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  • Gail Wong

Book Review: The Woke Salaryman Crash Course on Capitalism & Money

This Saturday on my artist date, I had the pleasure to hear from He Ruiming and Wei Choon Goh, the creators behind The Woke Salaryman, a blog I’ve subscribed to since 2021. They conducted a book reading and Q&A at Kinokuniya, culminating in a snaking, hour-long queue for their personal autograph.


 

Overview


This book is a compilation of 13 of the 200 stories they’ve published since inception. I’ve read most of the pieces before and got the book for my kids. One child is very good at spending money (favourite food? abalone 🥄), and the other just funded their first investment. (Gender-neutral pronouns used here to protect their identities 😜) 


These primary schoolers are 15 years short of the “young people” demographic that the Woke Salaryman seems to address. Nonetheless, I figured the signature hand-drawn graphics and layman language would make the topic of economics/ personal finance miles more accessible than any written resource I’ve encountered. 


In all honesty, I regard most personal finance sites and courses with a scepticism... ok, I'll admit, bordering on scorn. This is one of only 2 personal finance subscriptions I have. 


As Wei Choon Goh put it well,

we’re not the best personal finance site, but we hold our own. 

I keep it in my tightly-curated inbox not only because I enjoy and admire the simple reframes of jargon and abstract concepts. That is a unique skill, in an industry that prefers complexity to justify the many jobs and intermediaries. (You heard it from this insider.)


It is also rare that a financial narrative acknowledges many human experiences of living in capitalism and Singapore, such as inequality, privilege and scarcity (they use the terms "absolute" and "relative deprivation"). I was thrilled to see capitalism itself named as something to be considered, not blindly embraced as the glorified path. 


We don't discuss this enough as a society, with the economic history we have, one eye trained on the next rung and the other on our competition.


In a refreshing break from doomsday “better study/ work hard so you don’t become a roadsweeper” shame spirals or aspirational wealth-porn worship that dominate finance media/ culture, the stories that have struck a chord with me encourage the reader to exercise choice around spending, hustling, comparing and investing. 


He Ruiming, while reading the chapter 'Young people are obsessed with investing. Here's why they should not be,' called out the formulaic sales psychology that zeroes our attention on the 1/50 success stories and asks us to believe that we can be one of those too.


 

Reflections


For a long time, I - like most of us - have lived by what is recommended in the book's preface:

To change this inherently unfair system, you have to amass power in the form of resources… it’s most likely that you will have to get rich first... Instead of villainising or glorifying capitalism, we have a different proposal for you. Study the rules of wealth and capitalism, free of moral judgement. 

Indeed, until 2021, my professional specialty was guiding people to exorcise the sting/ trigger/ weight carried in their money narratives, so they would be free to use money simply as a tool (as originally intended). 


I’d often hear from returning clients who went right back into the financial system, this time with their heart open and slate wiped clean, who got burnt. And so did I. A heart-wrenching business divorce (and also exit from a narcissistic partnership) forever changed how I behave around money:

  • A deep, conscious intention to overhaul my financial wellness practice to incorporate “trauma-informed" approaches - not only in what I teach, but how I market and onboard clients

  • for sure, how I talk about money with my kids, to include the invisible/ emotional subtext; 

  • my investing choices and how tightly I hold on to stuff; and 

  • I don't enjoy and can't bring myself to bargain in a 3rd-world country flea market anymore.


The pitfall of the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach is that it asks us to accept the system we live in - which inflicts suffering and creates unworkability - for the time being (though it might last more than a little awhile). It asks us to forget that, as active participants in this machinery, by using it to improve our position, we perpetuate it.


Pitfall #2The ongoing anxiety amongst my peers is that our children will not see or achieve the same multiplication of wealth Singapore has seen in the last 40 years.


I would contribute one enhancement to the themes and messages in this book: 

  • Money is not just a tool, not just business, not just “hard currency”. 

  • It permeates all we do and are. There is always - sometimes invisible, most of the time unconscious - “heart currency”


To be whole with money, we must give ourselves room to feel, understand and talk about the complex emotions and experiences that come with coveting, receiving, and disposing of material things. 

  • To consider what’s on the other side of a trade, purchase or exchange - and if our own “why of the buy” goes deeper than “looking good”

  • For every financial blessing received, to pass it on in some way. That one's hongbao bounty is one helper’s monthly salary, the survival of her family.


 

Takeaways


With my kids

In 2 days, the second child has already finished the first read. 


I look forward to reviewing chapters together as we monitor their investment account performance, and build their financial habits and knowledge. 


We now have a light-hearted reference to continue unpacking together questions that range from philosophical

why are we still cutting down trees if we know about global warming?

to the far less woke

please can we fly business class next trip? 

With my community

It takes a toolbox to be able to process the "heart" and the "hard" of money with equanimity… without getting bitter or overly distressed about the world. Too much of one thing can create terrible whiplash through zealously over-correction, which I know from experience. 


IMO, the best approach to learning about money (or “financial literacy” as others call it) is as much about math as it is self-awareness

Financial decisions carried out with logic, compassion and intention

The next cohort of “Make Money Better” in June provides a gentle container for those who want to, well... as the title saysmake (one aspect of their) money better

It could look like 

  • improving one of the many realms of your money: earnings, saving, spending, investing...

  • transforming your experience of scarcity to peace, joy and abundance… 

  • or something else...


The program combines a proven process and intentional practice to grow your net worth and self-worth, alongside kind and like-minded people seeking their own way with money. It packages all the tools and strategies that I’ve developed and tested in the last 7 years of 1-1 financial wellness coaching, made available at a more accessible price through an intimate group program. I’ll be happy to tell you more in a discovery call


Pick up your copy of the book here.



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