April 25, 2014
How I Survive in the World's Most Expensive City: The Singapore Story

There's an art to surviving in style in the world's most expensive city. Here's how you do it.

by Zaki Ibrahim
Culture
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I’m living in the world’s most expensive city. Should I be proud? Should I worry? Or should I simply look at it as living in another city that happens to be the world’s current most expensive one? I couldn’t pretend not to care about it when I read the recent news about Singapore’s latest status. So I looked back at how I had been living my life here.
 
When I moved from Jakarta to Singapore about 5 years ago, I was fully aware that living here would cost much higher. I had to start adjusting my lifestyle. I probably have to thank myself for doing so. In a way, it got me prepared before this city was officially crowned as the world’s most expensive one.
 
I started with the most basic need. Food. Fancy places were only for certain occasions. Not only because I would have to spend two to four times more than what I used to spend at such places in Jakarta, but after a while I also realized that limited space and constantly busy crowd didn’t make these places as enjoyable as they were supposed to be. Imagine having a romantic dinner where you would likely become more intimate with a stranger sitting back to back with you. Or having a group of people on a queue line impatiently staring at you while you’re still enjoying your dessert. OK, I might be exaggerating a bit, but the space and crowd parts are quite true.
 
Food courts and hawker centers are available options for budget living. But after a while I got bored. Eventually I came up with the best solution: cooking. Cheaper, healthier, and, surprisingly, faster. Cooking had been my hidden passion, and apparently my hidden talent too, looking at happy faces of my friends every time I fed them. Although the idea of cooking might sound troublesome to those who have never done it, the more I do it, the more I find ways to make it time-efficient.
 
Now let’s talk about clothes. I am not sure whether it is because I’m getting older – and hopefully wiser – or because generally people here are always fine with whatever they and others wear anyway, I have become much less consumeristic when it comes to fashion. It doesn’t mean I dress lousily. Finding good quality stuff on sale has been quite easy. 
 


I can’t agree more with Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogota, who said that a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation. And since buses and trains have been so reliable, who needs cabs? I still do, but only after going out late at night. How much I used to spend on cabs daily in Jakarta is almost as much as what I spend on buses and train weekly here.
 
The fact that buses and train still require me to walk is beneficial for my fitness. I didn’t renew my gym membership after the second year of living in Singapore as parks and reservoirs are available for free. I can jog, hike, or do boot camp exercises with friends there. Still need gym equipments? Most of the condos here have gym as well as swimming pool. And if they don’t, there are community centers and public swimming pools with a very affordable fee. 
 
What about entertainment? Movie tickets, karaoke, and drinks are relatively more expensive here. But again, the free-of-charge alternatives are also available. Free concerts at Botanic Garden, free laser show in front of Marina Bay Sands, free outdoor movie screenings at Waterfront Promenade, and many more. Having a potluck party and drinking with friends at home are considered cost-efficient too.
 
In the past five years, most of my holiday trips have only been within the region. With a better quality of life, my stress level has been going down. So has the need to find a faraway escape. Back from holiday no longer means back to reality as I can enjoy both equally. Ah, except for one thing: massage! I guess that’s the only thing that makes me wish I wasn’t living in the most expensive city.
 
Living in this city has made me appreciate every single cent I earn by spending responsibly. It has also shown me that being happy is not necessarily about having the best of everything, but making the best of everything I have. 

About Zaki Ibrahim
Zaki works in advertising industry and loves to cook. He also loves feature writing, or the idea of writing, to be exact – meaning he loves the idea of doing it but has not really spent much time and put much effort on it. Here’s to many more features to come!