How Much Do You Need To Earn To Survive In Singapore?

Do you earn enough to survive in Singapore?

I did some calculations to try to find out. (Note: This is by no means a scientific study. You can also do your own calculations to draw the conclusions.)

A Low-Income Earner Won’t be Able to Save And Retire In Singapore

First, I looked at someone who earns a low income of $800 monthly (Chart 1).

Slide1

Chart 1

I had used these assumptions about the person’s expenditure:

  • Around $100 goes to CPF monthly
  • Spends $10 everyday on food ($300 monthly)
  • Spends about $3 everyday on transport ($100 monthly)
  • Spends about $200 monthly on rental (if able to apply for subsidised housing)
  • Pays bills of around $100 monthly

You can see that if a person spends on the most basic things, and if he/she earns only $800, he/she would not be able to save at all.

But there’s more. The real incomes of low-income earners are likely to keep falling, as they had over the past decade (Chart 2).

Uneven Real Income Growth

Chart 2

Also, over a person’s lifetime, if he/she is a low-income earner, his/her income will also fall as he/she ages (Chart 3).

Incomes Of Low Income Earners Drop Over Lifetime

Chart 3

So, for a low-income earner, he/she won’t have enough to save, will most probably fall into debt, won’t have enough to pay for the debt, won’t be able to retire and will be scared for his/her life if he/she falls sick. If he/she gets hospitalised or needs an operation, he/she will have no money at all to pay for the bills.

So, for a low-income earner, they will never be able to save and retire (Chart 4).

Slide2

Chart 4

A Middle-Income Family Wouldn’t Be Able to Save And Retire In Singapore Either

What if we look at another scenario, of a family with 2 children?

In Chart 5, we see Zheng Tian Zhen, who starts work at 25 and earns a starting salary of $2,500. Her boyfriend, Ye Bei Pian, also earns a starting salary of $2,500 at 25.

Slide3

Chart 5

I had worked with these assumptions:

  • Their salary increases 4% annually until they are 39. At 40, their salary increases by 1% annually. At 55, their salary decreases by 1% annually (Chart 6). (In comparison, this is already better than the income growth pattern of a low//middle-income earner as in Chart 3.)
  • 20% of their salary is deducted for the employee CPF contribution monthly.
  • All expenses (food, transport, bills, miscellaneous things) increase by 2% annually, to account for inflation.
  • They spend 20% of their monthly salary on insurance.

Slide 20

Chart 6

Based on what they each spend in Chart 5, assuming that they are very thrifty, they should be able to save $500 monthly in the first few years.

Say 5 years later at age 30, they get married and buy a flat for about $300,000. After another 5 years, at age 35, they give birth to a set of twins. Assuming that they use their CPF to pay for the down payment of the flat, and a proportion of their housing loan, they will pay $500 every month, from their salaries, on the housing loan. Their expenses on food will double for each of them (for each children), and they will start spending 25% of each of their salaries on insurance, to buy insurance for their children. Their expenses on transport will also double in a few years’ time.

Chart 7 will be what their expenditure will look like in 2023, at the age of 35, 10 years from now (note that the figures are after accounting for inflation). From now onwards, they wouldn’t be able to save for the next 25 years, until their children reach adulthood, graduate and start working. Hopefully, the insurance that they buy will be able to cover for their children’s education.

Slide4

Chart 7

Chart 8 shows what their expenses will look like in 2048, at age 60, when their children finally graduate (note that the figures are after accounting for inflation). They will be able to start saving again for the next 5 years before they retire at 65, but most of the new savings will go towards paying the accumulated loans over the past few years. They would also move to start paying 35% of their salaries into insurance, to purchase the more expensive hospitalisation plans – which Medishield wouldn’t fully cover.

Slide5

Chart 8

So, at the end of it all, Zheng Tian Zhen and Ye Bei Pian would not be left with any savings. They would have spent most of their CPF paying for the housing loan that they would have so little left that they wouldn’t be able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum, and wouldn’t be able to take their money out.

Looking at Chart 9, assuming that a person would need to spend $1,000 to $1,500 every month in 2013, by 2053, this would be around $2,200 to $2,300 every month, which means annual expenses would be between $27,600 to $39,600. If a person lives until the life expectancy of 81 years old, he/she would need enough savings for another 16 years, which means that when he/she retires, he/she would need to have saved $450,000 to $640,000.

Slide6

Chart 9

So, assuming that Zheng Tian Zhen and Ye Bei Pian have no savings but each receives a payout of $100,000 from their insurance, this might only last them for only a few years before they have to start working again. Or they might have to delay their retirement until past the age of 70 or 75.

So, you can see that for low to middle-income earners in Singapore, it would be very hard for them to survive in Singapore with their low pay.

Most Singaporeans Won’t Have Enough In Their CPF To Retire

But that’s not all.

In 2013, Singaporeans need to set aside $148,000 in their CPF before they would be able to take their CPF out. According to the CPF Board, “cash balances can only be withdrawn after setting aside both the CPF Minimum Sum and Medisave Required Amount.

Not only that, there is also the Medisave Minimum Sum of $38,500 that a Singaporean needs to also set aside. In total, together with the CPF Minimum Sum, a person would need to set aside $186,500. Working backwards, does this mean that if you don’t earn $884, you won’t be able to meet the minimum sums at all?

However, currently, 16% of Singaporeans earn less than $1,000 – which means that around 15% of Singaporeans will never be able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum and will never be able to take their CPF and Medisave out. Also, considering that the incomes of the low-income earners drop over time, would more than a quarter then not be able to meet their CPF Minimum Sum? Will this figure be 20% or 25%?

It is stated by the CPF Board that, “the Minimum Sum was set at $80,000 in 2003 and will be raised gradually until it reaches $120,000 (in 2003 dollars) in 2015 (Chart 14). These amounts will be adjusted yearly for inflation. ” What happens after 2015? What if the government decides to keep raising the Minimum Sum again? Then would we need to earn minimally $1,500 or $2,000 now to be able to meet the Minimum Sum when we retire in 40 years’ time?

photo (4)

Chart 14

This throws up some questions:

  • Why did the government make the CPF and Medisave minimum sums so high that at least 15% would not even be able to meet these minimum sums in the first place, no matter how hard they work?
  • Why does the government insist that Singaporeans need to have a minimum sum in their CPF if the money gets locked in and trapped inside, and at least 15% of the people would never be able to get their own money back?
  • Why does the government not implement a minimum wage, knowing that the low-income earners won’t be able to meet the minimum sums without a minimum wage paid to them?
  • Why does the government continues to call the CPF a retirement fund or a golden nest, when at least 15% of Singaporeans can forget about the money that they set aside in the CPF?
  • Why doesn’t the government implement a more progressive contribution structure on the CPF where the rich pay more and the poor pay lesser, so that the poor would be protected by the so-called “national insurance scheme”?
  • How does the government expect the large proportion of Singaporeans to be able to retire if they wouldn’t have any savings or retirement funds? If so, what is the government’s responsibility to the people?

Singaporeans Need At Least $2,000 To Live Even A Basic Lifestyle In Singapore

So, all in, how much would Singaporeans need to earn so that they would have enough to save and retire (if they were to spend on the most basic things).

Based on my rough calculations, for a person who is single, he/she would need to earn at least $2,000 every month in order to be able to do so (Chart 15). And this is if he/she lives a very basic lifestyle, with no holidays, no further education and no upgrading.

Slide12

Chart 15

For a family of 4, each parent would need to earn at least $3,500 every month, and that is if both of them are very thrifty, and again, on a very basic lifestyle (Chart 16).

Slide13

Chart 16

But how many Singaporeans currently would be able to earn these amounts? As can be seen in Chart 12, nearly 40% of Singaporeans are not even earning $2,000. And if they have children, the $2,000 wouldn’t be enough at all.

Also, as can be seen in Chart 17, around 65% of Singaporeans are earning less than $3,500, which means that only a third of Singaporeans earn more than $3,500 and can afford to have children somewhat comfortably.

Slide11

Chart 17

So, Is The Government Helping? 

Question is, does the government know that Singaporeans would need to have at least $2,000 to be able to even have a basic standard of living in Singapore? The answer lies in the Workfare Income Supplement.

According to the CPF Board, “The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme was announced during the 2007 Budget Speech as a permanent scheme … to supplement the wages and retirement savings of older low-wage workers as well as to encourage them to stay employed.” To qualify for the WIS, the worker must be a Singaporean who “earn(s) an average gross monthly income of not more than $1,900″. And note that the definition of “average gross monthly income” refers to the “basic salary and additional wages like overtime pay and bonuses”.

So, indeed, the government has calculated and knows that someone earning less than $2,000 would face massive difficulties surviving in Singapore. But, how much is the government actually helping? To be fair to the government, let’s look at the worker earning $1,000, because this is the wage range where the WIS payout is the highest. If you are 60 and above and earns $1,000, the government will give you $3,500 for one year. But out of this $3,500, $2,100 will go into CPF. The worker will only receive $1,400 in cash. What does this mean on a monthly basis? This means that the worker will only receive $116.67 every month. So, in total, the worker will receive a grand total of $1116.67 in cash every month.

What about a 35 year old who earns $1,000? He/she will receive only an addition of $46.67 every month, which will amount to only $1046.67 every month. A worker below age 35 won’t receive anything under the WIS.

Is this even enough? A Singaporean would need to earn at least $2,000 monthly to be able to have a most basic standard of living in Singapore. But even with the WIS, even with the highest financial assistance, a person would still earn only $1116.67 montly, and this is only when you are pass 60. But this is no where near $2,000!

Prof Lim Chong Yah Was Right. Wages for Low-Income Earners Need to Grow By At Least 50%

Do you remember Prof Lim Chong Yah’s Shock Therapy to our wages last year? I haven’t seen his actual proposal, but according to Yahoo! Singapore, he had “urged the raising of salaries of workers earning less than $1,500 by 50 per cent over three years while imposing a moratorium on the country’s highest wages during the same time”.

And you know what, Prof Lim was right. His proposal is exactly what needs to be done in Singapore.

In Chart 18, I tried to do a rough calculation of our wages if we had followed this proposal.

Slide14

Chart 18

If we follow Prof Lim’s recommendations, there would be a lot more Singaporeans who would be able to save and retire. If you are earning $1,300 now, your wages would at least increase to nearly $2,000, which would at least allow you to be able to save and retire, if you live on a shoestring budget.

If you earn $2,500 now, with the uplifted wages, you would be able to earn $3,500 and it would be more affordable for you to have children.

Also, as wages spike at the bottom, and the growth at the top remains small, as Prof Lim had recommended, this will have the effect of equalising the wages across the board and reducing the income inequality. Prices might rise a little but with more people having higher incomes, the effects would be more manageable.

So, instead of nearly 40% of Singaporeans who earn less than $2,000, this would be reduced to a quarter. Instead of 65% of Singaporeans earning less than $3,500, this would be reduced to about half of Singaporeans.

What this also means is that there will also be an increase in the number of Singaporeans who would be better able to afford to have children and who would be more likely to do so (Chart 19). This will have the effect of increasing Singapore’s fertility rate as well.

So, now do you also know why Singapore’s fertility rate has been dropping? There’s really no point in bringing a child into this world if you cannot provide adequately for the child, let alone for yourself.

Slide15

Chart 19

But then, Prof Lim’s proposal was slammed by the government. Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress Lim Swee Say had said that the proposal was “risky”.

From this article, you would see that far from it, Prof Lim’s proposal is necessary. If anything, Prof Lim had also been conservative in his proposal. To be able to protect all Singaporeans, wages for the poorest in Singapore would need to be increased by 100%, not just 50%!

Clearly, the wages of Singaporeans and the workers in Singapore have been depressed for far too long. As Chart 2 had shown, the real incomes of low-income earners have actually dropped over the past decade. Also, for the majority of Singaporeans, they have seen very slow growth in their incomes. However, the incomes for the rich have shot up.

There is clearly very uneven growth in incomes in Singapore, such that a growing number of Singaporeans are no longer able to live adequately in Singapore. A growing number of Singaporeans are not able to save and retire and that means that YOU will also very likely have to work until you are pass 70 or 75, or even until your death. Is this what you want?

Meanwhile, healthcare continues to be very expensive because the government spends the lowest on healthcare, as compared to all other developed countries. So, when the government says that they believe in self-reliance, they are pretty much saying, “We have not paid you well but from what we are paying you, you better learn how to make ends meet by yourself. Not that we want to make life difficult for you, but life will be – because too bad, you are poor, and there’s not much we are willing to do to help you.”

In Singapore, if you are single, you should minimally be able to earn $2,000. If you want to start a family, you and your partner should at least earn an average of at least $3,500 each. If not, life will be tough. Yet, the government and businesses lament that Singaporeans do not want to take up service jobs that pay $1,300 when it’s obviously not enough to survive in Singapore. Yet, the government tells us that it is not necessary to get a degree. If we don’t get a degree, who’s going to pay us $3,500, or even $2,000, at the current state of our policies?

So, before the government makes fanciful suggestions that degrees are not important, they should take a look at their policies and change it to ensure that even if a person doesn’t have a degree that they would be able to earn enough. If the government doesn’t believe people need to be paid higher wages, then they should to increase the interest paid to the CPF of the low-income earners so that they would be able to accumulate even that little amount of wealth.

Clearly, what needs to be done in Singapore is to drastically increase incomes for the low-income earners in Singapore, increase public spending, especially on healthcare, and to also increase the CPF interest rates, at least for the poor and elderly, so that they would be able to live and retire respectably.

But then, this is nothing new, is it? This is what we have been telling the government for many years now. But why hasn’t the government acted on it? And if so, why does the government continue to think that it is acceptable that we would need to work till our deaths or that life would be difficult for us?

You had voted for this ruling party for the past few elections, despite the many reminders and warnings that had been given. You have another chance to set things right in 2015/2016. It’s all up to you now. It’s in your hands. Whether you will be able to live adequately and retire comfortably, it’s all up to you now.

*****

Following this article, do you know that not only are Singaporeans paid the lowest wages among the high-income countries, what Singaporeans actually have to fork out of our pocket to pay for taxes, CPF and for basic necessities (healthcare, education, transport etc) is actually almost the same as what the Nordic citizens pay?

But do you know that because Singaporeans earn only half the wages that the Nordic citizens earn, this means that we deduct a much heftier proportion of our wages into paying for these things and have a much lower purchasing power after that.

In fact, for the poor in the Nordic countries, they can still save enough to retire. However, in Singapore, not only the poor but a large part of Singaporeans will never be able to save enough to retire.

You can read more in this 10-part series written by Leong Sze Hian and I on the tax that Singaporeans are paying here, and how we are actually getting the short end of the stick. We voted for this ourselves.

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190 comments

    • Chris

      Dear Roy,
      It appears that your minimum “respectable salary” does not allow the possibility of owning a personal car in Singapore. Talk about highly-educated citizens living in a “first-world” country with the highest of GDPs with little hope of ever managing their family responsibilities with the family car. Shouldn’t the leaders stop whining that Singaporeans are not diligent enough at work as the foreigners, and then even at producing babies?

    • surya

      Hi.. Im Surya.. Nd im an indian.. Im on a job as technical supervisor in Singapore… Im single nd a salary of 2.5k.. Wil it be gud enough..?? Plz help..

  1. Aloysius Chia

    Hi Roy,

    This is one of the most interesting blog-post/thread I have read in a long time. Perhaps I am a bit insular, but I hardly meet enough people like you who write about these things. I have read quite some of the numerous posts above that come from both points of view, and I can see the merits and perspectives there. One thing I must note however is that I agree somewhat with those who have disagreed with you, in the sense that you have not adequately addressed some of the concerns of those who have pointed out the flaws of your calculation.

    First of all, you cannot ignore those criticisms because what matters most, in issues economics related, are how we calculate certain aspects of the figures. Some may accuse you of altering the figure to your own argument and thus, will not be convinced. You have to address them if you are to gain some form of credibility, and to improve your argument. A critique is not necessary a bad thing. Now, note that I am not saying that you have not addressed them at all, I am saying you have not addressed them completely.

    It is important that you have to understand some of the conservative arguments and points of views in order to gain a larger perspective of why they do not implement your suggestions. Two in particular stands out in your blog post at the very start. That is:

    1. The minimum wage to offset the decrease in low-wage workers income the past decade.
    2. The shock therapy proposed by Professor Lim

    Then, there are those questions about the CPF which you raised, which are all very interesting as well.

    Now, to address some of your solutions.

    -The minimum wage-
    This has always been a controversial issue in democracies. The question raised by the current government is, will the minimum wage actually help low-wage workers. The answer for them is, ‘No’. Why? Consider this, how much should we set the minimum wage, if there is to be one? How do we decide? Normally, the calculation is based on how much is needed for some individual to survive (from a pool of products, mainly foodstuffs). Then some allowance is added on top of it.

    The problem with this, according to the conservative argument, is that it does not adequately address the root of the problem. The reason why low-wage workers income has fallen for the past decade, is because of the growth policies which emphasized higher skilled jobs that earn higher incomes, particularly, the PMETs. This emphasis have left out those who do not have the relevant skills to fill in these jobs, which then, relatively to the higher income, higher skilled professions, stagnates or decreases their income. (excluding inflation)

    Thus, the best way to help these people, according to the conservatives, is to retrain and upgrade the skills of the workers, rather than implementing a minimum wage across the board that 1. Should not apply equally to everyone because there are different kinds of low wage occupations and thus, makes the labor pool more rigid 2. Do not address the crux of the issue, and takes away the incentive to work.

    -Shock Therapy-
    The shock therapy is a very radical approach, which will cause businesses a lot of problems because wages increase dramatically and therefore, their labor costs, making it difficult for them to adapt to changing circumstances because their expenditure in other areas will be constrained. Particularly, those industries which uses a large pool of cheap labor to operate (eg. shipyard, construction, domestic services, services etc.).

    Now, can you point out the flaws of these arguments, and can you address them as pertains to business that will be affected as well? These are very real concerns because a large number of Singaporeans are working for companies and if you are to introduce some radical policy, it will affect their livelihoods if and when, hypothetically, businesses lay off workers. These are not simply a case of being concerned about low-wage workers and the working classes. If the policies affect negatively people from other stratum of society as well, then it may not necessarily be justified. One of the key concerns of the government, as has already been often emphasized by them, is that they would rather go for a full employment, than to have higher unemployment. The idea behind this is that it is better to have a job than no job at all, and rely on government handouts.

    Although I personally disagree with some of these views, and have my own opinions about them, I can see exactly where they are coming from, and understand why they hold certain views. I can see how I may go about challenging them as well, but I will not state them here. The challenge for you is, how are you going to address these issues without being unreasonable or ignorant of some of the concerns of the other side? In your first exposition, you have not addressed the issue thoroughly and comprehensively enough to assuage the concerns of those who find such propositions untenable. You have stated a symptom to a problem, but you have not covered the root cause of the problem itself. I understand this is only a blog post of your perspective, but I feel that if you would like to present a post of such seriousness, that cites figures and statistics, then you should be prepared to address the concerns of other side as well. Statistics and figures can only do so much to give credibility to your interpretation.

    Here, I am critiquing you so that you may improve the material you post and improve the quality of the discussion. I understand where you are coming from, and what you are trying to say, but you need to be clearer about the foundations of your argument. For instance:

    What is the role of government?
    How much should it distribute? If so, why?
    Why should x amount of welfare be given to the less well off, at the expense of the more well off?
    Why should there be equality in society?

    Believe it or not, these are the very basis of questions that are the foundations of political and ideological stances, and if you believe what you do, you have to address them adequately. They are by no means easy questions, but by all means, they are significant.

    • calmer

      Only the poor clamours for equality; only the rich opposes it. Few does what is needed regardless of wealth and status.

      Your condescending, patronizing attitude further betray which camp you are from; by distracting each dissident with snake-tongued, abstract, unanswerable questions that are relevant only to the collective as a whole but not an individual, you hope to service your self-interests. But that’s nothing to be ashamed about, because we all act based on our own selfish interests only, including this very post constructed to insult you. Should you remain confused, which is hopefully not the case, you can draw parallels to the Red vs Yellow political scuffle in Thailand. Should the peasantry or the elites control the country?

      We did not wait until questions regarding the concept of governance were answered to form the first government. The easiest way is always to try; if it doesn’t work, we fix it later. It, however, has become clear that problems persist but intentions to fix the flaws have long dissipated. I suppose that is what happens when the select few described in the very first paragraph of this post no longer have influence within the governance machine; the remaining rich begins to poison it with their own interests, supported by the upper half of the population like you.

      • Timothy See

        You do not seem to understand the need for constructive criticisms here, calmer. At the very least, Aloysius Chia did approach the issue with a proper attitude despite his various disagreements with the post and offered alternate viewpoints and his two cents worth on it.

        No need for insults or personal attacks for we are all civilized people.
        Trying to hit anyone while maintaining anonymity isn’t classy too.
        Cheers.

      • Red?

        calmer, you obviously have little understanding of the red-shirt yellow shirt problem. The red-shirts manipulate the peasants for their own ends. It is two sets of corrupt elites dueling to see who gets to milk the cash cow.
        If we all act based on our own selfish interests, as you suggest, then we will be little better off under any circumstances. the next bunch of rulers will only try to fill their own pockets

      • Zee Chan

        Well, although Calmer seems to have little understanding of the red-shirt problem, I think there is something which we can learn from. The Red does not represent the peasants, they make use of them with populist policies, such as buying their crops above market at the expense of the country’s growth. Of course you can expect this type of policy to be very well received

        The farmers do not vote based on what is good or sustainable, they vote on who seems to take care of them. What happened to the rice scheme is an example of how a policy that is so well received by the majority can screw up so badly. Overnight, Thailand drops from the title of world’s number one exporter. They now hold Rice in their warehouse, rotting everyday, while desperately trying to get their rice into the market. The farmers, who have new harvest, now faced a difficult decision as most of them have not get their money back, and if they sell their new crop, it is going to be sold at a much lower cost than they would have 3 years ago, because there are just so much rice around in Thailand right now.

        Who wins?

        So my personal take from this is that we have to support policy from a macro level. Individual level needs to be considered as well but I am very confused as to how badly an individual in Singapore can be. No doubt there are people I think we should help, but some complaints are like “No car!”??? Where does this sense of entitlement come from?

        I first want to state that I’m not a PAP supporter nor an opposition supporter. I support good policies, no matter which side propose or implement them. I am someone who live under the poverty line by many definition. But I am happy with my $2000 pay a month and does not have a sense of entitlement that anyone else owes me a living.

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  2. Adrian

    Dear Roy,

    You have Heart, Kid!

    I fear you and your detractors will never see eye-to-eye because your starting points are very different. Whilst you see the issues as one where basic humanity and dignity must be preserved, others who run you down come from a more economic-based standpoint. That doctrinal chasm is perhaps too wide to ever bridge and i suspect the more negative comments stem from the frustration many of us feel in being unable to resolve those two very different motivations. Or at least, as a very very local Singaporean, with a very very limited outlook, i have not been able to see how it can be done.

    I am reminded of a debate i was involved in in my JC days many centuries ago. The proposition was something in the lines of “Mercy Killing is merciful”. I was a member of the opposition team. The proposition submitted, amongst other things, that when you allow euthanasia you actually free up limited resources to assist those who truly need them (like the sick who can be cured) and isn’t this in a sense a “larger” notion of mercy? I could see the argument made sense. Limited resources had to be allocated, spend it on saving those who “deserve” it. But, you see, the fallacy is that, this wasn’t mercy. It was, at it’s best, Cold Hard Logic. Devoid of emotions, it is almost impossible to argue against the idea. But is that what we are as Humans? I suppose that is up to every human to decide but i suspect most will find it hard to divorce how they feel and what is logical without turmoil, when they have to. And back to the issue at hand, do we, collectively, as a nation, want to see our compassion and dignity be championed, even if it does mean taking aboard policies that risk leading us to the worst case scenarios some have described here? I don’t have the answer to that but i know that, at least, like you, i want the people of this Nation to have the choice to decide, one way or the other.

    But i do not intend to wade into the already developed debate here.

    I am here to applaud you, your humanity and your determination. Men with lesser heart or weaker mettle would have either relented or lashed out. You stayed compose and have remained on course.

    Take comfort that the stories of men and women like yourselves are the ones that interest and endure. No one is interested in movies of an accountant, economist or salesman who made his money in a boring way. But everyone wants to hear stories of William Wallace, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the like. In a way, when we read of such people or watch them portrayed in movies, it reminds us and exhorts us to the ideals that we innately know we should adhere to. It stirs the soul in a way facts and figures cannot. It reminds us that we are human. Please remain a celebration of our humanity.

    Adrian

  3. Gracie

    Hihi Roy! Cool! I’m glad to find someone who has the same thoughts. ANyway here’s my answer to your question “How much does one need to earn to survive in Singapore?”: “To survive: $20-30k per month. To have a reasonably comfortable life, 40-60k per month:)) to have a good life, 80-100k a month”

  4. Bullshit

    Does this idiot even know what the CPF minimum sum is for. If the government set minimum sum at a very low bar of say 50K what is the point. U will not have enough to use at 65. The monthly payout will be so pathetic U might as well continue working. The whole calculation is also very flawed. U should go back to the drawing board and actually start using real work examples I have more tahn enough friends earning 2.5K each with 2 kids still can afford vacations and left over for savings.

    • Wong Tong Kwong

      Mr Bullshit,

      Please can you help me out here. Pray, tell me how I can move my dementia mother and I back to Singapore on $1750. I am most willing to furnish you with my private background.

  5. BooksAvenue

    I do not agree. Simply do not agree.

    in a very summarized reply, why are there only elaborations on the outflows? Are we assuming the fact that, there are no other inflow possibilities such as:

    1. Selling of property, be it a upgrade or not.
    2. Upon 50 or 60 years old, your children will help to contribute to total income in the household too. Unless…
    3. Maturity of the mentioned endowment plans (insurance), investments or other saving plans.
    4. Possibility of striking TOTO/4D/ or whatever that can be gambled.

    of course if the intention of the post is to garner readership and attention, then my above reply will be invalid.

    Hope there will be more justifiable posts

    • Wong Tong Kwong

      Dear BooksAvenue,

      Referring to my earlier comments, I did monetized and made a handsome profit on my HDB flat. I am not in the habit of gambling. My dementia mother is solely my responsibility. I do not have any insurance or mortgages to pay.
      I am 57 years old and your comment is just as valid and important. Would you like to walk down this road with me?

  6. Flame

    The simple answer to increase wage:
    1.Singapore has been doing it wrong for so long. Singapore need to be like South Korea. Singapore need home grown private companies with home grown talents. Korea has Samsung and Hyundai.
    2. Old Lee decided to use foreign companies and talents whenever it comes to big projects. From casinos to HDB, with a simple excuse, that Singapore cannot fail on such big projects. If it fails, Singapore fails. So, Old lee forbids home grown companies to bid for major projects, because they are too scared to fail.
    3. The simple consequence to this is, there is no big home grown companies surviving in Singapore. (Creative Inc started in America. Came back to Singapore and failed.)
    4. Even in Malaysia we have AirAsia, Genting Highlands, to Sugar King Robert Kwok 郭鹤年. Yet Singapore did not manage to produce a decent private company. Just look at the current two casinos in Singapore. None is made by Singaporean. But Genting Highlands was established in Malaysia.
    5. The problem is Old Lee want everything under his control. That is why all major projects are under his relatives.
    6. Without major companies to set the increase wage, like Foxconn did in China, there is no precursor and no one really dares.
    7. Only creative revolution like new energy, new technology like 3d printing, that create new needs and wants can further the financial sector. And only through this, can the wage truly increase.The current monetary system is going to collapse because it simply does not support creative revolution. The money printed in US is wasted through artificially created “need” like NASA, wars and Hollywood.
    8. If you happen to read this, just remember to improve on your skill sets until it is really better than anyone in the world. Being worthy is the keyword in future. Choose your skill sets wisely, skills like auditing and accounting government administrative paperwork, that does not benefit anyone directly is not worth improving. Arts, technology, health, education and inventing new things and techniques to be better than others in your area of field.
    9. The next boom is Farming and commodities. Heath care. Green Technology. Education. In order of sequences.

    • William

      Yes agree, Old Lee and the PAP has made Singapore Government one of the richest but not the people. Only a small percentage has benefited out of this. Singapore has failed miserably by creating its own companies, many of them are GLCs which are incompetent and uncompetitive against others in the market. Our SMEs barely surived these days and there is very few local private companies that made it to the world. Singapore is so dependent on foreign companies that they have to allow foreigners to come and take the jobs. The other option is to work for GLCs or the government and continue to vote for PAP when it comes to election otherwise you might lose your job……

  7. Centauri78

    I tried to recreate the sums you did for the couple earning $2,500 at age 25 till their retirement. I have to say that I disagree with your conclusions. There are a few things your model did not take into account, as follows:

    1. Employer CPF contributions
    2. Change in CPF contributions with age
    3. Use of CPF OA to pay for HDB instalments

    Taking those into account, and assuming that the $300,000 HDB was bought with $38,000 from CPF OA and $12,000 from savings from each side, with the remaining $200,000 from loan at 3.5% pa for 25 years, the monthly instalment will be $1,000, or $500 contribution by each partner from CPF OA. Note that this should actually be less, as HDB loan interest is quasi-fixed at 2.6% pa.

    With all those assumptions put in, at retirement age of 65, each of them will have $305,711 in savings and $433,095 in CPF and a fully-paid off HDB. And that’s not even including interest on the CPF accounts! Including 2.5% pa interest, the CPF account balance increases to $472,075.

    One more point, the “insurance” you assumed the couple bought looks more like endowment or regular savings plans. Medical and life insurance don’t cost so much, and can be paid by the Medisave account, though riders to pay the co-pay portion are payable in cash. Looking at the PRUshield plans from Prudential, current insurance premiums run from $277 for people in their 30s to $8,169 for people at 100 years old. If you are using insurance as proxy for investment, then it should be parked under savings.

    All that being said, with the returns from the endowment plans, we should be looking at at least $600k in cash savings and $400k in CPF funds by the time they retire at age 65. In this day and age, it’s not an excessive amount, but should still be comfortable.

  8. EnZ

    If ur a degree holder, then kids can be a VIABLE option for u.. Given that degree holders pay rise quickly as experience is gained.
    If ur anything below that, than good luck. I can see that not even having a diploma is enough.
    Govt only know how to talk, want us to have kids and still say dont need to have degree.. BS

  9. goldlocks

    Does not make sense.
    I have to queue 1 hour on weekends before getting a seat at sushi tei while the chup chye png store beside sushi tei at Serangoon gardens have nobody eating at all. Hmmmm…

    • ieatsugarcubes

      Next time you visit serangoon gardens for your sushi tei, take a look around at the housing. Those people definitely do not fall under the low or middle income group. Unless you’re talking about the maid.

  10. Mark

    Hmm how come the married couple pay is base on 1 person only? Base on 240K loan from HBD 2.6% their HDB loan is $960 .. both party working with $3000 pay will be able to afford to use CPF to cover leh.

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  13. Aaron

    It is indeed a good article with several fair critiques which reflects the pros and cons of this model. Readers must take note that this is a model, with assumptions made and limitations of what one man can achieve. I believe it will be fruitful to model this case if given time and resources, so please think twice before shooting the writer down.

  14. Lauren

    A relatively good article with illustrations and income vs expense analysis. Well i merely browse through..not focusing so much on the details though. In my opinion (may be subjective), the incremental salary illustration may not be a full reflection of most Singaporeans income growth if he/she has a decent diploma/degree with stable career n continue to look for opportunities instead of pouring grievances which may not derive any fruitful outcome or increase income level etc. What’s the objective of this article? Perhaps, we should look for opportunities on how to increase our self worth..I.e. We fight for ourselves..no one else will. Not even the government or the President can help. =)

  15. JB

    Dear guys who wrote this article,
    I dunno about how right or wrong your figures are, but I certainly think
    you all are being FAR too starry-eyed when you presume that a person
    will be employed for as long as he wants to work. Hey, these days, you’re
    seen as practically over the hill at 40. And god help you if you lose your
    job then. Getting another that pays the same is difficult these days. Near
    impossible at 50. In fact getting a job at all then is getting Extremely hard.
    Except perhaps in security, cleaning, service. Many jobs for older people
    are on a contract basis too, and come without benefits, such as medical.

    Spore may have a very low unemployment figure – 1.8% just quoted, and
    am not sure how accurate that is because of how it is calculated – but am
    pretty sure that Underemployment is High. As for training to take on
    higher skilled jobs, it would be good to have hard proof that the training
    will actually get you a job, and a job that pays more. From many accounts,
    it may not open doors for you at all, and it certainly will not get you a job
    that pays more. At very best, you may only keep your old job…at old pay.

    There is also this presumption that any kids you have will look after you
    financially when you’re old. Gimme me a break. The way things are
    going, they’ll be struggling to keep their heads above water themselves,
    much more look after their ageing parents with their increasing ailments.
    Times have changed … drastically. And they’re not as happy as before.

  16. jOEL

    Hi ..
    I have 5 years of IT experience and working with a large MNC as a program manager.. How much can i expect as salary in Singapore?
    Also – for a single person, what is the expense / cost of living like and how does the equation change if i marry and get my spouse over to stay with me…?

    Thanks

  17. Kamarudzaman Zainal

    In Europe …..to enter public toilets even in shopping centres…you pay between 0.50 to 1.50 Euros ……im sure if we implement higher charges for toilet entry in Singapore……more Singaporeans would be willing to work as cleaners for higher pay ……but only if the undercutting cleaning companies are reasonable and pay them what they deserve……Im sure most Singaporeans woudn’t mind the higher costs if the money really goes towards helping our fellow underpriviiged Singaporeans

  18. JR

    1. shouldn’t the annuity from CPF LIFE be PV-ed and treated as the “baseline retirement income” a person receives? 2. How is it that housing loan and CPF contributions are counted separately in the budget, but at retirement CPF is said to be “empty because it was spent on the housing loan”? 3. No consideration of income on investments? Putting CPF in an STI index funds would increase annual returns to 4-5% conservatively. For cases where there are savings early on, no consideration on how the early years savings “balloon” through investments. So for Zheng Tian and Ye Bai, the 500 a month saved early on magically disappears, and they retire with no savings? SHEESH.
    I’m not one to argue that it’s easy to live and survive in Singapore. But the reality is, a generation of us is living, surviving, and saving for the future on THESE INCOMES. Perhaps survivors are the outliers, and everyone else is on the brink of starving.
    Conclusion: The intellectual dishonesty in this article is TOO DAMN HIGH.

    • Roy Ngerng

      There are 26% of Singaporeans living in poverty – the highest in the high-income countries and one of the highest in the East and Southeast Asian region.

      I think if anything, our moral integrity is lost.

      • Johnnie

        Since Singapore has 26% of its citizens living in poverty, which is one of the highest in South-east region, do you mean to say that Singapore is worse off than Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Timor Leste?

  19. The Wobbly Guy

    When leaders in Singapore claim that low birth rates are a problem, I’ll believe them only when they set TFR as a KPI for their own performance. Otherwise its just hot air and bluster.

  20. ray

    Thanks for the write up. It is clear & loud. Money Forever Not Able To Meet The COL. So the bottom line….Work hard, save hard & spend wisely.

  21. Timothy Sipples

    There’s another effective solution: a “citizen’s dividend.” Forget all the nonsense like supplemental wage schemes, baby bonuses, or even CPF. Just provide every Singaporean citizen resident, rich and poor, young and old, with a monthly stipend, adjusted for inflation, that’s only enough for a no frills living standard. (The under 18 stipend would reflect the approximate incremental cost of raising a child at a very basic living standard.) Then allow Singaporeans to use public hospitals and clinics for small co-pays. Tax all income (including unearned income, with gains indexed for inflation) at low to moderate, progressive rates.

    Then you don’t need a minimum wage. Employers won’t have to pay their side of CPF, but they will have to pay wages sufficient to attract workers who could (barely) get by without work.

    Don’t like the idea of people who might not work? I have no idea why that should bother you, but OK, if it does, make the stipend contingent on receiving at least $1/hour and working at least 30 hours per month, or in being disabled or on valid leave (e.g. school, university, medical, maternity). But that’s more complicated, so why bother? Just send monthly stipends to all citizen residents and keep it simple. Singaporeans have no shortage of ambition and drive.

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