The 2020 Financial Wellness Index recently released by OCBC revealed some interesting results pertaining to how different generations approach finances. Being a typical Singaporean, I decided to use this as an excuse to be kaypoh (colloquial Singlish term for being nosey) and learn more about the financial situation about the people around me to find out if this really rings true, and hopefully shed some light on why the results are as such.
But first, let’s take a look at the OCBC Financial Wellness Index and what it uncovered.
OCBC Financial Wellness Index
The OCBC Financial Wellness Index is based on 10 pillars of financial wellness:
- Saving habits
- Protection from financial emergencies
- Regular investing
- Retirement planning
- Regular reviews
- Gambling habits
- Excessive speculation
- Borrowing money
- Spending beyond means
- Manageable debts
To measure these 10 pillars, 24 indicators (standards and guidelines that are widely-accepted best practices in financial planning) are used. 2,000 respondents ranging from ages 21 to 65 participated in the survey, with their resulting scores being averaged out to derive the index.
Overall, the survey found that Singaporeans scored a 61 on their Financial Wellness Index, which is marginally lower than the 63 from 2019. As a gauge, the OCBC financial experts scored an average of 86.
Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the Index. Lost jobs and lower salaries have affected Singaporeans’ ability to pay for their housing loans and credit card bills. This is exacerbated by a fall in passive income for many Singaporeans, with fewer being able to spend comfortably.
As a result, long-term financial goals have taken a backseat. More individuals are also borrowing from their friends to get by and speculating excessively for quick bucks. Despite these financial troubles, many Singaporeans – especially millennials – still reported feeling a need to spend beyond their means to keep up with their peers.
However, certain factors did improve from the previous year, which buoyed the Index from a steeper decline. Some of these include an improvement in saving habits, maintaining an emergency fund, and the ability to defray medical expenses.
When it came to loans, 31 per cent of participants responded saying they had difficulties paying off their housing loans, with 9 per cent stating that they may need to sell or downgrade their homes.
Under the poor economic conditions, millennials in particular were found to be most worried about their finances; 49 per cent of them reported being preoccupied with financial matters, as opposed to 37 per cent of Generation X and 26 per cent of baby boomers.
Money matters amidst a pandemic
The pandemic has resulted in a spike in job losses and pay cuts across all sectors of the society. Like the OCBC survey results suggest, respondents across all generations have felt the pinch, with millennials feeling it more than others.
TheHomeGround interviewed Sarah, 45, and Hannah, 33, to better understand how the pandemic has changed the perception of money in different generations. The former is part of Generation X (born roughly between the 1960s and late 1970s), whereas the latter belongs to the Generation Y (more commonly known as the millennials, born between the early 1980s and late 1990s).
When asked whether their perspective on money changed since the onset of the pandemic, both respondents replied in the affirmative. Sarah mentions that the pandemic has forced her to tighten her belt slightly as the value of investments she has been holding on to has fallen. As a result, she has had to be more careful with the amount of liquid cash she keeps on hand. However, she also asserted that she was financially prepared to tide through tough times even in the event of a job loss.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s story reads a little differently. Hannah mentioned that the pandemic has helped drive home the point that “job security is not guaranteed”, but she still finds it difficult to break out of her existing spending habits. Despite not currently having sufficient funds to tide her through six months should she lose her job, Hannah did mention that the pandemic has pushed her to be more conscious about her finances and to make an effort to save more.
This affirms the OCBC survey’s results that millennials are struggling more with a potential dip in finances due to the pandemic. However, the discrepancy across generations is not necessarily simply due to the lack of financial knowhow on the side of millennials.
Instead, Sarah acknowledges that she has had a much longer runway to accumulate her savings as compared to millennials. Moreover, it is also possible that a larger proportion of millennials are still in the midst of financing big ticket purchases, such as their first homes, weddings, and starting a family as compared to those in Generation X, resulting in tighter purse strings for them.
After all, the Financial Wellness Index does indicate that a large majority of millennials are aware of the importance of savings, with 93 per cent of millennials saving at least 10 per cent of their monthly income. On average, millennials save 29 per cent of their income, which is actually more than the Generation X percentage of 26 per cent.
But what about spending?
Unfortunately, millennials did not fare too well when it came to spending habits. According to the Financial Wellness Index, nearly half of millennials (48 per cent) indicated that they spend beyond their means to try to keep up with their peers.
Hannah admitted to spending beyond her means, but does not attribute this to wanting to keep up with her peers. Instead, she cites her lack of mindfulness as to why her spending habits can be deemed slightly excessive.
When asked about why she believes her generation appears to be more careless with money, Hannah suggests that it’s because much of the millennial generation were raised with much more creature comforts than those from Generation X or the Baby Boomer Generation. As such, millennials tend to be more accustomed to the finer things in life, all of which come at a cost.
To end off the interview, TheHomeGround asked Sarah for advice on how millennials can learn to better manage their finances. Her top tip? To simply be more cautious with spending, and to make sure you spend within your means.
She advises millennials to have a savings plan and spending budget for each month. Anything beyond that is to be kept out of bounds. She also strongly advises against spending money that you have not earned and to avoid using next month’s pay to cover your expenses. This is to prevent it from becoming “a rolling habit” that will result in a constant deficit of funds.
So are millennials just bad with money?
Well, that remains to be seen.
Many factors can contribute to the seemingly poor financial situation that many millennials are in. While there are some which are admittedly caused by careless spending habits or a lack of knowledge about proper financial planning, there are also very real situations that force millennials between a rock and hard place when it comes to finances. For instance, many millennials are finding themselves becoming part of the sandwich generation.
Ultimately, it might simply be more beneficial to reserve judgement, and dispense advice where requested. The Baby Boomers and Generation X have had their time to make mistakes, learn from them, and run the race.
It is now time for the millennials to forge their own paths. At the end of it all, we will be okay.
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