Is it Possible to Live in Singapore on $1,000 a Month?

Singapore MBS and Merlion
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Written by Liz

Just your regular 27-year-old, queer, super-introverted, FIRE-chasing, frugal Singaporean, who lives a pretty good life while earning only a modest salary, but still plans to retire at age 40 with $1,000,000. Click here to read more

May 23, 2020

For many years now, I’ve always challenged myself to see how little I can live on. After all, the less I can live on, the sooner I can retire and quit my corporate job, right?

So, let’s see if we can live in Singapore for as little as $1,000 a month. Not going to lie, it’s going to be very tight, but let’s make it work.

Note:

1. This budget is based on an able-bodied (regular medical costs, no exorbitant medical expenses), single person with no partner (no efficiencies), no kids (no childcare expenses), and financially-independent parents (no parent care expenses).

2. All currency in this post is in Singapore dollars (S$).

What a Budget of $1,000 a Month Looks Like

Category of ExpensesBudget (S$)
Rent$500
Utilities$55
Other Household Expenses$40
Groceries$150
Other Living Expenses$29
Transportation$96
Healthcare$130
Total$1,000

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of these expenses, for those interested:

Household Expenses:

Rent: $500
Utilities: $55
Maintenance/Fees: $20
Supplies: $20

Total: $595

Living Expenses:

Transportation: $96
Groceries: $150
Dining Out: $15
Personal Care: $10
Hairdressing: $4

Total: $275

Healthcare:

Hospitalisation Insurance: $50
Medication: $10
Doctor: $10
Dental: $10
Others/Specialist: $50

Total: $130

And now, let’s get into each category in detail.

Rent – $500 per Month

Singapore isn’t the world’s most affordable country, and housing in Singapore can be extremely pricey. Here’s a quick look at what the rental situation is like in Singapore.

By way of a short introduction, in Singapore, there’s private housing (landed properties and private condominium apartments) and public housing. With a budget of at most $500 a month, the only option available is public housing.

If you don’t mind living extremely frugally, you could get a single bed in a shared bedroom in a public housing apartment for anywhere between $200 to $300 a month. Each bedroom is typically shared between 4 guests. In a single apartment, you could have up to 11 other roommates (assuming 3 bedrooms and 4 people in each bedroom).

A bed in a typical 4-person bedroom costing $250 per month looks something like this.

Singapore Rent $250 per Month

Not too bad, but privacy certainly is an issue.

If privacy is a priority, and having at least the entire bedroom to yourself is important, then renting an entire room in the shared public housing apartment can set you back anywhere between $500 to $1,000.

For $500 a month, you could get a room that looks like this (I lucked out and found a pretty decent one at $500 a month, utilities included):

Singapore Rent $500 per Month

Bear in mind that the locations of all these cheaper apartments are generally not great. It’ll easily take an hour or so to get from these apartments to the central business district. That’s 2 hours, both ways. Could take longer as well.

If you’re interested in checking out other properties in Singapore, you can visit PropertyGuru, one of the largest online portals for properties in Singapore.

Utilities – $55 per Month

As I was checking through the property listings for $500-per-month rooms, I discovered that the $500 per month rental usually includes utility fees. For example, both the rooms I showed above had utility fees included. 

Otherwise, utility fees were typically listed as about $50 per month, to cover internet, electricity and water usage (unfortunately, with this budget, air conditioning is out of the question). A cheap mobile plan will run you another $5 per month.

Here’s how much utilities cost in Singapore, if you want to be as budget as possible:

Internet: $45-$50 per household, as per these Singtel prices. This is usually included in the rent, so you don’t have to worry about it.

Mobile: $5 per line, for 50 minutes of calls, 25 text messages, and 2GB of data. A steal, if you ask me. This is the cheapest plan on the market so far. An alternative is pre-paid phone cards.

Electricity, water and gas: SP Power, Singapore’s utilities distributor, provided statistics stating that 5-room apartments typically pay $142 for electricity, water and gas. Per room, that’s less than $30 a month.

 

Other Household Expenses – $40 per Month

All the other household expenses consist of the following:

  • Maintenance/Fees: $20
  • Supplies: $20

Maintenance: All residents in apartments in Singapore, whether private or public, are required to pay maintenance fees for maintenance of the estate. $20 should be a fair estimate for these fees, although usually these fees are built directly into the rent.

Household supplies: For household supplies, it would be best to buy in bulk (whenever possible) and go for generic brands. When buying only the essentials, a budget of $20 a month should be able to cover everything you need.

Groceries – $150 per Month

With just $150 a month, a budget for each 3-meal day could look something like this:

 Daily Meal  Cost (S$)
 Breakfast  $0.50
 Lunch  $2
 Dinner  $2.50
 Total Per Day  $5

With a budget of $5 per day, the total monthly budget would come up to $150 ($5 per day x 30 days).

Although a budget of $150 a month isn’t a lot, there’s no need to go hungry either.

Homemade Chilli

Homemade chilli, $2.30 per serving.

For breakfast, you could have 2 eggs, which would set you back $0.36. (Each egg costs $0.18.)

For lunch, you could have a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich, which would set you back $1.68.

  • Assuming 50% of the chicken is edible meat, 100 grams of chicken would cost $1.06.
  • 2 slices of bread would cost $0.18. (19 slices cost $1.75)
  • 2 slices of cheesewould cost $0.44. (36 slices cost $7.95)
Grilled Chicken and Cheese Price

For dinner, you could have a beef bolognese pasta, where the main ingredients would set you back $2.58.

  • 100 grams of beef would cost $1.17.
  • 100 grams of pasta would cost $0.70.
  • 150 grams of diced tomatoes would cost $0.71.
Beef Bolognese Price

All 3 meals cost just $4.62.

Note that the prices above were all taken from the website of NTUC FairPrice, which isn’t the cheapest supermarket around (although they happen to have one of the most user-friendly websites). If you shop at cheaper supermarkets, such as Sheng Siong, or if you don’t mind going to wet markets, you could shave at least another 10-20% off your grocery bill.

The above shows that you can have a balanced diet on a monthly grocery budget of $150. 

To keep grocery costs as low as possible, buy more staples (like oatmeal and beans), vegetables, and eggs (a cheaper source of protein than meat).

On the other hand, junk food (like chips and sweet drinks) is to be avoided at all costs.

Dining Out – $15 per Month

In case you need the occasional treat, or are simply pressed for time, you could eat out anywhere between 1 to 4 times a month with just $15, depending on where you go for your meals.

At cheaper-end restaurants, you could get away with paying just $10 per meal. On the other hand, if you confine yourself to hawker centres, you could pay just $4 per meal.

A handy tip for dining out is knowing the best deals around. I highly recommend the online platforms Chope and Shopee, and I’ve scored numerous deals on both of them. Check out the scrumptuous dishes that I got for just $1:

Katong Laksa

Katong Laksa, for $1.

Poke Bowl

A poke bowl, for $1.

Cluck Cluck Cafe

Fried chicken with numerous sides, for $1.

Other Living Expenses – $14 per Month

As listed above, other living expenses consist of the following:

  • Personal Care: $10
  • Hairdressing: $4

Personal Care: Similar to household supplies, a budget of $10 a month should be sufficient when buying only the essentials, in bulk, and only generic brands.

Hairdressing: An option here is to cut your own hair, which will cost nothing. Alternatively, you could visit cheap but good hairdressers. Personally, I pay $18 per haircut, and I visit my hairdresser only twice a year. That’s $36 a year, or just $3 a month.

Transportation – $96 per Month

Taking a cab in Singapore isn’t cheap, and can cost you anywhere between $10 to $20 for a 20-minute ride. Meanwhile, buying a car in Singapore is outrageously expensive, with the cheapest model setting you back a whopping $62,000.

As such, when working with a $1,000 a month budget, the only option you have is public transportation. Thankfully, in stark contrast to private transportation (cars and cabs), public transportation in Singapore is comfortingly cheap.

Taking a subway ride from the west-most side of Singapore to the east-most side of Singapore will cost you $2.17. North to south will cost $2.05. Chances are, you will spend less than this to get to where you need to go.

For $96 a month, you can take the following trips:

 Day  Cost  Destination
 Mon  $2 x 2  Office, Home
 Tues  $2 x 2  Office, Home
 Wed  $2 x 2  Office, Home
 Thurs  $2 x 2  Office, Home
 Fri  $2 x 2  Office, Home
 Sat  $2 x 2  Town, Home
 Sun  $0  (Stay Home)

Total cost per week is therefore $24 ($4 per day x 6 days). Assuming a 4-week month, each month will result in spending of $96 ($24 per week x 4 weeks).

Insurance – $50 per Month

In the beginning of this post, we made a few assumptions:

  • That you will be renting (no house, so no home insurance).
  • That you have no dependents (so no need for whole life or term life insurance).

The only thing you might need is hospitalisation insurance, the cost of which will depend on your age.

Sometime in 2018, I was thinking of picking up full-coverage hospitalisation insurance, so I had a few discussions with an agent from Prudential. Below is a table containing the cost of hospitalisation insurance for foreigners, on the cheapest possible policy. (Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents enjoy slightly cheaper rates.)

Table of Insurance Premiums

At a yearly cost of $378 for someone between the ages of 21 to 30 years old, this breaks down to $31.50 a month. This increases to $573 a year for someone between the ages of 31 to 40, which breaks down to $48 a month. The premiums increase exponentially as age increases, making it incredibly difficult to adhere to the budget of just $1,000 a month.

Medical Services – $80 per Month

As listed above, medical services expenses consist of the following:

  • Medication: $10
  • Doctor: $10
  • Dental: $10
  • Others (like specialist treatment): $50

If you’re reasonably young and in the pink of health, you might not even need monthly medication, doctor consultation fees or specialist consultation fees.

However, you might still want to visit the dentist every 6-9 months for scaling and polishing, and this can cost as little as $60 per visit. Therefore, a budget of $10 a month for this category of expense is sufficient.

Alternatively, you could spend nothing at all on this entire category of medical services, including dental, like Mr Money Mustache.

What About Discretionary Expenses?

How Far Does $15 Go?

You might have noticed that there isn’t much room in the budget for many discretionary expenses, like entertainment and alcohol. Currently, only $15 has been allocated to dining out.

Instead of dining out, you could choose to spend this money on things that are more important to you. What other paid activities can you do with $15?

You could:

Thankfully, once your discretionary budget of $15 per month has been used up, there are many other things that you can do in Singapore, at no cost at all.

Jewel Canopy Park

The Canopy Park in Jewel Changi Airport. Insanely beautiful, and well worth the $4.50 fee.

What Can You Enjoy for Free in Singapore?

There are many things you could do for free. For example, you could:

  • Visit cultural sites (like Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam).
  • Visit nature sites and parks (like reservoirs, Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning Park, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve).
  • Stargaze at the Science Centre (it’s free every Friday).
  • Get scared at a spooky but free theme park.
  • Sunbathe in nice beaches (like at East Coast Park).
  • Enjoy free concerts at the Esplanade.
  • Watch free outdoor movie screenings by the beach in Sentosa, amongst other places.
  • Enjoy free light shows near Marina Bay Sands and the Central Business District.
  • Borrow free books and movies from the libraries.

There are plenty of free options for you in Singapore without having to spend a dime, and that’s just one of the reasons I consider myself so fortunate to be born into this country.

Fort Canning Park

Taking a walk through Fort Canning Park. Free.

People Who Actually Live on $1,000 a Month in Singapore

I came across the most interesting Quora thread with people who live on extremely small budgets in Singapore, but seem plenty happy anyway. For ease of reference, here are some people who live on around $1,000 a month, along with breakdowns of their budgets.

Quora User: Daniel Tay
Other Details: Retired before 40

 Category  Amount (S$)
 Mortgage  $475
 Insurance  $200
 Food*  $0
 Utilities  $25
 Housing Fees  $25
 Home-Cleaning  $50
 Pets  $50
 Transport  $60
 Mobile  $28
 Internet  $15
 Clothes  $0
 Total  $928

*The Quora user, Daniel, dumpster dives for food.

Quora User: Jinghang Wu
Other Details: Lives with Dad

 Category  Amount (S$)
 Food*  $900
 Transport  $80
 Internet and Mobile  $100
 Parents  $300
 Healthcare, Grooming  $200
 Miscellaneous  $100
 Total (Excluding Food)  $780

*I excluded food expenditure from the budget, because $900 on food alone will skew the total budget. The Quora user, Jinghang, did say that he eats out at a lot of restaurants.

Quora User: Achelle Go
Other Details: – 

 Category  Amount (S$)
 Rent  $500
 Food*  $400
 Utilities**  $100
 Transport  $100
 Total  $1,100

*Food includes the occasional bar/restaurant/cafe.

**Utilities includes mobile phone plans.

Conclusion – Is it Possible to Live in Singapore on $1,000 a Month?

It certainly is possible to live in Singapore on just $1,000 a month, though it does come with a few obvious sacrifices, such as:

  • Living as minimally as possible, with close to no frills in the budget;
  • Being willing to do things that others won’t (a good example of this is dumpster diving. Our helplful Quora user, Daniel Tay, spends $0 on food each month by dumpster diving, amongst other things.)

However, for a great many of us, a budget of $1,000 a month simply won’t be enough. As you saw above, almost the entire budget has been deployed only to essential expenses, such as:

  • Rent,
  • Household expenses,
  • Groceries,
  • Living expenses,
  • Public transportation,
  • Insurance, and
  • Medical services.

What’s leftover after this? Not much.

There’s close to nothing leftover to spend on other things that you may find important in life (that are arguably discretionary), such as:

  • Self-improvement. Though Singapore’s libraries are fantastic places to learn new things, you may be able to find better niche-specific content elsewhere, such as in online courses, in-person classes, part-time or even full-time degrees. All of these don’t run cheap.
  • Passion projects. Most passion projects cost a little money to start up. For example, this blog costs more than $20 a month for just hosting. It’s hard to afford even this on a tight $1,000 a month budget. If you’re interested in learning a musical instrument, buying it will set you back a few hundred bucks.
  • Travel. While there are many free things that you can do in Singapore, travelling out of the country will certainly cost money. Even travelling to Johor Bahru, Malaysia by bus or train will set you back at least $2 to $5. And that’s already as cheap as you could possibly go.
Dollar Beer in Cambodia

Enjoying $2 beer in a fancy bar in Cambodia. Even a budget plane flight from Singapore to Cambodia would cost at least $200.

In addition to that, there won’t be enough to spend on other things that you might find necessary in life, such as:

  • Healthcare: Insurance premiums increase exponentially as you age. For example, from the table provided above, once you hit 70 years of age, insurance premiums will total almost $300 per month. You’d also likely visit doctors more often, as health in old age rapidly deteriorates.
  • Starting a family. If having kids is a possibility in the future, this would surely increase your expenses in all categories across the board. For example, you’d need a bigger living space to cater for a family. You’d also need to buy powdered milk or food. You can expect to shell out anywhere between $7,000 to $17,500 per year, per child, depending on the age of your child.

All that being said, living on just $1,000 a month in Singapore for the long-term isn’t all that feasible.

Yes, admittedly, it is a huge privilege just being able to afford all your necessities

Homelessness

Homelessness.

Additionally, it is a huge blessing to be able to afford all necessities of life on just $1,000 a month, as this opens a lot of options for many people. For example, if you’re relatively young, healthy, if you’ve just quit your job to take some time off, to prepare for a career change, living on $1,000 a month as a temporary sacrifice is a good thing. You’d have a roof over your head and warm food on the table. It’s not a bad life at all.

However, if you have the option to shoot for more, then go for it. By increasing your budget by a mere $400 per month, you might see a whole world of difference.

In fact, that’s exactly what I plan to do myself

Is it possible to live on $1,000 a month in your country? Would you consider this a lifestyle, or more of a temporary measure? Would love to hear your thoughts!

As always, thank you for reading and supporting this blog.

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2 Comments

  1. Backpack Finance

    Honestly, I don’t think I would be able to live in shared rooms like the ones in the post. It’s far beyond what I’m willing to do. Not worth it in my opinion but to each his own. I haven’t been to Singapore but it does have a reputation for being pretty expensive.

    Just wondering, have you considering geo arbitraging as an early retirement strategy? You could live a wonderful life in other places in South East Asia and even certain regions in Europe for $1,000. If you go up to $1,500 – $2,000 you could probably live like a queen 🙂

    Reply
    • Liz

      Hey! Thanks for your opinion and for stopping by 🙂 I agree with you on this – it’s more of a last-resort kind of thing. In case I hate my job too much and need to leave before early retirement, at least I still have options. I wrote in another post of mine that I would much rather stay in a studio apartment and pay more 🙂 Singapore’s real estate and private transport is extremely expensive, but the rest of it is quite manageable.

      Geo-arbitrage is something I’m considering, but I need to factor in the opinions of my girlfriend as well. She enjoys her job (and the awesome, steady paycheck) as a civil servant, and she’s not willing to quit anytime soon. So unfortunately, I can’t leave without her. I’m still in the midst of trying to convince her to take the leap to retire early though. Being able to live on $1,500 like a queen sounds awesome! 😉

      Reply

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