With GST about to hike 9% in 3 weeks’ time, you might be worried about what you can do to budget and beat inflation.
Yes, I know it’s scary. And no, you don’t have to eat grass for the rest of your life.
Here’s some better ways, especially if our kind Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence doesn’t give another Assurance Package and generous budget package.
Here’s 23 ways, for 2024.
1. First know what you’re spending on
If you’re always ending up at the end of the month wondering where all your salary went, it’s time to work out the money.
First know where your money is going, before you even try to figure out how to beat inflation.
One habit you can build is to track every expense after buying the item. After all, buying is easy. Just tap your card, and you’re done.
One easy app is Toshl, where you can easily insert every expense.
I enjoy it because of how easy it is to load up and categorise your spend. There’s even an option for foreign currency spend in case you’re that frequent overseas shopper.
In fact, that’s why Visa and MasterCard have focused on making contactless payments as frictionless as possible. Because you don’t feel the physical pinch of having the money leave your pocket, you end up spending more than usual.
2. Understand what you actually like spending on
Secondly, ask yourself what kind of spending brings you most joy.
According to research done at Cambridge University, which studied the spending habits of 625 customers, and mapped them according to the Big Five personality traits, ‘spending buys happiness when spending fits our personality’.
As one of the researchers Joe Gladstone shared, “spending can increase our happiness when it is spent on goods and services that fit our personalities and so meet our psychological needs.”
For example, if you were extraverted, spending on entertainment or travel might make you happier, compared to buying stationery.
The key is to know what you enjoy, and spend on things that maximise your joy.
So if you don’t like spending on food, don’t spend on it. Spend on the things you love, so you actually feel more bang for your buck.
3. Try adding friction to your spending by using PIN, rather than contactless
One of the first ways to start introducing more friction into your spending is to use the PIN code, rather than the contactless option. Whilst it might not be as easy as contactless, there is a closer tie to the money leaving you.
If it’s contactless, the money just leaves you, quick and easy.
4. Use cash if possible
When I lived in the U.K., one of the most common ways I saved more money was by using cash.
Yes, it feels frustrating to have to withdraw cash, but it makes the spending a lot more real. After all, it is your hard-earned money leaving you.
5. Spend less on everyday necessities
There are 3 elements to beating inflation.
- Save more
- Spend less
- Earn more
Let’s now talk about the second element.
One of the best ways to beat inflation is to spend less. An easy way is to use coupon sites like Capital One Shopping, where you get access to cheaper deals at the likes of Nordstrom.
But how? Especially in a city like Singapore?
6. Save on groceries by going to the heartland shops rather than the malls
There are better grocers around.
Like your wet market hawker, who will probably throw in a special discount the more you visit them.
Or the neighbourhood fruit store with the reduced to clear fruits that they are trying to sell, before it goes bad.
You’re paying the extra for air-conditioning. Seriously.
7. Get a Thermos flask for food and drink
The Thermos, is going to be your best buddy in the fight against inflation.
I mean, seriously… do you think it’s worth it to pay $6 for the coffee with Ethiopian floral notes?
Let’s not start with how you don’t even taste the floral notes.
Let’s start with how you’d probably enjoy the kopi siew dai from your hawker uncle a lot more.
Get a Thermos flask.
One of my best friends over the past 7 years has been a 1-litre Thermos flask.
I load it up with 5 coffee sachets of Gold Kili, before heading out.
And I’m done for the day.
The cost? 63 cents.
Sure, it sounds like a tiny habit hack, but when you can get something for 1-tenth of the price, everyday, the savings will add up.
8. Eat out less
Whilst you might think that $4 caifan or hawker centre meal everyday for lunch and dinner, isn’t that much money, add that up over the week, and it will set you back by an average of $56 per week, or $224 per month.
That’s why my recommendation is that you cook.
What I personally do, as I don’t have much time, is to buy the roast chicken and pork from Cold Storage.
Every morning, I would heat it up in the air fryer, place it in a Thermos, before taking it to work.
9. Always bring some food out
One of the easiest way to eat out less, is to bring food out from your home. If you’ve observed how you spend, you might notice that you often buy when you’re hungry.
You might buy a random croissant, or a bread.
Those expenses do add up.
My favourite choices are:
These are often better choices because the fibre fills you up, allowing you to feel more satiated compared to the biscuit you might eat.
10. Eat less ultra processed food (UPF)
If you’ve never heard of UPF, now’s the time.
There’s the famous story of how Nestle brought its products to Brazil.
Employing thousands of door to door salespeople, it has successfully hooked Brazilians onto its sugar-rich foods.
You might not know it, but that salty Lays chip you’re eating is probably hooking you, bit by bit.
Or the ‘healthy’ cereal bar is laden with additives that make you want more, not less.
A better way is to stop eating such foods.
Try going on a fast. You might be surprised by what you find.
11. Order the cheapest thing on the menu
When you meet friends, they might want to go to a nice cafe. Over the years, I’ve tried different methods. For example, there was one period where I focused on bringing my packed meals to those meetings.
But my friends were pissed.
One person even scolded me and said
It feels like you’re forcing me to order something.
I had my own thoughts about that, but that’s for another day.
I’ve come to see that whilst you can be laser focused on saving money, it helps to be likeable in these social situations.
Just buy the cheapest thing on the menu. Some quick hacks:
- Babycino (a kids version of the cappuccino, that usually retails for $2)
- Water (usually a dollar)
12. Give the excuse that you’ve eaten before coming
One way is to temper expectations before going out with people.
You might suggest that you usually eat before coming for such meetings. One message I’ve found helpful is:
Hey, usually I eat at home because I’ve a fitness regime I need to follow.
Is that okay with you?
I’ve not seen a person who says no.
13. Go to cheaper places like hawkers or the Kopitiam
I hate fancy, atas cafes. Its usually busy, has a queue, and you’d probably not enjoy much of the conversation there.
From my experience of most cafes here, owners optimise for profits, and not conversation. This means that the acoustics of most cafes are bad.
You almost have to shout to get yourself heard.
You might suggest that you prefer to go for a walk, or the hawker centre, rather than an expensive cafe.
There are always cheaper options around, if you look for it.
14. Don’t paiseh, just dabao
With the upcoming year and the end of year usually filled with parties, this also means there’s probably going to be more food than will be needed.
Just bring your Tupperware.
Don’t be paise about it.
They would probably appreciate you taking time to save the food, rather than throwing it away.
Aunties will love you because they then see that they too, can take away the food.
15. Stop the social media use
In 2014, whilst sitting on my bed in the army, I was scrolling through the pictures of my friends in university. I felt a slowly growing pit of fear within me.
- What was I doing in the army?
- What was I going to do in future?
- Why am I even here?
Then it struck me.
Why was I even doing this to myself?
There was no point injecting myself with more FOMO (fear of missing out).
I quit social media.
I started by deleting the apps off my phones.
And slowly, I found myself growing more and more sane.
I stopped wanting things that my peers had, because I couldn’t even see them having it.
I lived a life that was more present in the real world rather than constantly looking for a way I could impress others on my social media account.
16. Save first, before you spend
Below, I show the framework I use in my own personal finance journey.
You would see that the first thing I do is to transfer 12% of my monthly income into a bank account I label – NO TOUCH.
This helps me to set aside a rainy day fund, in cash there are days when I really do need something.
When you do this, you see that you’ve less to spend, compared to the times before you saved first.
17. Use free trials of subscriptions
One of the ways I’ve saved money is by using free trials.
These are the free trials I use regularly:
- Amazon Prime trials
- Stockopedia trials (an investment analysis software)
I know, it sounds unethical to use multiple different email accounts for free trials, but it’s all in the name of saving money.
18. Save on transport with public transport hybrid passes
Yes, we may not like the public transport feeling where we are cramped like sardines. But it does matter that it’s 20x cheaper than your taxi.
And with the transport fares increasing on 23 December, you might just want to get that hybrid pass.
19. Put in time for travel, and use less taxis
It can feel really sexy to be couriered around in a car. But just look at the price. It’s 20x your cost of public transport.
In November, I travelled 3 times with Grab, and promptly found out how expensive it became.
I had failed to stagger in times for traveling, and ended up compressing my schedules.
I had to rush from place to place to make it for my appointments.
The easier way is to ensure that you have at least an hour of buffer between appointments, rather than trying so hard to stuff as many appointments in a day as possible.
You may feel like a CEO, but unless you’re earning like a CEO, don’t spend like a CEO.
20. Stop using Buy Now Pay Later schemes, or credit cards
Right. This is dangerous. I found myself mentally accounting that the purchase would be paid with next month’s salary.
So… theoretically I could still afford this.
Even though there was no money in my bank for it.
If you’ve found yourself doing something like that, you’ve fallen in the biggest trap of banking and finance institutions.
To make you spend more, so that you pay them more.
It’s a big danger.
Just stop using the Buy Now Pay Later schemes from the likes of Atome, Shopback, or Grab. It’s only going to make you spend more.
21. Put the spare cash to work
In junior college, I was a student who didn’t study economics. I also regularly failed Math.
You wouldn’t place your money on me having any sort of knowledge around finance.
But the turning point came for me when I finally saw my first dividend, even though it was a tiny $9 sum.
As a 21-year-old, with some cash to spare, I invested in the monthly Regular Savings Plan by DBS (although I don’t recommend that anymore today).
Whatever you do, do something to put that cash into an investment product that yields something.
Ultimately, you want to aim for the point above, where the passive income from your investments crosses the amount of money you need for your daily life.
22. Do a recurring buy of an index fund with Syfe
Instead, I recommend that you do a recurring buy on Syfe, by buying the S&P500.
The steps are simple.
- Fund the account with monthly standing instructions into Syfe (on a date before the recurring buy happens).
- Set up the recurring buy.
I suggest this because the rest of the methods are more expensive.
Here are the options.
|Endowus Fund Smart
|0.3% Endowus Fee, charged quarterly, based on your average total assets under management.
0.08% fund fee
|Whilst it’s easy to access, the cost of the fees can add up over time.
For example, the Endowus management fee may already eat into your returns with the 0.3% fees.
Imagine you put $1000 into the S&P500. The returns for the year are 16%. This means your investment is now worth $1160.
But with the 0.3% fee, your returns drop to $1156.
Sure this is still less than what you pay elsewhere, but it’s still a fee worth considering.
|2 Free trades per month
|$10-25 per trade
As you can see below, Endowus’ platform does save you significantly more, compared to fees from the likes of DBS’ Regular Savings Plan.
23. Invest in dividend yielding stocks
Whilst people can blame the Singapore market for being boring, one thing it has in abundance is dividends.
This is what true passive income means.
You don’t have to work for it.
Whilst people might say that business is the best way to create a passive income, it’s honestly not that easy.
Over the past 3 years, we’ve tried things such as:
- Selling online information products like online courses
- Selling products like books
- Selling electronic items and gadgets
Whilst it did make us some money, it didn’t make us loads of money.
It’s much much easier for you to take time to pick out good dividend yielding stocks, with good chances for capital appreciation.
24. Know why you’re saving
Ultimately, only you can know why you’re saving.
It’s important to remember why you’re doing this. Else, you wouldn’t sustain this.
It’s not starting to save that matters.
It’s the keeping of this habit that really matters.