A Discussion on cost of living

Recently during a la kopi session, a few of my friends were discussion the question on whether cost of living was going up and whether we felt so squeezed by the whole situation in Singapore.

Many of us agreed that nowadays $100 doesn’t go very far. But on whether Singaporeans were still poor, some of my friends also agreed that some things didn’t quite gel –

  • While people on the streets complained about how they felt that the money they have seemed to not so so far these days, and how prices were going up everywhere, we continue to see the following:
  • Starbucks, coffee joints and hipster cafes continue to be crowded with students and young adults.
  • Cinemas are still filled every weekend even when tickets are more than $10 nowadays
  • Restaurants and even zichar stalls see full house turnouts on weekends
  • Enrolment for middle to high end childcare centres, enrichment centres and tuition centres continue to have a waitlist
  • COE prices don’t go down much at the bidding exercises, and our neighbours and ex-schoolmates kaopeh so much but can easily change a nice set of wheels
  • In fact, we still see heavy jam on the roads even when ERP is in force
  • People are still happily taking Grab and booking taxis when sometimes the destination is just a few train stations away
  • Deliveroo and Food Panda riders are zipping up and down our pavements because more and more people are ordering delivery food to their doorsteps
  • JJ Lin and Jay Chou concerts are still sold out despite the expensive ticketing prices

Many people whacked PM Lee for talking about aircons and data plans. Yah, sucks lah when someone rich says this kind of thing, but well, it is also true to a certain extent, that when we are so used to a certain lifestyle, cutting back even a little seems like being thrown into hard times.

Admit it – some of our children are so used to living with such comfort since the day they were born that they break out in a heat rash when there’s no aircon for one night, or whine when Daddy’s car is in the workshop and they have to take a bus or even Grab to school, or complain about eating in hawker centres because, well no aircon and the tables are not so clean.

I definitely won’t agree with cutting back on data plans though. We check our social media when we are on the train to kill time, otherwise the stuffiness, the long waits in between stations and the queuing during rush hour will be 10x more unbearable! And it’s not like wireless@SG is anything better than the 56k dial-up of yesteryear. AND many of those in the gig economies like riders and drivers and freelancers need the mobile data for their work, so having a heavy data plan may be reasonable. Just cut down on watching YouTube while on the go I suppose, if you don’t want to bust your monthly mobile data.

But can we cut back on some things that are unnecessary wants?

A cup of latte costs about $6-$7, why not learn to make your own coffee at home? Or use nespresso capsules (which are about $1 each), or just head to the nearest kopitiam for a Kopi that would be less than $2? Sure, some days we want that cup of nicely brewed Italian coffee, make it a treat on those days, not have 2 cups daily!

A lunch out at a mid-range restaurant like Din Tai Fung for a family of four on a weekend can easily reach $60 or more. How about some wanton noodles at the hawker centre instead? Or whip up a meal at home?

Actually from this random chat, we all felt that it is tthose with families who feel the most squeezed.

Prices for nicer things in life go up rather quickly (while the uncles make noise over $10 increase in kopi prices, no one made any noise when artisan coffee prices increase by 50cents or even $1 (or did anyone even notice?). Sleep-deprived parents feel like they should reward themselves with a good cup of coffee, yet they need to think carefully about buying that cuppa.

Prices for things like children’s school fees and enrichment seem to be increasing faster than our MRTs can move. A higher end childcare centre recently issued a note to parents that “with the continuing rise in operating costs annually” school fees will be adjusted by $60 per month (before GST) from 2019.We wonder what kind of operating costs is increasing, or they are conveniently blaming the economy and the government for the increase? So what can the parents do? Suck thumb I suppose, especially if their children have just 1 or 2 years left in pre-school. We know of parents who want the best for their children that they would rather cut back on their own comforts to give their children the best shot in life. And in the process, feel stressed and squeezed. We haven’t even got to birthday parties today which can set people back by a few thousand bucks sometimes.

So can Singaporeans survive on $2.80 food from social enterprise food stalls? Can lah, but as generations pass, Singaporeans are more and more used to having the little comfort in life that any cutback is considered misery. And these foodfare dishes are actually not very big portions. End up still need to buy another bun or snack elsewhere to top up during tea-time.

What can the government do? Perhaps the question is not so much a mindset change for the man on the street, but rather whether some of these businesses that push prices up faster than inflation rates could also be reined in.

And judging by the amount of YOLO youths hanging out at restaurants and coffee places, perhaps schools and parents should start inculcating the virtues of budgeting and managing finances, otherwise, it’s a bit strange that the kids are generously drinking ice-blended frappe while their fathers and mothers are trying to save money by eating cai berng every day.

Sometimes we talk and talk, but we don’t have solutions too, because maybe, even our generation has been too spoilt by our parent to adjust our way of life.

Must the government always have a solution for these things? If anything, perhaps the PAP should be blamed for having allowed many of this generation and the last a chance to enjoy a decently comfortable life since childhood, that now, anything less cannot be accepted.