Despite the high cost of living, the only Singaporeans you’re likely to hear openly encouraging each other to save money are aunties at FairPrice. Amongst almost everyone else, there’s this unspoken ongoing competition to show through your spending that you’ve made it in life, and that you can keep up with the others.
You have only to shadow a bunch of PMETs in the CBD to observe this scenario play out. Let’s say one of the office workers decides he doesn’t feel like eating at Lau Pau Sat during lunch, and then tries to jio his colleagues to join him at a hip new restaurant at Club Street, a meal at which will set each person back some $30.
In many of his colleagues’ minds, the prospect of dropping that amount of cash on a 45 minute lunch with a bunch of people you’re stuck seeing every day, hastily rushing back to work before you’ve even finished your meal, is not appealing. But you can be sure people will not use the cost as an excuse for declining the invite, or suggest going to a cheaper place.
No, they’ll say they’re on a diet, already ate at the same restaurant yesterday, are vegetarian since it’s the first day of the lunar month, already have lunch plans or have decided to da bao and stay at the office. Anything but the fact that they don’t want to spend that much money at lunch.
Instead of coming up with lame excuses each time you’re pressured to spend money, here are three things you can do instead.
1. Be open about your spending habits
Part of the reason Singaporeans get so uncomfortable when pressured to spend money is the fact that so many people are too embarrassed to admit something is out of their budget or that they’d rather just save the money.
The reasons for this behaviour stem from a culture that uses money as a gauge of a person’s self-worth. Saying you want to save money signals to the world that you’re not loaded, and thus, are not a successful or valuable person in the eyes of society. Tough luck.
Except… who cares what these people think? It’s a third world mentality that you’re perpetuating by continuing to pretend that you, too, spend money like it grows on trees.
It’s a lot easier to just be open about your spending habits. If something is out of your budget, just say so politely, and you might surprised by the fact that people might actually try to accommodate you by going to a cheaper restaurant.
If you run in affluent PMET circles, you might garner a reputation for being the broke or cheapskate one, but on the bright side you might find that you get treated a lot more.
One nice thing that might happen is that you discover you already had numerous friends who wanted to spend less but were too shy to admit it. You might then find yourself gravitating towards these people since their budgets resemble yours more closely.
2. Be prepared to do some things on your own
Walking the money-saving path can be lonely sometimes, especially if your friends are the type who spend their entire salary each month and can’t understand why you would choose to deprive yourself of a $7 cup of coffee.
If you always feel compelled to follow the crowd, be prepared to pay for it. For instance, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t dare to have lunch alone, then if your colleagues vote to have lunch at an expensive restaurant, you’ll have no choice but to go along.
It also takes a certain amount of, let’s call it defiance, to tell your relatives that no, you won’t be throwing a big wedding banquet, or to tell your friends that you will only be meeting them for drinks after dinner because the restaurant is out of your budget.
Once you learn to take responsibility over your own spending choices instead of passively letting others decide for you, you’ll realise that life can be a lot cheaper than it is for the typical Singaporean.
3. Don’t make others feel bad about their own spending
Money is a sensitive issue in Singapore, and just because you’ve decided to start saving aggressively doesn’t mean all of your friends will be happy about it. Some might be upset that you’re no longer as fun as you used to be, while others will take your new financial prudence as a slight to their own spending habits.
Being honest about your own budget without making others feel bad is a fine balance to tread, but if you succeed it can actually make them more cooperative.
If you try to make your friends feel guilty about spending lots of money by making snide remarks about how much they’re spending, you can bet they’re not going to change a thing for you, and you might even find yourself uninvited from future outings, you miser.
On the other hand, if your EQ is high enough to enable you to be open about the fact that you don’t want to spend lots of money without offending others, you might find that your friends are all the more willing to pick cheaper places and activities to accommodate you.
Who knows, you might even inspire them to scale back on their own spending, which would turn you into a public service announcement of sorts for the benefit of society.
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