To be brutally honest, the pursuit of the Singaporean dream is going to end in bankruptcy for a lot of people. When are Singaporeans going to come to terms with the fact that not everybody should be buying that condo or car? While we’ve got a robust job market and an enviable GDP, we’ve also got scarily rising levels of credit card debt and a growing middle class that are spending beyond their means.
It’s easy to blame the high cost of living, but methinks Singaporeans’ mindset of craving a luxurious lifestyle and approval of conspicuous consumption, ie. buying stuff to show off, is going to sabotage this generation’s ability to ever free themselves from the chains of the rat race.
With more than 4 in 10 Singaporeans declaring that they haven’t socked away a single cent towards retirement, it’s clear we need to be prepared to change our perspective about some things. Here are four mindset changes that can enable more Singaporeans to retire.
1. Being prepared to retire or work overseas
Despite the amount of complaining Singaporeans do about this country, they are still generally reluctant to work overseas, as a 2013 news report revealed. Everyone’s just too addicted to their 24-hour eateries, MRT trains and shopping malls to leave.
Well, as it turns out, being prepared to retire or work overseas might actually give some Singaporeans the chance to enjoy their golden years doing something other than collecting cardboard boxes or wiping down hawker centre tables. Even overseas stints of a few years can enable Singaporean employees to attain higher posts back home, as overseas exposure is often an asset when being considered for top management posts.
The amount of money needed to retire in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries is but a fraction of what it costs in Singapore. A 2014 news report revealed that Singaporean respondents thought they needed $898,330 to retire there, while in Indonesia the same figure was just $181,610, in Thailand it was $223,960 and in Malaysia $583,380.
Retirees who are willing to rent out their HDB flats and then fly to a cheaper country might be able to avoid the backbreaking task of looking for work as a senior who’s run out of retirement money.
2. Not needing to have what everyone else wants
Despite priding themselves on being some of the world’s most “westernised” Asians, Singaporeans are still pretty much a conformist society.
Groupthink and the herd mentality are strong here, as evidenced the number of Singaporeans who get into a stupid amount of debt to pay for weddings which function mainly as vehicles for showing off, and the number of women who think spending 3 months’ salary on a handbag is normal.
Mainstream society in Singapore is by and large extremely materialistic. While not everybody carries designer goods, eats at expensive restaurants or chills out in their luxury condo all day, most people desperately wish they could.
When you were young, your parents asked why you couldn’t be more like Auntie Betty’s son who scored 10 A1s in his ‘O’ levels and became a PSC scholar. Now, you’re all grown up and Auntie Betty’s son just bought a condo in River Valley and drives a Porsche, and once again you’re wondering why you don’t measure up.
Unfortunately, except for those who really do have more money than everyone else, Singaporeans need to learn that “just because everyone else is doing it” is not a good excuse to fling your money at something, unless you want to join the hordes of your fellow men who won’t be able to retire in a few decades’ time.
3. Not assuming you can rely on your children when you’re old
It’s no secret that elderly Singaporeans from the pioneer generation are highly dependent on their children for financial support.
Just because you’re spending thousands of dollars a month to pay your child’s private tutors doesn’t mean you should assume that you’ll be looked after when you’re old—especially if that makes you neglect your own retirement planning.
According to a recent report, 2 in 5 mothers expect their children to take care of them when they retire, and many of them aren’t bothering to plan for retirement because of it.
We’re not saying it’s wrong to desire a positive relationship with your children when they grow up. But spending carelessly because you assume they’ll be around to support you is not only stupid, it’s downright dangerous.
We have no idea what the economic situation in Singapore will be like decades down the road, nor can we predict with any exactness how high the cost of living will be.
And placing the burden on your children because you’re too complacent to get your own finances in order isn’t just irresponsible, it also involves the assumption that your child will actually be able to do so, regardless of the economic situation or the fact that he might have his own family to support.
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