You can never be too skinny or too rich. So say some.
Be it in dollar, euro, pound or peso, money is something that many people think about all the time.
According to the recent The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, as reported by The Telegraph, my home country – Singapore, has been rated the most expensive city in the world. For the fourth time!
So I cannot blame people for the common perception that all Singaporeans are rich. But that cannot be further from the truth.
When the cost of living is high, it takes a toll on its people. Obviously, not everyone is in the top 1% (I am definitely not) What the report did not cover is the fact that Singaporeans work long hours to keep up with the standard of living and are often stressed out by the possibility of not being able to make ends meet.
My husband and I were fortunate to hold good jobs that bring in stable income that allowed us certain indulgences if we so wish. It was essentially a dual-income family with no children. But even then, I know how tough it can be financially if we have a child and one of us (probably me) were to stop work for a while to look after the child. Apart from the changing mindset of young, married couples (career-first, lifestyle choice etc.), that is one of the reasons why the birth rate is fast declining. It is an expensive city and even more so to bring up a child. Keeping up with the Joneses is a choice but most parents are extremely competitive.
Having said that, it is only after we moved to Toronto that I realised I have taken for granted some of the things I used to enjoy without thinking much about it, and of course, some great stuff in Toronto that I wish I can have back home.
Public transport: I was unpleasantly surprised that each trip on the TTC costs C$3.25! So if I decide to venture out, I need to spend C$6.50 on a return trip. And that’s if I am only headed to a single location. The system also benefits only those who travel a longer distance.
Depends on how you look at it, it may encourage walking if the distance is manageable but what happens when there are rain and snow storms? Sure, cars are relatively affordable here but what if I do not own one, a parking lot or know how to drive? Back home, public transport is decent and one can travel to various parts of the island quickly and affordably – less than half of what it costs here.
Food: Ever since my ‘metamorphosis’ into a dependent, I have become more sensitive to the price of goods and to my surprise, food is much more expensive here in Toronto than in Singapore.
While you get more high-quality fresh produce here that may be slightly more affordable than back home, restaurants and cafes prices are higher. Even fast food is so pricey. So if you do not cook, then eating out (and not fast food) is an expensive affair.
For example, a Chinese takeout from a simple food court stall consisting of rice or noodles with two types of meat or vegetables cost almost C$9 plus tax. That same price can feed 2-3 people back home, like for like.
Surprisingly, the bill is lower here for the more classy, high-end restaurants compared to Singapore. Back home, you pay a really high premium if you dine in a top Japanese or French restaurant – easily S$200 a head.
Tax (Gosh, the tax!): 13%! On everything! When I get excited about a certain item, be it on the price tag or menu, I always want to kick myself when the time comes to show them the money. It’s like those travel discount websites where the final price of the plane tickets on sale is not really as attractive as it seems after all the ‘extras’ are included.
Back home, tax is about 50% less.
Tipping: I acknowledge that for most of the American and European worlds, tipping is a norm. At some places, it is an absolute must, unless you are prepared to be humiliated and never to return.
The tipping culture is something I do not understand. Isn’t the rationale for tipping, a form of reward – voluntary on the part of the giver – for the great service provided? So why does it feel like it is mandatory? In Singapore, tipping is not a must as there is usually a 10% service charge included in the restaurant bill. If you have received excellent service and want to tip above and beyond the bill, it’s purely your choice and you will not be made to feel like you owe them something. Here, if you do not tip between 15-20%, even if you have received lousy service, be prepared to be screamed at or given the evil eye.
So, while my home country is and has been the most expensive country for the last few years, there are several parts of it that one can only appreciate after moving away and experiencing life in another country.
One thing that may make my Canadian friends feel better about car ownership here compared to Singapore.
I was at the 2017 Auto Show recently and was shocked (actually more amused and annoyed with my home country) to find that a BMW – what most would call a luxury sports car costs almost 500% less! There is no restriction for how many cars or the number of years you can own your car. In Singapore, your car is only yours for a maximum of 10 years and you can ‘renew your right’ to own your car for another decade by paying an arm and a leg for the certificate issued by the government.
A basic car that gets one from point A to point B – a Toyota Corolla costs about $120,000 Singapore dollars. Singapore dollar is now almost on par with the Canadian dollar. Go figure.
Any $$$ saving tips in this lovely city? Do share!