How to Kick Ass This Christmas

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gimmeahug/4209857179/sizes/m/in/photostream/There’s a scene in Jurassic Park (which is my all-time favorite movie btw, sooo awesome) where the owner of the park, John Hammond, gives a tour of the velociraptor pen to a bunch of visitors. You don’t actually get to see the raptors – they’re hidden by thick foliage – but you do see a poor cow, strapped to a harness, slowly being lowered into the pen.

And then you see the thick foliage shaking vigorously, and hear the distressed cries of the dying cow over the unearthly shrieks of the raptors and watch the horrified looks of the visitors, and then… silence. The harness is extracted from the pen and you realize that it’s reduced to tattered little pieces of cloth.

Jurassic Mall

That’s kind of like what the mall was like yesterday. I went down to Raffles City to meet a friend for dinner, and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong place because it literally looked like feeding time at Jurassic Park. First, the place looked like it got hit by a meteor. There was stuff everywhere, and hordes of panicked crowds running around. Ryan from MoneySmart tells us that this is actually a devious psychological tactic to get us to buy more. (“Messy” is usually associated with “cheap”, even though the actual price will probably be your first-born child)

Then there were all these macho dudes all wandering into jewelry and bag shops looking slightly dazed, trying to figure out what to get for their girlfriends. One by one, they were picked off by sly-looking salespeople circling them like sharks before convincing them to buy another overpriced bag/necklace/diamond ring.

And there were the ubiquitous Christmas carols like, everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong – I love carols – but it gets really trying when you hear a pseudo-jazz band butcher Jingle Bell Rock for the 273rd time. Nobody else seemed to mind because they were too busy climbing over each other to claw their way to the sale rack at Robinson’s. They made the Jurassic Park velociraptors look like a bunch of fluffy little bunnies.

Have Yourself a Merry Overconsumerist Christmas

Christmas used to be awesome, dude. It used to be so full of anticipation and magic and laughter and joy. But those damn malls crept into the place where they store the Christmas love and decided to destroy the crap out of it. They taught us that we don’t need love and joy during Christmas; what we need is an iPad so we can play Angry Birds on a wide screen at home instead of spending time with our families.

The problem, as blogger Johnny B Truant points out, is that Christmas has become about forced consumerism, where we kid each other into buying things that none of us would normally bother to get for ourselves. Like I shower all year round with a $10 bottle of shower gel, I don’t actually need that $70 Body Shop gift pack consisting of Shea Shower Cream, Body Scrub and Beautifying Oil, topped off with an Ultra Fine Lily (what the heck is an “Ultra Fine Lily” anyway?).

And then I’ve got to reciprocate and risk my life battling the Jungles of Orchard Road to get you an ugly tie that you will probably never wear, except maybe at your funeral.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

But dude, I hear you say, it’s the thought that counts.

But as Truant mentions in the same blogpost, if it’s the thought that’s so important, why do we have to spend a whole bunch of money to buy stuff? That isn’t thinking, it’s buying.

The stuff that I love most comes really cheap, or absolutely free. Like lunch with good company (we can split the bill). Or watching old movies in bed. Or playing Taboo while drinking cheap beer and eating Red Rock Deli chips. Or a chillaxed Saturday morning run. Or a $4 iPhone case. Or helping to repost or retweet my blogposts if you’ve found them useful. 🙂

Love from friends and family, comfort food, and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped you out in some tiny way. That’s really all I need, and it wouldn’t change even if I had a million bucks.

How to Celebrate Christmas, FaReals

1. Let’s forget the malls and the stores this year, and the obligatory Secret Santa game where everyone gets weird generic gifts. Instead, use the money and throw your family/friends an awesome dinner party, a potluck, or a games night (copious amounts of alcohol optional, but definitely recommended).

2. Do something that you’ve never done before. My girlfriend couldn’t think of anything she wanted this year, so I’m offering to cook her dinner (which is a helluva big deal to me because I never cook. Hey, stop judging, I gotta start somewhere.)

Okay that’s just the basic – I’m sure some of you are already awesome like that. But if you really want to step it up this year…

1. Talk to your friends and family, or send out an email or a Facebook post. Tell them not to give you any gifts, but instead donate they money they would have spent to a cause you support like Project: Flight. (Started by fellow Penn alum Albert Pak!)

2. Do something awesome and make it fun. Today, I heard about a kid who spent $600 bucks buying ice cream for foreign workers in Singapore who might be spending Christmas away from their families. And how awesome is it to be Ice Cream-Giving Santa Dude for a day?

Your awesome project doesn’t even have to involve moolah – you could do something entirely silly like Improv Everywhere’s High Five Escalator. It’s not going to change the world, but at least you’ll be giving people a little sliver of happiness, which is what Christmas is really all about. 🙂

Think about it, and go DO it. Merry Christmas everyone!

Save Your Bonus

Okay it might be a little late for this, but if you haven’t spent a bomb on your Christmas presents yet, read on.

There’s a reason why the government wants most Singaporean companies to pay out their Annual Wage Supplement (AWS), more commonly known as the 13-month bonus, in December. SO YOU CAN PAY IT RIGHT BACK INTO THE ECONOMY BY SPENDING IT ON STUPID PRESENTS THAT NO ONE REALLY LIKES. Okay, I kid. I’m all for giving presents and letting a little loose during the festive season. (So what if your mom will never ever use that waffle maker you bought her – it’s the thought that counts, right?) But I’d like to highlight that this insidious little trick actually causes you to spend a lot more than you otherwise would during Christmas. So because it’s Christmas, I’ll tell you how to get around that psychological barrier, afford to buy your presents, AND still get rich by saving most of it.

This is how most people think: “Wow an extra $3,000! I just got paid like 2 weeks ago, I’m getting paid today, AND I’m getting paid in 2 weeks?! I’m RICH bitchessss. I could totally afford to buy all my Christmas presents now, and still have money left over to get me that iPad I really want so I can play Angry Birds on a big screen” Don’t get caught up in the hype. It’s a dirty little psychological trick that the entire system plays to get you to spend more during Christmas, leaving you poor and part of the 99% of the population who will never get rich, while our GDP, and the corresponding salaries of our bosses and ministers which are tied to that GDP, get fatter and fatter. (I’m a big proponent of taking charge of your own wealth and not blaming or relying on any government policy to get you out of poverty. But more on that at another time)

News flash, people – that 13-month bonus that you got isn’t actually a real “bonus”, it’s part of your hard-earned, blood sweat and tears, salary. Most companies calculate your monthly wage based on a 28-day month, but of course most months have more than 28 days. When you add up all the “extra” days each month for an entire year, you get… 29 days, which is why companies are obligated to pay you that extra month’s worth of salary.  (I know this doesn’t apply to ALL companies in Singapore – some of you lucky bastards get paid a higher salary each month, without that 13-month bonus) So don’t be treating that extra cash in your bank account like money fallen from the sky, you EARNED that shizz through working all those extra days in the year!

Here’s what I do to get around that dirty little psychological trick.

1. First, I plan in advance how much I want to spend this Christmas. Say I want to spend like $1,200 in gifts and dinners and parties all that jazz. Like literally everything, including cab fares from my parties, Secret Santa gift exchanges, everything. That means I have to save $100 every month in order to afford it.

2. I then set up a savings system that automatically goes into my account every month after my salary gets paid, pulls out that $100 and deposits it into a separate short-term savings account that I absolutely do not touch until December comes around. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I use POSB’s MySavings account because it’s simple, free, and there are no charges to transferring the money when I need it. (I’ll write a bit more about automating your finances in another post)

3. When my 13-month “bonus” gets credited into my account, I take 90% of that and transfer that straight into my long-term savings account, which is meant for a future downpayment for a house, retirement, wedding, whatever. (I literally never make withdrawals from that account until I have to spend it for that long-term goal) Why 90%? Because, let’s face it – we’re all human and it’s hard as hell to resist the temptation to blow some of it on some stupid expensive item that you’ve always wanted. So I keep 10% of that and I go wild with it, guilt-free.

4. Once all that is done and December rolls around, I now have that $1,200 I saved up, and an extra 10% of my bonus (assuming your salary is $3,000 – the median salary in Singapore – that would give you an extra $300), which is ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FRICKIN DOLLARS to make all my Christmas dreams come true.

You can now afford to go wild at Christmas without feeling guilty, with minimal sacrifice (seriously, how hard is it to save an extra $100 bucks every month?), AND you’re consciously saving up for the long term, keeping yourself in the running to make yourself rich. Now THAT’S a real Christmas dream.

Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂