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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 26-year-old graphic designer who moved to Singapore for better work and career prospects. Here, she shares her reasons for moving, and what the cost of living is like in Singapore as compared to Malaysia.
About The Diarist
Occupation: Graphic Designer
Education level: Bachelor’s Degree
Salary: $3,500 to $4,000
Average Monthly Expenses
Utilities and Internet: Inclusive in rent
Insurance: $1,900 per year ($1,000 for basic health and accident insurance, another $900+ for mortgage insurance)
Phone Bill: $28
Subscriptions: $40 (For a Spotify family plan, YouTube premium and Netflix)
Food: $500 – $800
Shopping: $20 – $100
Entertainment: $0 – $100 (As a super homebody, I’m more than happy to stay at home and do things that cost nothing and allow me to avoid socialising.)
Anything else: Housing loan for my house in Malaysia (I won’t disclose how much, but it’s less than $100 per month)
On the upsides of moving to Singapore for better work prospects:
I’m Malaysian, so after I graduated from university in Kuala Lumpur (KL), I tried looking for a job there. While I did get some offers, after careful consideration, I decided to try Singapore instead. Looking for a job wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, though I do feel being Malaysian does offer some advantages as compared to other nationalities.
One of the reasons I decided to work in Singapore is that there are better career opportunities and financial compensation as compared to Malaysia. As a fresh graduate, I was offered RM 3,000 (around SGD 900) for a prospective job, which, all things considered for Malaysia, is not too low for my major. But compared to a job offer from a company in Singapore that would be willing to pay me SGD 2,200 – SGD 2,600 — that’s more than double what I would get! Even if you factor in the high living costs, working in Singapore would still allow me to save up a lot more than working in KL. I honestly don’t think I would have any savings if I worked in Malaysia. In fact, at my current level, I would probably get around RM 4,000 – RM 6,000 (SGD 1,600 – 1,800) only.
Another thing that swayed my decision was the location. As my home and family are based in Johor Bahru (JB), it is more convenient to visit my family as it would only take me an hour to cross the border as opposed to a five-hour drive between KL and JB.
On the high cost of living in Singapore:
The cost of living in Malaysia is half (sometimes, even more) of what it costs to live in Singapore. I’m pretty sure my expenditure wouldn’t go above RM 2,000 (SGD 600) as I would stay in the house I own (I bought a really cheap second-hand apartment where my family is living in now) and I would regularly eat at home.
Where I felt the biggest difference was in the cost of accommodation. Rental prices for housing here are insane, and with the amount you pay to rent a common room in Singapore, you can easily rent an entire condominium unit in Malaysia. Daily costs like groceries and food are still fine as you can still find a lot of affordable choices around.
While it definitely costs a lot to live here, I also feel it depends on the lifestyle you want to lead. When I first moved to Singapore, I decided to live at my lowest cost. I stayed with my cousin’s family and the rent was really low. I also didn’t have to cough up a deposit and the first month’s rent in advance. The location was really good and I could find affordable meals in the food courts and coffee shops around. I’m really grateful for that start as it allowed me to build some savings.
I’ve since moved out and I’m paying $1,100 for a common room in a 3-bedroom condominium. The rental hike has been quite a burden to me, but after living with my cousin’s family, I felt I needed a lot more privacy, especially when so much of my time is spent working from home.
On living in Singapore for the long term:
When I first moved, all I focused on was getting a job and starting my new life. Though I did have some fears, mainly cultural differences, and the language barrier as English is not my first language. I used to think working in Singapore was very tough and that people would be mean or look down on you if you weren’t fluent in English. So far the working culture and environments I’ve been exposed to have been somewhat healthy compared to what I heard from my friends who are working in Malaysia.
I don’t know how long I plan to stay in Singapore as I’m not ready to settle down just yet, but I definitely won’t be moving back to Malaysia anytime soon. At some point, I hope I would be able to attain Permanent Residency status. I still strive to earn more in my current stage of life and would love to concentrate on building my career here.
I can’t give the best advice to anyone planning to move here as there are so factors to consider: What kind of job you’re looking for, what sort of lifestyle expectations you have etc. But for someone with a similar background to mine (I come from a single-parent family and we are not affluent), I’d say just give it a try!
On her changing views towards money:
My feelings towards money have slowly changed in recent years. I never really had the desire to earn a lot of money — as long as I can live happily without much concern for my daily expenses. As I grow older, I definitely feel more responsible for my own future. Now I’m trying to balance wanting to earn more and the pressure that comes with that, but also being content with what I make now. Making more money is nice, but I still want to be able to breathe and enjoy my own time. It sounds so simple, but it is one of the hardest things to balance.
I was never educated about finances — my parents were not good at it and I come from a one-parent household. My mum worked so hard to find money to raise me and my sister. While I never learnt how to manage money or invest from her, she always advised me to not to live a life of luxury I can’t afford and never force myself into doing something I was uncomfortable with.
At the end of the day, I just want to be happy — and I am currently! While my current situation is great, at the same time I want to keep improving. These thoughts motivate me to work harder and give me excitement towards the future.