“You should use a credit card — not some lousy debit card!” Nat Ho huffs in exasperation. “I’m scared I’ll bust the card limit lah!” Jae Liew retorts defiantly.
They may play lovebirds on Tanglin, but Nat and Jae are squabbling like siblings right now.
It’s a stark difference from the past five hours at today’s shopping-themed cover shoot which the duo breezed through. For the shoot, the 27-year-old pint-sized actress browsed (very) enthusiastically the cutesy accessories in multi-label boutique Nana & Bird, quite unlike the plain girl-next-door Diana that she plays on the Ch 5 family drama; and the 32-year-old singer-actor lugged a mountain of shopping bags like he was still in character as her dutiful reel boyfriend, Junkai. The rapport between the duo is great; their repartee, so on-point they should have a talk show called the NatJae Channel. Just how tight are the both of them?
“When I moved house, I called her and was like, ‘Can I borrow your van?’” reveals Nat, who returned from a K-pop style training stint Taiwan in 2015 to star in Tanglin. (Jae, who got her showbiz start in Michelle Chong’s 3 Peas in a Pod, drives a Fiat Doblo because “it’s cheaper and doubles up as my wardrobe.”) Bargain? Add to cart. This camaraderie is a result of spending every other day together for the past two years as an onscreen couple, filming the Ch 5 long-form series that’s on the cusp of its 500th episode (it airs June 19). Yes, 500 eps of Tanglin. If this milestone doesn’t warrant a celebratory shopping expedition — even if it’s just for a photo spread — we don’t know what does.
Speaking of spending sprees, we’re feeling like an outsider caught in a family spat about money — albeit a playful one. Away from the cameras and in the privacy of a dimly-lit Tiong Bahru restaurant, Nat and Jae behave like brother and sister. When she’s finally had enough of him making jabs at her for not owning a credit card, she exacts revenge and tells on him — to a reporter, no less.
“Tell her what you call your car,” she blurts out. (Nat calls his second-hand Honda Fit that he’d just bought a month ago Peh Peh “because it sounds like ‘pi pi’ — like the sound of a car horn”.) They’re like siblings squabbling over who gets access to the Netflix account… or who should never, ever go shopping together. Because, as we found out from a day of pretend-retail therapy with these two, they may get along swimmingly on- and off-screen, but when it comes to dollars and sense, they’re as different as Net-A-Porter and Taobao. Or the junk food and the detergent aisles at NTUC. Or Paypal and, er, cash. You get our thrift, we mean, drift.
8 DAYS: What kind of a shopper are you?
NAT HO: If I’m not in a good mood, I’ll want to buy things. It can be anything. It’s terrible, right? But I found a solution, and I was just sharing with [Jae] today, ironically. When I was living in Taiwan, I didn’t have a lot of money, but I still got my shopping fix. Just go to the supermarket. The same amount of money goes a long way, whether you buy stuff to eat or to clean the house. I’d buy food supplies — rice, meat and potatoes. Put everything in a pressure cooker. I’ll cook a stew first and maybe eat that for two meals. Then I’ll add rice and some water and it’ll become porridge. Then I can eat that for another two days.
JAE LIEW: I shop alone a lot. I don’t like to shop with other people ’cos I don’t like to make them wait. I feel very pressured when other people come shopping with me and I’ll buy on impulse. And when I reach home… instant regret! [To Nat] Why don’t you tell her what your nickname for your pot is?
N: (Sheepishly) My lao po (wife)? Because it feeds me! (Guffaws) Was that a very sexist statement? When you name things, it becomes more personal! I named my new car Peh Peh ’cos it sounds like ‘pi pi’. It’s an eight-year-old Honda Fit and it’s a very small car so I wanted a cuter name.
Would you rather shop online or at physical stores?
J: I like to buy electronics online so I can trawl online for the cheapest deals. I buy clothes online too. [Things on] Taobao are so much cheaper!
N: Honestly, I’m more of an online shopping person, unless it’s clothes. I’ve bought a shirt from a blogshop before. It looked really good on the model, but when it arrived, I realised that the quality is s****y. I washed it once and it shrank two sizes. Electronics and gadgets all that, sure, I always buy those online. I got a 3D printer online from a Kickstarter campaign. I’m very into Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I’ve bought a smart garden and a gimbal — it’s a camera stabiliser — but they haven’t arrived yet.
J: That’s why I don’t trust Kickstarter anymore. One of the campaigns I participated in, the guy ran away with my money. I mean it was only US$25, but c’mon, have the decency to update your backers. He completely ghosted everybody. The guy was supposed to write a book of poems about something. I can’t really remember anymore.
N: You’re paying for the idea on Kickstarter. But if you give me US$25, I’ll write you a book.
What’s one thing you hate shopping for?
N: Make-up. It’s really embarrassing for a guy to buy make-up.
J: Hey, no, this is the 21st century!
N: I know, but I still get bit shy. Sometimes I get my make-up artist friends to buy for me. But sometimes, you need to try the colour out yourself. I used to ask my mum to go with me. But now, I don’t really give a s*** anymore.
J: I don’t like shopping for lingerie. It reminds me of what I’m lacking. (Laughs)
When was the last time you saw your credit or debit card bill and got a shock?
J: The shock is coming. Does that count? I know how much I’ve spent but it will be a shock anyway! I’m going on holiday to Japan soon, so I’ve booked four different hotels ’cos I’ll be going to four different locations and that’s $900 in total. Plus my airfare is over $700. Plus I went for a medical check-up this month and it cost me $1,000, and there’s the check-up for my breathing problems which was $600. And no, I don’t have a credit card. All this is on my debit card. I don’t believe in credit cards.
N: I don’t believe in not using credit cards. You’re spending the same amount of money anyway, so you might as well make it work for you. Whether it’s credit or debit, you’re going to have to spend that amount anyway. If you have the means to pay it off every month, then just use a credit card!
J: I don’t trust myself with a credit card. I’m scared I’ll bust the limit.
N: You’re losing out on so much. I went to New York for just $200 after redeeming miles!
J: Any credit card company wants to sponsor him?
N: Anyway, my credit card shock came just this month. Last week, I got a text from Citibank saying there’s a charge of US$100 for [gaming platform] Steam Games, even though I hadn’t logged into my account for more than a year. I replied saying it wasn’t authorised by me, so they blocked my card. I thought that it was a one-off thing and was more grumpy about having to wait for a new card. But the next day, I logged into my Internet banking account and saw a total of 12 unauthorised transactions. It totalled to about $1,200 [out of a total bill of $5,000]. Three were from Steam; the rest were from telcos in Australia like Optus, Telstra and Vodafone.
J: Oh, they must’ve been buying credits!
N: I’m not sure. I did go to Australia in January and topped up my pre-paid card there using my card. I raised it up to the bank and I had to go make a police report, so I dunno what’s happening with that for now. But it was a shock to me. I know sometimes I spend a fair bit, but I don’t recall spending that much.
So your credit card bill was $5,000 and $1,200 was a result of credit card fraud. What did you spend the other $3,800 on?
J: That’s a lot of money, you know!
N: There were a lot of insurance bills that came in. It’s better to pay for insurance annually, rather than monthly. You can save a few hundred dollars. It’s just that you need to have the money to pay at one shot. It’s your money after all, so you better learn about these things. I’m Hakka and they always say Hakka people are very good at calculating.
What has been your most stressful shopping experience so far?
J: Shopping for my DSLR camera which I use to film all my YouTube videos. It’s a very big investment for me. I literally sat on it for a really long time — I must’ve researched for half a year or more. It wasn’t until one of the times I received my Tanglin pay, and I was like, “Okay, I gotta do this ’cos I wanna build my channel and take good videos.” So I bit the bullet… and bought a second-hand camera and lenses for $1,200 on Carousell. It’s a really good buy!
N: But that totally doesn’t make sense. In six months, three new models would’ve been released.
J: But some cameras are consistently good and you don’t necessarily need a high-end camera for filming YouTube videos. Let’s be practical here, c’mon.
N: My most stressful experience would be my home renovations that I spent $47,000 on. It’s so stressful shopping for the right interior designer. And the final cost will always exceed your budget. They’ll give you a quote, but once the work starts, [the costs] just stack and stack because things will change — they might knock down a wall and discover, ‘Oh, there’s a pipe here.’
How good are you at bargaining?
J: I’m better at bargaining online. Let’s say someone’s selling something for $15. I’ll go in with, “Can I have it for $12?” Usually, people will say yes. If not, I’ll go up by $1 and somewhere along the way, they will say yes. Either way, I save money. But I’m s*** at bargaining in person. If someone wants to sell me something for $15, I’ll just pay without bargaining.
Is it embarrassing when you have to meet the seller to collect the item that you’ve just bargained to save $3 on?
J: Most of the time when I bargain, it’s for stuff they don’t want anymore so they don’t mind [lowering the prices]. Thank god there’s me [to help them get rid of their stuff]. But when we meet, I’ll just be like (hides face) “Sorry, here’s my money.”
Can you beat that, Nat?
N: It depends on how much I want the item. If it’s very cheap, it’s paiseh to bargain. Recently, I had to retrieve some bank statements that were lost. There was actually a charge for it. So I went to the bank and asked if there’s anything that they could do about it. The girl was really nice and waived the fee. But another time, I did it on the phone so the person didn’t know who I was. I was travelling and I normally pay for unlimited data roam. I was en route to US and had to transit in Dubai. I didn’t sign up for data roaming in Dubai because it was just for a few hours, so I thought I’ll just use pay-as-you-roam. I used it for barely 10 or 15 minutes before I got a reminder message saying that I’d nearly hit my limit and they were going to cut it off. By that time, I’d already incurred $250 in charges. So I immediately turned off the data roaming and connected to the airport wi-fi. A while later, I got another message saying that I’d hit the limit. I was really pissed. I already turned it off! It was $500 for less than 15 minutes, you know. So I called them to explain. The trick is to be really nice to the customer service officers. These people face angry customers the whole day and they’re humans too, so it’s nice to be nice to them. They couldn’t waive the charges, obviously, but they helped me to apply for the [cheaper] data roaming plan which is a fixed rate of $35, compared to $500.
Any shopping hacks to share?
J: Always zoom. I shop on Taobao a lot, so I’ve received s*** quality clothes that looked so awesome on the model. It’s a buyers beware thing. So now, I zoom until the picture cannot zoom already. Zoom until you can see the stitches on the clothing.
N: I swear that doesn’t work! Sometimes they all get their stuff from the same supplier [and pix are the same].
J: You gotta be smart! Besides zooming, you have to search with the words ‘shi pai’, which means it’s the actual photo of the product. Also, find reviews with pictures that other buyers have posted. Sometimes, even if they leave a positive review, the item looks like [crap].
N: My shopping secret would be do your homework when it comes to credit cards. Some people will use different cards for different discounts. But because it’s so scattered, your bonuses don’t stack as fast and you can only redeem, like, a pack of tissue paper. Whereas if you put everything on one card, maybe you can redeem a $100 voucher or a ticket to somewhere. So stack all your purchases on one card.
Who do you think is the hardest person to shop for?
N: Probably my dad. It’s very hard to shop for stoic Asian men, don’t you think? Whatever he wants, he will buy [it himself]. If I buy something for him, he will have so many comments. I don’t buy anything for him anymore, but we go out to eat as a family.
J: It might be my mum. Even if I buy things for her, she doesn’t use them. But, nah. The hardest person to shop for is still myself.
N: ’Cos she’s very auntie! You should tell her about your Passion card.
J: I’m very, very careful with the way I spend money. If I see something I really, really want, I’ll sit on it for very long and sometimes end up not buying it at all. And yes, I have a Passion card. I actually encourage everyone to get it, but you should’ve gotten during SG50 because it was free!Just yesterday, I managed to claim $1.25 off my groceries at the supermarket! Okay, now that I think about it, it’s a very small amount of money.
N: You should just use a credit card! Not some lousy debit card.
J: I don’t want to risk busting the limit lah!
N: It’s okay, they will send you an SMS to remind you! Hello, saving $1.25 vs going to New York for $200?
Catch Nat Ho and Jae Liew at the 8 DAYS Shopping Bag Dare on June 10 at Wisma Atria. Tanglin airs weeknights, Ch 5, 8.30pm. Tanglin's 500th ep airs June 19 (Mon). Catch-up episodes on www.toggle.sg.