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Cost of Living in Singapore 2023: What Can We Do To Manage Our Expenses?

Alevin Chan

Alevin Chan

Last updated 25 October, 2023

Record-high inflation is just one cause of the high cost of living in Singapore. Here’s what we can do to manage expenses that keep rising. 

If you feel like the cost of living in Singapore has gone up in recent years, well the following fact will give you nothing but cold comfort. 

In December 2022, the Lion City tied with New York as the most expensive city in the world, marking 8 out of 10 years of holding this dubious honour. And to add another gilded feather to our gold-trimmed hat, Swiss bank Julius Baer Group has already named Singapore the world’s most expensive city for 2023. Yes, even before the year is up.

From a sleepy fishing village to the most expensive city in the world, how did we get here? And what – if anything – can we do to manage our expenses? 

Table of contents

Main drivers behind Singapore’s high cost of living

So why is the cost of living in Singapore so high? Well, it depends on who you ask. 

Reasons put forth range from rising land costs and Singapore’s growing population; to uncontrollable macroeconomic forces like the Ukraine war and rising inflation; and even us somehow being a victim of our own success – things are expensive here because of our popularity as a hub for business investment (read “attract the big money”). 

Let’s not forget rising home and accommodation costs, which is a major factor in the cost of living. Despite stringent cooling measures, property prices in Singapore seem determined to continue their march upwards. 

This is due to a mixture of different factors, including low land supply, continuing domestic demand, and the recent pandemic-induced supply crunch. Also, as more and more young Singaporeans seek to move out of their parents’ homes, demand for living space increases further, causing rents to shoot up. 

And then there’s how wages in Singapore aren’t rising fast enough. Despite a decade-high spike of 6.5% in 2022, real income rose by only 0.4%. The reason? Inflation, which also saw an uncharacteristic spike that same year. 

So while salaries in Singapore have been rising, they have barely kept pace with inflation. This is why while your take home pay may have been increasing, you don’t necessarily feel like you have more money.  

And when you factor in the lifestyle creep that inevitably comes with residing in a world-class city, trying to tame the cost of living can seem like an insurmountable battle at times. 

The end effect on the average person is high costs everywhere we look – whether it be accommodation and housing; owning a car or other forms of private transport; or everyday expenses such as meals and utilities. 

Read also: What is The Average Salary in Singapore And Are You Earning Enough?

 

What is the average cost of living in Singapore?

According to Singstat surveys, the three largest household expenditures are housing, food and private transport. Here are some benchmark figures to help describe the cost of living in Singapore. 

Housing and accommodation

By far, home mortgages and rents count for the largest expenditure for the majority of households in Singapore. If you’re renting, you can expect to pay the following prices.

Apartment type

Monthly rent

1 bedroom (city centre)

S$2,500 to S$6,000

1 bedroom (outside of centre)

S$2,000 to S$4,200

3 bedroom (city centre)

S$5,500 to S$13,800

3 bedroom (outside of centre)

S$3,500 to S$8,000

As for owning a home, here are some mortgages drawn from the Oct 2023 HDB BTO launch.

HDB flat type

Selling price (excluding grants)

2 room Flexi

S$106,000 to S$303,000

3 room 

S$216,000 to S$675,000

4 room

S$319,000 to S$702,000

5 room

S$463,000 to S$595,000


Food and groceries, including restaurants

In this next table, we list how much Singaporean households spend each month on food, groceries and restaurants (excluding alcoholic beverages and tobacco). The data is extracted from the latest Singstat Household Expenditure Survey (2017/18), which is conducted every five years. 

Given that the following numbers are from 2018, you can expect today’s prices to be much higher, given the current elevated inflation we’re facing.

Income percentile

Average monthly expenses per household

Overall average

S$1,220.70

81st to 100th

S$1,579.60

61st to 80th

S$1,428.80

41st to 60th

S$1,281.60

21st to 40th

S$1,029.80

1st to 20th

S$741.50

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Private transport

And as for owning a car, we’ll let the latest COE numbers speak for themselves (accurate as of Oct 2023). 

COE Category

Quota Premium

Cat A

Cars ≤ 1,600cc & 130bhp, or 110kW

S$106,000

Cat B

Cars > 1,600cc or 130bhp, or 110kW

S$150,001

Cat C

Goods Vehicle & Bus

S$84,790

Cat D 

Motorcycles

S$11,201

Open E

Open

S$158,004

In case you’re unfamiliar with how the COE system works, you essentially have to bid for a certificate to own a private car in Singapore. The numbers in the right-hand column are how much you have to pay in addition to the open market value of the vehicle. 

This is how high-end cars in Singapore can end up costing as much or more than an entire HDB flat!

 

What we can do to manage rising costs of living 

Make judicious use of credit cards

Look, you’re going to be spending money anyway, so why not take the chance to be rewarded for it? The air miles, cashback and reward points you can earn can directly contribute to reducing your expenses, if you plan and use them right. 

Cashback is the most straightforward, allowing you to save a sum of money each month. Reward points, meanwhile, are highly versatile, as you can bank them up and redeem them for all manner of vouchers, gifts and even credit card bill offsets. 

Air miles cards come in two varieties – co-branded with KrisFlyer, and non-co-branded. The former automatically converts your spendings to KrisFlyer miles, so you can redeem them for free flights and privileges the next time you fly. 

As for non-co-branded air miles cards, you’ll receive rewards points instead, which you then need to redeem for air miles on your preferred frequent flyer programme, such as KrisFlyer or AsiaMiles. Non-co-branded air miles cards offer more flexibility, as you can opt to trade in your rewards points for other perks instead of air miles, if you wish. 

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On top of air miles, rewards points and cashback, there are also a slew of offers and promotions that can give you more bang for your buck the next time you’re out dining or shopping. And let’s not forget other perks such as free airport lounge access, complimentary travel insurance, free airport transfers, partnership discounts and more. 

As long as you use your credit cards responsibly, all these perks and privileges are available to help you counter high prices. 

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Pay attention to your mortgage rates

Property prices are only going to continue going up, making it even more important to pay attention to your mortgage rate. Even half a percentage point can mean paying several thousands of dollars more. 

Right now, mortgage rates are at sky-high levels, due to elevated central bank interest rates. The good news is, what goes up must come down, and home mortgage rates will also fall once central banks back off on interest rates. 

Hence, it’s worth paying attention to the mortgage market and keeping track of interest rate announcements. Once they start to fall, take the chance to refinance your mortgage to reduce your mortgage payments. 

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Upskill or start a side hustle 

If you’re finding it difficult to keep up with expenses, one immediately effective solution is to increase your income. You can do this in one of two ways – by increasing your skills to take on more responsibilities at work in return for a pay raise, or by starting up a side hustle to generate a second income. 

Both of these options will not be easy, and there are many considerations involved. However, once you’ve done the hard work and laid the foundations, the increase in income will be a lasting benefit that you and your family can enjoy.

Just be careful to avoid sketchy get-rich-quick schemes that will more than likely end up wasting your time and money. 

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Start investing

It may seem counterintuitive to think about investing when rising costs are bearing down on you. Well, if you’re struggling to keep up, this option isn’t quite for you yet; see the tip above.

However, if you actually have some spare cash that you are highly unlikely to need to tap into for the near future, consider investing. 

Ultimately, the only way not to be affected by rising prices is to be able to afford them no matter what. Assuming you’ve hit your ceiling career wise, relying on wage increases will not sufficiently alleviate cost-of-living pressures, as discussed above. 

However, by putting your money to work for you through proper, well-planned investments, you stand a real chance of pulling far enough ahead to be able to start breathing a little easier. For the vast majority of us, this means investing in the market with a long-term mindset. 

I must emphasise: This is not about day trading, “investing” in shady fads like NFTs and cryptocurrencies, or attempting to time the market with some secret technique nobody knew about. 

Long-term investing is about disciplined, regular investing in a proven asset or market, at a pace and budget you can comfortably keep up with. 

If you do it correctly, when the next time cost-of-living pressures increase again (and it will, given the cyclical nature of the economy), you just might be able to cushion the blow and have an easier time.

 

Tags inflation

An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.

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