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How Saving Money Lets Singaporeans Save Face

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 22 September, 2016

Many conditions that cause you to lose face are caused by poor financial discipline. By saving money, you never have to worry about losing face again.

Saving face is a big deal for many Singaporeans. Heck, it’s a big deal for almost anyone growing up in an Asian culture.

But this isn’t just a social quirk. The practice of saving face has many practical uses, chief among them encouraging people to be informed, collected, and self-reliant. And here’s the kicker: saving face and saving money are intertwined.

Why is Saving Money Similar to Saving Face?

Let’s start by taking a close look at what it means to “lose face”. In most Asian cultures, the following would cause this particular embarrassment:

  • Having to approach friends or retired parents for financial support
  • Not being able to afford a dignified appearance
  • Being seen as frivolous or wasteful
  • Ignorance in general (including financial ignorance)
  • Incompetence at work (we’ll explain how this relates to saving money below)

Many, if not all, these conditions can be created by poor financial discipline.

For example, if you spend beyond your means, it will eventually lead to relying on others for financial support. It could also lead, in the long run, to shabby clothes or a run-down house (note: we’re not saying all poor people are guilty of financial mismanagement, but that financial mismanagement can lead to poverty and its trappings).

Now, look at someone who has all the elements of “face”. It’s someone who is self-reliant, a provider, informed, a top performer at work, etc. And upon close scrutiny, we find that many of these qualities can emerge from a disciplined savings plan. Here’s how:

1. You Create Self-Reliance When You Plan Your Finances Properly

The surest way to lose face is to be a burden on others. Because most Asian cultures place heavy emphasis on community, it is a little easier to get help. In most Asian families, for example, relatives are willing to pitch in if you’re unable to pay the mortgage, need a critical operation, have a dying business, etc.

However, relying on them for such needs - especially over a long period of time - is a way to lose face. And while it’s easy to say face isn’t important when you’re poor, we think differently: it is psychologically damaging to your self-worth, to lack self-reliance. No one wants to be considered a burden, by themselves or by others.

In light of this, we advise that you start saving 20 per cent of your monthly pay, as soon as you start working. Aim to accumulate at least six months of your income as an emergency fund. This ensures that, if anything goes wrong, you are able to support yourself until you’re back on your feet. You will never end up needing parents, siblings, aunts, etc. to prop you up financially.

saving money makes you a provider

2. When You Save Money, You Are Halfway to Becoming a Provider

Another aspect of saving face comes from being a provider. For children, this means exhibiting the ability to look after their parents when they grow older. For parents, it means the ability to ensure children are provided for.

This also extends to the community: face comes from philanthropy, from supporting causes and community projects, and leaving a tangible legacy. This cultural facet of face accounts for many key contributions to Singapore across history: philanthropists like Lee Kong Chian and Tan Kah Kee saw it as both moral and cultural obligation to benefit their societies.

Now saving money alone won’t make you a provider. You need an added dimension of being able to invest and stretch your income. But being able to save takes you halfway there.

For example, what happens if a relative is the one who needs help? Your savings don’t just have to benefit you; it can be used to provide for another in such a situation. Also, failing to amass sufficient savings early on can cause problems, such as after your parents retire.

3. Saving Money Makes You Perform Better at Work

Don’t believe it? Then think back to the last time you were in financial trouble. What was on your mind, while you were at work?

Contrary to the image of the starving artist, financial woes are often a barrier to good work. It’s hard to be energetic and creative, for example, if you have no idea how you’re going to make the mortgage payment at the end of the month.

And if you are down to the last dollar in your bank account, with no idea of how to afford dinner for your children, the last thing on your mind is the Power Point presentation on Monday.

Financial instability impedes our ability to perform at work. It is as just as damaging as having gone through a breakup, or having lost a beloved pet. Needless to say, the resulting poor performance at work (or having your boss call you out for being distracted) is an invariable loss of face.

Having face means “having it together” at work - and it’s much easier to do that without a financial crisis on hand.

keeping up appearances

4. You Don't Need to Spend Money to Keep Up Appearances

Sometimes, in wanting to save face, we spend more than we should. This is a fallacy. You don’t need to carry branded bags or wear $50,000 watches to have face. In fact you may be doing just the opposite, and appearing crass.

What you do need to do is maintain a dignified appearance. This means being well groomed and dressed, and keeping your home well maintained. If you are a parent, it extends to ensuring your children have their necessities met.

The best way to meet these requirements is to practice financial discipline. Cut down on unnecessary or wasteful costs, and be picky about the financial services you use. For example, if you do need to take loans, you should be familiar with ways to minimise the interest you pay (check out SingSaver to find cost-saving, low or zero interest options).

As long as you don’t overspend, you have a good chance of always meeting the basic standards of appearing well. Again, remember it’s not about expensive clothes, it’s about a sufficient appearance of respectability.

5. Saving Money Means Avoiding Frivolous Behaviour

The surest way to lose face is to get smashed and blow $1,000 in clubs or KTV lounges every weekend. Even rich people, who can technically afford it, start to lose face when they’re associated with this kind of behaviour.

We’re not saying you can’t have fun. Rather, be serious minded with regard to how you spend. The occasional splurge is fine, but doing it repeatedly - even if you can afford it - just creates the appearance of a decadent wastrel. And if you persist in spending money this way, it won’t be long before your bank accounts run dry.

You will get to a point where each splurge becomes more excessive than the last. This is how celebrities with $20 million bank accounts can still end up bankrupt.

save money in singapore

If You Don’t Care to Save Face, Save Money Anyway

Maybe you think the whole notion of face has gotten silly and outdated. Perhaps you’re right. But in that case, just think of having face as an added side-benefit to diligent saving. You won’t just look like a person who always has things under control, you will have more of your life under control.

Read This Next:

Why Brand Loyalty Makes Singaporeans Spend More Money

What To Do If You Lose Your Job and Have No Savings


Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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