WTFinance?! Avoiding Debt Traps

Does thinking about money make your head hurt? 

If friends or family talk about investments, starting a side hustle and the share markets, and you’re like “WTFinance?!” then this series is for you. We’ll be helping you navigate the F word – Finance – with the help of our favourite influencers, and your input, too. 

Last time, we talked about money regrets and how it can haunt us. We shared how important it was to accept these regrets, move on and try to do better. 

We also asked you how you manage debt. Here’s what you told us…

This time, we’re talking about the D word and how it can sneak up on you without you noticing. 

When you think about debt, what comes to mind? Student loans? Mortgages? 

Student loans and mortgages are a type of good debt because they are an investment in yourself and your future. If you take out a loan to study at university, your education can help you to achieve your career and financial goals. Taking out a mortgage to buy your first home gives you a lifelong investment (and saves you on rent).

Small monthly credit card bills that can be paid off easily is also an acceptable debt. But maxing out your credit card on a new Dior book tote? Not good!

Often, we land ourselves in sneaky debt without knowing how or how to get it under control. 

Thanks to the modern world, debt now comes wrapped up in haute couture. It’s easily accessible and expensive, coming in the form of that exclusive Platinum credit card with high interest rates or sneaky fees you didn’t expect.

It’s scary how it can snowball. Before you know it, you can owe the credit card company thousands of dollars and be struggling to catch up.

The lowdown on sneaky debt

Sneaky debt is often dressed alluringly as an interest-free period on a credit card or much coveted frequent flyer miles or reward points awarded for a huge spend. It makes you feel special, as though you belong in an exclusive club.

While it’s good to enjoy perks with your spending, you need to keep an eye on it so your debt, and your life, don’t spiral out of control.

So let’s talk sneaky debt

Now that you know what sneaky debt looks like, let’s talk about how you can avoid falling into its evil clutches.

Need or want?

It’s natural to want the biggest home or the fanciest wardrobe. But the expensive price tag can see you take on a debt that you can’t afford.

Every time you get the urge to want to buy something because your friend or neighbour has it, ask yourself one important question – do you really need it.

Buying the latest MacBook Pro to play games is a luxury. But if you’re making videos for clients, it’ll help improve your work quality and maybe help you land more clients and moolah. 

Want to be a pro photographer? You could offset the cost of the latest DSLR by selling your prints and letting people know you’re available for events and weddings.

And does your day involve multiple trips on public transport? If you’re spending hours commuting every day, buying a car could save you both time and money in the long run.

Snip your subscriptions

Subscriptions and streaming services can be an easy trap to fall into.  They’re just $9 or $10 a month, right? Low fees often means you won’t think twice before signing up for yet another (even though you already pay for five and haven’t turned the TV on since lockdown ended). 

While they may seem cheap month-on-month, if you add them up over the course of a year, they end up costing you hundreds of dollars. 

Tip: Look over your subscriptions and memberships and see which ones you’re using a lot and which ones are sitting idle. Do you have a gym membership you’re ignoring? Are you signed up to multiple video or music streaming services? Can you change over to a family plan or bundle them together for cheaper fees? You may consider cancelling the ones you haven’t used for a week or two. If you’re not using something, you’re not likely to miss it!

Be ruthless with expenses

Be brave and open your credit card statement as soon as it hits your inbox. Make a list of small expenses (like a drink with friends at the end of a long day) and large ones (like a student loan). Which ones can you cut out in future? Can you get a discount by paying cash? Can you wait for sales on big purchases? And can you get better deals on regular expenses like groceries or loans?

“If I could go back in time, I’d probably take a better look at some of the interest loans because they really sneak up on you.”
Brenda Tan (@wordweed)


Love eating out? Limit restaurants to special occasions and hit the hawkers instead. Recreate the same meals at home at a fraction of the cost and better yet, invite your friends and make it a cook-off! (Light some scented candles and switch on some Beyoncé for ambiance).

If you’re using your credit card to pay for high priced items like that 85 inch TV, set up a direct debit from your bank account GIRO to make sure you don’t get hit with excess interest or late fees, or use Grab’s PayLater for flexible payments that work with your cashflow.

“If you have credit cards, are you paying the bills on time? If you default, it all adds up, something I call sneaky debt. If you don’t manage the repayments, you’ll end up paying more than you planned for. Set dates in your calendar to remind you to make repayments, or set up a GIRO payment to avoid forgetting. It can save you so much money!”
Brenda Tan (@wordweed)

Talk with friends and family

Good and honest conversations about money are best had with trusted friends and family. So, if you’re keen to find out ways to avoid sneaky debts, talk to them. They might spark some bright ideas you would never think up on your own.

If you’re in debt and want to get rid of it permanently, you could ask friends or family to lend you money to pay it off. Start over with a clean slate, and pay your loved ones back without the worry of interest fees and default charges. 

Be honest and upfront about your situation when borrowing from friends or family. Work out a monthly payment plan with them so they know when and how much they’ll get paid. Write a simple IOU document and include payment terms, total debt and by when the debt will be paid off so the question of money doesn’t interfere with your relationships. 

So what’s up next?

Next up, we are talking about how to splurge like an adult(ish). All about smart splurging without overspending. Before we do, let’s talk about you!

We’ll share the results in our next instalment, so stay tuned! 


Grab is not is not a financial adviser. You should consider seeking independent legal, financial, taxation or other advice to check how the website information relates to your unique circumstances. We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise arising from the use of, or reliance on, the information provided directly or indirectly, by use of this website.

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Komsan Chiyadis

GrabFood delivery-partner, Thailand

Komsan Chiyadis

GrabFood delivery-partner, Thailand

COVID-19 has dealt an unprecedented blow to the tourism industry, affecting the livelihoods of millions of workers. One of them was Komsan, an assistant chef in a luxury hotel based in the Srinakarin area.

As the number of tourists at the hotel plunged, he decided to sign up as a GrabFood delivery-partner to earn an alternative income. Soon after, the hotel ceased operations.

Komsan has viewed this change through an optimistic lens, calling it the perfect opportunity for him to embark on a fresh journey after his previous job. Aside from GrabFood deliveries, he now also picks up GrabExpress jobs. It can get tiring, having to shuttle between different locations, but Komsan finds it exciting. And mostly, he’s glad to get his income back on track.