This article first appeared in MoneySmart's 3 ways to feel like you still have a life while on a tight budget Singapore Home Loans
Now and then, someone will tell you that the cost of living in Singapore is not that high. After all, hawker meals only cost $4 and bus rides are never more than $2!
Well, guess what, if you decide to live in a tent, life is even cheaper!
Sure, life in Singapore is indeed cheaper than it is in many developed countries if you have no accommodation costs, you rely 100 per cent on public transport (which means you'd better catch that last bus before midnight) and never eat at restaurants. Oh, and you're a teetotaller to boot. And you have no friends, or hobbies either. Yikes.
Let's shake that image from our heads. If you're on a tight budget, here's how to still go out and have a bit of a life outside of the daily grind.
Hang out at people's homes more
In almost every other country I've lived in, inviting your friends over to your place is the done thing. Whether you're having a dinner, throwing a full-on house party or just chilling out on the couch with a beer, it's a cheap way to spend time together.
Sadly, in Singapore this is fairly rare. While I'm no stranger to the homes of my very closest friends, this is the exception rather than the norm. It could be due to the fact that most unmarried locals live with their parents and don't feel like they have the space or privacy to have friends over.
However, if that's not the case for you, get the ball rolling by being the one to invite people over. Think of an excuse-a mahjong game, a new recipe you want to test out, or a new DVD you've just bought.
In my younger days I had some friends who practically lived at my place, some staying for more than a week before finally heading home. We'd stay up till 5 in the morning watching TV series while slurping on instant noodles, run to the 24-hour prata stall in our pyjamas in the middle of the night and drink cans of Tiger beer in the living room.
That was a much cheaper way of life, and one that was arguably a lot more fun than battling your way through the Orchard Road crowd for a restaurant meal.
Don't be above packing food when you go out
Singaporeans spend a ton of money dining out-and not always because they want to.
Let's say you head to Orchard Road to get a new outfit from G2000 for your new job. Or whatever. You spend 40 to 60 minutes taking public transport to the city, and then an hour or two walking to the gargantuan shopping mall of your choice, trying on clothes and making your purchase.
By the time you're done, you're starving and you're not sure you want to spend another 40-60 minutes squeezing with people on the MRT before eating. You grudgingly get a seat at the restaurant with the shortest queue, and just like that, you've spent $25.
Because of experiences like this, most people just assume they have to eat out so long as they leave the house.
If having to eat out deters you from ever going out, it's time to start packing food to keep you going when you go out. Slap together toast, deli meat and some cheese, add a piece of fruit to go with it and voilà, you've got a pretty decent lunch that's healthier than char kuay teow and takes less than five minutes to prepare.
Another option if you're on Orchard Road is to visit the supermarket at Plaza Singapura or in the Takashimaya basement and "da bao" some sushi.
Once you're not forced to pay for a sit-down meal whenever you head out for a stroll in the city, the cost of going out falls considerably, especially in light of the many free public areas and attractions (heck, even the air con in shopping malls is free to enjoy).
Plan your alone time
Okay, so maybe you're not exactly a social butterfly. In fact, the mere thought of having to interact with another human being makes you want to reach for your parang.
There's nothing wrong with spending a lot of your free time alone, if that's what you really enjoy. The great thing about spending time alone is that it's usually way cheaper than spending time with other human beings-you could eat nothing but bananas all day like a Minion and nobody would care.
The problem is that many Singaporeans just end up spending that time stalking acquaintances on social media or being trolls on Facebook or online forums, which actually makes them feel worse about their own lives.
To make the most of your me-time, it's a good idea to make plans for each and every day. That doesn't mean you need to draw up a timetable and schedule your every move, including toilet breaks. It could just mean you decide on one or two rewarding things you'd like to do that day-perhaps read a long-neglected book, use one of those face masks you bought in Korea or work out at the neighbourhood gym.
If you are particularly indisciplined and need to make plans in order to stop yourself from frittering all your time away on the internet or in front of the TV, then you'll have to put in place a more concrete schedule with start and end times for each activity.
You may start out feeling like you're serving NS, but try it just once and tell us whether you didn't feel more fulfilled at the end of the day.
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