Walk into any bookshop or library, and if you’re not looking for teenage vampire lit, you will eventually wander into an entire section devoted to money. Shelf after shelf of scholarly tomes, insightful volumes by captains of industry like Buffet, Trump and Soros; each one explaining in great detail what money is, why we need it, and how we can go about getting more of it. The take home message is that money is good, and it really does makes the world go around.
And wasn’t it ABBA who told us it ‘must be funny in the rich man’s world’? Well, maybe not haha funny, but it’s a lot easier to see the silver lining. Or, at least, that’s the fantasy that those of us without a lot of the stuff cling so desperately to.
In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, we love to talk about money. We’re fascinated by it. Obsessed, even. So much so that we happily jump into massive amounts of debt just to have more of it.
There are, inevitably, party poopers who will tell you that money isn’t everything and that it can’t buy you happiness. That may be true, but as Barney Chen once pointed out with penetrating insight, money may not buy you happiness, but it will certainly make the misery a little bit more bearable. Well, I’m paraphrasing. I believe his exact words were “Honey, that’s because you don’t know where to shop!”
I can’t help but wonder though – why are we, Singaporeans especially, so obsessed with money? Why do we put in all those hours at the office? Why do we spend so much time bucking for a raise, often at the expense of our friends and family. And a life?
The problem is that money becomes important only when you don’t have enough of it. Which raises another question – just how much money is enough?
I remember once asking Amanda just how much money she thought she’d need to retire with. She gave the matter some serious thought and finally replied, “At least twenty million.”
I remember Saffy choked into her morning coffee. “No, seriously!” Amanda said. “That’s like the bare minimum. A nice house these days will cost you at least one million, say. Then a car and driver is half a million. Then you will be traveling first class, so that’s about a hundred grand already, if you assume ten trips a year. And you have what,” her inbuilt computer calculating at warp speed, “18.4 million left. You gotta have a nice house in London, so that’s easily five million gone and a little pad in New York, take away another four million. Which leaves you, uh, 9.4 million of spare change.”
By now, I was feeling a little overwhelmed, not to mention depressed.
“So, say you put that 9.4 into a 5% interest bearing account, and that’s what?” Amanda continued rhetorically, “$470,000 interest a year. How could you possibly live on $470,000 a year? A half decent necklace from Cartier easily costs you that much already!”
Now, there are those out there who will scoff and say that you don’t need a Cartier necklace, half decent or otherwise, to lead a fulfilling and rewarding life. Which brings me back to the original question: Just how much is enough?
There’s a government minister in the UK right now who says that he can live on £53 a week. At today’s ridiculous exchange rate, that’s less than S$100. Saffy says that barely gets you down the road in a taxi these days.
“If you eat char kway teow every day and you walk to work and you don’t get sick and you don’t turn on air-con and you don’t have children, sure can, one!” Sharyn said the other day. “But sure cannot order barbeque sting ray!”
It seems to me, too, that twenty million won’t do you much good if you have, say, a terminal illness. On this point, Amanda says that’s just like saying a plane gets everyone from A to B so there’s no point in flying business or first class. “But there is a point,” she insisted. “It’s how you get there that’s important! It’s so much more comfortable in the upper classes. So, in the same way, if you’re sick, you might as well be as comfortable as possible, and that is where having lots and lots of money makes a difference. You don’t have to scrimp and share a bedpan with your hospital room-mate!”
Saffy says if that image doesn’t put you off your char kway teow, she doesn’t know what will.