Mitigating costs of living in Singapore

In a previous article, a Mr. Koh said that our cost of living is “not high”. If it is not, then why is the internet always exploding with news that Singapore is “unaffordable”?

The media loves sensational news. And one of the sensational things that’s played repeatedly on media is that of Singapore being the most expensive city to live in. 2015 is the second consecutive year the Republic topped the list.

The bi-annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) comprises 133 cities across the globe, with New York as the benchmark. The costs of more than 160 services and products including food, clothing and utility bills were compared.

A few comparisons were highlighted:

  • 11% more expensive in basic groceries
  • Three-fold in transport costs
  • Cars buyers must bid for a limited number of permits auctioned by the Government
  • Excise and registration duties (Certificate of Entitlement, COE) are more than double the vehicle’s market value

The question is: Is it really all that expensive for Singaporeans? I get by with a bowl of noodles for $3.50 and a drink for $1.20ish… $30 on my EZ-link lasts me for a week (it’s even lower when I purchase concession passes). Phone bills are about $50 a month… For me, that’s all the living expenses I pay.

Alright, I concede that I’ve got no home loans to pay (and that’s paid through CPF anyway), and I have neither utility bills nor children’s education to account for yet. So I was curious; for the rest of Singaporeans who have families to support, how is the Government helping to mitigate costs of living here?


1. GST Voucher

This is a permanent voucher set in Budget 2012, it will go on to benefit 1.6 million Singaporeans this year.

How it works: You pay GST every time you purchase something. But you get paid back every year through the GST Voucher (Cash, Medisave and U-Save) handed out by the Government. This is only eligible to those from the middle-income tier and below.

Around 800,000 eligible households will also stand to receive the Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) rebate, which will offset half a month to one month of charges, depending on their HDB flat type.

It pretty much means that the rich gets taxed more than us. (Closing the rich-poor gap? Check.)


2. School Fees

Free school uniform, free textbooks, transport subsidies, bursaries… All these are granted to those with gross household income less than $2,500/month or per capita income less than $625/month under the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) for Government and Government-Aided Schools.

Students who have the calibre to study in independent schools are not left out either. They stand to benefit from the MOE Independent School Bursary (ISB):


Cost of education should not be hindrance to one’s future. Everyone should have the opportunity to excel to their full potential. If you remember the tear-jerking video “Last Day Of School”, you will come to know of NTUC Income’s OrangeAid. Besides that, there is also the NTUC U Care Back To School (BTS) Vouchers; just to name a few.


A quick glance at school fees for Singapore Management University (SMU), you can see that the MOE Tuition Grant has reduced the cost of tertiary education for Singapore Citizens by more than three times. (The same goes for a list of other Polytechnics and institutions.) A wide range of scholarships and bursaries is also available to further defray costs.


3. Medical Expenses

Free healthcare is definitely a non-sustainable fiscal burden. But we’ve got the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), Caregivers Training Grant (CTG), drug subsidies… Too many schemes to name, in fact.

What if you’re completely broke and have not even a cent for the doctor? Well, there’s Medifund. Medifund is a pool of money set aside by the government to help needy individuals who cannot afford to pay even their subsidised medical bills, despite Medisave and MediShield coverage.


4. Housing Grants

While the cost of a HDB flat is more unarguably more expensive than some 20 years ago, we have to be reasonable by taking inflation and our increased wages into account. Nonetheless, Government help is also present with more housing grants. (And yes, we can pay for our flats using CPF.)



Relief by private organisations

On top of the above, we also have subsidies and schemes from time to time (taking on different names and forms to meet our changing needs). Such is the $35 million “Big Value Bag” initiative launched by NTUC Social Enterprises to help us with the rising costs of living.



“As a social enterprise… we squeeze our margins… so that no Singaporean needs to fear the cost of living.”  NTUC Secretary-General, Chan Chun Sing.


We can’t purport that our Government doesn’t care at all. We can’t dismiss its efforts just because our unreasonable desires for free healthcare like the National Health Service in England or abolition of the vehicle-permit system are not met.

Singapore is smaller than New York City. It has a population density of about 7,600/sqKm, while New York City has a population density of about 2,050/sqKm.

We cannot expect to own a car as easily as the New Yorkers, unless we are looking at creating our own Singapore haze. To extrapolate, think health problems, breakdown of delivery systems, shut-down of businesses, loss of jobs…

We can’t expect housing to be cheap with our limited land and growing population either; and we can’t pin the blame on the influx of foreigners. Moreover, foreigners don’t share all of the above entitlements. The cost of living here is more likely to be expensive for expats but manageable to Singapore citizens.

Some things have to be given up for even greater things, c’est la vie. While we remain disgruntled (as we always are…), let’s not lose sight of what’s still good among the seemingly bad.



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