3 areas Singaporeans should cut back on first when saving money

I have a friend who decided he needed to save more money. Instead of enjoying gambling sessions at Marina Bay Sands less frequently, not opening so many bottles while partying or selling his car, he decided to rent out half of his bedroom to a student from China. Every day he woke up only to stare into the eyes of the Chinese guy sleeping two metres away.

Sharing your bedroom with a stranger is a pretty harsh way to save money. The good news is that there are far easier and far more sensible ways to spend less, such as the following.

Entertainment

After working so hard during the day (and often night), Singaporeans tend to take entertainment very seriously. There's a real obsession with "pampering" oneself, going on frequent overseas holidays and documenting everything on Facebook, indulging in high end restaurants and bars and paying for novel experiences like yacht parties and trips to Universal Studios.

While not everybody spends like there's no tomorrow, it's becoming increasingly common for young professionals fresh out of university to regularly spend over $50 on meals or drinks at one go, shell out over $5,000 on annual vacations and regularly enjoy spa treatments and facials at $150 to $200+ a pop.

In fact, a 2014 report showed that Singaporeans were spending more and more over the years, and that this increased spending wasn't just due to rising costs but because we're becoming more willing to spend on higher quality goods and services.

One of the easiest ways to cut your spending is to scale back on entertainment, especially if you're the sort of person who can return from a club on Friday night $500 poorer.

You won't have to go hungry, share your home with dodgy people or face a longer commute by cutting back on entertainment spending, but you might still end up feeling like you're depriving yourself or living a life of drudgery.

The trick is not to go cold turkey on leisure and entertainment, but to find cheaper alternatives. Your time is limited, and so long as you can fill up your schedule with things you enjoy and social interaction, you'll still feel happy and fulfilled. Trust us, one less bottle of Martell a week isn't going to make you any more miserable.

How Singaporeans can lower their cost of living

  • Nobody ever said Singapore was a cheap place to live in. But some things here are more expensive than others, and getting a 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.
  • Renting out unused rooms on your property to defray the cost of living can generate some passive income for yourself.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Anybody planning to buy HDB property needs to understand the different CPF Housing Grants.
  • 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 not risen as quickly, and picking hawker centres instead of restaurants when you eat out means greater savings than before.
  • Public transport is way cheaper than driving, even if you rely mostly on taxis.
  • Alcohol is ridiculously expensive, 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.

Shopping

Buying things they don't need and will no longer like 6 months from now is a Singaporean specialty. I guess you can't really blame us since the entire country is basically a big shopping mall.

But the way some people buy stuff without a second thought is quite astounding. Changing smartphones almost every year, spending all day at work/uni shopping online, never being able to pass an afternoon in town without buying something new, maxing out credit cards on overseas holidays ("it's cheaper than in Singapore") and aspiring to amass a massive collection of shoes are scarily common in Singapore and not just the domain of one or two friends.

While it is true that there are some people who probably need to see a psychologist to cure their shopping addictions, for the rest of us, just not buying so much junk is a lot easier than it seems.

You might feel deprived or get panic attacks at the thought of your friends spotting you in an outfit they've seen before, but once you get over yourself you'll realise that cutting your shopping habit really doesn't make much of a difference, so long as you don't deprive yourself of necessities (and no, keeping your wardrobe updated every 10 days is not a necessity).

5 things young Singaporeans waste money on without realising it

  • Out of the Top 10 most common Facebook messages that pops up on my timeline is the exhortation to please buy the remaining 6 months of someone's gym membership since they never use it/they are leaving the country/their significant other has quit the gym.
  • But seriously, the real reason people are always trying to offload their memberships is that most of them signed up due to predatory sales tactics of gym salespeople.
  • Only to later discover that they just didn't have the time/energy/will to drag themselves to a work out.
  • I even know someone who purchased a lifetime membership for, well, more than what some Singaporeans earn in a year. He hardly goes.
  • If you're an avid online shopper, you already know for a fact that when you buy clothes online, you can expect at least 10 per cent to 20 per cent of your buys to look significantly worse than you thought they would.
  • A friend of mine who spent the whole of last year addicted to Taobao has reportedly thrown away every single one of her buys, including two Prada bags she paid $500 for that turned out to be fakes when the handle got ripped off of one of them.
  • Despite the relatively low price of some online clothing stores, be aware that you might end up spending a lot more in the long run due to clothes that look way worse than you predicted.
  • Dining as a group can be tricky. When someone wants to share a few appetizers, nobody wants to be a wet blanket by saying they'll stick to their mains. And most of the time, if the bill is shared equally amongst you, you'll end up paying for their share even if you didn't eat or explicitly agree to adding additional items.
  • This one is for the ladies (mostly). In most of my office jobs, I couldn't help but notice how so many of the ladies-interns included, had perfectly manicured nails.
  • Okay, I can understand how examining your nails throughout the MRT ride to work can help to take your mind off the crowds, I guess.
  • But the main thing is that manicures are actually insanely expensive when you consider the fact that they only last 2-3 weeks max and are a rather non-essential embellishment that you can easily DIY.
  • Bringing lunch to work just doesn't happen anymore, and with the CBD area becoming more and more of a nightlife and entertainment district these days, lunchtime can feel like a high-stakes social game.

Dining in restaurants

People often complain there's nothing to do in Singapore except shop and eat. Be that as it may, if you're spending all your money at restaurants, getting rid of the habit of eating out at every meal will stop you from flushing all your cash down the toilet.

Singaporeans are some of the biggest spenders on eating out in the Asia Pacific, but we often justify our laziness to cook by saying that hawker food is cheap. Well, it's not just hawker food Singaporeans are spending on, and the dining scene is now dominated by mid-range and high-end restaurants.

Almost every Singaporean you'll meet identifies as a foodie, and for many middle-income locals dining out is a serious past-time, at least based on their frequent photos on Facebook featuring themselves posing with their plates at high end restaurants and bars.

While eating out is great from time to time, when it becomes a habit because you have no idea how to feed yourself otherwise or prefer to spend hours at home scrolling through social media feeds rather than step into the kitchen, it becomes a problem.

With the average Singaporean spending $248 a month on dining out per month according to this survey, there's quite a bit of breathing room that enables people to cut their spending without starving to death.

6 items S'poreans who want to save money shouldn't buy in S'pore

  • Many people think it's too "leceh" to drive across the Causeway to buy groceries. But it's probably because they don't know exactly how much money you can save by buying your food and toiletries in Johor Bahru.
  • A few years ago, you could save about 30 per cent on your groceries by buying in JB.
  • Now that the Malaysian Ringgit is lower than ever vis a vis the Singapore dollar, you can save much more, in many cases up to 50 per cent.
  • Unless you're talking about those awful assessment books for kids at Popular Bookstore, most books in Singapore have to be imported.
  • And they're not cheap-you can usually expect to pay about $15 to $20 for a paperback novel.
  • If you are ordering a fairly large shipment and don't mind second hand items, consider buying your books from Amazon's second hand section and then shipping them back using a service like Borderlinx or vPost.
  • For some reason, vitamins and dietary supplements are super expensive in Singapore. If you've ever walked into GNC, the prices are enough to give you a stroke.
  • If you're happy go buy all your furniture from Ikea, more power to you. But if you're the house-proud type who's willing to spend thousands of dollars on a sofa, consider buying your furniture and homeware in Bali or Thailand.
  • It's not just owning a car that's expensive in Singapore. It's also darned difficult to get your car serviced without being ripped off-many mechanics here are more concerned about getting you to replace parts than actually fixing your vehicle's problems.
  • If you know where to go, car and bike servicing in Malaysia can cost almost half the price. Although there are hundreds of popular recommendations, it's best to go with a friend who's familiar with a workshop in JB to be safe.
  • If you work in the sort of place where you actually have to show up looking decent, adding a few crisp tailored shirts or a slick suit to your wardrobe can make you look a bit more presentable.
  • But tailors in Singapore are expensive-you can usually expect to pay at least $1,000 for decent tailored suit.
  • Some people prefer Hoi An in Vietnam or even Shanghai, but Bangkok is the cheapest and easiest place to fly to and the destination Singaporeans are the most familiar with.

This article was originally on MoneySmart's 3 Areas Singaporeans Should Cut Back on First When Trying to Save Money


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