Expert Interview with Bi Ying Wong Of Playmoolah On Developing A Positive Relationship With Money

Positive relationship with moneyWe all want to save for the future to have a tomorrow that's slightly better than today. But we don't want to be guilted into it or do so out of fear. Negative reinforcement never seems to stick and ruins your life in the process.

So many of us learn negative financial habits and patterns from our parents. We watch the stresses that messy finances can bring, which creates a "trauma "around the idea of money that gets in the way of us having the financial future we hope for.

We need to break the cycle. We need to learn better skills.

Playmoolah is a collective of software designers who are teaching people to have healthier relations with money. Because it's not just about learning where your money is going; it's about knowing how you feel about it. PlayMoolah gives you all the tools to have a healthy, balanced approach to finances.

PlayMoolah's Bi Ying Wong took a moment to tell us about the company, how they started and why they exist; and reveal some common issues that people have regarding money.

PlayMoolah is a financial empowerment company that allows young people to afford the life of their dreams by developing a positive relationship to money. First of all, can you talk about why this is important? What are some of the methods you use to build this positive relationship?

In today's consumerist world, we are constantly bombarded by narratives from our society and the media that a successful life is measured by how much money you have. However, in the course of my work at PlayMoolah, I've heard many stories from our users who have burned out from the rat race of acquiring financial and material capital at the expense of their happiness, health and relationships.

A positive relationship to money involves putting it in its place. It should not be the be all and end all of your life. After all, how did a bank balance become such an important marker of success anyway?

One framework that we've found particularly useful in our work and in our lives is the 8 forms of capital that was introduced in Permaculture. The 8 forms are financial, material, social, living, spiritual, intellectual, cultural and experiential - and this gives us a much fuller view of wealth and richness. As a community, this has helped us look at our own assets in a broader sense and to be grateful for all that we have.

One of the reasons PlayMoolah began was due to your own lack of financial education as children, which led to your first creation, the Moolahverse, an online product for children to learn money management through games. What are some things you think would have been different had you gotten into good financial practices early on? What are some of the possible ramifications of young people not getting the right financial skills to survive?

As Singaporeans, many of us were lucky to be brought up to by financially-prudent parents. Many Singaporean babies have a savings account opened as soon as they are born, and we are taught to save from a young age. However, saving alone is not a holistic approach to smart financial management, which is why we developed the 5 pillars of money to encourage our users to learn good habits in earning, spending, saving, investing and giving.

One of the most challenging things we faced in earning our first paychecks was that we didn't know where all our money was going - rent, transport, food, insurance, going out with friends - and this caused us a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress. We were never taught to manage money other than putting it into the bank, and we had a steep learning curve about how to balance all of these demands on our time and money.

What we have seen is that the lack of financial skills gets young people into situations where they are living paycheck to paycheck or overspending and taking on more debt in order to fund their lifestyles. Many of our users tell us that they have to put off their life goals, such as getting married or buying a house, simply because they are not able to afford them. In addition, such financial behaviors causes a huge amount of mental stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

You've talked about one of the main financial challenges facing young people being procrastination, because they think they have all the time in the world to save. What are some reasons why this is a mistake? Why should people begin preparing for their future as early as possible?

One of the hardest things to do is to imagine what your future self will be like. We've seen that our inability to predict what we'll be doing in the next year (not to mention 10 or 50!) hinders our actions to prepare for the unexpected. This is the reason we built WhyMoolah, a simulator that lets you play out your life and see the consequences of your money decisions.

The biggest asset we have in our youth is time, and that can be put to good use through nurturing good habits through small actions. This can have very real consequences - for example, compounding interest on your savings increase dramatically if you start early.

Another of the products you've developed is Honesty Circle, which is a monthly gathering that provides a safe space to discuss people's relationships with money as a context for inner transformation. Can you talk about the guilt, secrecy, and shame that have a tendency to hover around the topic, and how they can poison people's attitudes toward finances and lead to significant negative effects on their lives?

In Honesty Circle, the spirit we honor includes suspending your judgement on what others have to say in order to create an environment where the conversations can surpass the barriers of these emotions. With the program, we are aiming to build a culture where speaking about money is lighthearted and not taboo.

We've seen that these negative emotions that you mentioned can be a very deep seated part of our culture, and this holds us back from even talking about money. As we said before, we are seeing that this can take a toll on mental health, as keeping these burdens to yourself does not help in solving them. Furthermore, not talking about money can also lead to marital disputes; and we see that money problems are one of the leading causes of divorce and broken families.

Young people today have grown up in some of the most uncertain economic times in memory, causing many to have little hope for the future with crippling student loans, high rates of unemployment, and diminishing social programs such as social security. How does this mindset affect the way millennials approach finances, and what are some things that can be done about it?

Although it might seem that we live in an era of scarcity, when it comes to money and natural resources, I believe that millennials are also a very resourceful generation. In terms of mindset, it takes small steps to shift from one of scarcity to that of abundance. We have 3 daily practices that may help people keep a positive outlook:

  • Attitude of gratitude for what we have, instead of focusing on what we don't have
  • Service towards others and creating value for them, instead of "what's in it for me?"
  • Long term thinking and awareness of what is unseen, instead of giving in to short term cravings


Do you have any tips for people to put together a financial safety net, no matter what their current level of income may be? And what are some different things people can do to feel financially empowered? Why is this important towards having a positive financial attitude?

One tip that I can offer is to find an accountability partner to help you to stay on track with your financial goals, because going it alone can get difficult at times. Plus, you get to build your good financial habits together as a team and deepen your relationship through talking about money.

I think financial empowerment comes from knowing that money is a tool instead of a goal. After all, money was invented by humans as a means of exchange. We also found that the most empowered people who had a healthy relationship with money were in control of stewarding money in a way that was aligned with their values and beliefs - and in a way that achieved their goals and created greater value in the world.

In your experience working with people and their finances, does it seem like people's attitudes are shifting? Are people beginning to feel more optimistic, and if so, what are some reasons for that?

In our community, we are seeing that the optimism is coming from the recognition that money is just one part of the wealth in their lives. We are also starting to see people discovering their inner purpose and working to create value in the world that would in turn lead to financial payoffs.

What are some other useful financial resources you'd recommend for helping people develop a more positive relationship to money, whether through financial empowerment, education, or good financial gamification sites?

Some good reads for shifting from a mindset from scarcity to abundance include Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. You are also most welcome to try out our WhyMoolah simulator, which is available for your mobile at the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

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