Rising costs = less kids, but some costs are self-inflicted by Singaporeans

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.
  • 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.
The insidious part all these costs is that they entice you into a cycle of debt. To sustain that lifestyle, you find yourselves having to work hard and worry about constant employment. 

———————–

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.

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About sgthinker

I'm a 40-year old Singaporean male, and this blog pens down my thoughts and feelings about Singapore's political happenings, government policies and society trends. I hope this blog will provide a moderate voice in the growing online debate about the state of Singapore's society. Some of the posts here won't be solely written by me, since there will be times when other writers are more eloquent at expressing their views, in which case I'll share their insights (along with my comments). The content on this blog is owned by me.If you wish to share or reproduce the content, please attribute it to this blog.
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20 Responses to Rising costs = less kids, but some costs are self-inflicted by Singaporeans

  1. I disagree on some points.

    1. Buying a bigger house than they necessarily need – Honestly, those who bought 5-room or EA flats when they first came out are laughing all the way to the bank. Do you know how much these have appreciated? There’s no such thing as a house that is too big. One never complains about having too big a house, or having boobs which are too large, or having too much money. If you don’t buy a big house now, you’ll regret it when the time comes and you need a big house– because by then it will be even more unaffordable.

    About kids sharing rooms– the world has changed. Kids want privacy now. They have different expectations. The days when children shared rooms, to the extent of sleeping a mattress on the floor, are long over.

    2. Spending too much on renovation – This I agree. While people never complain about buying too big a house, they can certainly spend too much on renovation. The former is a capex, the latter is an opex. The former can appreciate, the latter can only depreciate.

    3. Buying a car that spends most of its time in the parking lot – This I agree. Car-sharing should also be included in your options.

    4. Going for many overseas vacations “while they are still young”, because the chances of travelling far diminishes with kids – I disagree. The world has changed. People have different expectations now. Even kids have different expectations now.

    5. Upgrading, indulging on restaurant food and niceties – I disagree. Why should parents slave and scrimp and save just to have kids? Our parents grew up in a time when Singapore was very poor. They also didn’t have good birth control, so they had more kids than planned. So they were very frugal, because they needed to feed the kids. Do you really expect today’s adults to live the same kind of life as them? What is the point if one has no improvement in one’s quality of life compared to our parents? Of course, one should not waste money. But to say one should save money because one wants to have kids is putting the cart before the horse. Even our parents became frugal only after their ‘accidental’ kids, when they realised they had to save just to have enough to feed their kids. Do you really want a life like that? What’s the point of having kids if one has to suffer a poorer lifestyle?

    • Z says:

      I find your point 5 interesting. Simply because I always accepted that sacrifices are normal if I choose to increase my dependents. I guess you mean to only have kids if you have “extra budget” (after securing the desired lifestyle). Everyone has choices. I don’t think there’s anything to disagree with – I’d thought this post was just a list of things that can be cut down upon for people who want to have kids (but may not have the extra budget).

      • sgthinker says:

        It’s really interesting to see how “politicalwritings” and “Z” have differing views on spending for self versus spending for kids. Clearly the former author places more emphasis on self compared to the latter.

        It goes to show that whatever policy or handouts the govt chooses to stimulate childbirth, there will be parties who either (i) never needed it in the first place, (ii) find it useful enough to change behaviour, and (iii) would never find any handout enough.

        The existence of the final party means that the calls for more handouts will always continue.

    • IniD says:

      You are right that people’s expectations are different now, and that’s the problem. There is an expectations that the gahment must provide for your wants. It is this entitlement mentality that is the problem.

      If their own income does not allow them to afford their expectations, then it’s up to them to modify their expectations instead of demanding subsidies and goodies from the gahment, which bill which is being foot by tax-payers.

      Give you money to have kids so you can spend more on reno? Give you tax rebate so you can go traveling? Subsidise your housing and healthcare so you can go eat expensive restaurant? Priest lor.

      • I think that’s unfair. There’s no entitlement mentality here. People make their own choices. If they want kids, they’ll do what they need to. But what I’m saying is that, don’t expect this generation to scrimp and save like the last generation because of kids. Because attitudes have changed.

        Honestly, no one is asking the Govt for handouts. Indeed, people are not worried about how many kids they have or not have. They make their own choices, remember? They are responsible for how many kids they choose to have or not.

        Rather it is this Govt which is saying that Singapore has a TFR problem. It is this Govt which is cracking its head over this question– why don’t Singaporeans have more kids. And when people give them their answer– that houses are too small, kids cost too much, Singapore is too stressful and not conducive to having large families– it is up to this Govt to decide what, if anything, they should do.

        They can take the feedback seriously, make policy changes, legislate paternity leave, give financial incentives and tax breaks, build larger flats, revamp the education system. Or they can blame Singaporeans for being self-centred and me-first people who put their own needs ahead of having children.

        People will react accordingly.

        Let it be known that Singaporeans do not have a national duty to reproduce for the sake of boosting TFR. Having kids is an intensively personal decision. You can blame today’s generation for being self-centred people who are not willing to sacrifice for kids, like their parents were willing to sacrifice for them. So what? The fact is that, the world has changed. Lecturing Singaporeans this way will not likely work.

        There is no ‘entitlement’ mentality. However, there is a shift in values. It is up to this Govt to decide if it wants to accommodate this shift in values. Or berate Singaporeans for their shift in values.

      • IniD says:

        “Let it be known that Singaporeans do not have a national duty to reproduce for the sake of boosting TFR.”

        I totally agree with you on that, but I disagree that there is no entitlement mentality. Just read ST Forum and on every other day you will see an example of that.

      • sgthinker says:

        PW, I disagree with your view. The new generation is not a homogeneous bunch. There are people willing to save for a family, and there are people who put themselves before their future children. What is good enough for one person is not good enough for another. To paint everyone the same color in a broad stroke is oversimplification.

        I personally wonder how effective financial incentives will be at making babies. You mentioned houses are too small, so let’s say the govt decides one day to give all married couples an ang-bao of $100k or more to buy a bigger house, and hopefully they will have kids as a result.

        There will be people who use the money to buy the bigger house, but still not have kids for their own reasons. Or people who use the money to buy a same-size house with a better location, or people who use the money for other luxuries like cars, holidays, gambling and investments.

        Indeed I found myself facing the same mentality issue. When HDB resale prices fell due to last year’s cooling measures, I found myself thinking that “Since I intend to spend 700k for a resale flat anyway, why not use the same 700k to buy something with a better location?”

        This is why I say there is both a govt policy and citizen attitude problem.when it comes to having kids. Govt can give all the incentives it wants, but citizens can choose to twist these incentives for their own pleasure.

      • Sgthinker– I agree ‘The new generation is not a homogeneous bunch’ . I also agree that giving money won’t necessarily encourage people to have kids, and some people may just take the $$ and spend on themselves.

        But that’s not my point.

        My point is, those who want to sacrifice to have kids, will do so– but there are definitely less of them today compared to 30 or 50 years ago. And those who don’t want to have kids or don’t want to have many kids– that they choose to enjoy a better lifestyle instead of sacrificing is their own personal choice, guided by their own values. There’s no point lecturing them and blaming them for not putting kids first.

        If you do economics you know everything is about the margin. Marginal utility, marginal cost, etc. So govt policy can only affect those at the margin. Those whom you can tip over the margin by your incentives.

        So don’t berate the effectiveness of policies, that it will not make ALL married couples have kids. Of course it won’t. It can only make the 5 or 10 couples who want to have kids but can’t afford it do so. Not the ones at the extreme, who don’t want children at all.

        It is not a ‘citizen attitude problem’. Indeed, if you think that way, you have a problem. Because people are entitled to lead their own personal lives as they see fit. If they want to have kids, it’s their choice. If they don’t want to have kids, it’s also their choice. They don’t have an ‘attitude problem’. If you were the MCYS minister you were caught saying citiizens have an ‘attitude problem’, I guarantee you will be kicked out of office tomorrow.

      • sgthinker says:

        I agree with you that there will be SGreans who will never want kids. But I think you are oversimplifying the matter. You seem to think that citizens only fall within 3 categories:

        a. People who will have kids no matter what happens
        b. People who want kids but sincerely can’t afford to.
        c. People who will never have kids.

        I’m saying that there are more category of citizens.
        b1. People who want kids only after they have “satisfied” themselves. (e.g. “I must travel around the globe before I start my family”)
        b2. People who want kids but are stuck chasing material goods arising from stupid societal expectations. (e.g. “I must have a car to sustain my family”)
        b3. People who claim they want kids but only really want more handouts. (e.g. “I ask for subsidy to have kids, but spend the subsidy on investments instead”)

        I would say that the latter 3 categories have an attitude problem. And they do exist in Singapore. Surely you have met such people in life?

      • Sgthinker– actually I’ve never asked people their motivation for having or not having kids, so I can’t say I’ve met your various categories.

        What I can say is that, regardless of their selfish motivations, these people have made their choices and their choices are to be respected, because it is their own lives and their choices. We cannot judge them, we cannot call them people with ‘attitude’ problems, we cannot blame them for not having kids.

        You cannot berate their selfish choices for causing a ‘TFR problem’ or causing Singapore to have too few working adults supporting non-working population.

        If people’s attitudes have changed– if they place themselves over having kids– then that is what it is, you have to live with it, you have to work with it. If you are a policymaker, you will target your policies to those who genuinely want to have kids and minimise the collateral benefits to those freeloaders, and that’s it.

        Notwithstanding the above– frankly, I don’t think it is reasonable for you to expect people of this generation to suffer like their parents did, just for the sake of their children. It is a different world today. If you still think that people will cram a family of six into a small three-room flat, that they will make a conscious choice to do so (and not an accidental pregancy), then you have to examine your own attitude.

        Because the world has moved on.

      • sgthinker says:

        You’re using a strawman argument on me. I never said that Singaporeans should cram a family of 6 in a 3 room flat. Those words came from you. I’m just questioning what some people deem to be “necessities” for a family life.

        I’m not sure we can take the approach of “It’s their choice. Leave them be.” There will always be people asking for more handouts, whether they genuinely need it or not. It’s not possible to accurately separate the wheat from the chaff. Given the way Singapore politics is heading, it may only be a matter of time before we end up with a govt that gives in to the whims of its people, and the cost is borne by all taxpayers.

        We don’t have to force people to have kids. But we do need people to be more honest with themselves. Does the blame lie with the government, or with the citizen’s attitude? More often than not, it’s a combination of both. Poor policies and overly high expectations. To treat one side as blameless is to over-simplify the matter.

      • ‘There will always be people asking for more handouts, whether they genuinely need it or not.’

        I don’t know why you keep harping on handouts. This is not about people asking for handouts. I cannot recall a time when people petitioned the Govt for a ‘baby bonus’. Can you?

        All the tax incentives, baby bonuses, etc. came from our Govt by themselves, not because someone said, show me me money!

        And in fact, according to the Govt, these incentives have not been effective, ie not that many people have had (more) babies, despite the incentives.

        Do you want to know why? Or do you just want to say it’s because of selfish attitudes?

        Of course attitudes have become more selfish in the last 50 years. Even PAP claims it has to pay ministers millions of dollars right? Because today’s ministers aren’t like yesterday’s ministers, who saw nation-building as a great contribution.

        The same goes for the people. Attitudes have changed.

        My point is very simple. If you don’t want to give incentives for fear of it being misused, if you think Singaporeans don’t deserve more incentives because it is really their selfish nature, then you could well be right.

        Singaporeans don’t want to have children as much as their parents did. That’s a commonly observed behaviour in many countries as they progress up the development ladder. You can call it selfish behaviour, you can call it pragmatism, you can call it values change, you can call it attitude problem.

        Whatever you call it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that, things have changed, people have changed. You want to berate Singaporeans for that? Go ahead.

        But one piece of advice as a political consultant: don’t run for office. Because someone is bound to dig up this ‘citizen attitude problem’ remark of yours if you do.

      • IniD says:

        I don’t think it’s accurate for you to say that the people do not ask for handouts from gahment or some sort of concession. Like I said, just look at the letters to the ST forum this past week. I quote excerpts:

        “A rebate or preferential certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums for families with infants would go some way in addressing this need.”

        Incremental childcare leave, according to the number of children, and increase in paternity leave would be useful.”

        “With demographic changes, it has become increasingly hard to find families with three children in Singapore, especially when any child above 12 is considered an ‘adult’ when it comes to pricing.

        It would make more sense to structure family packages for three adults and two children, to include a grandparent.

        Could our local attractions be more flexible with their pricing structures for families?”

        “… full-time working parents are often forced to scramble for alternative childcare arrangements, calling on relatives and friends to help out, or taking time off from work to tend to their children.

        We are the same parents who pay hundreds of dollars a month for childcare, yet are unable to use that service.

        … I am convinced that HFMD rates will fall dramatically if childcare fees are mandatorily waived when a child is away from school due to contagion from an HFMD cluster at his centre.”

        And that’s just this week.

        Like I said, I don’t think it’s their duty to have kids for the country, but if the gahment is going to give them goodies using tax money, I, like sgthinker, want the gahment to reduce abuse. But that’s not why I posed this; I posted comment to show that Singaporeans don’t ask for handouts.

      • That’s because we have differences on what is meant by ‘handout’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handout for a good explanation of govt handout.

      • IniD says:

        Oh come now – playing semantics game at this late stage of the discussion?

        Isn’t it obvious what we were referring to? sgthinker clearly stated in his post that we are talking about:

        “…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”

        So if you want to claim victory in this discussion that Singaporeans do not ask for “handouts” of the wikipedia definition, then go ahead.

        I would argue that in a system where the “default mode” is that everyone pays, giving *some* people discounts/subsidies/rebates is an indirect form of handout… but I won’t bother, or bother with discussing with you anymore for that matter.

      • Too bad. Because handouts in and of themselves is not the subject of discussion. The point advanced by sgthinker is the people prefer to spend on themselves rather than their children. Which I agree, but I don’t consider that to be an ‘attitude problem’ on citizen’s part.

        As for handout, that is a dirty and loaded word which I’m particular about.

      • theonion says:

        SGthinker

        Agreed that there is an entitlement mentality especially espoused by the likes of PW.

        Even in OZ and Kiwi, there is a fee called HECS which is levied on the students and payable after University equivalent.

        PW basically expects to be treated like a bumiputra ala Melayu pertama irrespective of whether this is economically viable in the medium to long term.

        For your thoughts on the expectations group, you have definitely hit the hammer on the nail hence the long winded defences by the likes of PW

      • theonion says:

        Sgthinker

        A thought on the mentality of those who proclaim freedom yet deny the same freedom to those of differing thoughts

        “Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.”

        Isocrates, an Athenian orator ( 436–338 BC)

  2. theonion says:

    Agreed with your thoughts but watch out for the oncoming barrage

    • theonion says:

      PW is the party who would be most comfortable in Malaysia to be of the affirmative action to benefit itself and hang the rest.

      PW writings especially in the bias to favour Malaysia’s bumiputra policy albeit disguised as Singapore First.

      Agreed with you Sgthinker on 3 groups and noted

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