When I first heard it, I thought, “What? Are they sure? What is the criteria? What are they comparing?“
As I was looking for more explanation, I found these 2 articles. Do read them first before you continue reading my version of 2014 survival guide to living in Singapore.
The first one argues that Singapore is only expensive for expats. But, how do you define expats?
According to Wikipedia,
An expatriate (sometimes shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).
In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies, rather than for all ‘immigrants‘ or ‘migrant workers‘. The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labour who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an ‘immigrant‘ or ‘migrant worker‘.
There is no set definition and usage varies with context, for example the same person may be seen as an “expatriate” by his home country and a “migrant worker” where he works. Retirement abroad, in contrast, usually makes one an “expatriate”.
In this case, am I an expat? I grew up in Indonesia (upbringing) and spent most of my 20s in Singapore (not residing in my birth-country). I was not sent abroad by any company but willingly applied for a job upon my graduation from the University here. It looks like I’m neither an expat nor a local. Regardless of which category I belong to, I think I have lived here long enough and have been to some major cities like Tokyo, Sydney and Paris to get a glimpse of how it feels like to live in expensive cities. I can assure you that it really boils down to your OWN LIFESTYLE. If your lifestyle is EXPENSIVE, then no matter which country you live in, it will ALWAYS remain costly. If you always try to keep up with the Joneses and you need to have big car, big house, all branded goods in order to feel accepted in the society, then YES, Singapore is the most expensive country in the world.
The second article pointed out the 4 factors that have contributed to Singapore’s rise to the top of the list, mainly because of: stronger SGD, price inflation, expensive transportation and few natural resources.
Now let’s take this situation as an example.Scenario for: single, unmarried, no credit card debt, no student loan, no mortgage, no car, no kids. Primary goals: live a decent life, maintain relationships and save for the future
How do we survive living in Singapore? Always live within your means.
Step 1 – Choose Your Work
Disclaimer: for some people, step 2 can become step 1. They’ll look for a place to stay first and then look for job anywhere (hopefully near their home or with reasonable commuting time)
For me, it was a serendipity. The place that I chose to stay upon my graduation was coincidentally near my current workplace. I had previous experience working in CBD and I hated the long commute to and fro every single day. Not to mention the overtime hours that I clocked in. So when I landed a job just-opposite-my-place, I wholeheartedly said YES. Turned out, it was the right decision. I had my ups and downs. But as time goes by, I realized that personal fulfillment can be found not only at work but also in the quality of your relationship with others, how well you’ve lived your life. As long as you are contented, life is good. I’ve talked about this in my previous post, here.
Step 2 – Choose Your Place
The 2 big ticket items that are more expensive here than any other countries are house and car. With such a well-connected public transportation system, a car in Singapore is a luxury. In my case, owning a car is unnecessary and it’ll only incur more costs: parking tickets, petrol, ERP, maintenance, etc. Land is scarce, thus housing is very expensive here. If you don’t have the lump sum to pay for down payment of house, then the only other option is to burn the $ you have now into renting a single room or a whole-unit with friends/siblings. Traditionally, public housing near train stations and the area near CBD (Central Business District) will fetch a higher price. Even more so for private properties.
So if you’re like me, who hates the long commute to work, after finding your work, go and find a nearby place to stay. Your time and sanity sometimes worth the extra hundred dollars you spent on housing. But to some other people who don’t mind the extra dollars on transportation and long commuting time everyday, then choosing less convenient and farther away places like in the North, North East, or extreme East and West side of Singapore is a more feasible option. It’s all about compromise. Balancing your needs and wants.
Step 3. Define Your Expectations
I’ve just read this article from May 2012, “Why average Singaporeans are hurt by inflation?”. Assuming that you are the average Singaporean, single, who doesn’t have a large sum of inheritance from your parents and you have to work your own way up, the 4 effects of inflation that the writer highlighted in it: devalued savings, decreased wages, can’t avoid the cost of private transport, can’t afford a home, could really shatter your dream of owning a house or a car. Inflation is the real bitch. However, you won’t really feel the effect if you learn to manage your OWN EXPECTATIONS. If you expect to be able to afford buying a house here by, say, 30 years old, what are you doing to increase your income? Do you explore other ways to leverage the money you have now? (instead of just putting them in regular savings account in banks, and earned a pathetic 0.125% interest)
For the average person, debt is a mortgage, car loan or credit card balance. For the wealthiest, debt can be money borrowed to increase investment returns, and it goes by the fancier name of leverage. The goal is to get a return higher than it costs to borrow the money (taken from NY Times, “Some Dos and Don’ts about Leverage”)
So if you expect to earn more, work more on personal development, upgrade your skills, aim for that promotion or change to higher-paid job. If you dream of becoming an entrepreneur, becoming your own boss and willing to put the extra effort now, then yes, go ahead and do it! It’s all about managing your own expectations. On the other hand, you may be content with your current lifestyle now; no mortgage and no car, and you are not willing to put the extra hours to earn more $. That’s okay. People have different preferences. Just think of what’s best for you now. It’s NOT about what your parents, your friends or other people expect from you.
Step 4 – Choose Your Lifestyle
If you spend every weekends eating out at fancy restaurants, shopping for clothes and bags that you don’t need, going out drinking in bars every Friday, indulging in expensive hobbies and traveling first class to expensive countries, and yet you still have the guts to complain that living in Singapore is expensive. Time to have a reality check. Living frugally in Singapore is not that difficult, let’s see an article “How to live frugally in Singapore” and the breakdown below as an example:
Average monthly expenses for basic needs (all in SGD):Meals per day (not working in CBD, breakfast-lunch-dinner, not cooking): $10 x 30 = $300 Transportation (house to workplace: 7-minute walk, transport only for weekends by train & bus): $60 Weekend activities and entertainment (sports/outdoor activities/dinner/movies): $200 Phone, internet and utilities (shared utilities and basic phone & internet package): $100 Room rental (North area): $600 Total expenses on basic needs – $1260
For basic needs, there’s a limit to how much you can stretch the dollars. Once you take care of them and protected your wealth (through insurance policies), you can choose to fulfill your ‘WANT’ items, like: pampering yourself to a facial treatment, buying new clothes/shoes/bags/books, traveling abroad 1-3x a year OR just putting all the excess into more savings and different portfolios.
Learn to put your priority on your ‘NEED ‘ list rather than your ‘WANT’ list. By choosing this lifestyle, hopefully all of us can live a decent life and maintain our most important relationships NOW and in the FUTURE.
Step 5 – Trust Your Choices
The last most important step is about maintaining your lifestyle. Stick to your chosen lifestyle, trust your choices and ignore society or peer pressure. When you know what you’re doing, you don’t need other people’s approval. Ignore their judging views and do your own thing. If you feel like staying at home and read a book rather than going outside and party, please do so. If you don’t want to eat at the expensive restaurant your friend asked you to because it’ll blow your budget, then don’t. It’s your life and you choose to live it on your own terms.
So folks, after following these 5 steps based on the scenario for: single, unmarried, no credit card debt, no student loan, no mortgage, no car, no kids, the next time your new phase of life begins, you’ll have no problem adjusting your lifestyle accordingly. Just repeat the steps. No matter which situation you are in: single, married, married with kids, divorced, etc; and which city you choose to live in, rest assure that you will always survive.
C’est la vie!
*gonna have less time to blog for the rest of this month, but hopefully I can still squeeze some time to write when inspiration comes:)