How often has the thought, “Do I spend too much?” crossed your mind? Well, join the legion of twenty-somethings who can empathise.
Let’s be real – while we all know we should keep a detailed record of our spending, very few of us do so. In any case, a poll commissioned by the American Institute of CPAs with the Ad Council discovered that three quarters of young adults base their financial habits off those of their close friends – which means if your friend tends to spend beyond what she makes, you could be in danger of doing the same.
This may be due to the need to keep up with our peers in terms of lifestyle and eating at fancy restaurants – after all, living an aesthetically pleasing life isn’t cheap.
Money can be a taboo topic, but it’s something that needs to be talked about. Having a benchmark figure can be useful when tracking spending patterns as it highlights when you’ve fallen into a habit of overspending.
To illustrate this, we chose three women who vary in terms of industries and living situations, got them to estimate how much they would spend over a weekend, then added up their totals to see how well they kept to their budgets.
Marie C., 21
Position: Customer Care Officer
Monthly Salary: $1K to $2K
Marie C. is Singaporean but studied in Canada before returning here to work. She lives at home, where her parents take care of the rent, groceries and utilities. She works at an NGO because she wants to improve the lives of domestic helpers. She finds her job fulfilling and also enjoys reading, eating, and discovering new vegan restaurants around Singapore.
I start my morning with an orange and carrot juice ($6), and take a bus down to Orchard ($0.42) to do some shopping.
I’m looking for work clothes and am determined not to get sidetracked. I manage to find a nice pair of pants at Uniqlo for $49.95 and leave town before I get distracted. I take the bus home ($0.42).
My mum cooks some delicious vegan curry for dinner, and for dessert, I finish a tub of sorbet from the freezer. I head to my room and read a book until I fall asleep.
Thursday (day-off in lieu of Sunday)
Sundays are actually the busiest day at work because it’s the day off for domestic helpers and we need to be in the office to assist them. Given this, the office has a rotating scheme of weekdays off in lieu of Sunday – this week, I have Thursday off. I eat breakfast at home, which costs me nothing (perks of living with your parents!).
I take the MRT to Farrer Park ($1.16) and meet my friend for lunch at a vegan place we’ve been wanting to try. We order two mains to share and two drinks – the bill comes to $12.30 each. We’re both craving donuts, so we take the MRT to a vegan cafe in Chinatown ($0.87). They don’t have donuts that day, so we settle for juice instead (tip: passion fruit and lime is a surprisingly good combination), which costs $4.50. We part ways and I take the MRT home ($1.23).
I spend the evening unwinding with a glass of wine and a nice book. I eat dinner with the family, and head to bed early.
Amount over budget: $26.85
Marie C. says: While I went over what I thought I would spend, I don’t feel bad about buying the pants because I needed them for work. I estimated I would spend $50 because it’s the amount of “extra” money I can spend comfortably in the context of my salary. I think it accounts for the occasional overspend – like the jeans – or if I decide to dine out or watch a movie. On most weekends, I spend less than $50, so when I go over once in a while, I don’t mind. If not for the jeans, I would have only spent $27 in total, which isn’t bad at all.
As long as I
for my savings
and the rest of
Marie D., 26
Position: Senior Social Executive
Monthly Salary: $3K to $4K
Marie D. is an expatriate from the Philippines, where the cost of living is comparably lower than that of Singapore’s. She shares
a condominium with her best friend, and spends her free time eating, writing and travelling. She loves trying new fitness classes,
just as much as she loves lying on the couch watching movies.
I wake up and eat cereal with milk at home for breakfast. If I have to put a price to it, I would say it costs $0.50 per bowl.
I have a strong craving for Pad Thai, so my roommate and I take the bus and head to Bugis for lunch ($10.20). We stay in town to window shop, but it’s a dangerous choice; I know that if I step into a mall, I won’t be able to leave empty-handed. If I’m trying to save money, I make a conscious decision not to leave my house because if I go out, I’ll buy unnecessary items. Sure enough, I buy candles ($15) and lingerie ($15) – neither of which I needed.
I meet my friends for a Korean BBQ buffet; my share comes to $35. I’m too full and too tired to join them for drinks, so I take the MRT home and call it a night.
I eat breakfast at home again – this time, it’s eggs and toast ($1.50). I do my laundry and laze around until noon.
For lunch, I eat a Japanese bento ($10) with my friends before heading to the Science Centre ($6).
In an attempt to save money, my roommate and I decide to eat at home, but we discover an empty fridge. It’s my week to pay for food, so I head to the supermarket to buy ingredients for Thai Green Curry. The food for dinner adds up to $20, but I also buy some staple groceries for the rest of the week, which brings my total bill to $50.74.
Amount over budget: $63.94
Marie D. says: When I go over budget, it usually stresses me out just as I make the payment! But after some reflection, I realise it’s not so bad and I’m still within my overall monthly budget. As long as I still have enough for my savings and the rest of the month, [I’m OK]. Since I spent so much this weekend, I’ll go to a park next weekend or hang out at home – places that don’t require spending. I feel the pain of overspending now, but it will disappear next weekend when I come in under budget.
place to live in –
I just can’t
Shann C., 24
Position: Due Diligence Associate
Monthly Salary: $4K to $5K
As someone in the banking industry, Shann C. is familiar with money management. She has a degree in Finance from a reputable college in the US, but moved to Singapore to work after taking a year off (work hard, play hard!). Her hobbies include going to museums, trying the latest Instagram-worthy brunch, watching movies and reading.
I wake up at 10:00am and head to the gym to get a morning workout in. After my hot yoga class, I’m starving, so I head home to eat some yoghurt and granola.
I have a few hours to kill before meeting my friend, so I catch up on my reading and bingewatch Terrace House on Netflix to kill time. Around 4pm, I take the MRT to meet my friend in Orchard to go shopping. I’m trying to be good this month and save, but end up spending $50 at lululemon – it’s a gift, though, so this justifies the purchase. Later, I get a wax; I really value cleanliness so I only visit higher-end establishments, and the wax costs me $62.
My friends and I have been craving aburi sushi for weeks, so we line up for an hour at Sushi Bar and order what feels like half the menu. The bill comes to $150, which we split three ways. For dessert, we go to PS.Cafe for their chocolate cake with ice cream – $6 each, once we split. We don’t want to head home, but we are too tired to go to a club, so we settle for drinks at Emerald Hill ($17.70). My Uber ride home costs $13.50.
I wake up early, but I’m still tired from last night so I grab a matcha latte from Starbucks ($7.40) for breakfast. I hadn’t really considered how much they cost, and now I’m wondering how much money Starbucks has made off of me since I started working.
I meet an old friend and we catch up over salads ($12.10) and juice ($7), and the afternoon flies by.
I head home for dinner and go to sleep around 10pm. Work starts early, and I want to start the week feeling refreshed.
Amount over budget: $25.70
Shann C. says: Singapore is an expensive place to live in – I just can’t keep up! The standard of living is too high for my salary, which is why I ended up overspending. It’s not hard to spend $100 in a day when you’re meeting friends for brunch, dinner, and drinks. I like salads and juice, but there’s a premium added to places labelled “healthy,” which makes them pricey.
If you’re living at home with your family, you’ll save a lot on rent, utilities and food. Eating at home for a week costs Marie D. upwards of $50, whereas eating at home for Marie C. and Shann costs them nothing. It didn’t occur to Shann and Marie D. to include the cost of public transportation, but Marie C. remembered. This might be because, unlike the other two, Marie C. has only just started working, and so spending on transport is probably still at the forefront of her budgeting. What’s more, Marie D., the only expat, breaks down the price of food at home because she has to pay for it, while the other two don’t as they live with their parents.
Despite living at home, the two locals, Shann and Marie C., spent around 20 percent of their salary on the weekend, compared to Marie D., who is completely financially independent and spent about 16 percent of hers.
Shann said she goes over budget because she can’t keep up with the cost of living here, yet she makes the most out of the three girls. She highlights something significant: working in a higher income industry means having wealthier peers. This probably means that she patronises pricier restaurants, cafes and bars, and spends on more expensive clothes. She also has a gym membership, which is a monthly cost of about $170.
Most people keep track of monthly liabilities like rent and utility bills, but day-to-day tracking can be a buzzkill. Who hasn’t tried a budgeting app only to shut it down and never look at it again?
If you lack the discipline to track your spending but still want to be in control of your finances, Andre, a relationship manager at a local bank, suggests having two separate bank accounts, one for saving and one for spending. He purposely keeps very little money in his spending account. “Whenever I check the balance and see how little money I have, I automatically self-regulate my spending.”
While we all have different incomes and levels of responsibility (let’s not forget lots of people live at home but also contribute money to their parents), what’s important is to think “save before spend”, especially if you have plans to buy a big ticket item like a house, for example. “Money should always be set aside to savings before spending,” says Andre. “This can range between 10 to 30 percent of your income, and it should be moved to another bank account that is less accessible so you won’t be tempted to touch it.”
Creating a budget that won’t budge
1 Set aside funds for liabilities and other common monthly payments.
2 Set a loose budget for workday meals and stick to it.
3 Allocate the leftover funds to different categories (like food, shopping and entertainment) for the month. If you know you have a big weekend of fun coming up, be honest with how much you will be spending and set aside more funds for it, then adjust the rest of your budget accordingly.
4 Go digital. Make use of your bank’s mobile app to help you keep track of spending when you’re on-the-go.
Images 123RF.com Text Complied By Claire Soong.