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It's easier to retire early in Singapore than you think, says freegan

UnXpected is an original AsiaOne series where we speak to people with unconventional interests to find out what keeps them going despite the sometimes negative perceptions of others

His life is defined by three F-words - free(dom), frugality and freeganism.

As a freegan, Daniel Tay gets most of what he needs in life - such as food, another F-word, for free.

Part of his lifestyle also involves eschewing consumerism for frugalism and perhaps even one step further, choosing not to spend unless necessary.

"Most people see frugality as being cheapskate, a freeloader, or like you're 'kiam siap' (stingy)," says Daniel, who hasn't held a full-time job in close to three years.

"But I think frugality is more about not wanting to waste something that can still be used.

"There's a saying, luxury once enjoyed becomes a necessity. And in Singapore, we enjoy too many luxuries," he shares.

The 40-year-old goes as far as to say that it's easier to retire in Singapore than many people think.

"In Singapore, most people in Singapore worry about money. But most people actually don't need to worry about money. Because if you want to retire, it's actually very easy. It's not as difficult as the newspapers make it out to be. A lot of it is because people don't necessarily differentiate between their needs and their wants," says Daniel.

His monthly expenses come up to about $450 a month, a portion of which he gives to his parents. The rest goes toward his term insurance plans, savings and investments, his mobile phone bill as well as public transport expenses. His phone is an iPhone 8 that he bought from a friend years ago for $250.

Food is the most important hurdle for wannabe freegans. Without spending on food, you'd be able to save several hundreds of dollars a month, says Daniel.

According to his calculations, he spent only $8 on food in 2017. And in 2018, he one-upped this feat by shelling out just $5.50 for the year, and only because he went on a date (he paid for his own cup of tea).

Since 2019 however, he's moved back to his parents' place for reasons he'd rather not divulge, eating whatever his parents cooked.

The former financial planner now relies mostly on his investment returns to pay for his fixed expenses. As for his wants, such as a holiday to Thailand he's planning for once the pandemic blows over, he'll get a part-time job to "work for it".

Based on his calculations and barring no sudden life changes, Daniel believes he's able to support his current lifestyle without working a full-time job until he is 90 years old, which is a dream for many.

But Daniel acknowledges his lifestyle is not for everyone, and agrees that it takes someone with a "thicker skin" to be a freegan.

"People who are very conscious about 'face' cannot be freegans. But face and status, cannot eat one," he says simply.

He has a quirky analogy for describing what he does.

Collecting free food and hand-me-downs from your family, it's like going to a provision shop. If you collect from a bin, it's like a hypermart, everything you want is there.

"It's like treasure-hunting, it's very fun," he explains, comparing it to a role-playing game where like-minded folks with different roles form a party and go on a hunt. The bin is their "treasure chest".

The most expensive find? That would be a brand new PlayStation 3 he found a few days before Christmas in 2017.

Daniel takes us on a tour of his parents' place and shows us his other "treasures" — a large chiller, a whole carton of potatoes, multiple rice cookers and other electrical appliances, and of course, shelves of foodstuff, some of them expired.

It helps that his part-time work is at a supermarket.

He gamely cracks open an expired bottle of essence of chicken (best before 2013 according to the label) and downs it in front of us. He shares that he'll accept foodstuff that "even some poor people will reject".

And "as long as it's not rusty, or dented", it is still fit for consumption.

The end-goal for what he does? Freedom.

"There are so many things in life that I want to do. Freeganism is an option that allows me to go and do these other things in my life now."

There's an additional element of fulfilment as well.

Beyond reducing food wastage and helping the environment, "giving away stuff to people does make you happier," he shares.

And just as money may buy convenience but not happiness, Daniel has also realised that having more things doesn't make him happy.

“When you have more things, it means you can give more," because "if you were to take one bite from every item that you that you collect, you'll become obese," he laughs.

Financial freedom and freedom from expectations are also his biggest rewards.

"I've stopped caring so much about what people think about me," says Daniel.

"The biggest change (since adopting freeganism) is that I no longer have to worry so much about money (since) I need so little of it.

"I've become more resourceful and I know other ways to get the things I want, without having to use money to buy them."

Watch the video to find out about how Daniel was introduced to freeganism and how one "hunt" ended with the police showing up.

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