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Why our neighbors are richer than us

Question: Why are the citizens of our Asian neighbors much richer than us Filipinos?—Name withheld by request

Answer: This is a question that ‘hits the spot,’ as the saying goes.

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I just read an article stating that Singapore has the highest concentration of millionaires in the world with 16 percent of its households having at least $1 million in assets, as determined by a study released by the Boston Consulting Group.

Switzerland comes next on the list with 9.9 percent of its households having $1 million in assets. Hong Kong comes in at fourth with 8.7 percent and the United States is at 7th with 4.5 percent.

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Don’t even ask where the Philippines ranks as I can’t seem to find it in the news feeds… ouch!

I was in Singapore last weekend on a business trip and whenever I am there, I marvel at how progressive a tiny country with hardly any natural resource can be. I enjoy going to Singapore because it gives me an image of how the Philippines can be when we put our acts together.

We don’t need to limit our sights to Singapore; we can also look at Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia and use them as a benchmark.

The answer to the question of why our neighbors are drastically richer than us partly lies with issues on economics.

I can cite many economic facts like low GDP, infrastructure, population and fiscal policy to explain why we have remained poor. However, economic facts are merely indications of some realities that go beyond economic matters and are more social in nature.

One report we can look at is the national savings rate of said countries. Singapore leads the pack with an average savings rate of 50 percent.

This means that on the average, Singaporeans spend half of their income and save and invest the other half; which is probably a huge reason why there are so many millionaires there.

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In personal finance, we espouse a 70-30 rule in terms of spending and saving; if you spend 70 percent of your income and you save and invest the remaining 30 percent, you will most likely have a good future.

Facts will show that the savings rate in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand hovers between 30 and 40 percent, really encouraging statistics.

According to the 70-30 rule on spending and savings, said countries will likely have a good future—well at least in theory. A quick visit to these countries will validate their economic conditions in a visual and experiential manner, even if you don’t ogle at boring statistics.

How about the Philippines? This is actually the hard part to write.

Neda reports place the savings rate in the Philippines at between 12 and 16 percent. Following the 70-30 rule on spending and savings, there’s not much promise for our nation. It is unfortunate that many Filipinos have embraced a First World consumerism lifestyle but have a Third World income. We simply do not save enough.

Does this mean we are hopeless? Definitely not. All we need to work on is our savings rate and we can best do so with financial education. We must embrace principles of proper budgeting, controlled spending, financial planning and we can start improving our surplus that will guarantee a better future for all of us.

In time and with the proper stimulus, the nation’s savings rate will improve as our income improves and our spending becomes wiser. It may be too simplistic but I firmly believe that is the answer to our many problems.

Otherwise, we will keep on asking the question why our neighbors are richer than us.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” —Matthew 6:21, NIV

(Randell Tiongson is an advocate of Life & Personal Finance. He is a director of the Registered Financial Planner Institute (Phils.) and has over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry. For more info about the RFP program, visit www.rfp.ph or e-mail info@rfp.ph.)

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TAGS: Asia, Personal finance, Philippines, savings, Singapore
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