Ivan Seah shares with Elias Tan the traumatic experience of his previous relationship.

Here’s a question that is often asked of older people, but sometimes also of those barely starting out in life, including two of the youngest candidates at 2011 Singapore General Election: What is your biggest regret?

For 30-year-old hairdresser Ivan Seah, it was dating his former girlfriend. “She is materialistic and demanding,” sighs Ivan. “She berated me whenever she has the chance to, thinking she’s always right.

“Once, we were at a cafe together with friends; she indignantly chided me for shifting a lounge chair to our table.” All Ivan had planned to do was swap for comfortable seats. In return, he was yelled at by the person he loves. Yes it stings. But that did not stop him from loving her and pandering to her requests for expensive gifts – including an LV key pouch and Japanese labelled apparels – and posh restaurant meals.

As the relationship progressed, Ivan felt stifled under her thumb. Until the day she initiated a break up… “Freedom!” chimes Ivan. Finally free from his girlfriend’s clutches, Ivan was elated. “She wouldn’t allow me to break up with her, because in her context it’s not right.”

What about her? The materialistic girlfriend went off with a man who could afford her the lifestyle that she pined for.

Lesson learnt; do not shower a materialistic girlfriend with gifts, because she will never be satisfied. Especially when you cannot afford it with a salary of less than $2,000 per month.

material girl

‘Material girls’ are aplenty. And they give women a bad name. They aspire to be ‘tai-tais’ and would stop at nothing to achieve their aims of marrying a rich man. Some would even be contented to be a rich man’s mistress.

In a recent study that sought to measure materialism, conducted by Singapore Management University Professor Norman Li, Singapore women polled an average of 3.98 points, compared to their American sisters’ score of 3.74, with higher scores suggesting that a woman is more materialistic a woman. According to the survey, a man’s social status is the top criterion for Singapore women when it comes to looking for a potential spouse.

But then, are Singapore women materialistic, or just realistic? Given Singapore’s high cost of living, a couple will need a lot of money just to survive and raise a family, let alone lead an affluent lifestyle.

Moreover, with Singapore’s increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, the proportion of residents aged 65 and above will continue to rise. A rising proportion of the elderly translates into higher socio-economic costs for all Singaporeans, regardless of stripes. As of 2011, the percentage of elderly residents in Singapore increased to 9.3 percent, up from 7.2 percent in 2000.

In short, Singapore’s cost of living is expected to keep rising. And women who want to afford an affluent lifestyle will have to rethink their decision.

Nowadays, Ivan looks forward to scouring the Internet for the latest hair and fashion trends, jamming with his band mates after work and going out with his new partner. If time permits, Ivan would step into the kitchen and whip up a tasty dish for his family. “I don’t cook for money, but for survival,” says Ivan.

Ivan says he is not planning on getting married anytime soon. “Probably when I’m nearing 40,” he says. Not unless he feels that he is financially stable.

“Singapore’s cost of living is very high; honestly, I would only feel safe and assured to settle down if I can bring home $5,000 – $6,000. Everything – from public transport to food – is pricey!”

“By the time my partner and I get married, we may have to settle for an adopted child,” Ivan adds. For unless he marries someone much younger, his wife then would be near the end of her child-bearing age. Child adoption for older couples is one way to salvage Singapore’s plunging birth rate.

This brings us to the point of whether or not the Singapore Government has done enough to help average Singaporeans tide over a turbulent economy, settle down and start a family. Tax relief schemes and bonus payoffs are helpful. But are they really taking effect? Apparently not, judging from birth statistics. The country’s birth rate hit a record low of 1.15 per woman in 2011. This is sharply lower than the replacement rate of 2.0 per woman.

Then again, it boils down to the type of lifestyle a family intends to lead. If you want your children to excel academically and enter University, you will have to set aside money for their higher education.

And how much would that be? From kindergarten to university, inclusive of home tuition fees that most parents feel their children need, it would add up to several hundred thousand dollars. Ivan would have to start saving. Now.