Can you live in the world's most expensive city but still have fun, eat well AND put some savings aside each month? We show you where to find the discounts, freebies and more to make your family dollar stretch in Singapore.
When people ask “How to save money in Singapore?”, the common retort is “You can’t!”. There is no disputing that Singapore is a fantastic place to raise a family. But there is also no getting away from the fact that it is absurdly expensive at times. Out of 133 cities looked at by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), Singapore comes top of the pile every year all the way until 2018 and is crowned ‘Most Expensive City in the World’. For both locals and expats, juggling finances can be a struggle in the face of ever-rising costs that do not, sadly, tally with pay increases.
But before we all panic and call in the removal company to move us to Damascus, Syria (which came in as the cheapest city to reside in during the same study), there are still plenty of money saving options here in Singapore that can help turned saved cents into saved dollars in no time. Here’s how you can do it…
This is generally the biggest eater of the $$ from many families’ wages each month (unless you have a couple of kids or more in international school, that is!). If you can’t afford to purchase a home in Singapore, then renting is the option many of us go for. And this is a monthly expenditure that probably gives the biggest scope for saving some cash. While many of us would love to live in a penthouse in the middle of town, or in a rambling mansion with land in Bukit Timah, don’t forget that you can still live somewhere fabulous but for far less money. The cost of housing in Singapore depends on factors such as where the property is located, the age of the property, recreational facilities (playgrounds, pool, gym, etc.) and also if you want the rental property to be furnished for you.
It’s no secret that most expats, as well as many local folk in Singapore, do prefer to live in condos. Whilst the expat package rarely exists these days, most foreigners still decide to go for condo living instead of landed. Rental prices vary greatly, but if you don’t fancy forking out huge Orchard Road rates, condos that are located outside the city centre in neighbourhoods such as Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Changi, Pasir Ris, Woodlands, Yishun, Clementi, Jurong, and Punggol are generally much less expensive and plenty family-friendly too! You can get a three-four bedroom property in some of these places with a monthly rental of around $3k-$5k. Check out our guide to the best neighbourhoods to look at for families and you may find a hidden, but cheaper, gem of an area you had never thought to look at! Extra tip: Try to negotiate yearly air-con maintenance into the rental price when agreeing to the lease terms.
Private apartments in Singapore are similar to condos but normally lack most of the facilities that are traditional in condominiums. So no pools, BBQ pits, tennis courts etc. The apartments also tend to be older buildings, since most of the new private construction is done in the form of condominiums. Renting a three-bedroom private apartment in the CBD area will still cost around $5k-$7k, but go to the outskirts and get yourself some great space for around $4k per month. Apartment floor space can often be much greater than what your dollar would buy in a condo.
For an even bigger saving, living in a government housing flat (HDB flat) is a great option with a much lower monthly price tag. Current figures show that more than 80% of the local Singaporeans live in HDB units with these being the most cost-effective housing in Singapore. Most HDB flats form their own communities and usually have some great facilities to hand in the form of shops, playgrounds and recreational grounds. You won’t be finding swimming pools and gyms, but you will find a great community spirit for much lower rental costs. A three-bedroom HDB apartment close to the CBD currently rents at around $3k-$4k while out in the ‘burbs, rentals typically range from $2k to $3k.
This is where the debate over local vs international school in Singapore comes in. For PRs and Singaporeans, local school is a fantastic choice at low cost. Foreigners can also apply to local school and shave thousands of dollars from annual expenditure! It is not always easy to get a spot, but the financial and educational benefits are worth the effort (expat mums are known to volunteer at local schools to improve their chances!). There are subsidies on the local school fees for the first two years if your child is a foreign student, and even when that windfall finishes, the monthly sum averages around $500 per month as opposed to typical international school fees which can top $3k per month, per child! For citizens and PRs, the educational costs are heavily subsidised and so the school fees are nominal. Local schools also provide school bus services which are a snip of the cost of international school bus fees, so you can also make a big saving on getting your child to school and back. P1 registration has just finished for this year but speak to MOE about finding a spot for your child if this is an avenue you are keen to explore.
If local school is not a route you want to take, then there are a plethora of great international schools to choose from. You just need to compare prices and find one that suits your child AND your budget. Our school selector is a fantastic tool to help you do just that or get the lowdown on what the cost of international schools really is with our comprehensive chart.
Groceries can soon empty the bank account if you are buying trolley loads from Cold Storage or Market Place (is it possible to go in there for a loaf of bread and NOT spend $100?). But we have found some nifty money-saving tips that will see that loaf of bread not needing to stretch quite so far.
For your meat and fish, fruit and vegetables then it doesn’t get much cheaper (or more fun) than visiting your local wet market. These are found in most communities and the food is fresh and tasty as well as being great value. Go early and take lots of cooler bags to fill to the brim with fresh produce. If you don’t know where the nearest wet market to your home is, then ask a neighbour! Or check out our guide to the top 5 wet markets in Singapore.
One of the best wet markets well worth a mention is the Tekka Wet Market in Little India. It is also close to Mustafa, a place which tops the list for many bargain hunters as the destination of choice. For the rest of your grocery shopping, Sheng Siong, Fair Price and Giant are the ones to take your shopping lists to. These supermarkets often have great bulk buy deals on offer and we all love a BOGOF (buy one get one free).
Cash back for shopping!
We have discovered a fantastic website that will save you dollars on not only your groceries, but on holidays, electronics, leisure, clothing and more! Once you have finished reading this article and totting up how much you can now save, then do have a look at Shopback. Sign up for an account and start earning cash-back on all the purchases you make through sites such as Redmart, Agoda and Zalora! Psst, doing surveys is also a really great way to earn some discount vouchers, freebies and even cash.
Shop in JB
If you have a car, or can car share with a friend, it is definitely worth popping over to JB, Malaysia, to do your grocery shopping at one of its Tesco stores. Check out the KSL City branch for all of your grocery needs and take advantage of the hugely strong SGD to Malaysian Ringit exchange rate currently available. The exchange rate alone will see you racking up savings by nipping over the border for your monthly shop. Just don’t forget your passports! Weekdays after rush hour are generally quiet at the border, so the process is not as time consuming as you may think. There are restrictions on the types of goods you can bring back into the country, so be sure to check out the rules and regulations on bringing goods back for personal use into Singapore before loading up the car for your return journey!
Get into second-hand
Have brand new clothes kicking out from the last retail therapy that you just can’t find the occasion to wear? Swap em with some new finds at clothes swaps. There are also fantastic savings to be made on home items and furniture by tapping into the garage sale and classifieds market on this sunny island. Singapore has an incredibly transient population, and so there are always families moving overseas and selling on their often fairly new sofas, dining sets and everything else including the kitchen sink. If you are on Facebook then there are tons of selling sites that have been created to grab a bargain. Singapore also has Gumtree, Locanto, Phing, Carousell and Ebay worth searching for a fab deal. Extra tip: You don’t just have to buy on these sites; try your hand selling too! Turn your un-used stuff into hard cash and pocket the profit to go towards something you do need.
Most of us know the one word that guarantees a tasty meal without the crazy price: hawker! Much like the wet markets, every neighbourhood in Singapore has its own hawker centre. There are old ones, new ones, indoor ones, outdoor ones and even ones with a view. But what they all have in common, apart from the yummy grub, is that they are fantastic value for money, so embrace local cuisine! Extra tip: instead of heading to Starbucks for a $10 sandwich, treat yourself to my personal favourite… popiah! At around $3 for two rolls this makes a delicious warm lunch that will fill your belly without emptying your wallet.
There are also tons of ‘kids eat free’ options at the weekends, which are well worth taking advantage of. Swensons, Hard Rock Cafe, Marche and Chili’s are just a few of the choices where your little people can fill up for free. We love the word ‘free’ in our family.
Singapore has a fantastic transport infrastructure (believe me I know; I lived and worked in London using the Underground for 15 years). The MRT is not only cheap as chips, but it runs efficiently and it has that all-essential air con! Rush hours are busy, but this method of travelling around The Red Dot is about as easy and cost effective as it gets. Our EZ Link cards have saved us a shed load of cash over having a car whilst living here. And don’t forget to check if you or your family is eligible for any concession rates for your travel.
There is also a huge and effective bus network that will whizz you to where you need to go for not many cents at all. Your EZ Link card is also valid for bus travel, AND if you use both bus and train in a single journey, there will be savings on the bus part of the fare.
Car vs public transport
When we arrived in Singapore we did consider, for a nanosecond, buying or leasing a car. Having sold our Renault Espace for a song back in the UK, we were horrified to see that if we wanted to get any kind of car here then it would involve having to sell our house back in London to make the purchase. We calculated that even if we got taxis everywhere (which we don’t) then it would still be cheaper than forking out for a car. So we bought the EZ Link cards instead. But if you do have a car then aside from the initial outlay for it, there are savings to be made when you are buying your petrol. Take a look at the various credit cards available in Singapore that can give you savings on petrol of up to 27.6% and in some cases cash back, too! Extra tip: if you really do need a car then think about using a car pooling scheme! This is a rapidly growing concept here in Singapore and not only saves you money, but also helps out the environment by having less cars on the road for the same journeys.
FUN DAYS OUT
Getting to your family day out via the MRT or bus will save you money before you even start the fun! And many of the main attractions in Singapore offer yearly memberships that are great value for money. Booking online generally gets you a discount on ticket prices, and also having your ID/FIN card to hand will often entitle you a concession rate. Don’t forget to check the height restrictions so your fun family day out doesn’t become a wasted trip…
If you’re looking to save some serious cash, annual memberships are one way to ensure a whole year of fun. Here are some of the annual memberships worth looking into (prices are based on an annual membership based for two adults and two children; other options also available):
Singapore Zoo is a destination that the family will never tire of, so well worth a yearly membership. The current price for a family is $205 for the year. And don’t forget to check out our guide to a day at Singapore Zoo!
River Safari is not available as a yearly membership option on its own, but you can combine it with the Singapore Zoo by purchasing a Friends of the Zoo membership for $125 all in with family packages for $285 just to give you an idea. There is a current promotion of 10% discount for annual passes from now until 31 August 2018 with the code NDFOW2018 so don’t miss out!
Night Safari is another great option at a great price for a yearly fee. For just $205 for the family, you can check out the lions in the dark all year round.
Jurong Bird Park tickets prices for local residents are currently $30 for adults and $20 for kids (age three-12 years). So for a total of $100 you and the family can check out the penguins and exotic feathery friends all year round.
There are lots of great combined memberships to be explored for the above options so have a look at which suits best before making your purchase!
Adventure Cove Waterpark, Sentosa has a yearly membership price of $98 per adult and $68 per child (ages four-12 years) giving a total of $332 for a year of unlimited soggy fun.
Universal Studios is one of the most popular days out for our family and so annual passes have been a big money saver. Adult membership is $188 each and $158 for the smaller family members (age 4-12 years) which is $692 of roller coaster thrills per annum. Want to plan your day, pick out the best attractions and learn how to beat the queues? Check out the HoneyKids essential guide to Universal Studios Singapore!
S.E.A Aquarium provides great fishy fun for all the family and a membership will set you back $88 per adult and $68 per child (age 4-12 years) giving a grand total of $312 for the entire year.
There are also combination packages to be had on the Resorts World attractions which will save a few more $$. Have a look at the membership packages to work out what the best cost effective package for your family will be.
Gardens by the Bay offers great value for money if you join for the year. While we all love the amazing free water play area at Gardens by the Bay, a family membership will stretch out your day at the Gardens: two adults and two kids (age three-12 years) can enjoy entry into the domes and up on the OCBC Sky Bridge for a total of $180 per annum. There are other options available for Friends of the Garden memberships, so take a look and start saving!
FREE (AND ALMOST FREE) ACTIVITIES FOR THE FAMILY
Aside from saving some money on the annual passes, there are also lots of cool FREE (and almost free) things to do with your family here in Singapore. It might be small in size, but Singapore is big on fun!
Storytelling, craft and singing at the library!
Most neighbourhoods have a local library for you and the family to go and browse the books and hang out reading stories (in the free air con!). Most libraries also run some great free storytelling sessions for those little ears to listen in on, and craft sessions, too (in Chinese or English). Spaces are limited so do check for details at your nearest library for sign up procedures and availability. Jiggle, Read & Rhyme, organised by the National Library Board, is another fun free session running island-wide which involves reading and singing for the younger kids. Membership and registration is free for all Singaporean citizens. PRs pay a one-off registration fee of $10.50, but membership is free. And foreigners need to register for $10.50 and then pay an annual fee of $42.80 per year. Foreign students who attend MOE schools, however, qualify for free membership (but still do have to pay the $10.50 registration fee).
The coastal parks are a always a great space to take the family to to burn off some steam on those bikes, roller blades and scooters. And once you are done with all that physical exertion, find a shady spot to enjoy a family picnic (check out our guide to picnic spots in Singapore here) and chill out in the sea breeze. All of the parks have kiosks aplenty to hire your scooters and bikes from for a small fee, or of course bring your own to make a cheap day even cheaper. Barbecue pits are available to hire if you fancy something a bit warmer than a cheese sandwich and bookings can be made online at East Coast Park, West Coast Park, and Pasir Ris Park. And don’t forget to see our guide to activities at East Coast Park, Singapore, and our article on enjoying a day with the kids at Singapore’s West Coast Park.
Or how about heading inland a bit and taking advantage of the patches of green that offer some really fun times for all? Hort Park can be found as part of the Southern Ridges, and is a great choice for learning a bit more about the flora and fauna here in the tropics. It is a one-stop gardening resource centre that will keep you busy under one big canopy in a park setting. Recreational and education resources galore!
Singapore Botanic Gardens is another perennial outdoor favourite for our kids. Pack a football and a picnic (and the bug spray) and spend the day exploring, checking out Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and generally being outside and tiring the family out. The Gardens also offers some really interesting free tours to sign up for if you want to do a bit of exploring beyond what the eye can immediately see. As well as the grown-up tours, there are often some really fun programs for the kids that you can check out in the calendar of events.
One of the many things Singapore is good at is shopping malls! And in these shopping malls there are some fantastic free water parks and playgrounds. Head to the roof with your swimmers (and your kids!) and have some wet fun for no cents at all. We have a fab guide outlining all of the free water play parks in Singapore you can take advantage of to keep your day cool and cheap!
Living in this part of the world means that we have some amazing destinations close by to jet/drive or boat to for a well-earned break. Trips out of town don’t have to bankrupt us in order to have a jolly holiday. Take a budget airline and use the savings for an extra pina colada or two at the beach! Jet Star, Scoot, Tiger Air and Air Asia all fly to some great locations for decent prices. Book early to get the best deals! Or choose a destination that you can take a boat to from Singapore, or drive to which will really cut transport costs. Singapore is super well connected by land and sea so put a pin on the map and take yourself to it by ferry or car! Need some inspiration for short breaks from Singapore by boat or a short flight? Check out these great Asian destinations.
Also, compare prices for hotels before you book, as advertised costs can vary quite a bit from site to site. Your first port of call for this process has to be good old TripAdvisor, which has a great price comparison tool. It is also worth contacting the hotels directly to see if they have any special offers they can roll out to you to help save a few more dollars. A lot of booking sites such as Agoda and Booking.com etc all have their own in-house points systems whereby the more you use them, the more points you accrue which you can redeem against future holidays. It is well worth signing up for newsletters and the free memberships online for all of the big booking sites and airlines.
If you can, then do take advantage of the credit cards available here in Singapore that will enable you to accumulate air miles. Earn air miles to redeem discounts, upgrades or even your entire airfare! Moneysmart has sourced the three best options for you so get collecting and book that free flight to Europe or beyond!
So there you have it. Having read this you can now go about implementing some money saving schemes to make those dollars stretch further each month without having to scrimp, nor move to Chennai (unless you want to).
Be frugal but have fun!