

No wonder shopping malls are so darned crowded all the time—shopping isn’t a chore here, it’s a hobby. All this while statistics show retail spend is slowly decreasing. What’s going on?

It’s easy to see why so many Singaporeans get into crazy amounts of debt thanks to overspending—the most common reason people ended up banging on Credit Counselling Singapore’s doors in 2014 was splurging on lifestyles not justified by their income.

If that sounds like something in your not-so-distant future, here are four things you should be aware of.

 

Shopping malls = psychological warfare

If you think you’re the only one to blame for your shopping addiction, you now get to blame someone else. Stepping into a shopping mall is like entering into psychological warfare.

All the big retailers employ a whole host of psychological techniques to trick customers into buying. They’re like that shop that’s been holding a “closing down sale” for the last five years, only much more sophisticated.

For instance, did you know that the entire layout of supermarkets is designed to squeeze as much  money out of you as possible? Staples like milk and bread are kept deep inside the shop so you’re forced to walk past all their other products before buying them and, hopefully for them, will end up picking up non-essentials along the way. The cheapest items are always kept high on the top shelves or on the very lowest shelves, while the more expensive items are kept at eye level, so if you’re too lazy to compare prices you’ll just end up buying the more costly items.

There’s a reason the music at fast fashion brands is so catchy you just have to go inside so you can twerk along, or that the salespeople at luxury stores are so smiley and attentive. The real reason that mobile phone costs $599 is because it sounds way cheaper than $600. And the reason that $300 jacket is placed next to the $199 one is because it makes the latter look reasonably-priced in comparison.

No matter how smart you think you are, you’ve got nothing on retail stores. You only win if you buy just items you’ve researched and thought hard about, away from the blare of advertising.

 

Your tastes have been decided by someone else

If you pride yourself on your impeccable sense of style and consider yourself a bit of a fashionista, well, we’re sorry to say this, but your tastes are the result of clever marketing and advertising.

Yes, that applies even (or especially) if you’re a hipster who claims to love one-of-a-kind, artisanal and non-mainstream goods.

It’s almost impossible to disentangle your opinion of a product from its brand’s image and marketing efforts.

People who drink so-called specialty coffee might insist that it tastes better than Starbucks or kopi, but they’re kidding themselves if they don’t admit that the cachet of being sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference isn’t part of the equation.

South Korean beauty products have such a good reputation in Singapore partly because of the celebrities that endorse them.

Similarly, you might buy a bag from Prada instead of Bugis Village because, ostensibly, you prefer the quality and the design of the former. But “style” is pretty much dictated by the fashion industry and then amplified by the various brands. What’s more, if there was a bag of the exact same quality and design, but displaying a This Fashion logo instead, would you buy it? Most Prada users wouldn’t.

As much as we like to think that our purchasing decisions showcase our personality and sense of individuality, they are actually just reflections of the brand-created narratives we buy into.

 

What you see onscreen is not real

Whether you’re oogling the fashion choices of your favourite K-pop stars or stalking wealthy acquaintances on Instagram, there’s no denying that envy is one big motivator behind purchasing decisions is wanting to be like this person/celebrity.

Otherwise, why else would people get into debt just to look rich and sophisticated, or to have the same nose job that x blogger got?

It’s very telling that the most popular bloggers in Singapore are either beauty/fashion/lifestyle bloggers whom teenagers idolise or food reviewers who clue Singaporeans in on the hippest new restaurants. People go online looking for others to emulate, and whose product and lifestyle recommendations they can take.

Just like advertising, online personas are created to impress others. That’s not real life,  and there’s no point spending money trying to emulate a chimera.

 

The average Singaporean spends more than they should

Just because everyone else is spending $150 on their haircuts and $800 on weekend staycations doesn’t mean it’s the smart thing to do. Singaporeans often look at the people around them and then think it’s “normal” to have certain spending habits, which couldn’t be more misguided.

Judging by their rising levels of debt and low savings levels, Singaporeans are spending way more than they should.

A 2013 survey on Singaporeans’ spending habits revealed that 4 in 10 students in Singapore spend more than $50 a week on shopping for themselves. That means students, who mind you don’t have a full-time income, are spending over $200 on shopping every month. We are also some of the top spenders on eating out in the Asia Pacific region. And don’t even get us started on the insane amounts of money some people spend on weddings.

When you realise that two out of three Singaporeans think they will be forced to continue working beyond their desired retirement age, it really makes you wonder why so many people are still spending with abandon. Might have something to do with our awful financial literacy.

Instead of justifying your splurges by consoling yourself that all your friends are doing it too, you should look at what the next Singaporean is spending on and then do the exact opposite.

What are your spending habits like? 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.

  • hansc

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Just observing daily life, there are so-many of these hidden pitfalls around. Especially the coffee thing, no-one really can tell between single origin coffee vs. commodity coffee, especially when added milk/sugar, this while they tend to charge SGD5-7 for just coffee served by guys with tattoos a leather apron and a funny hat. Only to have to think you’re “in”. I bet in the end would if you have to choose just 1 coffee for the rest of your life it would be Kopi anyways..