Image: Leung Cho Pan/123rf
Nobody ever said Singapore was a cheap place to live in. But some things here are more expensive than others. While everyone pretty much agrees you need to pay obscene amounts of money to not have to live in a tent at East Coast Park, getting a fairly cheap meal isn’t impossible so long as you don’t expect to be sitting in air conditioned comfort and waited on hand and foot.
If your New Year’s Resolution wasn’t to move to a cheaper country, here’s how to defray the cost of living in Singapore so you can live to see another year.
1. Be prepared to make sacrifices when it comes to housing
Housing is one of the biggest expenses anybody living in Singapore will ever have to take on. Unlike a car, you can’t just decide not to buy or rent a space, unless you want to live with your parents forever. The situation is so serious that 97% of the country’s adult singles are stuck living with their parents until marriage, and home prices are still considered exorbitant despite a sluggish property market in the past year.
The put things into perspective, most of the young foreign professionals who work in Singapore on salaries of about $4,500 to $6,000 shack it up with multiple flatmates, paying upwards of $1,000 for a cramped bedroom.
Singaporeans, on the other hand, often balk at the thought of renting out rooms in their homes to strangers, or moving out and having to live with a landlord or flatmates.
Honestly, if you’re going to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world on a less than stellar salary, you’re going to have to change your mindset and learn that you can’t expect to enjoy a luxurious home all to yourself, unless you’re willing to shackle yourself to a huge loan that it will take your entire life to pay off.
Get used to doing the following:
1) Renting out unused rooms on your property to defray the cost of living and generate some passive income for yourself
2) If you move out of your parents’ place before you can afford to buy property, don’t even think of renting a studio or an entire flat to yourself. Young people overseas live with roommates when they have to save money, and you’re no different.
3) If you live in private property, rent out your place on a short-term basis on Airbnb whenever you go on holiday, so you earn some spare cash while you travel.
When buying property, bear in mind that paying extra for an HDB flat that’s closer to work could add more to your quality of life than paying extra to buy a condo unit with a luxurious pool in a far-flung estate. 4) Living too far away could mean you waste 2 hours each day on the MRT and bus. Resale HDB flats in mature estates fairly near the CBD like Kallang or Queenstown can cost about the same amount as a leasehold condo unit in a far-flung area like Punggol, but aren’t necessarily an inferior choice.
5) If you already have an efficient form of transport like a motorcycle or a car, living in a far-flung estate is a cheaper option you can consider. I highly recommend getting a motorbike licence if you don’t already have a car and need to live in an estate like Bukit Batok as you can save something like 20 to 30 precious hours a month.
2. Take all the government grants you qualify for
The government will be the first ones to tell you not to expect handouts. If you want something, you’d better work for it, you lazy bastards.
In fact, we’ve gotten so used to not expecting any freebies that many Singaporeans don’t even know when the government does give out grants or free money. Life is hard enough as it is; don’t make it harder by being clueless about the benefits you qualify for.
1) If you are becoming a parent, make sure you open a Baby Bonus account and max out the amount you can receive. If you need to put your kid in childcare, check how much of the child care and infant care subsidies you qualify for and only use approved centres.
2) Go to polyclinics for basic medical and dental help (unless you employer pays for this). The $10.70 you pay for a consultation at a polyclinic is 1/3 the price you’d pay at a private clinic. The medicines also tend to be cheaper, and you can always refuse to buy them, unlike at a private clinic where the doctor will just slap you with a pricey bag of meds before you know what hit you.
3) Use your $500 SkillsFuture and your $100 ActiveSG credit!
If you have kids of school-going age, check if they qualify for Edusave Bursaries and Awards and the Good Progress Award. The household income cap for the Edusave Merit Bursary is $6,000 as of 2015 and you will need to apply for it on your own.
4) Anybody planning to buy HDB property needs to understand the different CPF Housing Grants. Buying certain types of HDB property will qualify you for a higher grant amount, so choose wisely.
3. Take advantage of what’s actually affordable in Singapore
Despite the fact that living in Singapore can seem like a neverending voyage of paying and paying, some things are actually affordable, in case you forgot. If you’re serious about lowering the cost of living, you’ll take advantage of the things that are actually relatively cheap, while avoiding what’s expensive. Here’s what we mean.
1) Meals at mid-range to high-end restaurants have escalated in price over the past decades. While $10 could get you a decent restaurant meal in the 90s, these days you’ll need to budget about $25 to $30. On the other hand, while hawker food prices have risen too, they haven’t escalated quite as fast. That means by picking hawker centres instead of restaurants when you eat out, you’re saving a lot more than before.
2) Public transport is way cheaper than driving, even if you rely mostly on taxis. If you work in the CBD, it’s probably still cheaper to take taxis to work and back every single day than to buy a car and pay for petrol, parking and ERP. Parents who need to ferry kids around can consider relying on taxis and Uber instead of buying a car.
3) Alcohol is ridiculously expensive in Singapore, but drinking in the streets is actually allowed before 10:30pm. Buying a beer from 7-11 instead of imbibing it at an overpriced Clarke Quay bar will save you almost $20.
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