In recent weeks, the cost of living in Singapore has risen exponentially with electricity, fuel, transportation and food costs biting families in their wallet. How can we tackle these costs? Let me share some of my ideas, and please do contribute your ideas in the comments too.
The pandemic prepared us
The lockdowns and pandemic in Singapore have in some ways prepared us for the challenge of high inflation we face today. I remember that during the lockdown and pandemic that lasted about two years, we learned how to adjust ourselves to a simpler lifestyle. We ate out less, and cooked and ate in often. We even went marketing less to avoid crowds or we bought our food via Redmart, and stocked our fridges with as much fresh food as possible. Even fresh chicken became frozen chicken. We got used to eating frozen foods which were usually cheaper than the fresh version. We worked from home and saved a bundle on transportation costs. Perhaps the greatest savings came from being unable to travel overseas for vacation. We made do with staycations and outdoor pursuits like hiking and cycling- two activities which boomed during the pandemic. The current inflation can be handled by living like we did during the pandemic: the simplified life.
Pinch or punch
Many Singaporeans though are earning sufficiently as a family to feel only a pinch to their pockets and I do not see them alarmed by the rising costs (except for those who own cars), nor do I see them willing to sacrifice fine meals in restaurants, or even overseas vacations as costlier jet fuel impacts the cost of air travel. For the lower income earners, struggling single income families, and less resourced retirees the impact will be less of a pinch, and more of a punch in the stomach.
Newly minted retiree
As a fairly resourced newly minted retiree, it is not as bad. It has been a year and a half since I retired. I mostly live off my savings and my children’s generosity. I leave my CPF retirement income undrawn so that it continues to earn interest. I find that my needs have lessened considerably with retirement. I do not need to buy new clothes like I did before because my current wardrobe is more than adequate, and it keeps growing with my eldest son’s hand me downs. However, recently I had to buy shoes and quick-dry sports clothes from Decathlon for the new sport I adopted – pickleball.
My wife and I cook and eat home often. I prepare breakfast, she does lunch and dinner, thank God for her. She is happy whenever we fast from some meals. I have a hand me down bread making machine from another son, and I sometimes make bread. Nicer experience, healthier, cheaper. Two or three times a week we go out to the hawker center or malls for meals. For health’s sake, we try to eat the way our parents fed us: more vegetables and less meat. Besides health benefits, it costs less.
It seems that Singapore will move towards being more of a first world nation. In most of these countries, it is expensive to eat out, and people do it occasionally unlike in Singapore. Admittedly, it is wonderful that we had enjoyed first world efficiency, institutions, and standards and yet managed to keep eating out affordable, but now this seems to be gradually fading. Hawker food prices have been inching up, and it is set to increase considerably in the near future. In time, we will be like other first world nations.
Car and travel
When I see how the COE prices have escalated, I cannot but thank God that the ten years of COE I purchased costs only about $26,000 at the time I bought it. Now it is $73,000 (category C). Talk about inflation! My Toyota Allion is about 13 years old now and though fuel prices have rocketed, I do not drive as much as before retirement, but I still keep this little bit of luxury for convenience.
After retirement, I was hoping to travel and vegetate/hibernate overseas in different countries for about a month each. Not as a tourist flitting from one interesting place to another, but soaking and being fully present in a locality for a few weeks. But the pandemic crashed these plans. I was not deeply disappointed though. Travel is fun, but I would not feel less alive if I am deprived of it. When I was working, travel was like a temporary escape bubble, to take my mind and emotions off stressful situations, albeit for a week or two. I prefer silent retreats as they are more like a decompression chamber, a healing room, a car servicing center, a spa where I soak in God’s love. Now that I have retired, I find less need of a vacation to destress. If I do travel, it will probably for interest, for friendship, for family, for discovery not recovery.
From production to reduction, accumulation to consumption
In retirement and during the pandemic, I find myself in a natural process of moving from production to reduction. However, this does not have to mean that I stifle or strangulate myself from enjoyment. I do not have to be stingy towards myself or others. Nor do I have to be less hospitable.
Retirement is also a movement from wealth accumulation towards consumption, from less saving to more spending. The squirrel gathers food for winter in order to consume it not to further preserve it. Whatever I have (whether saved or given to me) still belongs to the Lord and he is not a tight-fisted nor stingy. Rather he is very generous and is happy to bless me, his son, and see me enjoying the good things he has provided. I can still give to the church and those in needs, buy people meals, and buy myself things for my hobbies. When I see my grand-children doing life without worry because they know they have parents who provide for them, I want to have that child-like trust in my Father in heaven, who promised to love and provide for me in my old age: “Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).
Yet I save money whenever and wherever I can, if it is sensible. I like Carousell. I have bought quite a number of pre-loved things like camera lenses, furniture, bicycle and bicycle accessories and have been satisfied with them. Now with the impending GST increase from Jan 2023, I need to think of any big-ticket items I may need and consider buying them earlier. With Malaysia opening up, making a day trip up would be a good money saver for certain items as well as having good food at affordable prices.
Reduce debt and be debt-free
I also maintain as far as possible a freedom from the debt trap. I do this as part of my stewardship values: to borrow as little as possible and to live within my means. Credit card debt is a big “No” for me. Any loans taken must be justifiable (house, car – if needed for work), and payable without being stifling or suffocating. I would not take loans for renovations, travel or big-ticket consumer items. Loans are to be taken seriously and paid back responsibly and diligently, reducing the principal as often and as soon as possible. Very conservative, you might say. However, it fits my faith conviction that borrowers are the tail and not the head. Borrowers are slaves at the mercy of lenders and interest rates they have no control of. With this kind of practice, I worry less and have maximum flexibility to live without being bound to a means of livelihood.
Godliness with contentment
I find joy in my relationships with God, family, church, and friends. I find joy in ministry, spiritual growth, hobbies like hiking, cycling, photography, writing, reading, and lately a new sport I picked up called pickleball. This last sport has enlarged the circle of people I am getting to know. When I am deeply and widely connected with God and people, I become more whole, integrated and life takes on greater depth, because we were created in God’s image, and God is love, which is found in meaningful relationships. Indeed, as St Paul teaches, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).
It is natural to complain about rising prices but I find it self-defeating and depressing. I find it more fruitful and blessed to be thankful for everyone, and for everything that God has provided and will provide in the future. It is so good to be thankful that I have a loving and faithful God in every situation I find myself in. I rest in the blessedness of knowing I am deeply loved, greatly blessed and highly flavoured (deliberately misspelled). It is time for me and you to live out the songs we sing every Sunday!
This is how I tackle rising prices, but my life is relatively simple. Others have much more complicated lives. God has blessed some with millions and God would require more of them in faithful stewardship. Others run businesses and have employees. Others support a large extended family. Then there are people in the opposite spectrum: those who have gambling or shopping addictions or heavy credit card debt. They are at a loss. I encourage them to obtain financial advice from godly money management experts. In the meantime, pick up some of the above ideas that are applicable for you! These are matters about which we can agree to disagree. So be at peace. God bless you!