People living in other countries have the option to bugger off and go live in a cheaper city or town when the cost of living in the capital rises. Unfortunately, Singaporeans don’t have that option, assuming they actually want to remain in the country.
Still, that doesn’t mean we should automatically pay top dollar by buying all our necessities here! With much cheaper neighbouring countries just a bus, ferry or short plane ride away and the ubiquity of online shopping, it’s easier than ever to avoid buying stuff in Singapore.
Here are six things that are cheaper elsewhere and relatively easy to procure.
Many people think it’s too “leceh” to drive across the Causeway to buy groceries. But it’s probably because they don’t know exactly how much money you can save by buying your food and toiletries in Johor Bahru.
A few years ago, you could save about 30% on your groceries by buying in JB. Now that the Malaysian Ringgit is lower than ever vis a vis the Singapore dollar, you can save much more, in many cases up to 50%.
Assuming your household expenditure on groceries and toiletries is about $500, you can save a pretty respectable $250 just by scooting across the Causeway. If you’ve got a car, you can hop over using the Second Link, which tends to be less crowded than Woodlands. Otherwise, take a bus across the Causeway and then cab back.
If you’re serious about grocery shopping in JB, try to arrange to go regularly with friends, so you can carpool there or share a cab back. You can’t be the only Singaporean who’s keen on saving money on groceries.
Most Singaporeans head to the hypermarts like Tesco at KSL City, AEON at Tebrau City and Sutera Mall and Giant. The biggest savings tend to be on things like baby milk powder and breakfast cereal, as well as products that are made in Malaysia.
While virtually everything is cheaper, you get better savings on some items than others, so it’s a good idea to start tracking prices at your local supermarket so you can compare them with the prices in JB.
I’m a big fan of borrowing books from the library, but there are some books it’s just not practical to borrow, especially if you need to hold on to them for a long time or they’re for reference purposes.
Unless you’re talking about those awful assessment books for kids at Popular Bookstore, most books in Singapore have to be imported. And they’re not cheap—you can usually expect to pay about $15 to $20 for a paperback novel.
If you are ordering a fairly large shipment and don’t mind second hand items, consider buying your books from Amazon’s second hand section and then shipping them back using a service like Borderlinx or vPost.
Even hard-to-find books often have second hand editions, and I’ve gotten some for as little as $3 or $4 including the price to ship them to my vPost address.
Vitamins and skincare products
For some reason, vitamins and dietary supplements are super expensive in Singapore. If you’ve ever walked into GNC, the prices are enough to give you a stroke.
Most people who regularly buy vitamin supplements already know they’re cheaper on iHerb. We’re talking about less than half the price here, including the cost of shipping.
If you don’t use off-the-shelf skincare or haircare products, you might want to consider getting them online too. For instance, brands like Dermalogica are way cheaper on Amazon and Strawberrynet than in Singapore.
Car and motorcycle servicing and wash
It’s not just owning a car that’s expensive in Singapore. It’s also darned difficult to get your car serviced without being ripped off—many mechanics here are more concerned about getting you to replace parts than actually fixing your vehicle’s problems.
If you know where to go, car and bike servicing in Malaysia can cost almost half the price. Although there are hundreds of popular recommendations, it’s best to go with a friend who’s familiar with a workshop in JB to be safe.
Getting your vehicle washed in Malaysia is also much cheaper, and some Singaporeans only ever wash theirs when they’re across the border.
If you’re happy go buy all your furniture from Ikea, more power to you (hey, I do it too). But if you’re the house-proud type who’s willing to spend thousands of dollars on a sofa, consider buying your furniture and homeware in Bali or Thailand.
Bali is home to so many artisans it’s even the place where all the Pinocchio souvenirs in Italy are actually made. If you’re looking for high quality Wooden furniture, you can’t beat prices here. In fact, you’ll pay more for shipping than you will for the actual furniture items.
Thailand, particularly Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are great places to buy homeware including lighting, rugs and those very charming triangular floor cushions you see in the rasta-looking bars.
Many Singaporean retailers source for their own products in Thailand and Indonesia and then sell them at much higher prices.
If you’re buying several items, your cheapest option is to ship by crate, for which you pay a flat fee. Ask the vendor if they arrange for shipping and insurance to Singapore. Many are used to Singaporean customers and can arrange for everything.
If you work in the sort of place where you actually have to show up looking decent, adding a few crisp tailored shirts or a slick suit to your wardrobe can make you look a bit more presentable. But tailors in Singapore are expensive—you can usually expect to pay at least $1,000 for decent tailored suit.
Unless your boss is paying you a ton of money to look good at work, head to Bangkok for tailored businesswear. You can get great tailored attire at 1/3 the price—a decent work shirt should cost around 850 baht (34 SGD) to 1,000 baht (40 SGD). If you already have existing tailored shirts that fit well, you can just bring them in and have them replicate the design.
Some people prefer Hoi An in Vietnam or even Shanghai, but Bangkok is the cheapest and easiest place to fly to and the destination Singaporeans are the most familiar with.
Ask your friends and many of them will have favourite tailors to recommend. There are zillions of tailors all over the city, but if you have no idea where to go, shop around at MBK.
What other items do you think Singaporeans should buy overseas? Tell us in the comments!