Can a family survive on S\$2,000 per month? Singaporean online magazine faces criticism over oversimplified analysis

On Monday (13 Feb), Singapore online magazine Goody Feed published an article raising the question of whether a Singaporean family can survive on a monthly household income of S\$2,000.

“So, taking \$2,000, let’s see whether one family of four (parents + two kids) can survive in Singapore. Do note that for a \$2,000 gross salary, the take-home pay is \$1,600 after CPF deductions.”

The article breaks down the costs of food, housing, bills, insurance, and transport, and suggests that a family of four can spend no more than \$750 per month in total.

The author assumes that the family of four eats all their meals at home, with basic ingredients like chicken and vegetables costing around \$10 a day, adding up to about \$310 a month.

If the family lives in a small two-room HDB flat and pays the full installment with CPF, they won’t need to spend any cash in hand. Utilities (excluding air conditioning) and toiletries would come to around \$150 a month, with internet costing around \$50 per month.

The author also suggested that family members could use prepaid plans without data for their mobile phones, which would cost no more than \$10 per person per month.

“Trust me, one can survive without a data plan—if people want to WhatsApp you, just tell them to SMS you instead,” wrote the author.

The family would need MediShield to cover unexpected hospitalization expenses, but they could pay for it with CPF and not have to fork out any cash. Monthly insurance expenses would therefore be \$0. Assuming each person spends \$50 or less on transportation per month, without taking any taxi, the family’s total transportation expenses would come to about \$200.

The article challenges readers to reconsider their definition of survival and question whether certain modern luxuries are truly necessary for survival. It suggests that it is possible to survive on a lower income, but it is a matter of whether one can accept a simpler lifestyle.

While the article may provide useful information for some families struggling to make ends meet, it raises concerns about the standard of living for low-income families in Singapore, particularly with regard to access to healthcare and affordable housing.

It’s worth noting that the online magazine “recycled” the same article several times in 2016, 2017 and last year, perhaps to examine the public’s views on income sufficiency during different times.

Netizens say the family budget suggested by the article are “unrealistic” and “misleading”

Netizens commenting on a Facebook post of the recent article by Goody Feed, claim that the article is misleading as it does not account for additional expenses such as Service and Conservancy charges, home insurance, and outpatient expenses after hospitalization. Not to mention miscellaneous expenses arising from day-to-day activities, especially if one has kids to raise.

Netizen Anthony Lee, for instance, pointed out that the article overlooks many additional expenses, and asked whether the author has ever done groceries and cooked for a family of four.

Netizen Jason Leong added that the family may have to rent a place if they cannot secure their own HDB flat.

Some netizens criticized the article for being too simplistic, prompting others to provide breakdowns of living expenses based on real-life situations. Netizen Ke Yaoting noted that the article’s calculation overlooked gas prices, the cost of bus trips, and additional grocery expenses.

Critics argue that relying solely on abstract representations like maths and statistics for this kind of armchair calculation can lead to falsification and distortion, as well as underestimating the complexity of real-life situations.

Netizens also raised concerns about the cost of living in Singapore and the difficulty for low-income families to make ends meet. Some are pointing out that even ministers, who receive high salaries, have argued that they are not paid enough.

Netizen Vincent Yeo, for instance, reminded others that former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong defended ministerial pay in 2018, saying that cutting minister salaries is a very populist idea as the ministers are not paid enough.

This conversation took place when a 70-year-old Singaporean asked if Singapore could have some sort of an elderly pension fund and suggested that the defence budget could be cut, along with a 10% reduction in ministerial pay.

Other netizens have also noted that there are multiple expenses, such as housing maintenance fees, school fees, and property tax, that could make it difficult for low-income families to save money.

Singapore is also known as the world’s most expensive city, according to a recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The cost of living in Singapore can be a major concern for low-income families struggling to make ends meet.

The median household income is \$9,520 in 2021, while the median income for an individual is \$4,680 for the same year.

Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament, Associate Professor Jamus Lim, has recently shared an account of a single-income family facing challenges due to the rising cost of living in Singapore. The father is the sole breadwinner and has to support two children. Despite government support being pegged to the annual value of their home, the support did not fully capture the challenges that the family has faced.

During a parliamentary debate on public housing on February 7th, Assoc Prof Lim voiced his concerns about the excessively high housing prices in Singapore. He called for a reboot and a return to rational pricing of HDB flats, with an orderly transition.

The high cost of living in Singapore and its impact on low-income families has been a topic of concern for many Singaporeans, with rising prices and a high cost of living making it difficult for many to make ends meet.

On 1 January 2023, Singapore raised its Goods and Services Tax (GST) by 1 per cent from 7 per cent to 8 per cent. The other 1 per cent hike will take place on 1 January 2024, raising the GST to 9 per cent.

The hike has been opposed by WP Members of Parliament and the Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) of the Progress Singapore Party, but the People’s Action Party has insisted that the hike is necessary to raise sufficient income to pay for the increased spending on social services of the country.

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