How I Tackle Rising Cost of Living

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! 

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Joining My Wife In Pickleball

I have picked up a new sport: pickleball. My wife has been with this sport for decades and have often asked me to join her. Time never permitted me this luxury during my pastoral ministry. Now with more time at hand, I joined her and gave it a try. I liked it and discovered a few things about it.

  • This sport is getting popular in Singapore. In USA, it is attracting the younger adults, and convincing tennis players to convert to pickleball. This is very evident in YouTube, which  now has hundreds of instructional videos on pickleball skills,  and increased visibility of pickleball tournaments. The People’s Association introduced the sport decades ago to get the seniors to be active. I must say they have succeeded supremely in bringing seniors of both sexes, but particularly the ladies into this new sport.
  • This sport has elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis in it. I only needed a paddle (the racquet that looks like an enlarged table tennis paddle), and a pair of court shoes.
  • It is fun and exciting. You can play for 11 points or 15 points, and usually we played doubles, which makes teamwork a must. 
  • It is easy to pick up but takes time to master. I needed to do a lot of drills to train my muscle memory with new strokes and movements.
  • My tennis background helps as well as hinders. I had to unlearn certain rules, positioning, and my old habits of volleying often gets in the way of effective pickleball play.
  • It is a great aerobic exercise. When I first began, I was usually out of breath after two consecutive games. I had to run quickly up and down the court to make a return, or to get to the non-volley zone. My heart rate goes up and stays up when the game gets intense. It is good for my heart. It was so much fun, I forget that I ran a lot.
  • I need to be alert and react quickly to shots, because the court is smaller than a tennis court, and the balls come flying from the opponent’s court as quickly as it gets off my paddle. 
  • I got to meet new people, mainly adults in their 50s and 60s. Many of them were inspiring. Recently I saw a player who has played for more than twenty years. He is in his 80s, and he played very well, and with greater fitness than me. I hope I can reach his level of fitness. Already I have seen how playing this sport has increased my fitness, so much so I do not huff and puff during my hikes or rides.
  • Many sport centers and community clubs have pickleball as one of the sports they offer. I first played pickleball in a open air badminton court in Bukit Panjang, and an indoor court in Bukit Batok during the covid restrictions which limited us to four players a court and no intermingling with other groups. Now I play at Jurong West Sports Center, near the Pioneer MRT station.

It is good to have an additional common leisure activity that both my wife and I can enjoy together. My wife joined me in hiking long ago and we both still enjoy it. She tried cycling with me but is not as enthusiastic about it as I still am. Now that I have joined her in her interest and found it fun, we have an added common activity that we both enjoy. This can only be good and enrich our marriage and promote good health. 

If you want to picture what pickleball is like, have a look at this video from YouTube:

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In Close Quarters With Covid-19

My brother in law Simeon Poh was infected by covid-19. He was coughing badly in my home. We tested him quickly and the ART test showed he had covid-19. We were distressed as we searched for more information, and made calls to hotlines, and looked for clinics that were open on a Sunday. When we finally went to the 24 hours clinic at Jurong Gateway nearby, Simeon went through another ART test and PCR test in the clinic. We were later told that within 24 hours we would be contacted and Simeon would be sent to a care facility. 

Ups and Downs

We waited for the call while we bought things he may need and went to his home to help him pack his clothes, medicine and other stuff. We were told he would be housed in D’ Resorts at Pasir Ris, which looked good in the pictures in the internet. By Monday 5pm he was driven there in a car. We were thankful to God that everything went smoothly. 

However, after a day at D’ Resort he was sent back at 9pm on Tuesday. My niece ART tested him and he ran positive. Why then was he sent back home? More distress. My wife made many calls and we were told to wait while they checked on what happened. The Ministry of Health hotline folks finally called, and on Wednesday he was sent to NTUC Tampines Nursing Home. Evidently, he did not know how to take his own blood pressure and temperature, record the details, and use his mobile to send it back to the nurse’s station daily. Well, he is over seventy years old and use of mobile phone cannot be taken for granted! Supposedly he was to be sent to another place but they mistakenly sent him home! 

Anyway we were thankful that he was finally sent to a nursing home and they were excellent and professional, giving us regular updates about his situation and calling us for details about his other medications. This is certainly a more suitable place for Simeon and he was settled there. 

Finally, after the few days of feeling stressed, relieved, and then stressed again, we had a breather. We thought it would be nine days from the time he was infected but we were to be surprised again! They called us on Friday and told us Simeon can go home on Saturday, even if the ART test shows positive, because he is no longer infectious by the seventh day! This was new to me! Therefore, he returned home by taxi on Saturday at 2pm with running nose and cough still evident. This seems to be the current protocol. It keeps being updated as new studies and information about omicron is received, analysed and acted upon.

Still We Are Thankful

We had no choice in this and were thankful that our government had these care centres for those who cannot manage isolation on their own for various reasons. The only payments we made were for the clinic ($10 – subsidized heavily), and taxi fare ($22) home, and the care he received in the isolation centres were free of charge. Thankful to God.

However, I received a Health Risk Notice on Thursday, 10th March. I was to stay at home and monitor my health until the final day and my final ART test on 14 March. Of course, I could go out if my ART test was negative but I did not. I did three ART tests: one before, and one when I received the notice, and one at the end. All negative.

Strangely my wife never received a notice even though she was the “closer” contact. Nevertheless, we both took the necessary restrictions seriously and we cancelled quite a number of appointments, even though our ART test were negative, knowing that people may not be comfortable, but were unable to express it. 

The stress never ends. Today I heard my nephew now has been infected….

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A Covid-19 Chinese New Year

It was a calm, peaceful and quiet Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration 2022, not a tigerish one. Not that there was nothing to do. We had family visits and meals over four days. My wife cooked and had family over every day for four consecutive days.

The Eve

On Chinese New Year eve’s evening, my son Joshua, nephew and niece, Paul and Bethany Lee, and brother in law Simeon Poh came to my home for steamboat (what else?) reunion dinner. It was pleasant but we missed the usual crowd, which normally included my son Matthew’s family of Juyoung, Chloe and Claire; my daughter Elaine, and daughter in law Ping, and sister in law Baby and husband Jack. Yes, it used to require two tables, but I loved the crowd and chatter and the company of my grandchildren. This sounds rather strange for an introvert to say, but I guess as I grow older I kind of balance off with more extroversion. Then on the fifth day of CNY I met with my brothers and their wives. The week went so quickly I was curious how it sped by.

CNY 1st Day

The first day of CNY, we went to the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery to visit our departed loved ones. The Garden of Remembrance was sheltered but not the gravesite, where we ended up searching for Jenny’s mum gravesite, and my departed son Caleb’s gravesite – an unmarked grave. It was traumatic for me and my wife when the Lord took our twin son home six days after birth, and we sort of left the grave without any tombstone, as our burden laid elsewhere since the surviving twin-brother Joshua needed a lot of medical attention, and it also took many years for us to be healed of the grief and pain of loss. We will have to go back again another day and seek the help to locate his grave, as we simply couldn’t find it with the information we got from the cemetery office.

CNY 5th Day

After the dinner at my eldest brother’s home, I saw some old black and white photographs of me and my younger sister, took our my mobile, and shot a few of them. Those were the days when photos were mainly black and white. I am surprised they did not fade even after sixty years in storage. The many photographs perked my curiosity as I tried to figure out who is who, and smiled at the hairstyles and dressing of those days. Looking at these old photographs are fun and makes for good conversations and learning about our family of origin and our relatives. It also made me realize that some of them are no longer with us and in a matter of two or three decades, neither would we be around. Will my children and grandchildren be swiping their iPads and looking at snazzy unfadable colour pictures of us and reminiscing about the “good old days”? I hope so! If they remembered us there is a high chance they can learn something of the wisdom of the past, even if it is what not to do.

In All Things Thankful

I feel thankful for the opportunities to meet up over meals despite the restrictions to a maximum of five visitors per day and visit. If it helps to minimize the spread of Covid 19, I am most willing to do my part. Despite Singaporeans trying their level best, the number of infections tripled during the CNY period. I pray regularly for Singapore and all the countries around us, asking God to extend his mercy upon us and help us win the fight against Covid 19. I also pray often for the bold and powerful preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ and for souls to be saved and saints to be revived. The pandemic has ripened the crops and the harvest is ready for churches and Christians to reap and bring the harvest in. May the Lord enable us to do this with diligence for “he who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame”(Proverbs 10:5 ESV).

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Why Pursue Spiritual Direction Course

I am thankful that by God’s grace, my parents who were not church goers sent me to Sunday School in Bukit Timah Evanglical Free Church when I was in primary school. For a few years of intermittent attendance, I was introduced to Jesus, the gospel stories, the church. Even after I stopped attending, I was more open to Christianity. Thank you Lord, for without my knowing it, you were already wooing me when I was a young boy.

This divine wooing resumed when I was in secondary four, for a friend passed me a yellow booklet called “The Four Spiritual Laws”. I read it a few times and prayed the sinner’s prayer a few times. However, I told no one and my faith was inert, a dead faith. Thank God this would not remain so for too long. The wind of the Spirit blew where it willed and he chose to come like a monsoon that rained upon the nation in the early 1970s. 

Spiritual Intensity

I was caught up in this spiritual revival that was poured out upon the nation. One of the theatres of spiritual stirrings begun in Dunearn Secondary Technical School (where NJC now sits) and spread rapidly to other students from various schools through the inter-school youth meetings of those days. Many experienced a crying revival of repentance and transformation, with the baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues. My life with God was intense, purgative, deep, empowering, life-changing, unforgettable. It laid the foundation for what God had for me in later years. I found myself driven with great earnestness towards spiritual disciplines, even to extremes at times. There was a great hunger for God and the things of God.  I grew in scripture knowledge, involvement in ministry, discipling, teaching, preaching, and leadership responsibilities. I experienced many intimate and intense moments with God in lengthy days of prayer and fasting. I experienced the thrill of being used by God in spiritual gifts as I ministered in the church, receiving affirmation and helping me see what vocation God had for me. Lord this was a beautiful, memorable time in my salvation history. It is so sacred, so holy and something I treasure so much. Thank you, Lord. 

The intensity and depth of the Spirit’s work in my soul led me to answer God’s call to the pastoral ministry. It was done with much consultation with the elders and with much patience and submission. The regular scripture meditations stacked up to finally quit cadet teaching and enter full-time Christian vocational work in church, with the elders’ approval. My theological education commenced with Tung Ling Bible School and then Trinity Theological College. By then the revival had waned, and so had my fire of intimacy with God, buried as I was in dry theological readings and assignments. 

Pastoral Ministry & Burnout

Pastoral ministry was challenging and for many reasons I felt overwhelmed at times. During my forty years of pastoral work, I can clearly identify two periods of burnout. In both bouts it was the Lord who came to my rescue. I ended up in both times in retreat houses and found my recovery through silent retreats and spiritual direction. The stillness and silence, the separation from the normal busyness and distractions helped me to draw close to God and hear from him more clearly. Cleansing and release came and hope was restored, and in both occasions I returned to pastoral ministry renewed, refueled, reconfigured with a new operating system.

This led me to wish that I had experienced the blessings of contemplative prayer and soul care earlier in the pastoral ministry for then I would have been more effective and be able to bring more credit to my Lord. I cannot rewrite the past but I can help others who have the whole future ahead of them in pastoral ministry or leadership. I do feel for younger pastors in ministry plodding and navigating the very challenging seascape of church today. Burnout and discouragement and disillusionment are real threats to cutting short God’s assignment for them.

In His Time

I saw no training for spiritual direction in Singapore and began praying for one to open up. I tried to sign up for overseas training but the timings in both cases were not right for me.  When Life Direction Singapore decided to run a course, I attended the introductory. However, I found the fees for the twenty-one months course beyond me and decided not to attend. God intervened miraculously and an anonymous giver I do not know at all offered to cover half of the $10,000 fees. God knew the longing of my heart and my need to be equipped and removed the obstacle that blocked me from saying Yes to God’s invitation. For this Lord, I give you thanks with all my heart for even in my retirement you have assignments for me and the supply of grace, gifts and provision would be there. Amen and amen.


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