COVID-19 SPECIAL: Small Change

A wealth of wisdom from the pandemic

Learn how you can do more with money to make life better

The pandemic has impacted people worldwide and holds valuable lessons for all of us, not least in how we can - and should - look at money from here on.


We all know this but Covid-19 has reinforced it in a way that we are unlikely to forget for the rest of our lives.

This is especially so because the disease is particularly deadly to those who have underlying medical conditions and unhealthy lifestyles that lead to obesity, for instance.

To put it simply, if you are healthy, you should get through this pandemic unscathed if you remain socially responsible. But if you are not in good health, you should think twice before even stepping out of your home because all the money in the world may not be able to save you if you catch this dreaded disease.

Lest you think that Covid-19 is the only thing that can kill, every year many more people die from all sorts of medical conditions that could be prevented if only they lead a healthier lifestyle.

It does not cost much to do - you can cut down your food bills by eating in moderation, even if you choose the more expensive or healthier choices.

We are learning during the circuit breaker period that there are many forms of exercises that can be done for free. A walk in the park after dinner each day is effective in keeping your weight in check, say many practitioners who swear by it.

If you need a stronger message to frighten you into action, it is this - the 14-day stay-home notices or quarantine orders that people get may seem harsh but they are nothing compared with the stay home for life scenario if you get hit by stroke or other debilitating illnesses.

There are reasons why you see so many people exercising - they don't do it just for fun but to avoid a poor quality of life in later years due to illnesses.

Unless the medical condition is inherited, most people start off with good health at birth. More precious than money, it is up to us to either treasure - or squander - it.



Yes, the state can come and offer some help in troubled times but this should not be a "perk" that you should consider in your planning.

Financial and retirement planning is every individual's own responsibility. Hence the basic duty that every citizen must aim to do is to be able to take care of their own needs and not be a burden to the society.

This is not asking too much because if you are a fan of President John F. Kennedy, people should even be asking what they can do for their country.

Being prudent is not mission impossible - it merely means you should spend within, or better still, below your means.

So if you don't have much in the way of savings, you should not be in a hurry to upgrade your phone whenever a new model is launched. After all, most phones can last for a few years.

Similarly, do not over-leverage in buying property, cars and holidays which you can't really afford - a loan is not a ticket to luxurious lives but something that will make you a bankrupt if you are not careful.

That the banks have received thousands of applications for loan deferment in recent weeks is a sign that too many people have borrowed beyond their means. Do note that "deferment" does not mean no need to pay - it just means you have to pay more later.

Then there are those who view "investment" as a way to hit the jackpot. But this crisis shows that investment can be a double-edged sword that can make you poorer too. So it is always smarter to be the prudent investor - invest only extra cash that you can afford to lose and leave the rest safely in your CPF and fixed deposits. It is better to have lower returns than losing even your emergency funds.


Imagine that it is now an offence to even meet your friends. This should make all of us treasure the good friends and colleagues who have contributed in their own ways to make our lives better.

It should also make us realise that we may have sometimes taken those who really matter to us for granted. Ask yourself this question - when was the last time you treated close friends to a good meal simply because you enjoyed their company and not because you needed a favour or two?

Most of us have come across "friends" who like to wrangle free meals or say they will pay you back but always never do until you remind them to their face. I have a true story to tell such free-loaders.

A wealthy man I knew used to always avoid picking up the bill whenever he dined with his good friends. One day he received bad news from his doctor - he was in poor health and his lifespan would be severely affected as a result.

Since that day and until he died in recent years, he not only paid for meals with his friends, he also made sure that he served the most expensive wine as well even though he could not enjoy it.

We don't need to resort to such drastic measures only at the end of our days, especially when it does not cost much to treat your good friends. And guess what - good friends will most certainly fight for the bill as well. Life is too short to be calculating with people who matter to us.


To those who have done well and have earned enough to have comfortable golden years, congratulations. Now that your needs have been taken care of, perhaps you might want to try to make the world a better place.

After all, the pandemic shows that even if you have lots of money, you really don't need so much because your spending power is severely limited when you can't travel and when most shops are closed.

To paraphrase Spiderman's uncle, with great wealth comes great responsibility - the extra cash can really help those who deserve our help. Then again, you do not need to be rich to do good. It is most inspirational to see many ordinary folks stepping forward now to donate cash, time and effort to make sure that the less fortunate are not left behind.

The Straits Times recently highlighted 11 valiant volunteers at the Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter for making great efforts to care for old and sick dogs housed there by exercising them , cleaning kennels or organising trips to the vet.

Men's best friends are not spared in a crisis and it is most heart-warming to see Singaporeans not leaving their four-legged friends behind as well.

Legendary American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said that the "noblest possible use of wealth" would be for "the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of (hard working people) sweetness and light".

Indeed, the best investment for money is to use it to educate, inspire and bring happiness to all.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 17, 2020, with the headline A wealth of wisdom from the pandemic. Subscribe