Ever wondered what your salary and spending habits are like in comparison to your peers? Money Talks is a column by Her World that takes an honest look at how women spend their money. If you would like to submit a money diary anonymously, please email us at email@example.com with the subject “Money Talks” in your email header, and one of our editors will get back to you.
In today’s column, we speak to a 30 year-old Singaporean student who decided to switch careers and move to New York to get her Master’s Degree. Here’s a look at her weekly expenses, inclusive of a trip to Coachella.
As the diarist has temporarily moved to the United States, all expenses are in US dollars.
About The Diarist
Occupation: Full-time MBA Student at a major university in NYC
Industry: Business (formerly in Media, will be going into Fintech upon graduation)
Education level: Masters (in progress)
Salary: $0 – $1,200 depending on freelance writing gigs, but i’ll be making somewhere between $150,000 and US$200,000 in pre-tax income (including signing and variable bonus) after graduation
Average Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,700 to $2,000
Utilities/Internet: Included in the price of rent
Insurance: $337 ($4,044 per year for student health insurance, purchased through my university)
Phone Bill: $55 per month on a combined family plan with my friends, including insurance for a broken/stolen phone
Subscriptions: $390 a month ($80 for subscriptions to publications such as Bloomberg, Financial Times, New York Times, and The Economist as well as Netflix, $160 for a Rent The Runway subscription and $150 on a gym membership)
Transport: Somewhere in the realm of $500 to $600, including both subway and Uber costs
Food: Around $1,500 to $2,000 a month, depending on the month and how often I go out or get Uber Eats
Groceries: Approximately $150 a month
Shopping: I have almost no shopping expenditure as I’m on a self-imposed shopping ban and rely on the aforementioned subscription
Entertainment: Anywhere from $0 to $150 per month depending on whether I watch any shows or performances
Anything else: $300 – $3,500 on travel expenses
Total expenditure for the month: $4,932 – $9,182
On the high cost of living in New York as a foreign student:
“I decided to upend my life in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and move to the literal other side of the world to New York City to do my Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I had previously worked in the media industry in Singapore but had a quarter-life crisis some years ago and decided that I wanted to change my entire life and my career. I was lucky enough to be afforded the luxury of pursuing an MBA as a means of making that change. Tuition alone is somewhere in the realm of $85,000 per year, totalling about $170,000 over the course of two years, but thankfully I’ve since secured a job that will send me into the fintech industry post-graduation.
But living in an expensive city like New York comes with its costs. I pay about $2,000 in rent which seems like a lot, especially compared to Singapore, but it’s reasonably cheap considering that I live in a great building in a nice neighbourhood in Brooklyn. My classmates pay anywhere from $2,250 – $4,000. Student health insurance costs $4,044 per year. The US healthcare system is incredibly complex and expensive (and stupid, to give my completely subjective opinion), and even health insurance is ridiculously overpriced. Unfortunately for me, health insurance is not optional for international students.
I have some savings that will last me until I start work, but there will not be much left over after that. I’m quite anxious about my lack of savings right now, particularly because I know that I will soon have to start paying off my student loans, but I’m trying to remain optimistic that my earning potential has greatly increased after doing my MBA, and I will soon be able to build up my nest egg again.”
On spending beyond her means even though she’s heavily in student debt:
“I am unfortunately in deep debt from my student loans for my MBA and will soon become liable for about $200,000 in student loans. Being in the media industry didn’t exactly pay well, so I didn’t have that much in the way of savings even after six years of working, so I chose to take out those loans and be responsible for my own debt and expenditure. Thank god I have a post-graduation job offer that will allow me to pay off the loan fairly quickly. I have no credit card, housing, or other debt.
I’m lucky to be able to travel a fair amount within the US, and my travel expenditure has ranged anywhere from $400 for a short weekend away in upstate New York to $3,500 for a two week getaway in Hawaii last summer. Is it unwise to spend this much with no income? Yes. Do I regret doing it? No, because these trips were what allowed me to bond with my classmates and create deep, long-lasting friendships that will hopefully last me a lifetime. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make new friends when I moved to NYC, because making friends in adulthood is difficult, and the pandemic has made everyone even more phobic of meeting new people. I’m glad that my fears were for naught.
I know I’m living way beyond my means as a student, and am banking on having future earnings that will allow me to pay off what I owe. I am a spendthrift, and I know it. I know that there are a lot of places that I could economise my spending (e.g. Ubers, eating out, travel), and that’s why I’ve banned myself from shopping this year. It’s a small but helpful step in developing a healthier relationship with money and helped me understand that I don’t need retail therapy to feel content. My plan is to next reduce the amount I spend on eating out; it will become easier (I hope) once classes end and MBA-centric socialising reduces in frequency.”
On her attitude towards money:
“I’ve always seen money as a tool rather than an end in itself, and that aspect has not changed. However, I did consciously choose to do the MBA with the knowledge that it would increase my earning potential and allow me to live more comfortably. Somewhat unexpectedly, the MBA has changed my attitude towards managing money. I grew up with very poor financial knowledge, and never thought about investing or growing the money that I did have. My parents, like many Singaporeans, were never very strategic with their investments (or really even had any) and focused more on savings than growing their funds. Right now, I have more targeted financial goals and am equipped with strategies that I know will serve me well in managing my financial health in the future.”
On what she wished she knew about financial literacy:
“Growing up, I rarely had conversations with my family or peers about money (nothing beyond ‘don’t spend beyond your means’). I know that my family is not very financially savvy, so this isn’t their fault, but I do wish that I had been equipped with better skills to manage my finances.
I wish I knew about the different ways in which money can be used to make more money, beyond putting it in a savings account and earning 2% interest and/or buying a house and waiting for it to appreciate in value, which is the typical way that many Singaporeans think about investing.
There are many different financial instruments and tools (such as stocks, bonds, ETFs, robo-traders and now crypto) that can help a person grow their existing pot of gold, but prior to the MBA, I was unfamiliar with most of them. I also wish that I would have known about the different risk profiles and appetites that people with different financial needs have, and how to adjust my investments accordingly. I’m happy that I now know about all of those things, but I wish I had learned about them sooner.”