If you didn’t understand the headline, then you’re missing out on two of the biggest trends right now.
Leading a DINK lifestyle (Double Income, No Kids) and being able to achieve FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) are the new dreams, at least according to social media.
The times they are a-changin’—it’s no longer about white picket fences, a well-manicured lawn, and having children running down your driveway. Especially not when you could be travelling the world and indulging in your hobbies, unencumbered by little ones. We dive into the appeal behind the DINK and FIRE lifestyle and what it really means for these couples down the road.
Why are people increasingly obsessed with the DINK Lifestyle?
The DINK lifestyle seems to have taken root particularly firmly in Singapore, perhaps due to our stressful, fast-paced lifestyle, and incredibly high cost of living. The trade-offs of having children and having to delay retirement are particularly high here.
To have more disposable income, one needs to either earn more or spend less. But with work culture being so intense in Singapore, working more becomes out of the question. Much easier to just not have children, which instantly saves you hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.
Reason #1: Have you seen the cost of raising a child?!
While the exact amount obviously varies according to families’ lifestyles, level of kiasu-ness and so on, the very basic cost of raising a child to the age of 20 in Singapore has been estimated at about $360,000, according to a 2016 news report.
The very bare-bones pathway for an imaginary child could look something like this.:
Yearly cost per child
No. of years
Transport concession pass
Local university degree
This no-frills table doesn’t consider things like school trips, tech devices, medical visits, the cost of spectacles or contact lenses, restaurant meals, and so on. I’ve also tried to keep the costs of optional activities like holidays and tuition within reason based on the average middle class family. In addition, I haven’t included the cost of extra purchases that might be peripheral to having kids, such as a car or a bigger home.
Already, you can see that raising a child is not cheap. All that cash, when freed up, could be channelled into a retirement nest egg that could grow into a decent 6 or 7 figure sum over the next few decades if put in the right places.
If you’ve decided that your family name is going to die with your generation. What are you going to do with all that spare cash?
Reason #2: Ignite the FIRE within you.
The FIRE movement is a lifestyle that has more and more proponents in Singapore these days. It’s not a new concept. If you’re in your 30s or 40s, a few of your peers might already have quietly scaled back or cut down on work.
The idea of FIRE is that you try to maximise your savings and investments as early as possible (ideally the moment you start working), so that you have an income-bearing retirement nest egg earlier on in life. By doing this early, your money has more time to grow, so you don’t need to put aside as much cash as you would if you waited till you were older.
As FIRE is best done as early as possible, when you’re young and have time to let your investments grow, it’s also particularly advantageous for DINK households who basically get at least 20-years’ head start in growing their early retirement nest egg compared to those with kids.
What makes FIRE particularly attractive in Singapore is a combination of a very punishing work culture, and the fact that we pay relatively low income taxes (which makes it possible for those earning more than they spend to squirrel their money away in investments).
This contrasts with welfare states, where people generally work more humane hours but have to pay a large portion of their income to the government in exchange for a pension when they retire, and thus might not have as much spare cash to invest.
Reason #3: Childrearing is no longer seen as the only lifestyle option.
Two generations ago, many Singaporeans were busting their asses to survive. Pursuing hobbies and going on holidays weren’t the norm. Starting a family was the natural next step, and children were also seen as a form of insurance against the vicissitudes of life (“who will take care of you when you’re old?”).
Nowadays, there’s a wider range of lifestyles available to us. Whether you want to become a full-time flaneur, dedicate your life to your cats, write the next Singaporean novel or emigrate to South America, it’s a lot easier to make your hare-brained dreams come true when you are not spending 99% of your energy, time and money dealing with childcare, milk powder, and report cards.
Most couples in Singapore still want to have kids. If that’s the case for you, that’s totally fine! But in 2023, that’s not the only option, hence the rise of the DINK lifestyle.
Are there any drawbacks to being a DINK?
When people decide not to have children, it means they don’t want them. So, I’m not going to argue about the joys of parenting.
In terms of cold, hard figures, being a DINK does come with slightly higher tax liabilities.
To encourage married couples to have kids, the government offers a series of tax reliefs and rebates targeted at this group of people. These include Qualifying Child Relief, Working Mother’s Child Relief and Parenthood Tax Rebate. DINKs don’t get any of these.
How did society become so obsessed with financial security and freedom?
It can seem like the entire world is dreaming of FIRE, but in reality, certain societies aspire towards the FIRE lifestyle more than others.
These typically include societies characterised by competitive work cultures, social pressure to always be “hustling” and a weak social safety network. In such countries, which include the USA and Singapore, living frugally in your youth to achieve FIRE can really improve your life by freeing you from the shackles of work.
Conversely, in countries with strong workers’ rights in which people tend to rely heavily on government social safety nets, FIRE is still an alien concept. This includes wealthy Western European countries like the Scandinavian countries, France, and Germany. In such countries, the typical employee only works 35 hours a week and it’s not uncommon to take more than a year off to retrain for career switches or to live off unemployment benefits after getting fired. So basically, they don’t suffer as much as Singaporeans do at work.
In other words, Singaporeans are obsessed with financial security and financial freedom because we have so much more to gain by achieving them—and so much more to lose by staying chained to our jobs due to poor financial planning.
How is the economy changing our definitions of the family?
Despite the rise of DINK households, family life is still very much the norm, even in Singapore with its dwindling birth rate.
But the way we view families has changed in tandem with the rise of the middle class and white-collar work. Parents prefer to take a quality over quantity approach to having kids.
Having one or two kids is seen as the norm in Singapore. When a family has any more than three or four children, there is a chance that people might associate that with a refusal to use contraception or the lack of family planning, neither of which are flattering qualities in 2023.
The shift to a knowledge economy also makes it less economically advantageous to have too many kids. Kids are no longer useful as helping hands on the family farm or manning the family hawker stall. Families prefer to invest more in the education and wellbeing of a lower number of children, which leads to a fall in birth rates—something that virtually all high-income countries are experiencing
Could DINK and FIRE just be a fad?
If you’ve been following the FIRE movement since its early days over a decade ago, you’ll know that it went mainstream only recently.
In those 10 or so years, the world has become objectively worse—I mean, c’mon, we just braved a pandemic.
I see the rise of DINK and FIRE’s mainstream popularity as a response to these anxieties and difficulties, so I doubt it’s going to fade away anytime soon.
Becoming financially independent and no longer being chained to full-time work can have a hugely positive impact on one’s life—especially in a place like Singapore where employers have such great power to control our lives. So, if anything, the birth rate is probably set to fall even further as more people aspire to FIRE.
Is the DINK or FIRE lifestyle for you? Share this article with someone who’s considering them too.
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