20 ways to be a frugal family in Singapore

 Singapore is an expensive place to live in. Safe no doubt, efficient uh-huh, but expensive.

For those with kids, it’s somewhat a double whammy because of the necessary items that are now on our 2-metre long shopping list. Because of the kids, we choose to eat healthy and are usually more willing to spend on good quality meat, fish and vegetables, but these can all add up to a hefty monthly grocery bill. If your kids are lactose intolerant, or have special dietary needs, it just gets worse.

Since I’ve become a mum, my money mindset has changed quite dramatically. Well, okay, I still give myself (and others) treats once in a while. I am still addicted to great coffee and chocolate cake. But gosh, the guilt when I over-spend is humongous. It sits on me like a giant panda, and makes me promise never to do it again.

In my past four years as a mother, I have limited my trips to the malls, switched from Starbucks to coffeeshop alternatives, and in the past year especially, I’ve cut down on taxi-flagging. (This last one is quite a milestone for me.)

This year, the hubs and I have made a commitment to spending wisely and saving more. We are inspired by others who are able to live on little and yet are big on giving back to society, so it’s not just about cutting back, it’s also about cutting back so we have more to give. (I know it sounds a lil’ lofty, but it’s always good to have a goal, no?)

So I’ve done some research and come up with a list of ideas.

1. Switch your mindset to frugal. You automatically save about $100 a month just by doing this mental shift. Amazing, but true. The trick is you have to really really want it. (It helps to have a goal and purpose too. For instance, wanting to save more for your children’s education, or to start a business.)

2. Have fun exploring free places. Parks, Botanic Gardens, beaches, friend’s homes, you name it. *If you’re running out of ideas, check out my Fun page or follow us on instagram.

3. Cook in batches and freeze. I used to do this when the kids were younger. It was more convenient, and gave me the assurance that the kids were having healthy home-cooked meals. I do this less now, but I hope to get back to cooking and baking in the next few months.

4. Pack a sandwich / dinner leftovers to work once a week. This is something that I picked up as a student living in Australia. The food there was pretty expensive, and it was quite the norm there because the locals packed their own too. I think it’s relatively less common in Singapore, but I know of people who do it regularly, and I think it’s quite healthy too.

5. Try not to use the air-con if the weather is cool enough. If you really need it, get the kids to bunk over for the night. It’s bonding, plus energy-saving all in one.

6. Borrow instead of buy. The library is a great place to find good books, plus it’s always a treat for the kids. Or you can always arrange a book swap with a group of friends. It’s fun and savings all in one!

7. Say no to luxury items. If you can afford it, there’s nothing wrong with pampering yourself with a new handbag or another pair of dress shoes. But imagine what long-term goals you could possibly invest in if you bought one luxury item less. Or you could buy a few quality pieces of shoes/clothing that’s on sale. Just saying.

8. Monitor your expenses. I would say this is the best way to understanding your spending habits and knowing exactly where your money goes. We have a spreadsheet to help us monitor our income/spending, and a balance sheet as well. We keep receipts and record them down at the end of the month. It may seem a bit tedious but after a few months you get the hang of it and will appreciate its beauty. When we exceed the budget for personal expenses, we try to be disciplined and cut back on spending in the following month.

9. Set up a bad mood fund. Pamper yourself and/or your spouse when you’re in a bad mood, without the fear of busting your personal budget!

10. Breastfeed for as long as you can. Hey it’s free, and it’s healthy!

11. Avoid sales like the plague. It’s the most tempting to buy items you don’t need, or may not actually like, during a sale. Unless you really need the item, and it happens to be on sale. Now that’s a different story. 

12. Sell pre-loved items online. You can do so at Buzzy Tots Exchange Corner or Craigslist. [Update on 27 April 2016: If you haven’t checked out Carousell, you should.]

13. Use baking soda and vinegar as part of your home-cleaning solutions instead of expensive supermarket cleaners. (I substitute half of my washing powder with baking soda, which also helps to make the cleaning more efficient.)

14. Buy less toys. There are some pretty good side effects of having less toys in the house. Less clutter, plus your kids get to utilise their creativity by thinking of ways to have fun with what they have.

15. Shop online. I’m a newbie at this, and but I recently bought two pairs of shoes from ASOS that were on sale. They cost half the price of ONE pair I would have bought at a store somewhere else. (A friend recommended Zalora and Saturday Club. I like Zalora because if you change your mind on your purchase, you can return it for free.) If you have a favourite shopping site to share, please do so in the comments below.

16. Don’t put your computer to sleep. Shut it down every night.

17. Switch off the lights immediately upon leaving the room. This is something I was taught to do as a child, and continue to do till this day.

18. Exchange things among friends. For instance, books, clothing, or even accessories. It’s fun, and you get to enjoy having a new look (or book), even if it’s just for a time.

19. Shower the kids together. They get a bit of fun splashing and we usually get wet in the process, but heck it’s fun and I think it does save some water and money. Well, okay maybe not…but at least it saves time. 😉

20. Cultivate a mindset of thriftiness and contentment in your kids. Teach them the value of money from a tender age and the concept of stewardship. This last tip will probably save you money through your entire lifetime. Not to mention your future generations too. 😉

Has parenthood changed the way you handle money too? If you have a money-wise tip to share, please leave a comment! 



The bad mood fund

We’ve recently set up a bad mood fund in our budget spreadsheet.

A bad mood fund? Yes…It’s a fund that allows either of us to shop and splurge on whatever we want, when we are in a bad mood. No questions asked. No “no-no’s”. No guilt.

I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but there is logic behind this. The reason is first and foremost to make us feel happier and to chase those dark clouds away, and perhaps more importantly, to ensure that neither of us overspends when we go furiously shopping.

We allocate about $50 to the fund each month and it just keeps on rolling until one of us spends it.

We started this about 6 months ago, and amazingly enough, neither of us have gotten into such a bad mood that we have had to use it. Well, we may have had some degree of crankiness or moodiness but never to the extent that we felt like going on a shopping spree. (See? I’m pretty sure that becoming a mum has turned me into a thriftier person.)

But I had the opportunity to test-drive this last month. And by golly, it was so good. The feeling of being able to buy freely (of course within whatever amount the fund had) was incredibly liberating, and the best part? No worries about busting the budget.

Here’s my stash, split over two shopping trips. A simple blue cardigan, a bag, and a black shift dress.

I think it’s one of the best things we’ve done for our budget since we got married. Go on and give it a try! And let me know what you think… 🙂

Muffin break with mummy

My little girl loves muffins. Actually, anything sweet and that resembles cake is a sure-win in her books.

We took a little break that day when I was working from home. I was making good headway into my to-do list, and I thought of rewarding her for being cooperative. Moreover, it has been a while since our last mummy-daughter outing.

So we braved the rain and headed to the nearest Starbucks. I got her a chocolate muffin and a peppermint mocha for myself. While she was happily munching away, I was busy taking photos (while sneaking bites in between).

It was a nice treat for the both of us really…Motherhood really makes me enjoy the simplest pleasures that we manage to squeeze into our schedules somehow. Moments of indulgence. Moments of delight. Amidst the moments of madness.

For some reason, I really enjoy these muffin/munching/coffee sessions with Vera very much. It’s almost like a special thing that we share…just me and my little girl. After all, I think that she got her sweet tooth and eating gene from me. 😉

Is there a special activity that only you and your child share?

The gift of play – Fun things to do with kids outdoors

You may have read my 20 easy ways to play at home.

Now it’s time for some outdoor play ideas.

1. Catch the bus to nowhere, get off on a whim and explore the area. The only catch is it must be someplace new. 😉

2. Walk in the rain with or without shoes. Jump into puddles. Laugh out loud.

3. Visit a pet shop. Get your child to name the number of different animals you can see. Keep a count of those animals.

4. Gather as many different flowers and leaves as you can when you next walk in the park. See who has the most number of variety in their bag. (When you get home, press these flowers and leaves between paper and stick it under a heavy book for a few days. Pressed flowers make simple and pretty craft items.)

5. Bring markers. Collect rocks or pebbles and draw on them. If your child is older, you can get them to write little messages on these rocks.

7. Pebble-fishing – BYO coloured rocks or pebbles and scatter them into a wade pool for the kids to pick up.

8. Collect pine cones. Bring them home and hang them up as a mobile.

9. Go to the Botanic Gardens (or any park) and do any of the following:

– climb a tree

– sky-gaze

– paint whatever catches your eye

– have a picnic

– bring along  paper and crayons and do leaf shadings (Thanks Evelyn for the idea!)

10. Hug a tree. (Inspired by this wall mural at Food for Thought.)

Since it’s the holidays, why not put on your collector’s hat this week? Take a bag and run outdoors and pick up whatever catches your fancy. Or bring along a magnifying glass to examine some creepy crawlies. The world is an amazing place, if we would just make the time to see it that way. 😉

Dreams by a window

When was the last time you sat dreaming by a window?

I used to do that quite often. But now that family life includes a pre-schooler and a baby, those days of dreaming are few and far between. The dreams linger though. They nag at me and nibble at my thoughts.

Dreams have to do with longing, a desire for something beyond the everyday. For something more. It has to do with the heart, the things we’ve been through, the hopes we hang on to for dear life.

The hubby used to say he doesn’t have dreams. I used to laugh and say that God gave me extra dreams to compensate for his lack of them.

As a young girl, I dreamed of a loving family. I dreamed of being a writer who is able to travel the world. I dreamed of helping other girls find and fulfill their dreams. For most part, the loving family bit has been realised, although there’s always room for improvement. Still, I’m not content. For some reason, I continue to be disturbed by the news around me of families facing brokenness and marriages falling apart.

I had a thought that day about dreams. Very often, we think of dreams as those humongous, world-transforming ones, accomplished by big and important people. (Like the one embodied in the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.) People who are something. But in reality, even small ordinary people like us can have our dreams, and the capacity to fulfill them.

Life has been busy of late. It’s more of a struggle these days to carve for myself a spot by the window. I’m seriously craving some quality window time, coupled with good doses of sunlight through the glass pane.

I can’t remember when it was last that I looked to the sky, opened my palms up, and asked God to take my dreams and make them real. (Or could it be that I’m missing the point and what I really need is to see His dreams for me?) Times like this, it’s easy to doubt whether the dreams I safekeep in my heart are really from God, or are they just all about me, myself and my ego.

I need to remember. That though my hands feel short, His hands are long. That though my heart may shrink with fear, His heart is ever wide and open, and His love for this world and its inhabitants is bigger than I could ever imagine or describe.

We often think of dreams as a race towards one desirable outcome. But I think in reality, big dreams were never attained in a mad hare’s dash. They are realised in small daily doses. Remember the loving family? Well, I’m sure none of that is built overnight, and it requires daily and sometimes tedious decisions to love in every circumstance.

Each loving word or selfless deed is like a small brick laid to build the home’s foundation. Each criticism or thoughtless word drives a little, unseen wedge into that still-growing foundation.

Like a mother changes her baby’s diapers six times each day, cooks two meals, does one basket of laundry – folds another – etches out a living with her skills and hands, and takes a break at the end of the day knowing full well that this play will be in perpetual repeat mode for the next few years. Yet it is through this mundane repetition that she lives out the humble call upon her life – to be a mum, to raise her children, to embody and live out the values she believes in. Through her daily love and sacrifice, she builds the dream of family. She makes it a reality. She leaves a legacy for generations to come.

For sure the road is windy, teary, lonely, and long. And distractions and desires of the self can sometimes creep in to try to shake things up a bit. When the times are hard, we need to remember that perfect love knows no fear. That perfect love knows no boundaries. That perfect love overcomes.

When was the last time you sat dreaming by a window?

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