How do young couples cope with the financial woes of tying the knot?
Is getting married becoming more of a financial arrangement?
What impact does this have on couples’ everyday lives?
Saw this article on Singaporeans having children earlier and earlier? Reminded me of a good friend of mine.
Clara, who’s only 24 years old and a media executive, is already finalising the paperwork on a 4-room HDB flat with her boyfriend of 2 years.
Why the rush? Is housing in Singapore so rare that one needs to plan 5 to 10 years ahead? Or am I a bit too relaxed on such life-changing decisions?
I decided to pay her a visit and record our conversation. Some of my questions may seem trivial, but that’s only because as a foreigner in Singapore I am genuinely interested – and at times surprised – at the way things work here.
Me: So let me get this straight: you’re 24 and you already own your own flat?
C: Yes, it will be built around 2016, latest 2017.
Me: Oh, so right now it’s paid for but it isn’t built yet?
C: Yeah, we paid the option fee, and we’re waiting to pay the deposit in February.
Me: OK. So your husband and you are in the first stages of paying for it then.
C: Yes, except we’re not married. Before we get the flat we’ll have to produce the marriage certificate, but until then we don’t need to be married.
Me: Oh, so first comes the flat and then comes the marriage?
C: In my case, yes. We need to get married at the latest in mid-2016, we get the certificate, and then we get the keys to our brand new flat, which will have been reserved for a while.
Me: Wow, that’s a pretty big purchase for an unmarried couple! How long have you and your boyfriend been together?
C: Two years. But we were very good friends for about 4 years before becoming a couple.
Me: So you guys started talking about buying a flat really quickly!
C: Well, we didn’t really plan for it. It just happened. When my father first met my boyfriend he asked him what his plans in life were, and that conversation triggered discussions on the best time to buy a flat. According to my dad it takes about 5 years to find a suitable HDB flat, so he convinced my boyfriend to not waste any more time. In the meantime, my boyfriend’s father told us of a central residential area that was to be developed, so we started looking on the HDB website for more information. We found Built to Order listings and then decided to ballot for it.
Me: What’s “ballot”?
C: “Ballot” means that the number of available BTO units is limited, so couples or families need to get in the queue. The way I understood, the position in the queue is determined by various administrative and financial factors. We were very lucky to get the flat at our first try, as there were some 400 units and more than 3000 families balloting for them!
Me: So that means that even if you have the money and everyone in the family agrees that this is the flat for you, you’re not sure of getting it?
C: Well, there’s limited space in Singapore, so obviously there’s a limit to the number of available flats! I have many friends who have been waiting for a few years, and they still haven’t been able to get the flat they want!
Me: Well, in any case, that’s a pretty big step for a 24 year-old!
C: Yes, I think so too! We’re trying not to rush things too much, which is why we’re each staying with our respective families before our flat is ready. So in that sense things haven’t changed too much for us. But on the other hand, my boyfriend’s father is the one who really wanted this flat. My father initiated the discussion, but he was speaking about the future, as in “one day you’ll look for a flat”. But his dad told us the area being built was very good, and he even offered to give us the deposit money to be able to get it.
Me: So if it had been only up to you and your boyfriend you may not have rushed things so much?
C: Probably not, as we wouldn’t have had the money to have a viable application!
Me: I see. And I suppose that along with the flat came the discussion of starting a family?
C: Yes, actually! Both our mothers got involved in the whole process, so now when they see some furniture or decoration they say things like “oh, this would look so nice in the baby’s room”. So naturally my boyfriend and I have had to discuss this, even though I feel we still have time for that.
Me: Sounds like a serious discussion! Can I ask what would happen if either of you decides to break up before the flat is received or before you’re finished paying for it?
C: The thing is that the 5% deposit is about $30,000 and his family is paying for it, so…
Me: So…you’re kind of trapped?
C: No, not trapped, because I think we are together for good. But if one of us decided to break up before the flat is completed then whoever paid for the deposit loses that money, which is him. Once the flat is completed we’ll both be paying for the monthly instalments from our CPF. But then I’m not sure what happens if we as a couple decide not to go any further. I haven’t even thought about that!
Me: Do you feel any pressure?
C: I think there is some pressure for us to not lose our jobs until the flat is paid for! We are both degree holders, so I’m not so worried, but I still feel that a lot of money will go into furnishing the place, renovating it, the wedding, the honeymoon, etc. All these expenses kind of make me weary of the future, but at the same time the earlier we do all this, the earlier we are done with it!
Me: If I were you I’d be too scared to even come out!
C: Well, that’s the way it is for most people in Singapore, I think. The system may not be the most romantic of all, since instead of romantic gestures to get married we started calculating what type of flat we can afford together, but it allows us to get what we need. It’s more of a business transaction that makes it complicated to change your mind, but I guess if you’re sure about your love for your partner it makes sense!
Me: So to summarise, how is your day-to-day life affected by the way things are done here?
C: Right now, not so much. We each have our jobs, we stay in our respective families’ house, and we see each other on weekends. But I think I’ll feel the change once the flat is completed and we’re living in it as a married couple. Right now it seems so far away that I don’t even see it as a reality, but once I’m sleeping in it it’ll all make sense. I think.