So, the year is coming to an end, and between not being able to travel and working from home, you’re probably sitting on a pile of unused annual leave.
Here’s how you can spend your unused annual leave in Singapore and put yourself in a stronger financial position for 2021.
Even if your employer allows you to encash your leave (just thank your lucky stars already), chances are you may still have a good number of days left over. Not sure what to do with all those leave days that you’ll be forced to clear by the end of the year? We’ve come up with some recommendations that may also bring about some financial benefits.
DIY your home office
If it hasn’t already, working from home may become a permanent fixture down the line. If your current home office setup is less than ideal, it is a good idea to do some DIY improvements while clearing your leave.
Take the time to properly measure and plan a dedicated workspace. Alter the layout of your home to create a niche that is reasonably well-lit, sited away from distractions and traffic — this will be helpful during those long Zoom calls.
The two most important components of your workspace are your desk and your chair, so be sure to research how to choose the best options for you. After you set up your desk and chair, it’s time to consider other peripherals you might need, such as desktop lamps, laptop stands, drawers or filing systems. Remember that most of these essentials will cost you anywhere between $11 (earphones) to $499 (a good SecretLab chair, for instance).
Think of this as an investment in an uncertain future — a proper home office will help keep you productive and focused during work-from-home, and may even be the launchpad of your very own freelance business (say yes to more passive income).
Turn your house into a smart home
Your home is your castle, so why not change it to serve your needs better with nifty feats like automatically turning your aircon on 30 mins before you arrive home, or dimming the lights come movie time?
The geeky, DIY nature of turning your abode into an interconnected smart home scratches the itch for homeowners who like to tinker. And the result? A home that is programmed to your preferences and habits, easily controlled with voice commands.
Also, smart home appliances are generally more energy efficient, so switching out your fluorescent bulbs and dumb switches will also reduce your utilities bills down the line. Imagine if your own Jarvis could save you a cool $100 every month, it’d be awesome, right?
Host a friendly home championship
Create an exciting and memorable family tradition with a week-long, video game championship at home, complete with grand prize and bragging rights.
The excellent Mario Kart Home Circuit on the Nintendo Switch is an ideal game for this. You can set up a physical race circuit in your home, complete with checkpoints for players to race remote-controlled Mario Kart vehicles. The vehicles include built-in video cameras, which provide players with a live-action view of the race on their Switch consoles.
All the best parts of the video game are preserved, including the ability to throw bombs at opponents to slow them down or stop them. It’s an incredibly innovative take on the popular video game. If you and your kids are fans of sci-fi or real-time strategy games, challenge them to a Starcraft II playoff. The multiplayer is free online, so even your nieces and nephews can join in.
For casual family entertainment, it’s best to keep things light with free-for-all modes or team-based co-op, just in case that one cousin gets all hyper-competitive and starts trash-talking again (not cool, Eugene!). Contrary to popular belief, video games are actually great for family-bonding, providing days of interactive fun without burning a hole in your wallet the way, say, online ‘life skills’ classes for your kids tend to do.
Learn homebrewing, cooking or baking
If your day job involves mostly mental work, switch gears with something more manual instead. Try homebrewing, cooking or baking, which not only make good use of your hands, but they also involve your other senses, and inspire creativity as you experiment with new recipes.
As an added bonus, the fruits of your labour can make for thoughtful, unique gifts for friends and family come Christmas time. Think homemade jams, fresh breads and eggnog or mead.
Best of all, you can begin homebrewing, cooking and baking with minimal fuss and inexpensive starter equipment. You don’t even have to sign up for courses; there is a wealth of simple-to-follow recipes and videos on YouTube to get you started.
Once you hit on a winner, you never have to waste money on impersonal, commercialised gifts for the seasons ever again. We just saved you a few hundred dollars — you can thank us later.
Learn a new sport or gym workout
Many people fear stepping into the gym or onto the court because they can’t bear to look like a novice in front of all the pros who’d be judging how you’re carrying that dumbbell or swinging that racquet.
A word of advice? Get over your shyness by hiring a coach or getting your seasoned friend to show you the ropes at your local gym or badminton court. Or, up your game by learning an advanced gym routine, like stronglifts 5x5, or the Bulgarian Method. Doing this while on leave is the best, because you can a) avoid the peak-period crowd, b) take all the time you need, and c) focus on integrating what you’ve learned for better results.
Having more workouts to try will motivate you to increase your gym visits, in turn maximising the value of your expensive membership while reaping improved health and fitness levels.
Visit local farms
Singapore imports the majority of the foods we consume, but that doesn’t mean there’s no local produce to be found. In fact, from vegetables and fruits to herbs, spices and even seafood, there are local farms that offer fresh, sustainable produce that you can incorporate into your diet.
Plan a visit to some of Singapore’s hidden-gem local farms to learn more about the food you eat (or could be eating) and the importance of sustainable farming practices in ensuring our food security. You could also pick up urban farming tips and tricks in case your visits inspire you to start your own urban garden at home. Also, finding your green thumb will let you say goodbye to overpriced fresh herbs and cut flowers, which means more money in the bank.
Explore cafe bookstores
Since we’ve been temporarily stripped of the ability to travel to a foreign country, the next best thing is to explore a whole new world between the pages of a book with a cup of coffee at hand.
Singapore has a number of bookshop cafes that are worth checking out, each decked out in unique signature styles. Some of our favourites span the arresting wall-to-wall showcase of local books at Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop; the bookish shophouse cred of The Moon; the trademark no-frills simplicity of MUJI Jewel (the 3rd floor was recently converted into a reading lounge); the laid-back living room vibes of The BOOK Cafe.
Drop in to browse the shelves for a promising title, then settle down and read as your cuppa brews in the background. If you’re worried about your career in this post-pandemic era, you could even pick up a book or two by experts in your sector and arm yourself with insights for what’s to come next year.
Relieve the magic of old school film
With Hollywood execs delaying blockbuster releases to hedge their losses, now is the time to reacquaint yourself with the magic of old school cinema.
Squint away from the glare of typical neighbourhood cineplexes to discover the neon-lit allure of Singapore’s indie theatres, offering an eclectic catalogue spanning cult classics to historic gems.
Tucked within the winding Ann Siang Hill area is Screening Room, a combination boutique film theatre and chill lounge best known for intimate screenings of independent films, served up with cocktails. Then, there’s The Projector, long-standing stalwart of SIngapore’s alternative culture scene where you’re likely to find screenings of the latest blockbusters as well as arthouse flicks, local hits and foreign film festivals.
Meanwhile, the restored Oldham Theatre carries the intriguing Asian Film Archives, where you can find landmark works by award-winning filmmakers from all over Asia.
Why, then, would you want to stress yourself out by having to do something while you’re clearing your annual leave? Kick back and spend your leave days doing nothing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break for real — goodness knows you’ve more than earned it just for surviving the crazy year that is 2020.
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