That night, as I came home, I felt incredibly poor for having to decide whether I should spend on the bottle of kaya. The worst thing?
It wasn’t even for me.
It was for a youth exchange programme that I was going.
And I thought kaya was the best thing I could buy that depicted the uniqueness of Singapore.
If you’re thinking of how to save money on food in Singapore, fret not. There’s no shame in that.
Here’s how to do it, without reducing your quality of life.
Eat out at cheaper places when you meet friends
One of the biggest culprits for food expenses is the money you spend on restaurants.
Go on, take a look at how much you spent on restaurants last month.
Don’t stick your head in the sand.
Go on, take a look at the credit card bill.
You might be surprised.
But you might argue with me,
John, how else am I going to meet my friends if I don’t meet them at restaurants?
Especially in sunny Singapore, where free things are not really something you can find easily?
Nor can you go to the parks to walk, because you might end up sweating through your makeup.
You don’t have to bring your friends to the hawker centre. There are better options around.
One way is to find places that are off the beaten track. If you want to have something cheaper, go to places that offer meals under $10.
This is significantly cheaper than the typical $18 main you would need to order at a restaurant in a mainstream mall.
What’s more, you don’t have to sacrifice your air-conditioning.
Don’t know where to find these restaurants?
Eat off the beaten track
Here’s two principles you can use.
- Go to the places that are off the beaten track. For example, if they need some traveling away from the MRT station, they tend to be cheaper.
- Walk a bit further out from the mall just above the station.
For example, a place I recently found was Fei Fei. Located in Joo Chiat, 4 bus stops away from the Dakota MRT station, it offers airconditioning, and a $7.10 wanton mee.
Sure, it’s not as cheap as the $5 you will find in the hawker centre, but it’s way cheaper than the main you will find at most restaurants.
Know how much you’re spending on food
This is not to shame anyone.
But really, do you know how much you’re spending on food? If you don’t, it’s time to find out.
Take those bank statements, and crawl through them for an idea of how much you’re spending.
An easier way which I recommend is to use an expense tracker like Toshl (honestly, whichever you use doesn’t matter much, as long as you track).
Always bring out a fruit
If you note the times when you’ve bought something like bubble tea, it’s often in the times at 3pm, where you’re suffering the post-lunch crash, and someone suddenly suggests,
Want bubble tea, anyone?
Or the times when you suddenly feel a pang after catching a whiff of freshly baked buns whilst on your way back to the office, after lunch.
Those are the times when our ‘unplanned’ spends, take place.
And to avoid this, the easiest way is to have more unprocessed foods.
Let me peel back the layer into ultra processed foods.
In his book ‘Ultra Processed People’, Chris van Tulleken talks about how Big Food companies have deliberately engineered their foods so that we eat more and more of it, giving them more juicy profits.
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.
Get a cheaper grocer that’s within walkable distance
One of the biggest expenses is on groceries.
You know, the random eggs you need to buy on a Tuesday night, or the green tea drink you suddenly find yourself craving.
One of the ways people often do this is by shopping at the suburban malls, with the megamarts, like Fairprice Extra.
But those are often not necessarily cheaper, because you have to include the cost of transport there and back.
One way is to actually go to the smaller minimarts around your home. Those like Sheng Siong, Prime, or even U-Stars are often much better options than the bigger ones like FairPrice.
After all, at Fairprice, the bigger variety might prompt you to buy even more food that you don’t need.
Eat before you shop at the grocers
The U.K. was the first time I realised how much thought went into making you buy more than you needed.
The moment you walked in, you would have a bread aisle, filled with the delicious aromas of bread to prompt you to get some ‘freshly baked breads’, even though they were probably mass produced and later heated up in the oven at the store.
You would then have sweet aisles near the checkouts to prompt you to pick up chocolates you didn’t need.
One way to buy less at the grocery store, is to eat before you shop.
That way, you will be less tempted to pick up more food than you need.
Pay for time, not just food
I won’t get brownie points for this with my home Econs teacher (not that I ever had one in a boys school).
But another hack I’ve learnt is to buy cooked food.
The places that offer this are Cold Storage, Fairprice and Giant. But the better variety still comes in Cold Storage, where there’s:
- Char siew
- Roast chicken
- Pork belly
- Pork ribs
- Roast duck
It is great. It’s an incredible timesaver.
Shop at 8pm for reduced to clear meats
All you need to do is buy it after 8pm, to get the reduced to clear prices.
Those are often 50% off. Then you can eat that for the rest of the week. For example, I usually buy a mix of 3 different meats, and then mix that for the rest of the week. It could be a full chicken, with a slab of ribs, and a chunk of duck breast.
It then goes into a Thermos flask, which I have for lunch.
There’s no point shopping in the afternoon. Go to FairPrice on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm and you will get what I mean.
You have to squeeze with people struggling to checkout at the counter, changing shifts at 5pm, and parents trying to squeeze in some grocery shopping whilst their children toil in tuition.
Reduced to clear isn’t a bad option
Go to most supermarkets (except FairPrice, which doesn’t have such a policy), and you would see a reduced to clear section.
You will find them most often in Cold Storage and Giant, which seem to have some disastrous ways of procurement.
These are products that are close to expiry.
It’s also a good way to get quality products, at a much cheaper price.
Look at food rescue groups
One way is to go to food rescue groups to get the food they are rescuing from grocers who would otherwise throw them away. Of course, you have to pay in terms of the hours you are volunteering to get this food.
But if you want to support a good cause, and also use food that would otherwise be thrown away, this is an option.
Though I don’t recommend it because I think it’s far too much hassle.
One group doing this is SG Food Rescue.
The numbers are a little staggering.
Eat at school coffeeshops
If you work at school, eat there.
I know. Some people say the food is boring, but the prices there are likely to be more affordable.
If you need to save on food
Life is hard.
And sometimes the cost of living can unwittingly weigh on your decisions to buy food.
If that’s you, there’s no shame in doing that.
Just follow some of these tips, and you might start finding yourself cutting bills, without cutting back.