Humans are social creatures. The only problem is that socialising in Singapore is usually an expensive night out and an overpriced bottle of cheap wine puked down the toilet bowl. We explore the social consequences of frugality.
For average folks like you and me, chasing the dream of a comfortable retirement, especially in Singapore, usually involves adopting the concept of frugality. This means reining back on luxury purchases, discovering better deals for products you need, and carefully calculating your daily expenses. There are two primary downsides to a life of frugality.
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Social Consequence 1
“All my friends on Facebook and Instagram are really letting loose and enjoying themselves. Why should I count my dollars and cents too? I can afford to enjoy myself now anyway.”
The Trappings of Consumerism
We live in an increasingly consumeristic society. The value of your life is not determined by the betterment of yourself and the people around you but by how much you can spend without batting an eyelid. The media too is guilty of propagating mindless consumerism, constantly running stories that promote splurging and shining the spotlight on folks who haven’t done anything significant yet except being born into a wealthy and powerful family.
During Singapore’s embryonic years, having the financial capability to splurge on a car or an upgrade to a private condominium – the 5Cs of Singapore – was considered as fair and just reward for your hard work. People paid you respect and face for succeeding in business or slogging tirelessly in the office and scoring promotions. These folks were the Joneses and the middle-class in the 70s and 80s ran as hard as they could on the hamster wheel to keep up with them.
As Singapore became progressively prosperous and we partook in the fruits of the country’s economic success, more and more people splurged on themselves. Whether they had the financial ability to support these luxury purchases was another question altogether. After all, the loosening of credit limits and the wave of new credit cards meant that the Joneses’ lifestyle was finally within reach.
Welcome to the Hedonic Treadmill
If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re interested in managing your personal finances and attempting to be more financially savvy. One of the obstacles blocking your way to financial freedom are these displays of wealth and power. We’re human, and it’s not easy to turn a blind eye to the goings-on of people spending their money and having fun. I’m certain thoughts such as “Why can’t I have a bit of fun and happiness with the money I’ve earned” or “If I die tomorrow, there’s no point in my saving up all of these money anyway” have wormed their way into your mind, especially during gatherings and other social functions.
There’s nothing wrong with coveting the latest iPhone your friend is flaunting or a bigger house with an enviable postcode. The key is fully understanding (and not lying to yourself) about whether you want the phone or that house because your life will have better utility from the purchase, or because everyone has one. After all, it’s easy to get stuck on the Hedonic treadmill, which is the “supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes”.
This phenomenon is hugely apparent in financial success. When we score a huge deal or got promoted at work, we buy a new, top-of-the-line smartphone or a fresh luxury handbag to celebrate. We feel elated for the next few months. Then, we start eyeing even more expensive handbags or the latest digital device, and begin to work even harder to be able to afford the item. It’s an endless run, except you’re only jogging on the same spot.
Besides the fact that consumerism is detrimental to the environment, psychology professor Tim Kasser has conclusively revealed, after years of research, that “the more people prioritise materialistic values, they less happy they are…and the less satisfied they are with their lives”. All of those Italian leather apparel in your wardrobe and high-tech digital devices that are supposed to be making your live easier and happier are just dragging you down.
Try a serving of frugality. Who knows, it might just make you happier.
Social Consequence 2
“Why are you so cheap? It’s just money and you can afford it anyway. Uurgh.”
Frugality vs Cheap
A frugal life, one with only the occasional indulgence, tends to be seen as cheap by a few people. These people might even be in your circle. They could even be your close friends or family members who cannot understand why you are trying to save a couple of dollars here and a few tens of dollars there. “Don’t be so cheap,” is their constant refrain.
However, there is a difference between being frugal and being cheap.
A frugal life is one in which your spending decisions affect only yourself while a life dedicated to cheapness more often than not affects the people you come into contact with. You’ve definitely seen the folks looking to save a bit of money grabbing a huge stack of napkins from McDonald’s. That’s being cheap.
Being frugal such as not buying a car and relying on public transport to go around the island or installing high-powered fans instead of air conditioning in your house also helps to save the environment. But, remember that frugality shouldn’t be affecting the lives of people around you. If your daughter needs air conditioning because of her eczema, then go ahead and buy a system to alleviate her suffering.
Understanding the Time and Place to be Frugal
There will be situations in our life when you’re considering a well-tailored expensive suit for work, or deciding whether to purchase an expensive refrigerator that saves electricity or one that guzzles energy like it’s going out of fashion. These decisions should not just be judged based on their financial aspects but also the impact they will have on your future potential.
For example, an expensive suit tends to last longer and will also help you to project a more commanding presence in your office, which could potentially lead to more promotions and earnings. After all, attractive people tend to earn more. As for that fridge, well, energy-efficient appliances help you to save money and the environment in the long run, so it might be a wise decision to pay a bit more upfront.
So, don’t just be frugal for the sake of saving a few dollars, but at the detriment of your future.
Taking Stock of your Social Life
While good-natured ribbing from your friends and family members are just a way for them to have a bit of fun at your expense (and something that we can all laugh together at), toxic criticism and painful words of judgement are something I would consider beyond the line.
True friends are those that support you in your pursuit to be a better person, not criticise you or consider you lowlier for not being able to afford a certain lifestyle. And even if you could possibly afford that lifestyle but choose not to due to the reasons stated in this article or because of something you believe in, there is absolutely no basis for your peers to cast their negative judgements on you.
If you can think of a few people who behave in such a manner in your social circles, it might be time to take stock of the company you keep and consider severing ties.