Yesterday morning at a casual Sunday breakfast at the local kopitiam, I had the pleasant experience of bantering with a Mr. Koh, who is in his 70s. Koh is the 5th of a family of seven and he told me something that I thought would make social media mayhem.
“You all young people, think too much lah. Want to get married, get married lah! Want to have children, have children lah! In the past, we had no money, we had not much food…and to save money we studied by the moonlight and candles!” he said.
“Yes Mr. Koh, but today things are different! Milk powder costs about $80 a can, we have to work to pay for mortgages and our salaries aren’t that high either…” I told him. That was when he started getting furious.
“Young man, do you know how much my salary was last time? Compared to today you fellas earn so much more!”
“You want to talk about mortgages? My mother didn’t even have a house to start with…all seven of us had to squeeze into one tiny room! And you complain about milk? I grew up drinking condensed milk, none of this DHA nonsense that you young people have. In our family we have lawyers and teachers…so what if we were raised without good diapers or expensive milk?!” said Mr. Koh with a fuming face.
Why is it that in the past, our grandparents could raise 7, even 10 children on simple wages and a simple life?
I’ll tell you what has changed: the emergence of powerful advertisements, persuasive marketing and more fancy products that “you couldn’t do without”.
If we took a tray of coffees in a taste test: an 80 cents coffeeshop coffee, a Wang’s coffee and a Spinellis and put them to a blind test, I guarantee you can’t tell the difference.
If you ask any mother on the street why she choses the most expensive milk powder on the shelf, she’ll tell you that it is “good”, but she won’t be able to tell you why and what ingredients make it “good”.
Did you know that the difference between a Malaysian infant milk powder and a Singaporean milk powder are exactly the same for some brands? In other brands, you’ll find that the cheaper Malaysian one has a few minerals missing – but all these extra minerals do is make expensive urine and nothing more.
Einstein never grew up on Similac Gain IQ.
None of the worlds greatest leaders, artists, economists and athletes that lived before us needed Enfagrow with its 360DHA nonsense. In fact, they may have drunk milk that was infected with bacteria and grew up none the worse.
Marketeers use fear and temptation to get you to spend more money – and that’s all there is to it. I put it in a fancy cup, I call it “Starbucks” and I tell you that you’re “buying an experience and not just coffee” and suddenly you think nothing of spending $7 on a cup of coffee.
Fairprice house brand bread is made by Sunshine. The same factory, the same machines, the same flour is used to make the same bread. Except that when you see the Fairprice label on it you think “yeeeee, if so cheap surely quality not good one”.
You could get good hawker food (with drinks) for less than $5, you don’t need a cafe meal at $20.
You don’t need to travel by taxi all the time or own a car, even with all these transport issues the MRT is still the most effective way to move around the island.
You don’t need to stay in a condominium – some of the richest people I know live in HDBs and own condos to rent out to people who will pay for it.
“You put a swimming pool in the building and suddenly stupid people are willing to pay $4k a month for a 3 room condo. At the end of the day, you won’t even be using the facilities! Better you go out and join the gym right?” said Mr. Koh. “…and when I stay in the HDB, I get town council rebates, I get GST rebates for electricity and my utility bills are cheaper. I stay in a condo, everything is double the price…because why? Because condo. Con job more like it”
Mr. Koh then left me with this quote:
“You all modern Singaporeans, you all are so lucky. You have choices. If you want to buy expensive milk powder, eat at cafes and spend your money on expensive shoes – go ahead. But don’t forget that you have choices. If you chose the expensive one, don’t complain that the cost of living has gone up” he said.
“It is your expectations that have gone up and you jolly well work hard to pay for those”.