Having dated my fair share of Thai women over the years one common trait seen in many of them is an inability to exercise financial discipline. No doubt there are many Thai women who are responsible with money but most seem to take the attitude that Buddha will provide and see no reason to put forth any effort to secure their own financial security.
I was once told by a middle-age, university educated, woman, “What good can my money do me if I’m dead? If I don’t spend it now I might not get the chance.” Sadly, this is exactly how many Thai people from every financial strata view money.
This isn’t about your latest and greatest mobile phone addicted bar girl. These women can be educated, poor, middle-class, or wealthy. It’s just a mindset about money that really damages the country as a whole.
Of course, the hardest hit are those who cannot afford to spend the money. Many of these girls don’t have two baht to rub together but the second they get any money they spend it. Not on essentials but, more often than not, on things they don’t even need.
Not all Thai women are like this. I’ll admit that. But too many are. For a country where most people are living one step above the poverty level the inability to save even a modest amount is somewhat troubling.
In the West we call it Ghetto Rich. Actually, there a more offensive and racist term but let’s just go with Ghetto Rich for the sake of keeping things out of the racist category.
The Urban Dictionary gives several different definitions for both Ghetto Rich and the more derogatory form.
Primarily invested in depreciating assets i.e. cars, clothes, jewelry.
Spending your money unwisely on things you dont need that wont last you that long.
Spending all the money you have as fast as possible just because you have it.
The reason it has the name Ghetto Rich is because that’s exactly where that kind of attitude with money will keep you, in the ghetto. And in Thailand, the culture is such that everyone is worried about “saving face” or “gaining face” which essentially means showing off wealth.
I can’t even count the number of Thai women I’ve known that have been thrown a lucky curve in life and watched them waste it. For example, one girl I met told me about how her ex-boyfriend used to give her 100,000 baht per month to live on. This is a girl who came off a farm in Isaan and was working as a waitress in a restaurant making 7,000 or 8,000 baht per month before she met the guy. She dated him for nearly three years and despite receiving 3.6 million baht during that time period, she said that when they broke up she had 500 baht in her bank account. Surely, she bought a house or a car, right? Nope. She blew every single baht on taking her friends out to hi-so restaurants, partying, and “helping” all of her less fortunate friends.
A girl who I dated previously dated a guy who was making about 300,000 baht per month salary here in Thailand. He gave her her own ATM card to his account and his credit card. She dated him for about four years and at the end of the relationship she had 200 baht in cash and a room stuffed to capacity with clothes and shoes.
I wish I could say these are isolated incidents but they’re only isolated in the sense of the figures involved. The mindset that all money has to be spent and that it should be spent in a way that lets others know you have wealth is one of the core problems facing Thailand because no matter how much money you pump into the country it will remain a poor country as long as the money leaves people’s hands as fast as it comes in.
What compounds the problem is that in many cases the girl winds up with an entourage of leeches. The girl I described above had a cousin who learned that sticking her hand out was easier than getting a job. Here’s this 20 year old cousin living in Bangkok, perpetually unemployed, and asking the girl I was dating to “help” her with the rent or food or whatever. Every morning I would hear the SMS ringtone and the girl I was seeing would read it and show me yet another request for some “help.”
I know many people are thinking that I was simply being set up but I didn’t give her money to give to her cousin. I told her that I wouldn’t because if she didn’t have any money to give then her cousin might finally go out and get a job. As long as her cousin could get by without working she would. It was only when the money was cut off 100% that she would do something for herself.
And that’s exactly what happened. After a few months of not getting any money she left Bangkok and went to give live with her parents who were slightly annoyed that the girl I was dating didn’t do more to help.
She also attracted other leeches during her rich years. She had a small army of girls who kissed her ass and let her be the leader of their gang (Thais like to call groups of friends, their gang) as long as she was footing the bill at nightclubs, helping them pay the rent, taking them out to fancy restaurants, etc. When the money quit coming in her friends all dumped her and only came back sniffing around when we started going out thinking the money train was back. When they found out it wasn’t they were gone.
Many foreigners think that they’re being scammed when in reality they’re just experiencing Thai attitudes towards wealth. They can’t imagine having millions and millions of baht and not throwing it around to let others know how rich they are. And if they have a “rich” (rich is always relative in Thailand) boyfriend all of their friends and family expect some crumbs to fall off of the table. If there are no crumbs for them then she loses face.
My current girlfriend used to have the same problem. She was a shopaholic. We’re talking complete loss of sanity in any sort of shopping environment. Literally, it was like she was on a drug. She would forget I was even with her. In fact, she told me she left her friends at the mall once and forgot about them until she was in the taxi on her way home with her big shopping score. She had to call them from the taxi when the buzz wore off and apologize.
After she agreed that she couldn’t live like that anymore, one of the first things I did was put her on a budget. Normally, she got paid on the 1st and was broke by the 12th. When we first started going out, once she went broke she would ask me for small amounts of money here and there for food or to put money on her mobile. But that grew old for me fast so I started making her turn over her pay to me on the first and I would dole it out to her. She wasn’t happy about that one bit and I listened to many pleas about “needing” a new pair of shoes or a new dress but I held firm.
Actually, what I did was take all of her monthly fixed expenditures like rent, monthly stipend to the parents, etc. and give her that right away so she could take care of those obligations. After that I divided the rest up into four weekly payments and gave it out to her accordingly. Even then she was blowing through the cash as fast as I gave it to her. If I gave her the money on Monday she was often broke by Tuesday. When I refused to release any more funds for the week and she would pout and sulk and tell me I didn’t love her but it eventually sunk in that the money had to last the entire week.
I have to say that even though we had some fights about this method she really did want to learn how to live on what she was making. I have to give her credit for wanting to change and being willing to stick with it.
Once she could live on what she made I figured the next step was to teach her how money is supposed to be used. That it’s a tool to help you make more money and that you want to buy appreciating assets rather than assets that depreciate.
For this, I actually had to reach into my pocket. I made her a small loan of about 3000 baht. I told her she could spend the money any way she wanted but I would show her how she could turn the 3000 baht into 4000 baht.
I walked her through several examples of buying something at wholesale and selling it at retail. How that 3000 baht could become 4000 baht and if she took the 4000 baht and did it again it could become 5300 baht. And if she took the 5300 baht, well, you get the picture.
She got very excited when I showed her a path to being able to replace her job income with her own business. She always wanted her own business and hates what she does (retail sales) but never saw a plan laid out that showed her how to get there. Plus, had she not learned how to live on a budget she would have blown through her capital.
We’re still in the early phases of this experiment but after several brainstorming sessions on what she could sell she’s made a successful trip back to her hometown in Isaan and used the 3000 baht to buy some locally made items that she’s been able to sell to her friends. Her first turnover netted her back 3800 baht which was short of the 4000 baht goal but at I can see a change in her attitude about money. She’s squirreling away money out of her weekly allowance so she can add it to the 3800 baht and buy even more stuff on her next trip home.
Of course, at this stage I’m still financing part of the business. I pay for her trips back home and I’m not really interested in getting my original 3000 baht starting money back. I’m also prone to helping her feel good about how she’s doing by taking her out to celebrate or buying her little gifts as encouragement.
But I’m also getting something back too. I no longer have to explain to her why I’m not spending my money like a drunken sailor. She understands that I need my capital to invest to generate income. When I flip an investment for a profit I show her how I did it and she’s even showing an interest in my business and asking if she can help. And like a good little businessperson she’s also learned to ask for a cut of the profits rather than a straight fee when she does help me. 🙂
When I was thinking about whether to write and submit this article I realized that what I’m saying might sound somewhat controlling but she asked me for the help in getting her spending under control. I didn’t take control of her money so I could have some sort of power over her but so that she could gain some power over her own spending urges. So despite the controlling nature of the teaching I feel that in the end she’s more empowered.