The famous expat package seems to be going the way of the Singapore tiger — here are tips on how to live wisely, and make the most of your local package, mama!
There was a time when being an expat was an enviable position because you got to live the all-paid-for lifestyle, where the company footed the bill for everything from rent and school fees to grocery allowances and paid vacations back home.
Unfortunately, things have drastically (and dramatically) changed, given the dire economic times we’re living in, where standards of living are continually on the rise while salaries are not. Most countries are trying to cut back spending as much as possible, and it’s no surprise that Singapore has stringent ratios on how many foreigners it can employ compared to locals.
Naturally, an easy way to cut costs is to reduce the attractive expat packages and trade them in for local packages that are more beneficial to employers than to employees. In a recent article on Bloomberg last month, Lee Quane (a regional director for Asia with consultancy firm ECA International) reported that the value of expat pay and benefits packages continued to decline last year in Singapore, dropping approximately six percent to $235,500 for the middle-management tier.
However, surviving on a local package hardly spells out a negative outcome.
In fact, Dr. Yvonne McNulty, Ph.D (Senior Lecturer, HRM Program, School of Human Development and Social Sciences at Singapore University of Social Sciences) says her first tip would be not to use the word ‘survive’ at all. “Many localised expats receive the same dollar value salary as if they were on a package, but they get to spend it how they want,” she says. “That’s one difference between localised and full package – who owns the money and who determines how it is spent. When it is someone else’s money (full package) people generally don’t think about how to spend it.”
“When it is your own money (localised),” she continues, “You spend it more wisely as you have greater control over where it goes. So if you think about it, even highly-paid localised expats who are no worse off than their full package colleagues might still live a frugal life and appear to be ‘poorer’ but that is often a myth – these savvy localised expats are saving and investing their money”.
That being said, Dr. McNulty does go on to say that while some localised expats may earn less than their full-package colleagues, in return, they get more ownership of their expat experience and a greater say in where their next move might be. In other words, the company does not dictate when they leave Singapore and where they go next. Localisation gives the expat full control over where they live and how they live, whereas full package expats have little control over this: when the contract is up, the company tells them where they are going next (repatriating, or to another location) and that’s that.
So how does all this translate into real life? It’s as simple as changing your attitude and mind-set. “Live like you would back home, rather than spending money like an expat,” advises Dr.McNulty. Here are a few simple adjustments you can make when coming off the expat package:
- Forgo the pricey Saturday night dinners at high-end restaurants for something more casual.
- Scale back the high-end monthly rental; instead, rent an older apartment (more bang for your buck that way) and live near an MRT (because Singapore’s public transport system is fantastic).
- Do not have a ball gown custom-made for $1,000 to wear only once.
- Use budget airlines to travel the region.
- To save on groceries, shop at Fairprice, Shen Shiong, and Giant instead of their pricier competitors.
- Take advantage of free delivery options when shopping online – Guardian, Zalora and a whole host of other retailers provide delivery for free.
- Don’t buy clothes that need dry cleaning.
- Look out for second-hand uniforms at your kid’s school.
- Sell un-needed household items on the many FB groups or sites like Carousell or Gumtree.
- Take advantage of the many sales in Singapore, especially the mid-year Great Singapore Sale. Why pay retail prices if you don’t have to?
- Get discount cards at the gas stations to save 10-15% off on each purchase when you fill up your car.
- Sign up for the many free loyalty card programs at major retailers (such as Esprit, Gap, Metro and Tangs), which provide an automatic 10% off purchases or cash-back schemes.
- Forgo the long summer holiday exodus back home every year and at Christmas; stay in Singapore and explore the region (it’s less tiring and a lot less expensive!).