Mr Wang does feel, however, that in a few ways the article has become somewhat out-of-date. Here Colin and Jocelyn talk about the distinction between the Singapore Dream and the Singapore Plan:
Why does Mr Wang say that this article has become somewhat outdated? Because Mr Wang feels that at the time the article was written, the 5 C's still epitomised what it means to be successful in Singapore, in other words, to have "arrived". However, this doesn't seem that true anymore. These days, the popularity of 5 C's as worthy goals to strive for has already taken a severe beating."You wake up everyday and work from Monday to Friday, and often, Saturday too. If you finish work early, you and your partner go to your parents’ place for dinner and see your child for a few hours. If you work late, you buy a packet of char kway teow from the hawker centre but eat it at home because it’s too warm to eat there. You’re not crazy about the job but you know that if you keep at it, you can afford a car in 3 years’ time, and in 5 years’ time, buy a condo close to the primary school you want to send your kid to. Your conversations with people are either for the purpose of networking, work, or for familial obligations you cannot avoid. On weekends, you play golf with your friends at your country club or watch a movie with your partner. Once a year, you go on a ten day vacation to New York, London, or Paris, and when your children are big enough, Disneyland.
Alternatively, you wake up and you have no idea what is going to happen today, tomorrow, 6 months or a year later. Ironically, because of this uncertainty, all possibilities exist for you. You can be the Prime Minister of Singapore, you can make a movie, you can cook a meal you have never cooked before, eat at a place you have never eaten before, you can color your hair red, you can skip instead of walk, you can volunteer at the school you have always wanted to volunteer at, you can write a book, or you can have a baby even though you don’t have a maid. You have conversations with people who set your heart palpitating and your mind on fire. Your weekday is not so different from your weekend because everyday you are thinking, creating, and more important, imagining.
Most of us recognize the first story and its pursuit of the 5 Cs of “cash, condo, car, country club, credit card.” It is the Plan, which imposes a conclusion on you, and you work in order to make all the pieces fit. A bus stop advertisement I saw recently said it best: "We spend all our youth chasing money, and when we attain it, we spend all our money chasing youth."
A Dream, on the other hand, carries you on its wings to worlds that your heart and mind have never known.
By that, Mr Wang does not merely mean to refer to the many, many Singaporeans who, due to unemployment, retrenchment etc in recent years, no longer see the 5 C's as attainable. No, Mr Wang also refers to the ever-increasing number of Singaporeans who have come to realise that the 5 C's are not even necessarily worthwhile goals to strive for, even if you could.
Yes, they are still a minority. But then the wise are always a minority in society. They see first what the others will only realise later. And so you can expect the thoughts of the wise today to become conventional wisdom someday in the future. But not so soon.
And now Mr Wang turns to each of the 5 C's, to show you why all that glitters may not be gold:
Does Mr Wang personally practise what he preaches? Certainly. Mr and Mrs Wang are both fairly senior lawyers, commanding considerably higher salaries than the average Singaporean. But:Country Club Memberships: Please see Mr Wang's old post on this. It has become a rather odd idea, quaint and old-fashioned, to desire a country club membership. Club prices have in fact plummeted over the years. Not fashionable any more lah.
Credit Cards: These are death traps to the spendthrifts. They are status symbols only to the foolish - how much status can there be in a product where the bank's salesmen hang around in public places and chase after you with brochures and free gifts, beseeching you to sign up?
Sensible people like Mr Wang regard credit cards as merely convenient payment tools, and in this sense, not that different from a NETS card.
Do you REALLY think that the waitress or the salesman would respect you more, just because you pull a Visa card out from your wallet? They probably wish you would pay by cash or NETS instead, so that their establishment can avoid the bank charges involved whenever a customer pays by credit card.
Condominiums: Now that the property market has been in the doldrums for years and years, I think that people are pretty much aware that condos aren't necessarily a good thing to aspire to. In fact, condos tend to have rather poor resale value.
The other consideration, gleaned from actual experience over the past 10 years since the 1997 Asian crisis, is that it is probably a smarter move to live down, rather than live up, because you really don't know when you might be retrenched in the future. Better to own a property which you can more easily afford. The days are long gone when unemployment was a problem that plagued only the lowly-skilled and the lowly-educated. Read also Mr Wang's old post about owning an executive condo (among other things).
Cars: I think that they are still viewed as desirable. But people are more aware that owning a car in Singapore can really bleed your money, not just because of the cost of buying the car, but also because of road tax, ERP, COE, petrol etc. Frankly, the public transport system is pretty good, if you happen to live next to an MRT and also get used to booking taxis regularly. That would be a lot cheaper than owning a car.
Cash: The only C that still makes sense to Mr Wang. Except that if you're still young, you DON'T really want to sit on too much cash. That would be very dumb for your long-term financial health. You need to park a good chunk of it in equities. Or at least bonds. Or at the very least, money market instruments. With your conventional savings account interest rates at 0.2%, it's slow death to sit on too much cash.
The other part of Colin's and Jocelyn's article deals with the pursuit of dreams. More on this, another time. Mr Wang needs to attend a meeting now.1. They don't own a car. They don't intend to. Mr Wang doesn't even have a valid driving licence right now.
2. They live in a HDB, even though they can afford a condo. In fact, years ago, when they first applied for the HDB flat, their combined income was already too high to disqualify for the $40,000 government grant for living near Mr Wang's parents. Mrs Wang quickly resigned from her job so that the Wangs could pocket their $40,000. (A month later, Mrs Wang resumed work at a new organisation).
3. They pay all their credit cards right on time by GIRO. Mr Wang thinks that credit cards are a nuisance because the banks keep sending you so much junk mail and promotional materials.
4. They do have a country club membership, but that was all due to Mrs Wang's foolishness. Mr Wang still feels irritated about it.