What Netflix’s Beef Teaches Us About Money, Investments, and Budgeting

What Netflix’s Beef Teaches Us About Money, Investments, and Budgeting
Image: Tenor / Netflix

A near accident in a parking lot turns into a viral road rage and property destruction. No, this isn’t a summary of some viral dashcam footage circulating on Facebook or Reddit. We’re talking about Netflix’s latest dark comedy series, Beef. The 10-part series has been lauded with positive reviews, some critics going as far as to say that it is one of the best TV series of the year. Expectedly, Beef is set to put its lot in for the Emmy Awards as a limited or anthology series.

Created by Lee Sung Jin, writer and producer for the Emmy-nominated HBO’s “Silicon Valley”, Beef chronicles how a tit-for-tat relationship spirals quickly into lies and illogical revenge as the main leads, Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yuen), become entangled in each other’s lives and families. 

Both characters are riddled with their own struggles and complications just like everyone else. In the flurry of emotional manipulation, dramatised revenge, and repressive loneliness, this Netflix series hits much closer to home—particularly with money matters. 

Danny is the representative of every middle-class worker—a failing contractor who just wants to make an honest living. On the other hand, Amy is every Asian’s ideal of financial success and freedom. A successful entrepreneur who can own a holiday home on a whim and afford luxurious shopping trips any day. 

Singapore is pretty much the apex of Asians trying to make their break in a Westernised world. Financial freedom is the end game. However, to get there, we must navigate the ever-changing economy riddled with a plethora of expenses, all while juggling various responsibilities in our careers and family. Here are 5 lessons we’ve learnt from Netflix’s Beef.


1. Gig economy is the future. Start a side hustle. 

We live in an era of unprecedented costs and hyperinflation. Never have we felt such expressed effects in Singapore. Core inflation hit 5.5%, the highest in 14 years. New five-room built-to-order flats (BTOs) come with a $700K – $840K price tag. Renting a 3-bedroom condo in Kovan has spiked from S$3,050 to S$5,000

Danny’s parents could not afford to pay for the mortgage on their property and had to default on their loan. Neither could Danny get a loan to finance it due to his failed business. 

Reality check. Your salaries are not increasing as fast as your cost of living and not forgetting that CPF takes up 20% of your take home. Furthermore, Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) limits your repayment obligations to 55% of your monthly income. You don’t have much to play with. What other options do you have then?

Perhaps we could consider taking a page out of Gen Z’s preference for the gig economy. Having lived through economic crises in their formative years and knowing how job scopes can be obsolete, Gen Zs are motivated to secure their finances with side hustles. 

Just as Danny takes on repair gigs at the church and other unconventional means, it’s time to explore a side hustle or take on freelancing gigs to supplement your income. 

Many parents regret being caught up at work that they missed out on the best years of their children’s development. Being self-employed, you enjoy the flexibility of spending time with your family especially when your children are young. Considering that most jobs have adopted a hybrid model, it is more doable today to be more involved in your child’s life.

Relying on one income stream can be risky due to job cuts and advances in technology. A side hustle can recession-proof your future. Furthermore, you can grow your income exponentially with a side hustle. If successful, it could reap better returns than any investment portfolio. Consider these ​​factors before you start one:

  • Ease of starting—how can you launch quickly with little deterrence
  • Cost of starting—the amount of financial investment/capital needed
  • Ease of maintaining—how much effort do you require to sustain over time

Here are some ideas to kickstart your brainstorming session:

  • Tuition
  • eCommerce
  • Translation
  • Online surveys
  • Selling handicrafts
  • Selling homemade food
  • Become a personal shopper
  • Become an influencer


2. Do your due diligence when it comes to investments and business deals.

The first rule of investing: Never buy or sell when influenced by your emotions. You’re going to regret it big time. Always conduct your market research and read widely to consider different perspectives before making a financial commitment. 

BEEF | Official Trailer | Netflix

Out of desperation to make quick cash, Danny trusted his brother’s recommendation and invested his entire savings into crypto with no due diligence. Not before long, the market crashed. 

Needless to say, you should always do your homework. With the internet today, it’s easy to scour for news about the company—both good and bad. Find out about their prospects and potential liabilities, especially with the leadership team:

  • Are the key officers leaving the company?
  • Are there any scandals (e.g. greenwashing, employee abuse, etc.)?
  • Are they making employee cuts?
  • How did they perform each quarter?
  • What are some projects currently being developed?
  • Who are they working with?

Every move will affect investors’ confidence and the stock’s performance. An outburst can easily go viral on social media with a direct impact on the company’s performance. 

Koyohaus was on the verge of being acquired by heavyweight investors. Amy was working hard to preserve the clean and successful momtrepreneur image. When discovered as the road rage driver, her reckless actions could instantly sink her chances of the acquisition.

While that did not happen for Amy, you won’t want to be caught in a sticky situation where the prices of stocks you bought are plummeting because the company is being cancelled.


3. You’d never know when something’s valuable 

They say art is subjective. You never know when art will find someone who values it and appreciates its value. In the series, Jordan fell in love with the Tamago chair and was willing to pay $100K for it. 

We live in an age of digital disruption. With new technology being developed, every system we know can be easily displaced. Today, cryptocurrency has garnered enough momentum to rival traditional financial systems. Who would have thought that Bitcoin could have skyrocketed to over US$65K in 13 years from its initial value of nine cents? 

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become the art collectables in vogue. In 2021, NFTs recorded a total sales volume of around US$20 billion in Singapore with the single largest purchase worth US$69.7 million. 

Apart from that, you can consider collecting vintage items. You should be familiar with Pokemon cards and the unboxing videos that are trending on TikTok. Thanks to the retirement of the main lead, Ash Ketchum, from the anime series, Pokemon cards have made a comeback.

People pay big bucks for nostalgia. Enthusiastic collectors buy, grade, and auction off cards for sizable returns. Many see these as an alternative investment to gold, branded watches, and even stocks. The same set of cards you bought 17 years ago for $6.50 a pack could be valued at US$285,000. Your returns would have easily beaten the S&P 500 Index by 33-fold. 

Our point is—just because something is novel does not mean it doesn’t have any investment value. Explore the unconventional. Should it catch your interest, why not invest in them?


4. Spend when necessary.

Everyone loves a good bargain. However, being cheap can come back to bite you. The fact that you can hackle till it’s dirt cheap should bring up some red flags. Just like those cheap mobile charging wires you find online, it may work well momentarily but it won’t be long before something crops up. 

Through 8 months of hard work, Danny finally built a new house for his parents and was ready to move them in from Korea. Unfortunately, the house got caught in a fire and burnt down. It was not because of arson or malice. Because he used lower-grade wires to cut costs, the electrical appliances short-circuited and started a fire. 

Worst of all, since he built the place on his own, he could not claim insurance either. That’s a lot of money and effort down the drain. 

Where necessary expenses matter, spend what you need to. We rather spend on quality products that last for the long term than scrimp on menial savings for an inferior alternative. Here’s how you can plan for your expenses:

Use the 50/30/20 rule when budgeting

50% spent on needs, 30% spent on wants, and 20% set aside as savings. Typically, your lifestyle should fall under 50% of your monthly income. Should you be overspending, you might want to consider alternative choices. 

Set quantifiable budgets 

Your expense should be within the realistic market pricing and within your means. When your budgets are clear, then you can do the math to work out how much you need to save and how long before you can purchase.

Build an emergency fund

Typically, emergency funds should be able to sustain you for 3 to 6 months. your emergency fund should be highly liquid that you can withdraw anytime for urgent matters (e.g. paying upfront for damages). 


5. Financial stability and proper budgeting can solve a lot of woes

Credit cards and loans may come with their perks, but you gotta make sure you can finance them. The last thing you want is to overleverage and end up delaying/defaulting on your payments. You want to keep a healthy credit history so that you have access to funds when you truly need them.

High socio-economic status (SES) does not matter especially when your wallet cannot keep up. On the outside, Fumi (Amy’s mother-in-law) is well respected in the arts scene; capitalising on her deceased husband’s fame. However well-dressed, she is decked with credit card debt to the point of being forced to liquidate her husband’s prized pieces to keep up with the facade of her high life or ask her daughter-in-law for a loan. 

Can you imagine how her pride took a hit? In a first-world country, it’s easy to get caught up in chasing the 5Cs (Cash, Condo, Credit Card, Car, and Career). To sustain your ideals, you’re likely to be swimming in loans and credit card debt. 

Thankfully, these troubles can be avoided with proper budgeting and financial planning. Here are 3 key steps to being financially stable:

  • Cut out unnecessary liabilities—differentiate between essential expenses (e.g. housing, food, and utilities) and discretionary expenses (e.g. overseas travel, entertainment, or eating out). 
  • Reduce your loan commitment—Prioritise high-interest debts, consider consolidating or refinancing loans to potentially reduce interest rates, and make consistent, on-time payments to maintain a good credit score
  • Spend within your means—Say your farewells to expensive five-star restaurants and more home-cooked meals.
  • Build multiple income streams—Don’t just leave your money in the bank. Build a diversified investment portfolio.


In Conclusion

While Netflix’s Beef kept us entertained with the drama and revenge plots, it also highlighted the undertones of the economic challenges faced and mistakes made by every lower to middle-class Asian living in a first-world country. At the end of the day, everyone wants a better life. Our advice—don’t get caught up in the pursuit of quick cash. Rather, invest time in proper financial planning and budgeting and live within your means.