The cost of living is not high…

inflated HDB estate

…it is your quality of living that is.

Yesterday morning at a casual Sunday breakfast at the local kopitiam, I had the pleasant experience of bantering with a Mr. Koh, who is in his 70s. Koh is the 5th of a family of seven and he told me something that I thought would make social media mayhem.

“You all young people, think too much lah. Want to get married, get married lah! Want to have children, have children lah! In the past, we had no money, we had not much food…and to save money we studied by the moonlight and candles!” he said.

“Yes Mr. Koh, but today things are different! Milk powder costs about $80 a can, we have to work to pay for mortgages and our salaries aren’t that high either…” I told him. That was when he started getting furious.

“Young man, do you know how much my salary was last time? Compared to today you fellas earn so much more!”

“You want to talk about mortgages? My mother didn’t even have a house to start with…all seven of us had to squeeze into one tiny room! And you complain about milk? I grew up drinking condensed milk, none of this DHA nonsense that you young people have. In our family we have lawyers and teachers…so what if we were raised without good diapers or expensive milk?!” said Mr. Koh with a fuming face.

Why is it that in the past, our grandparents could raise 7, even 10 children on simple wages and a simple life?

I’ll tell you what has changed: the emergence of powerful advertisements, persuasive marketing and more fancy products that “you couldn’t do without”.

If we took a tray of coffees in a taste test: an 80 cents coffeeshop coffee, a Wang’s coffee and a Spinellis and put them to a blind test, I guarantee you can’t tell the difference.

If you ask any mother on the street why she choses the most expensive milk powder on the shelf, she’ll tell you that it is “good”, but she won’t be able to tell you why and what ingredients make it “good”.

Did you know that the difference between a Malaysian infant milk powder and a Singaporean milk powder are exactly the same for some brands? In other brands, you’ll find that the cheaper Malaysian one has a few minerals missing – but all these extra minerals do is make expensive urine and nothing more.

Einstein never grew up on Similac Gain IQ.

None of the worlds greatest leaders, artists, economists and athletes that lived before us needed Enfagrow with its 360DHA nonsense. In fact, they may have drunk milk that was infected with bacteria and grew up none the worse.

Marketeers use fear and temptation to get you to spend more money – and that’s all there is to it. I put it in a fancy cup, I call it “Starbucks” and I tell you that you’re “buying an experience and not just coffee” and suddenly you think nothing of spending $7 on a cup of coffee.

Fairprice house brand bread is made by Sunshine. The same factory, the same machines, the same flour is used to make the same bread. Except that when you see the Fairprice label on it you think “yeeeee, if so cheap surely quality not good one”.

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You could get good hawker food (with drinks) for less than $5, you don’t need a cafe meal at $20.

You don’t need to travel by taxi all the time or own a car, even with all these transport issues the MRT is still the most effective way to move around the island.

You don’t need to stay in a condominium – some of the richest people I know live in HDBs and own condos to rent out to people who will pay for it.

“You put a swimming pool in the building and suddenly stupid people are willing to pay $4k a month for a 3 room condo. At the end of the day, you won’t even be using the facilities! Better you go out and join the gym right?” said Mr. Koh. “…and when I stay in the HDB, I get town council rebates, I get GST rebates for electricity and my utility bills are cheaper. I stay in a condo, everything is double the price…because why? Because condo. Con job more like it”
Mr. Koh then left me with this quote:

“You all modern Singaporeans, you all are so lucky. You have choices. If you want to buy expensive milk powder, eat at cafes and spend your money on expensive shoes – go ahead. But don’t forget that you have choices. If you chose the expensive one, don’t complain that the cost of living has gone up” he said.

“It is your expectations that have gone up and you jolly well work hard to pay for those”.




  1. My dad started with a $700 per month salary, his first 5 room HDB flat was $35,000

    Fast forward 30 years, My starting pay maybe 2-3x his starting pay, but my house cost 15x more!!!

    How’s that for perception? Mr Koh obviously didn’t have this perspective cause his HDB flat was very very cheap compared to the median income to his generation.

  2. Sorry but this old man need to get in times. He doesn’t care what he gives to his kid is his problem. As we all know it is in every parents instinct to provide the best for their children (as much as you can afford of course) This old man is generalizing, I know of people who have low wages, super thrifty and struggling. Having kid is a huge problem. Take example my brother, he has a govt job, pay problem is average, and he has a daughter, childcare every month is about 600+, 700. He tried to get the cheaper childcare but they were FULL so he has no choice, my sis-in-law has to get a job that allows her to leave on time so she can pick up my niece which means= low pay. My mum has to work so she can afford to put fresh food on the table, my dad recently retired and me earning just enough for myself, to pay the utilities bill, internet bill and give my parents what little i have left. My brother wants a second child but how to pay for 2 childcare in a month? That is about 1.4k. Mind you my brother is super thrifty, to the point where I cannot stand him sometimes.

    This uncle has already gone through this, thats why he so ballsy to say such nonsense. His time one plate of noodles 1cents, now 1 plate of Fishball noodle in foodcourt can cost up to $5! He everyday go kopithiam and chill but not everyone has a kopithiam near their house or on their way back. So the next time you see this uncle you should tell him to keep his ignorant comments to himself. If he is not currently supporting a few kids in this harsh environment, he should not be commenting so much when he knows shit. Tell him to shut his trap… and stop generalising everyone. Not everyone eat $20+ cafe food everyday, some can’t even afford to try it.

    1. The funny thing is that for all your ranting, it is exactly what the ‘uncle’ was talking about. :)

      It’s a about choices and how we live by it.

    2. Is a misunderstanding, what this uncle ( Mr. Koh ) say is spent wisely within your meet, of course if you can afford it why not . He’ve no right to stop you but don’t complain if you cannot . Think positive be happy and work hard for a better future for your family and yourself. One day you’ll repeat with Mr. Koh words to the next generation when you’re his age.

  3. He is talking about perceived choices. Of course there is a choice. In the past, he could rely on cheap basics that aren’t adulterated as they are today (sugar loaded, fillers, carbohydrate-ful, etc) and that can keep his family fed and healthy but try doing that with today’s quality of basics and you and your kids will quickly slide into a life of ill-health and dysfunction.

    Also, if he were to have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to see that Singapore never improved an iota from the past standard of living, would he be very sad indeed.

  4. Oh dear, this REALLY got my goat.
    Why our parents want a better life for us, and we want a better for our children?
    NOT to become fat, lazy, and stupid. We know instinctively, better standard of living means longer lifespan, stronger body, healthier mind, a richer, more enjoyable life. Multiply that by a community, by a nation, we have a people that could weather the worst life can throw at us, make the most of any opportunity, and prosper without leaving anyone behind. That’s human instinct 101, your “happiness quotient”, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
    If the population is NOT growing, talking cock and shifting blame is of little use. The fact is we’ve simply aim at the wrong target, then our objectives need adjusting. If it was so easy, we wouldn’t have needed history’s great thinkers, religions and science, to work on it for so long. We must have the courage to make adjustments, move on, face the results, and made another adjustment, ad infinitum.
    Average lifespan for my generation living in industrialised country is predicted to be 100, no special genes needed. I hope people like this uncle get some education, if he lives another 30 years, it’s 30 years of dragging down people around him with misinformation. He is preaching to the wrong crowd with his austerity speech. If he thinks he got the right answer, he won’t help to find a new answer.
    And that kind of stubbornness is contagious.

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  6. I Think that there are things in the article that made sense and some are not entirely correct.

    things that made sense
    1) leaders and great thinkers often did not grew up in superior environment. tough times make tough people
    2) expectations has gone up
    3) quality of life have increased.

    Things that i do not think are accurate
    a) he mixed up quality of life and cost of living

    cost of living can be more accurately attributed to CPI. go singstats and pull out stats in the 60s. cpi is 24 with 2015 as base yr.. my mum in the 60s earned 1.2k for an entry job.. which should be equivalent to a 5k entry job in today. but our median wage for 2014 is 3.77k

    pls do not use mean as it is skewed by price distortion due to massive income inequality.

    b) coffee difference? Hell yea. i assure u everyone can taste the diff between a kopitiam, yakun, and a sidamo african. spinelli and starbucks serve crap coffee.

    k, my pt is that ppl/coy add stuff for a reason. do these additions work? are they value for the money? subjective and it may just be a marketing gimmick.

    c)cheap stuff = bad? not necessary, but they are cheap for a reason. Producers deter inflation costs by introducing new chemicals/processes/preservatives/whatever works. cheap coffee can be derived because farmers use pesticides.. food can be cheaper today because they are GMed and many other processes are used. How pesticides affected coffee and GMed food served you in the longer run?

    in short, we are a better informed generation who constantly weigh our material satisfaction against my ability to support it. It’s all about value. buying loaf of bread that contains no preservatives for 30cents more? I think it is worth it.

    quality of life increased? Yes! but dont forget, Consumer price index increased too. Housing increased 4 to 5 folds in the last 2 decades, not withstanding cost of compounding interest in the years to come.

    what im saying is that we are more informed, so we became picky but our complaints are true. But only losers wallow in self-pity, we live on and decides the life we want to lead.

    If cost of raising a kid is high and i dont want to sacrifice my comfort for more kids, i have the freedom to do it.

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