The Singaporean family unit is also a financial unit. For many people here, looking out for their immediate family is the only way to survive. Parents refrain from kicking their kids out of the house when they turn 18, and when said kids grow up they start contributing to the household. It’s the circle of life, Singapore-style. But there’s a fine line between helping your family members out economically, and giving them a no-holds-barred ticket to the high life. Parents who buy their children anything might eventually find themselves trying to tame a monster.

But many young Singaporeans don’t know when to say no to their elders and siblings. A friend of a friend told me about how a colleague’s mother went on a shopping spree with her credit and came home with a $3,000 vacuum cleaner. Don’t let that happen to you by avoiding all of the following.

1. Giving an irresponsible family member a supplementary card
There are many good reasons to give someone in your family a supplementary card. For instance, supplementary cards are a great way to consolidate spending on your credit cards so as to maximise the benefits you receive. If you’ve got dependents, supplementary cards can be preferable to handing them large amounts of cash. But never, ever give a supplementary card to a family member who’s not responsible. I’ve heard horror stories from people who gave their mothers supplementary cards, only to later discover that mummy dearest took out a $10,000 cash advance for an evening at the casino. Taking away the supplementary card privileges of a family member can seem harsh, but it has to be done if they’re out of control. The irony is that most people would be wary of giving their teenage children supplementary cards but think nothing of issuing one to their parents.

Tip: Establish strict ground rules for any supplementary cards you dole out. For instance, if you’ve got a card that gives you cashback on groceries, you should make it clear the card is to be used only for supermarket purchases. Make sure you scrutinise your bills each month so you can nip any errant behaviour in the bud. For instance, if your teenage son has a supplementary card in case of emergencies, you sure don’t want to see that he used it to spend $1,000 at Zouk.

2. Overspending on gifts and treats
If you’re the kind of person who’s always participating in big family gatherings, you’ve probably volunteered to foot the bill at least a few times. Whether it was that big dinner at the fancy Chinese restaurant or your cousin’s 21st birthday barbecue, you soon found out how expensive it was to treat a large family. Sure, we understand you want to reward your cousin for doing well in the PSLE by buying him a PlayStation 4, or that you want to buy your father that Rolex he could never afford because he was so busy paying for your education. But don’t go overboard and get into debt or dig into your savings to fund such luxuries. Honestly, family members aren’t like materialistic girlfriends—you don’t need to shower them with expensive gifts or take them to fancy restaurants to foster a closer relationship.

Tip: Set a monthly or yearly budget for gifts and family treats. You should already be budgeting your spending in other areas like food and shopping, so there’s no reason why family treats should be limitless.

3. Letting your family members take advantage of you
Everyone’s got that distant uncle who conned his siblings of the bulk of their inheritance. As much as you might like to very naively think that it’s your duty to help your family members out financially no matter how big the burden might be for you, you’re not. If you are significantly better off than members of your extended family, it can be easy to get taken advantage of. I have a friend whose cousins have borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from her and have yet to pay her back, despite the fact that they’ve been enjoying biannual family holidays and continued to live very comfortable lifestyles. No way, you might be thinking, my family isn’t like that. Well, most of the time relatives don’t deliberately take advantage of someone else’s wealth. But if you’re a pushover and continually take on huge financial burdens for their sake, they’re going to assume you can easily afford to—even if you’re sacrificing a lot to help them.

Tip: It might feel a little calculating, but if you’re always being taken advantage of you need to make a note of every loan you give out to your family members. Putting everything down on paper makes it clearer to you when enough is enough.


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