From The Straits Times    |

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“Dave and I have been married for just over three years. We would like children but can’t afford to have them right now, even though together we bring in about $30,000 a month.

Yes, Dave and I may be considered well off, but the truth is that we have very little savings and live from pay cheque to pay cheque.

We are so deep in debt that some days we can’t even afford the little things that many people take for granted, like going to the movies. I know it’s hard to believe but almost all of our income goes towards funding a particular lifestyle, one that makes us look good in the eyes of our clients.

Both Dave and I are in sales but we work for different companies. Because most of what we earn is commission-based, we have to work a lot harder than your average salaried worker.

It’s not uncommon for us to put in many as 60 hours a week, and most of that time is spent hobnobbing with ultra-wealthy business people.


Living it up

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In our line of work, it’s all about keeping up appearances. We sell a range of products and services catered to the affluent crowd, and to impress our clients we have to come across a certain way to them.

Dave and I have always enjoyed the finer things in life, but our spending habits got out of hand a few years into our jobs.

It was bad enough that we’d recently purchased an expensive condo and two luxury cars that we knew we would have trouble paying off; we also each had about $20,000 worth of credit card debt to deal with.

And let’s not talk about all the other things that went with our high-flying lifestyles, like the designer clothes and eating out at expensive restaurants.

Many of our friends assume that we have no problem saving money because of what we earn and because we have no kids, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We spend a lot of money wooing new clients and maintaining our relationships with the clients we already have. I have personally spent $1,000 on dinner for two clients and their teenage son at a Michelin-star restaurant because they were visiting from out of town and wanted to eat somewhere fancy while we talked business – had it been up to me I wouldn’t have chosen such an expensive restaurant, but I wanted to make my clients happy.

Dave also treats his clients to meals and drinks in expensive restaurants and bars a few times a month. And on our clients’ birthdays, we often send them extravagant gifts, like rare whisky, custom art pieces for their homes or offices, crystal desk accessories, designer home ware, and the like. We know we don’t have to get them anything at all, but our clients appreciate the gesture and the very rich ones even expect it.

Twice already, we have also hosted our clients at our condo during Chinese New Year. We spent a lot of money on the catering and alcohol, not to mention, red packet money for those clients with small children. But the way Dave and I see it, this way of doing business is more personal and keeps our clients loyal.


Hard to make ends meet

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If you look at the way we dress and the places we hang out in, you’d never guess that Dave and I are having difficulty making ends meet.

Whatever we don’t spend on our clients goes towards paying our loans and credit card debts, so by the end of the month, we’re left with hardly anything for ourselves.

Sure, we eat in expensive restaurants from time to time but that’s only when we’re with our clients. Otherwise, we eat very simply and sometimes even skip meals just to save money. Once, we were so strapped for cash that we ate only bread for two days.

Going to the movies, booking an exotic holiday and treating our families are also out of the question because we just can’t afford any additional expenses.

And socialising is hard because our friends can spend up to a few hundred dollars per person when they go out to drink or eat, and there’s no way Dave and I can afford that. At the most, we may show up to friends’ houses with a bottle of wine and some food, but otherwise we try not to go out too much unless it’s work-related.

Our employers do allow Dave and I to make work-related claims, but there’s a monthly cap we can’t exceed, so we can’t claim on a lot of the stuff we spend on.

It’s true that Dave and I aren’t that financially responsible. We could’ve just made do with an HDB flat and bought one inexpensive car instead of two luxury ones, but the high-end lifestyle is addictive and unfortunately it’s not easy to give up our status symbols. Having them makes us feel confident and influences the way our clients see us. We can do our jobs better because we belong to that wealthy circle.


Hopes for a more financially secure future

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Dave and I are aware of our dire financial situation. We’re both approaching our mid-thirties, so we know that if we don’t start getting our act together soon, we won’t have enough money to retire on.

We work very hard yet we both feel that, apart from our condo, cars and designer wardrobes, we don’t have much to show for it.

Next year, Dave and I intend to pay off as many of our debts as possible. We also want to commit to saving money and hopefully stick to a budget so that we don’t have to continue living from pay cheque to pay cheque.

We don’t want to abandon our high-end lifestyle completely, but we’ll see where we can cut back – maybe we will buy fewer designer clothes or look for less expensive ways to entertain and do business with our clients.

While I make no apologies for loving the luxury lifestyle, I do feel like a loser for having gotten myself in this situation. I can’t speak for Dave, but I hate using my credit cards and wish I could cut them all up and do away with them for good.

I hope I’ll be able to curb my spending in the next year or so and save a decent amount of money by the time I’m 40. The alternative is looking for another job that pays more or that doesn’t require me to entertain clients at all.”

*Names have been changed