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Commentary: Is a reboot of the Singaporean Dream finally here? How youth today view money makes me hopeful

Since the 2000s, people have written thought pieces declaring the death of the 5Cs (Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card, Country Club).

With the advent of social media, it has become easier for showy displays of wealth to happen – and in turn, plenty of opportunities to feel inadequate, the author said.

With the advent of social media, it has become easier for showy displays of wealth to happen – and in turn, plenty of opportunities to feel inadequate, the author said.

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Since the 2000s, people have written thought pieces declaring the death of the 5Cs (Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card, Country Club).

I regret to inform you that the sentiments expressed thus far are almost always wishful thinking.

Whilst superhero movie franchises have had the luxury of several reboots – think Spiderman, X-Men, or even the Fantastic Four – the same cannot be said about the Singaporean dream.

As far as I observe, mainstream success in Singapore is still very much defined by the accumulation of wealth (with educational qualifications as a precursor, but that’s another story for another time).

Indeed, cars, condos, and good ol’ cash are still the main markers of success. Of course, some elements of the 5Cs have not survived the test of time.

Usage of credit cards, for example, have been normalised and are available to most people of average income. You’re not going to wow anyone by flashing plastic these days.

Country club memberships, though still incredibly expensive, have lost favour with mainstream audiences as a status symbol.

But where interest in these have waned, other things have come to the forefront.

With the advent of social media, it’s become a lot easier for showy displays of wealth to happen – and in turn, plenty of opportunities to feel inadequate.

Think expensive watches perched on the steering wheels of sporty cars. Glamorous weddings at glitzy hotels. Ski-trips to Europe. Most recently? Profile pictures that cost five- digits.

CONSTANT COMPARISON MAKES FOR UNHAPPY PEOPLE

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing particularly insidious about wanting nice things if you can afford them. It’s a different matter if you can’t afford them. Or get into serious debt in the process.

However, with these showy displays of wealth, people are often really after things that are far less tangible: Validation and Respect.

But I believe this is a pointless game, because for the people who’ve decided they will embark on the pursuit of validation via material means, they’ll put themselves on a treadmill, forever comparing themselves to the next wealthier person.

And in a city where the ultra-rich gather, the sky’s the limit. A life of dissatisfaction and envy awaits them. Perhaps even multimillionaires feel jealous of billionaires.

The first two years of the decade have no doubt made things worse.

The pandemic created a vast divergence in fortunes both widely reported and easily observable: Multiple high-profile purchases of Good Class Bungalows, a spike in the number of million dollar HDB flats.

Even the average car on the road has gotten more expensive: Mercedes Benz and BMWs are amongst the most numerous cars in Singapore.

The result? Pursuing the Singaporean dream has, ironically, made people unhappier.

Despite living relatively comfortable lives compared to many people outside Singapore, many Singaporeans feel unhappy because it feels like they’re worse off than many people inside Singapore. (In the social sciences, they call this relative deprivation.)

He Ruiming is the co-founder of the personal finance blog The Woke Salaryman.

At the risk of sounding like a self-help book, I have three ideas we can explore. These are by no means magic bullets, but I’ve found them useful in my own journey away from disillusionment in my 20s:

PRACTISE GRATITUDE AND NUANCE

Singapore is hardly perfect. They are also plenty of things to be grateful for. Yes, life’s complicated like that.

Having some global perspective will help: we must realise that many of the issues that we face (inequality, higher costs of living, tensions amongst various groups) are not unique to Singapore.

This is not an excuse to stop pushing for improving things altogether, but realise that this young country is a work in progress. And we all have a role to play in it, should we decide to stay.

LIVE LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS

As more millennials redefine what success is (e.g going childless, taking career risks), they might face pressure from those who are more traditional.

The risk of disappointing people we hold dear is high, but the truth is that we are only answerable to ourselves.

However, no one is responsible for our happiness, so it’s important that we are the ones who define it and decide if they are worth pursuing.

PURSUE MONEY, BUT WITH PURPOSE AND MEANING

It is undeniable that living in a city-state at the bleeding edge of capitalism means that money will always play a part of our lives.

However, a growing number of people are realising that after a certain point, money and material wealth doesn’t necessarily make them happier.

In my interactions with my peers and younger folks, people are starting to ask “how much is enough?” as supposed to “how to make as much as possible.”

Since we exchange precious time to obtain money, I think this represents an awakening on how Singaporeans are beginning to think about material needs.

Would this be the slow awakening from the mindless pursuit of 5Cs people have been writing about since the turn of the 21st century? I’m hopeful.

After all, change often happens slowly, then all at once.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

He Ruiming, 33, is co-founder of personal finance blog The Woke Salaryman. This piece first appeared in The Birthday Book: Restart, a collection of 57 essays on what it means to have a new start in Singapore.

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singaporean dream finance life goal

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