Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a frugal person living in Singapore looks like? Probably not. But I’ll just show you what it’s like anyway, with this frugal money diary series.
I decided to start writing money diaries to document memorable moments of my life. It’ll be fun to look back 5 years from now and see how I spent my money.
The events of the following money diary took place sometime in September 2019; I just didn’t write it until June 2020.
And one last thing – All currency stated in this post is in Singapore dollars (S$).
Thanks for reading!
Starting the Day with Breakfast
My alarm goes off at 7AM, just like it would any other work day of the year. After snoozing for 15 minutes (a bad habit of mine), I reluctantly pry myself out of my very comfortable bed, already dreading the work day ahead.
Work has been exhausting. Office politics is widespread, my two bosses constantly at heads with each other. This puts me in an unfortunate position – right at the centre of it all. I’m always reminding myself to keep an extremely low profile, by just doing what I have to do, and heading home after.
But before dealing with all of that, I treat myself to one of my favourite breakfasts – 2 sunny-side up eggs. It usually keeps me full until lunch.
In Singapore, you can buy a pack of 30 eggs for $5.45 at a local supermarket. That’s $0.18 per egg. My breakfast of 2 eggs? $0.36.
After, I make my way down to the office, where I’ll spend the next 8 hours pushing paper and dealing with office politics. This is the worst part of my day – spending my morning squashed between hordes of people all commuting to the central business district, all the while fighting the dreaded anticipation of the upcoming work day.
Thankfully, Singapore’s public transportation system is fairly efficient and insanely cheap. It costs me just $0.93 to get to my workplace.
The sight that I see when I get there is one that I see every day, and it’s wearing me down slowly.
My first desk in the office before I moved departments.
The little bit of excitement taking me through the day is that I get to have lunch with one of my best friends, and dinner with another friend I hadn’t seen in years.
“But that costs money”, the extremely frugal voice at the back of my head reminds me, “Remember not to spend too much!” The guilt of spending money starts to overwhelm me, before I’m able to put things in perspective.
“Stop it”, I hiss back, trying to shut the voice out. I already have a sizable amount of savings from 5 years of part-time work and 3 years of full-time work. It doesn’t make sense for me to be this distraught over having lunch and dinner out.
During the first half (4 hours) of my work day, I manage to get through without getting caught in the crossfire.
With a little bit of spare time on my hands, I start brainstorming ways to be frugal for lunch, eventually coming up with a few ideas.
Enjoying a Mid-Day Lunch Break
Armed with a $2.50 can of tuna (I keep a few of these in my desk drawer at all times, just in case), a packet of milo (taken from the free company pantry), and a cup of yoghurt (also taken from the free pantry), I pack everything up into a small brown paper bag, and then head down to meet my best friend.
She’s getting married soon, and wants to save money as well. We settle on a cheap government-subsidised cafeteria, where food options range from $2 to $5.
Free food and drinks from the office pantry.
Tuna from the supermarket, costs $2.50.
For just $2, you could get a bowl of mee soto, or a bowl of mee goreng, or a small breakfast platter (with bread, eggs, and ham). I’ve eaten all of this before, and they’re not fantastic. But hey, I can’t expect too much for just $2, which is already a steal.
I still prefer canned tuna though, so I go with that.
My best friend orders a bowl of yong tau foo, a mix of noodles, tofu, and a little meat. I think it comes up to $4.
She gets a drink as well. $0.50.
We tuck into our food. She talks about the upcoming wedding and the stresses that she’s facing, while I listen and try to comfort her, strangely relieved that I won’t be getting married myself (in Singapore, homosexuality is still criminalised).
For dessert, I’m conflicted as to whether I should get a goreng pisang (a fried banana; it’s really good) for $1. It’s not that it’s expensive, but I’ve been trying to eat healthily. I decided not to get it, saving a little bit of both my financial wealth and physical health. I feel happy about that decision, though my stomach curses me for it.
Altogether, my lunch costs just $2.50.
And now, it’s back to work.
This is one of the cheap food dishes in the government-subsidised cafeteria. There’s grilled chicken, coleslaw, baked beans, mashed potatoes and garlic bread – all for the affordable price of $4.50.
Ending the Night with a Free Dinner
The rest of my workday goes fairly smoothly. I pat myself on the back as I step out of the office, while enjoying the fresh air, a rare commodity when working an office job.
“A day of completed work is another day of savings, and another day closer to early retirement”, I remind myself.
I’m excited to meet my friend, who I haven’t seen in years. To travel to where she is, I have two options.
- Take a 15-minute bus ride, for $0.93.
- Walk about 4 kilometres (about 2.5 miles) for an hour, which is free.
I choose the free option.
What sways my decision is that it is still early (I have an hour before meeting my friend), I love walking, and I need my doses of sunlight and exercise for the day. Walking for an hour seems like the obvious choice, and I walk those 4 kilometres.
Along the way, I try to decide what to get for dinner. I’ve made up my mind to treat my friend to dinner, so I want something not too cheap, yet wouldn’t break the bank at the same time.
Over the past year, my friend had been job-hopping from industry to industry. I think she went through 3 jobs in that short span of time, but never found satisfaction or fulfillment anywhere she went.
Eventually, she decided to quit her job to pursue entrepreneurship. She’s currently pursuing her passion of starting an online educational platform to teach young children.
Unfortunately, the money isn’t good. She’s currently making a grand total of well, zero dollars. Negative even, because she had been investing into her business venture without any return. That’s the price of entrepreneurship, and she was willing to pay it.
So she’s a starving entrepreneur, and I’m the one with a full-time job. It feels like my responsibility to treat her to something nice.
We both love Japanese, so I settle on Chirashi Dons (a Japanese rice bowl with cubed raw fish on top). They cost about $16 a pop, or $32 for 2. Luckily, I’m extremely familiar with promotions and cashback apps, and one of them was offering a cool 30% cashback. This brings the price per bowl down to $11.20, or $22.40 for 2 people. Not too bad.
As I near the Japanese restaurant, all ready to fork out money for delicious rice bowls, I receive a text message from my friend, “FREE FOOD. Hurry!”
My eyes narrow, and questions start popping into my mind. After all, I was always taught that there’s no such thing as a free meal. I text her back.
“What? Where? Why?”
Her response is immediate. “The Incubator is giving out free food. RUN.”
The Incubator is a co-working space at our university, of which we are both alumni. In a bid to help out starving entrepreneurs, the Incubator provides free hot desks, and apparently, free food as well.
Here’s what the Incubator looked like (before they moved in 2020). The picture was sent to me by my friend.
By the time I get there, the food is 80% gone. But the remaining food still looks scrumptious; I start salivating. We fill our plates, grab free drinks, and head outdoors to sit on the lawn. There are a few people around, but not too many. There’s still sunlight, but it’s not too bright. Greenery is abundant, and it’s quite a beautiful sight to see.
We eat heartily while enjoying the fresh air. I had managed to score fried rice, tofu, fish, chicken, gravy and some fried food. Not bad for a free dinner.
As night settles in, my friend updates me on everything going on in her life – her passionate entrepreneurship ventures, her complicated love life, her exciting travels. I tell her about mine – a soul-sucking desk job, an unknown blog and a boring social life. Not terribly exciting.
I enjoy the catch-up session with my friend. She’s passionate, inspiring and self-motivated. My thoughts drift from time to time. Would I ever be able to quit my job too? Would I ever get a shot of earning money from a passion project?
My mind races as I listen to my friend talk about entrepreneurship.
For a very long time, I had been afraid to quit my job to jump into things I love. The most I could work on passion projects was on the side. But my friend is different; she jumps in with both feet. She encourages me to quit my job and to work on whatever makes me happy, like writing for my blog. For a few moments, I actually feel like I could do what she’s doing. Maybe there’s some hope for my future after all.
3 hours goes by quickly, and soon, it’s time for us to part. I need to get home, shower, chill in bed, and prepare for the next day of work (groan).
We stop by a convenient store near the bus station. She picks up a bottle of Kirin beer for $2, and I get 2 milk teas for my brother at home. The bottles of milk tea are on offer, 2 for $2.
She tells me that she drinks almost every day. I ask why.
“Stress, I guess.”
Underneath all the passion and excitement of entrepreneurship, there lay stress and uncertainty. I could see it in her slightly-weary face, in her tired sighs. I just know that I would feel the same if there ever came a day where I was working for myself.
As she reaches for her wallet to make payment, I gently insist that I pay for it. We tussle for a little bit, but I manage to tap my card on the reader first. It’s the least I could do.
In those few hours with my friend, I had felt more empowered and inspired than I had been in the past 2-3 years of my stupid desk job.
$4, for 1 beer and 2 milk teas.
It’s already nearing 10.30pm, and while I wait for my bus, my friend heads back to the Incubator to get in more work. She tells me that she normally doesn’t leave the Incubator till the last train home, which is around midnight.
I remind her that health always comes first, and to find a good balance. She nods and we part ways.
After a $1.03 bus ride, I reach home at past 11pm. I end up sleeping way past midnight, thinking about my own life, future and career. I wonder what I’d be able to do with myself.
I eventually come to the conclusion that I’d hang out with my friend more, because her kind of positivity and optimism is so addicting, and frankly, quite necessary.
“Maybe one day I’ll get to become an entrepreneur too”, I think to myself as I finally fall asleep.
How Much Did I Spend?
|Amount Spent (S$)
|$0.93 + $1.03
Total cost for eating out and spending almost the entire day out: $8.82.
I could use more days like these.
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