Budgeting

Cost of Living in Singapore – Is Your Salary Really Enough?

cost of living singapore 2018

Joanne Poh

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Singapore is always appearing at the top of those cost-of-living surveys. But how expensive is it really to live here? If you’re a young working adult or potential expat thinking of accepting that job offer in Singapore, you must be wondering just how much is “reasonable” for someone in your age group to spend each month.

Of course, the answer varies a lot with your lifestyle and values. Ask the guy who’s happy to live with his parents at 40 and who rarely leaves the house for anything other than work, and you’ll get a different answer than if you ask that social climber who feels you need the flashy car and condo to show you’ve “made it” in life.

So in compiling this rundown of the cost of living in Singapore, we decided to cover a range of options (from budget to higher-end) for a middle-class lifestyle. All costs are in Singapore dollars.

 

Housing costs

If you’re moving here from another country, or a local thinking of moving out of your parent’s home, your biggest expense by far is going to be housing, whether you’re renting or buying a home.

You should budget at least $700 to $1,500 a month if you’re renting, and $1,500 to $3,000 a month if you’re a Singaporean/PR buying a home and eligible to purchase HDB property.

Renting in Singapore

Most expats rent a home in Singapore. Be warned – it’s not cheap.

If you’re single and looking to rent just a room in a shared HDB flat (public housing) or a condo apartment (private) with shared bathroom, expect to pay about $700 to $2,000 each month.

Don’t like to share? It’ll cost ya. It costs about $1,500 to $4,500 to rent a studio apartment or one-bedroom unit in an HDB flat or condo.

The big difference in cost depends on property type – HDB flats are cheaper but basic, condo apartments are expensive but swankier and sometimes have gyms/pools.

Another factor is distance to the city centre – the more centrally located, the more expensive it is. The public transport system in Singapore isn’t bad, though, so you can save some money by renting a place in the city fringe. As a plus, neighbourhoods away from the city centre have more character and cheaper dining options.

As a renter, be aware that some landlords won’t allow you to cook when they are living in the same unit as you, which means you’ll be forced to eat out or order food every day. If you are allergic to rules but can’t afford to live alone, look for an apartment that’s occupied only by fellow tenants.

Buying a home

If you’re a Singaporean or PR looking to buy a home, you’ll be looking buying either an HDB flat (you must apply with your fiancé(e) and be prepared to get married by the time you collect your keys) or private property.

New HDB property is highly subsidised and you’ll be eligible for grants calculated depending on your income level. For resale property, prices can get quite high in the more central areas.

And if you’re thinking about purchase private property, you’ll need to be prepared to service a huge home loan unless you have a large income.

In general, for resale property you can expect to pay anywhere from about $300,000 for a 3-room HDB flat to millions for private property, with the average condo unit costing about $1 million+.

Assuming you pay a minimum 10% downpayment for an HDB lat or 20% downpayment for a private home, and take out a 25-year-loan, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500 per month in loan installments for homes within that price range.

 

Transportation costs

As with everything else in life, your monthly transportation costs can vary wildly depending on how far you need to travel each day and what mode of transport you use. If you’re lucky enough to be living close to your workplace and the city centre, you’ll spend less on transport than someone who lives in Woodlands and has to commute to the CBD daily.

Unless you have quite a bit of disposable income, buying a car in Singapore isn’t a very good idea. They’re famously expensive here and will set you back an extra $1,000 to $2,000 a month (car loan installments, petrol and parking).

You are likely to rely on a combination of public transport (buses and MRT) and taxi (or Grab) rides. Public transport is pretty affordable, generally costing about $100 to $120 a month.

But if you stay out past midnight, there are hardly any public transport options (well, there are weekend night buses, but they unceremoniously stop running at about 2am).

Need to get to Changi Airport for a 6am flight? Or trying to get home after a drinks session at 1am on a Wednesday night? Grab or taxis are your only choices. Assuming you take a $15 Grab ride twice a week, you’ll need to budget an additional $120 a month on transport. (Yes, those rides really add up.)

 

Daily expenses

Again, this varies wildly depending on your lifestyle. But you can expect the following costs:

Groceries – This might be more expensive than in many countries due to lots of products being imported. Milk, non-tropical fruits and non-Asian products like cheese tend to be rather expensive. If you cook at home every day, you’ll probably spend at least $200 a month on groceries.

Coffee – A kopi at a local hawker centre can cost you a little more than $1, while a coffee at a Western-style cafe or a chain like Starbucks can set you back $5 or $6.

Food – On one end of the scale, a meal at a suburban hawker centre can cost as little as $3 to $4 (not including drink). When it comes to dining, budget about $20 to $30 for a meal at a midrange restaurant.

Mobile data – $20 a month for a very basic SIM-only plan with 2 to 3 GB of data. For 3 to 6 GB of data you’ll pay about $30.

Exercise – Gym and other sports/exercise classes tend to be quite expensive in Singapore, and what is considered a reasonable price-range for a gym membership or weekly class might be about $100 a month.

There are, of course, cheaper options such as the neighbourhood ActiveSG gyms ($2.50 per entry for citizens and PRs, otherwise $3.30 per entry) and community clubs.

Recreation – Movie tickets cost about $9 on weekdays and $13 on weekends. Alcohol is horribly expensive, with a pint of beer at a bar in the city centre going for about $10 to $15. And a karaoke session (sans alcohol) in a private room will set you back about $25 to $35 per person.

If you’re on a budget, make friends who don’t always need to be seen in fancy places, so you can BYOB and enjoy cheaper activities like picnics, cycling, hiking or Netflix ($10.98 a month for basic subscription).

 

Nice-to-haves that can really inflate your costs

The thing about Singapore is that you can save lots of money living a monk’s lifestyle (eg. never drinking, always taking public transport). But once you take a few liberties, your cost of living skyrockets.

Here are some little luxuries that can really inflate your monthly costs.

Expensive gym memberships – These are typically $100 to $150 a month, but can get even more expensive if they specialise in MMA or something. Don’t sign up for one of these unless you’re already a gym rat, because you are usually forced to register for one or two years at a time.

Dining at nice restaurants – Singapore is filled with fancy restaurants, and a meal at one of these can easily set you back $50 or more per person if you order wine.

Dating – Easy tiger, you might want to swipe a little more slowly on Tinder. If you’re into the dinner-and-drinks date night combo, you can easily spend $50 or more per person in a single night, depending on how expensive your/their tastes are.

Travelling – Singapore is just a budget flight away from some of Southeast Asia’s most popular travel destinations. But bearing in mind that a single weekend trip to Phuket or Bangkok can cost you at least $200, indulge in moderation.

 

So, how much can you expect to spend?

Depending on your lifestyle, here are your potential costs per month.

Cheapskate Mid-range High-end
Accommodation (rental) $700 (shared HDB flat)  $1,200 (shared condo unit) $5,000 (entire apartment)
Food $250 (cook at home/hawker centres) $500 (hawker + midrange restaurants) $2,000 (nice restaurants)
Transportation $120 (public transport) $40o (public transport + Grab/taxis) $1,000 (car/Grab)
Mobile data $20 (basic SIM-only plan) $30 (more data) $60 (data plan with frills)
Exercise $0 (running, hiking, work out at home) $80 (cheap gym) $150 (nice gym)
Recreation $100 (Netflix, movies, the occasional drink) $300 (moderate drinking) $1,500 (going to swanky clubs, dating, travelling)
Total $1,190 $2,510 $9,710

Do note that on the cheapskate end of the scale, you’re basically stuck cooking your meals (preferably vegetarian) at home every day, and will not be able to take Grab or taxis at all. You also probably won’t have much of a social life.

How much do you spend per month in Singapore? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.