Don’t-do list when youre going broke

Money no enough! The made-in-Singapore silly movie expresses the most common gripe of the denizens of this cash-infatuated island. Singaporeans are constantly stressed, whether they’re Jack Neo looking for funds to shoot another movie or Jackie Neoh shopping for bling in Orchard Road.

In an economic downturn when even banks don’t have enough money, you really need to manage stress (and prevent yourself going suicidal) by taking charge of your spending, and the way you handle financial obligations and debts.

In recent decades the world seems to have more economic downturns than upturns. No, don't blame it on Donald Trump or terrorists. Blame it on global warming, money-laundering bankers, incompetent and corrupt leaders...

My father used to say that without money, everything else is hypothetical. Hence, to manage stress and ease the harsh demands of life, you must first manage your money. (A Danish proverb reminds us that, If you have no money, be polite. Sensible people, the Danes.)

Some don’ts to slow you down when you’re going broke:

● Don’t indulge in “retail therapy”. You can’t shop and spend your way to happiness. And it’s stressful to buy on credit and having to fork out 20 percent interest payments because you can’t repay the full sum to the credit card bank.

If you have credit card debts, you MUST stop all needless spending and save every cent to pay off the debts. Once you have repaid, go to the bank and cut your card in front of the manager.

● Don’t kill time in the mall. It only makes you restless, depressed and even kleptomaniac when you look at all the glitter that you crave but unable to lay hands on.

● Don’t hang out with people who stress you. You can hear these idle (usually jobless) fellows in the kopitiam or the mall, complaining loudly about friends, relatives, the government and taxi drivers.

● Don’t ruin your health smoking, and drinking alcohol. All alcohol is bad for you, including wine. The American Heart Association points out that the statement, “wine is good for your health”, is only good for wine sellers, not your health.

And there’s nothing “refreshing” in a pint of beer. It’s pathetic to see pregnant old men sitting in kopitiams drinking several bottles night after night. Beer does not refresh; it only makes the drinkers querulous, gouty and diabetic, and strip them of their savings, self-respect and health.

● Don’t buy lottery tickets. An informal survey by a local newspaper reveals that every month, many Singaporeans spend $800-$2,000 each on lottery tickets and bets. Most of these individuals are jobless, so they have all the time in the world to queue at the lottery counter.

● Don’t push your kids too hard; let them have a chance to grow up. Fong Leng, my old friend in the IT and telecommunication industry, tells me she has to take a week off from work at the beginning of the year to accompany her son on his first few days in primary school. She felt stressed out because the teachers from Day 1 are already stressing the kid with homework, performance tests and ranking.

Each time you want to change the world or push your kid to take up ballet and play the cello, just chant this phrase: Let sleeping dogs lie... let sleeping kids lie...

Of course not all stress can be avoided, and it is not healthy to avoid a situation or an issue that needs to be addressed, such as your kids not doing well in school, or you allowing your body to get flabby through over-eating and not exercising.

● Don’t buy a new hand phone or tablet.

● Don’t make appointments or commitments that are difficult to keep. Take control. If you have an important appointment in Orchard Road, and you know the traffic there is hell, start your journey much earlier than you would normally do. Better still, don’t accept appointments in Orchard Road and other car-clogged shopping districts.

● Don’t make appointments to have lunch or dinner in cafes or restaurants. All restaurants serve overpriced food, and all cafes served overpriced tea or coffee. There’s nothing wrong dining out with friends in kopitiams.

● Don’t start a business. Whether it is to sell food in a coffeeshop stall or sex in a massage spa (the two favourite startup options in Singapore), don’t! In six months of business, you are guaranteed to lose all your money (and your friends’ and relatives’ money that you’ve borrowed), lose all self-confidence and self-respect, and even your own life (like jumping from a bridge to escape creditors and loan sharks).

Positive actions

Here’re some free do’s you can do:

● Chill out in a free airconditioned environment, like one of the many public libraries, where practically everything is free except the beverage and muffins. Browse, borrow and read a book or magazine, and expand your mind. But don't read anything on travel, yet, until you save some cash.

● Chill out with old folks. Join a charity that organises activities for old people who are poor and living alone. Such charities are always in need for volunteers to befriend the old. You don’t need to donate money, just time and energy.

● Start a blog if you haven’t got one. Focus on one single theme that you are passionate over. Research and gather material on your subject and post regularly. Sooner or later, people who are interested in your theme will gather at your blog to read, add comments and even contact you to argue, discuss and share.

Aside: Don’t waste time updating and beautifying your content on Facebook and LinkedIn. Nobody reads seriously what you posted on Facebook and nobody believes your SKE fiction on LinkedIn. (SKE = skills, knowledge and experience, the three main things that employers are supposed to look for when reading resumes. Of course, in real life, when there are vacancies to fill, employers look for relatives, friends and friends of friends, in that order. Only when there’s really no one else in the look-out list would employers look at resumes.)

● Walk 10km in the park. Jog 10km in the park. This is the only accomplishment you can gloat to friends with floppy limbs and tofu torso.

● Play with your cat (or dog). But if you don’t already have a pet, don’t buy one.

● Work hard in your job; work longer hours to complete assignments on time, even if you're not paid overtime.

Go on, have a life, even if you’re broke.

– Francis Chin, September 7, 2009, updated on April 23, 2016

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