Every time the government talks about having more kids, it is guaranteed that there will be a multitude of voices blaming high costs as the reason for our low birth rate. This will then be followed by calls for more handouts and policy changes, such as:
- More housing subsidies
- Easier car ownership
- Lower personal taxes or GST
- More child care leave and flexible working hours
- More childcare centers at cheaper rates
- Less competitive education system
- Etc etc
While I think that there is merit in asking for some of these changes, I think it is lop-sided to think that the low birth rate is solely the government’s fault, because some of these costs problems are actually self-inflicted by Singaporeans.
Stop spending beyond your means
Inflation is at an all-time high in Singapore, but sometimes this is outpaced by the “lifestyle inflation” that we impose on ourselves. When we make a conscious choice to upgrade our lifestyles, that is a step-increase in our daily costs which we could have avoided but chose not to.
For example, many of the younger people in my company claim they want kids, but find themselves spending too much money in other areas:
- Buying a bigger house than they necessarily need – Is it really necessary to take on extra debt just to get a house that is bigger than necessary for a young family? Assuming you have 2 or even 3 kids, they can stay in the same room until they are in their late teens. Double-decker beds exist for a reason. It’s ok to start with a small and modest home, thus reducing your interest payments. You can always upgrade to a bigger house in future when you are sure your buying power has actually increased.
- Spending too much on renovation – I know its the first house you have ever owned, but there’s no need to get an interior designer to do up your place for ~$50k if you intend to upgrade within the next 10-15 years. That is just vanity rearing its ugly head. The money is better spent on something else more sustainable, like kids or investments.
- Buying a car that spends most of its time in the parking lot – Unless your job requires it or you have really pressing health concerns, you don’t need a car in Singapore. Even if you have 2 kids. A taxi can do anything that a car can do. You can book in advance, it’s generally cheaper than car ownership and you don’t have to worry about parking.
- Going for many overseas vacations “while they are still young”, because the chances of travelling far diminishes with kids – This is actually quite silly. Firstly, it goes to show that such Singaporeans prioritise holidays over kids. Secondly, insisting that you travel before having kids means that you have less money to allow your kids to enjoy travelling with you in the future.
- Upgrading, indulging on restaurant food and niceties – Do you really need that bigger house? Do you really need to get your coffee from Starbucks instead of the nearby kopitiam? Must you go to restaurants so often, when the hawker center serves cheap and good food? Is it necessary to always get the latest iphone or ipad? I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy the finer things in life, but there’s a difference between occasional and frequent indulgence.
Kiasu parents – throwing money at your kids doesn’t make them better adults
Another big bugbear in Singapore society is our education system. Parents love to complain about the overly tough examination questions and stressful school environment that is stifling themselves and their kids.
But let’s be honest here. A lot of this is about kiasu parents too. If parents weren’t that kiasu, we wouldn’t be seeing queues and “voluntary service” for branded primary schools. We wouldn’t have such a lucrative industry of children enrichment classes, and we wouldn’t have kids undergoing heavy tuition schedules outside school. Too much tuition creates a vicious cycle where schools have to set harder examination questions to differentiate between outstanding pupils.
Sitting in my position as someone who hires for the company, I can safely say that grades are not the sole deciding factor in a successful worker. A successful person is more than just good grades. It is also about whether the person can work in a team, whether he can lead, whether he can think laterally and creatively, whether he has moral courage, whether he has natural curiosity and whether he has in-built drive to succeed. All these non-grade factors are not taught in tuition centers.
Parents, I know you want the best for your kids, but you don’t have to spend all that time and money trying to make your kids excel in one area only (i.e. grades). It is counter-productive because it sends the wrong signals to your children that only one aspect of their lives matter.
Don’t just ask for policy changes, change your attitude too
Most people realise that having children is a big responsibility. It is understandable to want the best for your kids, but how many people really plan their finances properly to achieve their aspirations? How many people will seriously consider downgrading their lifestyles for their kids?
I know that Singapore has a serious attitude problem underpinning its low birth rate, when middle-class people seek more handouts because they didn’t plan their lives properly.