Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Singapore really that bad?

Today a colleague told me she wants to migrate to Australia. Initially, I thought it was just a passing remark. However, as I probed further, she has actually obtained PR status through an agent here, after spending about $8,000. She has also taken an English test to demonstrate her proficiency in English and will be moving over to Western Australia by December as a skilled worker.

My first question was, why leave? She is in her late thirties and has worked in the same line as me since graduation. Her grouses are the same as mine: No work life balance, working over weekends, no time for herself to consolidate and “talk to herself”. She feels the sheer volume of work is making her out of breath, only by leaving Singapore can she regain her sanity. She has a lot of health problems, possibly attributed by her career.

I applaud her courage. She is single, have aged parents and living alone. She will only look for accommodation and job when she reaches there. I would probably sink into depression if I go to a foreign land with no friends and job.

Is Singapore really that bad?

Over the weekend, there are extensive reports on the Singapore Dream. It states that to attain 5Cs has become increasingly impossible over the years. This is extremely true even for me and everyone around me. I earned an average of $6,500 a month. However, I can only afford a Japanese car (5 year old now) and stay with my parents. Unless I get married, there is no way I can afford a roof over my head alone. Well I can, if I use up ALL my savings and investments. That would mean an opportunity cost of at least $1,800 a month as the dividends from my investments generate roughly that amount on average.

I would need to pay for utilities, property tax, maintenance, gas, groceries, electricity and many other costs associated with living alone. My living cost will shoot up and I will be stuck to my job, forever.

Lately, I feel the strained in my workplace. It has become increasingly competitive as every other colleague competes to outshine each other. Workplace has become a place where working hard is no longer enough; Competition breeds office politics and other hypocritical acts. Nobody is my friend now. I am an economic unit of my office which is a subsidiary of Singapore Inc.

Not many people seem happy in my workplace. Many are stuck and resigned to fate.

“This is Singapore”

“It is the same everywhere”

“Some places are worse!”

“I can only do this”

“I have a family and mortgage to service every month”

My Singaporean readers, are you entrapped in the vicious cycle as well? Do you pursue wealth to attain happiness only to lose happiness while pursuing wealth?

Why are you feeling like that?

I believe it is an issue of comparison. Below was an excerpt I posted 2 years ago on my blog:

Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University, says that most people find the first option more attractive. When it comes to salaries, we care more about relative size than absolute size. What matters most is earning more than our neighbours.

The same holds true for all sorts of things. The actual size of our apartment matters less than its size compared to everyone else's. And most of us will settle for a modest car - provided our neighbour is driving something worse.

It is a sobering thought. We assume that getting a pay rise, or moving into a new apartment, or trading-up to a better car will bring us increased levels of happiness and satisfaction. In fact, many of us simply raise the bar on what counts as adequate.

We work longer hours, earn more, spend more and consume more. Meanwhile, everyone else does the same. So, by comparison, we are no better off, and therefore no happier.

How true?

(I actually enjoy re-reading my blog sometimes. It is like talking to someone about my past. It makes me philosophical and happy.)


Musicwhiz said...

Heck you're right! When I saw your salary was higher than mine I almost flipped! Nah, kidding! Hahaha...

But to be honest, that's happening everywhere in our country. Compare and compare. Kiasu and Kiasi. I was just telling my wife this the other day - now I have a kid and already people start comparing. It never ends.

For me, I earn a decent salary + passive income and have TIME to spend with my loved ones and to do the things I enjoy. That's happiness. What's the point in comparing?

All the Best,

Sgbluechip said...

Hi MW, I do hope one day I can find someone like your wife who appreciates your outlook towards money and life. The girls I meet these days can never view money like we do!

Derek said...

I believe that the friends around you play a part too. I hardly talk about money with my friends and family so I guess I don't compare too much.

My job may not be ideal but I will press on for the money. One thing for sure, good friends and family will always be with you so I must devote time to them too. I hope to retire by 50 and no, I don't think I need a million bucks to retire.

AK71 said...

And people wonder why I stay single? Answer: Because I am not so lucky like MW. ;)

JW said...

Comparison with peers has always been around, because the education system is based on examinations.

Perhaps at my age (late twenties), not many of my peers would compare with each other in monetary terms because any difference in the jobs we do, the amount we earn or invest, wouldn't be that great a diff.

E.g. Last year Oct 09, I was chatting with my reservist friends. There were accountants who graduated a year earlier (3 yr course) and had started working for 1 full year. At that point in time, their portfolio was about 40k to 50k, while mine just crossed 100k. But they have life insurance of probably near few k... The difference isn't too big yet... so comparison is like... useless...

But as time goes on, differences can get bigger according to our differences in journeys. That, would perhaps be around the mid-thirties to late-thirties, and I guess that would be the time where more and more would start to compare their lives with their peers. That's where all the deeper thoughts starts...

Marvin said...

I have decent worklife balance because i don't take my job too seriously. So what if i go home on the dot, the world is not going to collapse.

Fortunately i have other colleagues who also try go home on the dot whenever they can (some are mothers with children), so our office doesn't have a 'must stay late' everyday culture.

And frankly, i don't feel my career has suffered compared to single people who have more time to stay late in office and work.

Melbourne said...

Some people enjoy the pursuit of money, and that is fine. Others see it as a means to enable them to lead the lifestyle they want.

As long as one has a set goal and isn't blindly trying to keep up with the Joneses, that should be fine.

Melbourne said...

Hi, I stumbled across your blog while randomly surfing.

I'm a former Singaporean with a small property portfolio who's looking to diversify. As such I'm trying to learn more about equities, especially the type you have in your portfolio - high yielding blue chips.

Am planning to purchase an index fund based on the ASX at the end of the year.

Melbourne said...

A new perspective - moving to Australia might not merely be better for your friend's work-life balance, it may be financially better for her as well.

From an investor's perspective, moving to Australia literally opens up new opportunities - the 8% fixed deposit which you featured in an earlier post, for example.

1 million dollars in a government guaranteed fixed deposit will easily yield a 5% net return - about 50K a year which, with a fully paid up property, is enough to support a comfortable lifestyle for the rest of one's life.

Australian property is another fine example of these investment opportunities. I believe in holding both equities and property for diversification. As such, I've always felt that most investors in Singapore hold way too many equities. This can probably be attributed to the general inaffordability of Singapore property.

In addition, the fundamentals of the Australian property market are definitely better; although property prices are still amongst the highest in the Western world.

JKfund said...

Singapore is the best country in the world to stay and work .... simply love Singapore...

I am a PR though... :)

Vincent said...

Thank you for sharing. I still remember reading a Tibetan story of how money actually makes people unhappy. The story goes like this "A rich businessman saw how a penniless farmer singing and enjoying his life everyday and wonder why. The businessman has a large wealth but still find himself to be unhappy. A wise man told him to drop a gold bar on the road when he pass by his house and he will stop singing. He did as he was told and it indeed came true. He found out the farmer started to worry on how to keep the gold bar and whether will people steal it from him" This ancient wisdom still holds true even to present day. There is a misconception that wealth always lead to happiness, but that is not true.

It is human nature to always want more and never have enough. It is similar to drinking salt water, greed can never be satisfied. A stressful life will directly affect our health - which is the most important thing in our life. It is very easy to be lost in the endless pursuit at the expense of our health, and this is especially so in the Singapore context. When everyone is doing it, and the environment is competitive, we will be easily influenced by it.

I am also in the similar dilemma as u these few weeks. Do I want to accept one of the ladies around me and settle down? If that is the route to take, it will mean I can no longer have fun in my work as it will be crucial to my (family) survival. With sky high property prices and rising cost of living, the cost of starting a family and getting bounded long-term financially is too high. A large part of my reserves (similar to yours) will also be gone. Secondly, I begin to hear of people falling sick and getting cancer because of stress, can we actually guarantee that all will be fine within the next 30 years? I see many of my friends (all of us in the late-20s) all getting stressed out starting up a family because of the financial strain. Does marriage actually leads to happiness? With 3 in 10 ending up in divorce (and will be increasing over the years), maybe it's time to revisit our goal in life...

Btw, have u considered meditation and understanding the psychology of the mind (abhidhamma)?

Sgbluechip said...

Thanks for sharing Vincent. I am interested in meditating. However, online videos does not seem to be able to teach me properly. Any good links to start that? Really need to find inner peace.

Vincent said...

Hi, let me email to your gmail on the links. There are many different types of meditation available: ranging from Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and some new age ones. I will recommend those which is most applicable to our modern society without having any heavy religious baggage.

Designer watches said...

Hey SBC, you can check out some books by Mitch Albom. After reaching some targets in our financial goals, we may have questions on the less material aspects of life. On what we really want.

To find out abt afterlife, you can read The Five People You Meet in Heaven. By reading abt a dead person's journey of his past life, it allows us to reflect on how ppl affect us and how we affect other ppl. Consciously and unconsciously.

Tuesday with Morris: By reading abt a dying man, it helps us to reflect on ourselves as a living person. I suppose we will only know what we really want in life on our dying bed.

Have a Little Faith: By reading about the experiences of a rabbi and a priest, it makes you realise God really exists. Be it in Christanity , Buddhism or Taoism. Anyway, it allows us to put our challenges in the right perspective in the larger scope of our life.

SBC, you seem to be at a crossroads between tangibles and non-tangibles. Materialism and the more intrinsic values of life. Unlike you, most people I know have yet to reach that crossroads.
Anyway, Happy Journey and Happy Writing!

Sgbluechip said...

Many thanks DW for your advice! Appreciate it a lot!!!

Jam said...


Happen to link to this blog from moneytalk and i must say i'll enjoy reading your blog. I have
similar aspiration as you mainly due to the "unpleasant" workplace environment and culture.

Would like to check if you say you aim to achieve 1 Mil by 35years old, do you include your CPF saving (OA,SA and RA) as part of the 1Mil?

Sgbluechip said...

Hi Jam, they are not included.

Wunna's blog said...

I am a foreigner working here.....but I think . whoever I am , you are talking about Universal Truth which applied to everyone around the world ...such a great post .....

Well done

Sgbluechip said...

Thanks Wunna!