Why senior citizens are prudent spenders


WE OFTEN hear about senior citizens being careful spenders. We have seen those who lead a meagre and measly life even with ample cash at their disposal. They are deeply concerned about running out of money that they hardly spend. And when they do, they spend on basic needs and necessities, while denying themselves of occasional indulgences.

The younger generation, on the other hand, have no qualms about splurging and feel completely comfortable despite a relatively lesser wealth accumulation, sometimes to the displeasure of their senior citizen parents or grandparents. Some even spend before they earn.

How do we explain this opposing state of affairs?

Most senior citizens today have had to struggle early on in life, while their parents worked hard to make ends meet. Their family suffered in silence. These trying times are so embedded in their mind that subconsciously, they would do all they can, to avoid going through this phase again. Due to this hard-coded conditioning, the focus on saving money continues through their working life and retirement. The fear of running low on money is always at the back of their mind.

The challenge in their generation was clearly about having sufficient finances. Savings was their insurance. Hence, their behaviour is completely understandable. The younger generation inherited stable finances from their parents and hence money is generally not an issue. They have other sets of challenges though, which is another subject altogether.

When this saving culture by senior citizens is sustained throughout their lives, one wonders when they will finally spend their money.

Here are instances of how their lives revolve around saving money:

  • They prefer to commute by bus instead of taxi despite having to change buses and enduring long waits and jostling for a seat during peak hours. They have been so used to the inconvenience that they take it in their good stride.
  • In cases of emergency, they would rather go to government hospitals and wait for hours in the queue for the doctor instead of paying more to visit the private hospital and get immediate attention.
  • They insist on keeping their 20-year-old car even if it means having to service more often at the workshop and enduring the frequent breakdowns.
  • They switch off their handphone when they sleep at night to save battery life; which means they are not contactable after bedtime.
  • They take outside meals once in a while and even then at coffeeshops, hawker centres or mamak shops which are more reasonably priced. There is no way these seniors would ever think of spending their money on an expensive cup of branded coffee at a fancy coffee chain.
  • During the rare trips abroad, they hardly buy any souvenirs and spend minimally on food and drinks as they keep converting the local prices to Malaysian ringgit which by their standards are very expensive.

In short, senior citizens continue living the only way they know – when life was a struggle. They economise and save despite inconveniences caused. For some, it doesn’t help when they have an equally frugal spouse reminding them that money does not fall from the sky and money saved will take care of their future medical needs.

Where seniors are persuaded to purchase a nice new expensive shirt, dress, watch or pearl for example, these possessions become a treasure and they wear them once in a blue moon or wait for the right occasion which sadly, for some may never come ….

So, how do we get senior citizens to spend their hard-earned money on themselves now? How do we persuade them to let go occasionally? How do we create more enjoyable and delightful moments for them? After all, they deserve to be showered and pampered in their golden years.

We must convince them that they must make the best of the time they have; that having a good meal at a nice restaurant or going to their dream destination for a holiday is perfectly all right.

We must remind them that money saved in the bank is not theirs if they don’t spend it. We could pave the way by doing what they should be doing for themselves. Over time, they would see that paying a little more in return for conveniences, comfort or delight, is not too bad after all.

However, there are also exceptions to the case. One senior citizen I know spends carefully, however there is a twist here. She donates part of the money she receives to the needy, temple and charitable organisations. Having gone through tough times in the past, she is quick to give back to those in need, and see how best she can help lighten their financial burden.

Another senior friend who also does her social responsibility part and shares with the community feels there is so much she needs and eventually require for her final send off. “I can’t take money to my grave,” she said in a jest.

I salute them both!

I particularly like the spirit of my colleague in her 60s. She took optional retirement at the age of 50 and summed up her life this way: “One third of my life was spent growing up and getting an education and another third was spent at the work place. I want to make the most of my final third leg, doing things and indulging in activities that are pleasurable and rewarding to me. I will splurge if necessary. I now pay less attention to what others say, as I want to do it my way.”

To our dear senior citizens, the time has come to let go of old conditioning. You deserve better. As for the younger generation, let’s encourage and pave the way for them to savour their golden years in comfort, grace and joy.

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