Do You Guys Know How to Retire?

What do Singaporeans understand about retirement? I have been asking Singaporeans I know about their retirement plans. Most of them answered, "Dunno," and the rest said they will "never be able to retire." That is of no surprise to me. For the past 2 decades of so, the Singapore government has been drumming into the minds of Singaporeans that retirement is an outdated concept. So that segment of Singaporeans who have been swallowing whatever their government shot out all along would have accepted they would have to work until they drop dead, for the honour and glory of the Motherland. While the minority of the population comes with a self filtering system and do not usually take the government word for word, most lost all hopes of the possibility of a retirement. Before long, Singaporeans don't even understand what is retirement.

It doesn't help matters when vultures working in the financial field keep cornering that innocent passerby, pin him down and ask him how much his month expenses are. Then the confident savvy chap in clown suit will draw him a straight line, depicting how many years of savings he'll need against how many years of projected unemployment sunset years, smartly referencing life expectancy figures from the government. Every conclusion is the same, "Your retirement is fucked. If you put your money with me, I'll save you. Not enough money? It's ok, give me whatever you can and I'll make it less fucked."

The common 2 reasons why Singaporeans cannot retire are;

1) You don't earn enough money.
2) You don't save enough money.

No matter how we play around with these two, most Singaporeans working "average" jobs will find themselves never having enough money to retire based on the third and the most important reason

3) You don't understand how to live below your means.

Trust me, this is bigger than you think it is. It isn't just about spending less, saving more or delayed gratifications. The problem with Singaporeans is that we have an extremely skewed expectations of life. Again, this root from the indoctrination from our dear government. We have been constantly told we are living in the best country in the world all our lives. We have been shown results during our yearly AGM on the 9th of August about how our lives have improved from drawing water from the street tap to having tap water in our flats to having premium finishes of today. We have been warned not to settle for anything other than the best. To vote for the best political party in the country and the best living conditions will be delivered to us. These notions are widely perceived to be positive and uplifting but to me, it masked the great underlying evil in the materialistic viscous cycle. What used to be a feature becomes a minimum requirement. What used to be a wish turns into an expectation. Living in such an environment render an ordinary individual hopeless in practicing the ways of living below his means. If indoctrination is unable to complete afflict, peer pressure will complete it.

I was introduced to a Singaporean man in his 40s a few weeks ago. He was trying to migrate to Australia and the doors are shut on him due to his age. As he was displaying unusual signs of desperation, I couldn't help but probe into his circumstances. He was doing really fine, like most Singaporeans in their mid 40s would. These folks were born into the correct decade, had rode the HDB wave and many paid up their flats before they even turned 40s, sitting on pure profits of 6 figures by just being there at the right time. As it turned out, I was right. That gentleman admitted he was having a well paying, cushy job without even the infamous stress level of a typical job in Singapore. His HDB flat cost him in the regions of $300,000 and was valued around $700,000 today. His children were approaching tertiary education and financial independence within a few years' time and he estimated he would have around $200,000 cash by the end of it.

Yet he could never retire - that was what he told me.

He reasoned that $200,000 would not even last him 20 years of retirement and even if does, if he lived beyond 20 years he would be royally fucked. I am pretty good in numbers. Even as I was chopping up ingredients for making fried noodles for Jen's lunch the next day, I calculated that based on his figures, he would have to live on $800+ ($833 to be exact) a month. I looked up and stole a glance at him before I returned to my chores.

"How about retiring in Malaysia or Thailand?" I asked, fully expecting what answer I was about to get. You can't get by with RM2400 or 20,000 baht a month, seriously?

"Nooooo! I would never live in those countries. It's too dangerous."

Really? Every corner is unsafe?

I don't get it. Why would anyone think Australia is suitable for retirement? You will be more likely to get killed by a Redback in Australia than being killed by a robber in Malaysia or raped by a bakpok in Thailand. Do you guys even learn statistics? Even Singaporeans who moved to Australia seemed to think there isn't anywhere else they can go for retirement other than staying put where they are. What is wrong with all of you? Don't you see it? We are plagued by that high-and-mighty mentality that nothing is good enough for us other than motherland and what is perceived to be comparable. If you think Australia is so good for retirement, why don't you retire in Alice Spring or Karratha? Maybe not? If Australia has a land mass of a million times bigger than Singapore that is not suitable for your retirement, then what cheek of you to say no corner of a country such as Thailand is safe or clean enough for YOU?

Alright. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. If one is unaware of his advantageous position to manipulate it to his needs, or aware but unwilling to be flexible, would he even try out an unconventional migration route paved out neatly?

If I was in such a position, with a HDB flat rentable at a few thousand dollars a month, a CPF payout of a few hundred dollars upon withdrawal age and the cash of $200,000 in the bank, I would be able to live in anywhere in the world if I wanted it. Why would I even care about Permanent Residency to certain countries at all? I daresay most Singaporeans holding the same portfolio would think the same way as this gentleman, resigned to working for the rest of their lives, because their savings was never going to be sustainable for their ever expanding cravings.

Even without touching the fixed assets, have anyone of you ever stop to think it is possible to live on $833 a month, $27.70 a day? Even the Son of Punggol (now AMK) can buy nearly 3 pairs of chopsticks with that. Is there no stage of your life you ever live like that? How miserable were you then? It could very well be the happiest stage of your lives for all you know it. Why do we think that our living expenses will continue to be the same after retirement? Who the hell told you that and why do you have to believe so? Why would you spend money for expensive business clown suits for instance? You don't even need to work. Why do you need a car? What's the fucking hurry to move around? Why do you need to eat out at Raffles Place when you have all the time to cook at home? Who made the rules that we have to have enough funds to sustain the level of expenses during employment? Why do you, the smartest of them all, have to abide by those rules?

Do you even know how to retire?


  1. It will be really interesting to see if URA in the future is prepared to pay the million dollar market price tag per unit if they want to knock down an entire estate for redevelopment even though they have 60 years left ...

    1. Btw I will not recommend Alice Springs for retirement unless you plan to leave out there in remote property (which then means you can leave practically anywhere)

      Too expensive land in town
      Food 20-30% more expensive than capital cities (that includes grocery)
      Slightly more crimes per capita than usual (and usually alcohol related)

  2. Fuck Australia if its rules don't work for you. The man in his 40s could consider one of the Carribean islands that sells citizenships (does he like crystal clear sand & water?), or even dynamic Chile which grants PR after 2 years on a work visa. He could even get a business owner visa in the US - a Subway outlet only costs about US$100K. Even M'sia can be liveable & safe, if one learns to keep a low profile, and it's easier for Sinkies to blend in than Thailand unless one knows Thai. Then again, there are tons of Euro-run restaurants at Thai beach resorts. I saw 2 young Italian chaps running a pizza shack (yeah it's a shack) in Bophut, Koh Samui. When are we going to learn how to live the dream? One caveat is if you have school-going kids, then Oz may be more attractive than any of these countries, so pls don't wait till you get too old!