Here in Singapore, we’re pretty much used to blaming our environment for everything that happens to us. Zero work-life balance? It’s all the fault of your satanic boss. Kids tired out from tuition all day? Blame the education system. No money? What to do, every day must pay and pay.
The problem with this attitude is that it does nothing to encourage people to change the things that are within their control. Virtually everyone here complains about the cost of living because, well, it’s high as hell. But then they spend their weekends shopping and dining at overpriced restaurants. Go figure.
Retirement worries are one of the biggest issues keeping Singaporeans awake at night—in fact, we’re the most stressed out over retirement-readiness in all of Southeast Asia. While certain factors might be out of our control, here are some things Singaporeans should change instead of complaining.
1. Lifestyle inflation
While nobody can deny the fact that Singapore is an expensive country, many Singaporeans raise the cost of their own lifestyles above and beyond what is necessary.
For instance, many young employees buy a car once their monthly income hits $4,000 or $5,000. Countless Singaporeans also overstretch themselves when they buy property in a bid to own the biggest, fanciest flats or apartments they can (barely) afford.
How expensive things will be when you’re about to retire is completely out of your control, and to a certain extent you cannot avoid footing the bill for certain expenses when you’re older, such as healthcare costs and your basic needs.
But the extent to which you decide to inflate your lifestyle is largely within your control. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to buy Chanel bags, enrol your kid in ballet classes or go skiing in Niseko over Christmas.
How expensively you live now is not only going to affect how much money you get to put away for retirement, it will also affect how much you actually need to save in the first place—unless you plan to suddenly go from toting Prada bags to carrying Shop ‘n’ Save bags the minute you turn 62.
2. Wanting things NOW
Let’s face it, patience is not one of our virtues in Singapore. We hate waiting, and we want everything done yesterday.
That’s probably why even Singaporeans with decent salaries are notoriously bad at saving money. A 2014 survey found that almost a third of Singaporeans over the age of 55 hadn’t started saving for retirement, while another found that 4/5 of young Singaporeans aged 20 to 35 had zero savings.
Barring people in the lower income bracket who are forced to live from hand to mouth spending only on basic necessities, Singaporeans who have no savings are in such a predicament simply because there are too many things they prioritise over putting some money aside.
Whether they prefer to spend all their money on clothes and entertainment while they’re still young and beautiful, buy their first property as early as possible or invest all their money in their kids in hopes that the latter will turn into their retirement Plan B, there will always be something to spend on.
And if you’re not willing to wait even a second longer to buy the things your heart desires, you’re always going to end up depleting your savings. Because it’ll always be more fun to spend three days’ worth of salary on a wild night out than to put it away for retirement which right now is so far away you can’t even imagine it happening.
No wonder the typical retiree in their 60s has only saved a third of the funds they think they need for retirement.
Nobody said saving for retirement would be easy. It takes planning, rethinking your lifestyle and finding ways to invest your money.
And while aunties will spare no effort trying to save an extra 5 cents at Shop ‘n’ Save, many Singaporeans just can’t seem to save because it’s too easy not to.
Sure, cooking at home might be cheaper than eating out every day, but many people are just too lazy to bother with all the planning that goes into visiting the supermarket, deciding what to buy and turning it into something edible.
Cutting down on the number of taxi rides you take doesn’t require much brain power, but it does require the patience to stick it out on public transport.
And the money in your bank account doesn’t just invest itself. You have to be proactive enough to find out how to invest your own money, and then take steps to do it.
I sometimes feel like many Singaporeans are just praying they’ll someday strike Toto or their children will grow up to become investment bankers and bankroll their retirement. If that’s not the case, there’s really no excuse for not putting in the effort to plan for their own retirement.
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