by Robin Low

I don’t want pity. Pity is more painful than many other emotions that can be placed upon you, more than hostility, awe, envy, fear and repulsion.

Retirement? Singaporeans work long hours to try to afford retirement, but for many, this is just a dream, and some are even working in their twilight years.

Singaporeans’ long-term saving plans are being jeopardized by inflation hovering near the highest level in more than a decade, insufficient wage growth, accelerating housing costs and other financial burdens from living in a city recently listed as the world’s most expensive alongside New York.

The result is nearly 60% of Singaporeans say they are not on track with their retirement plans, according to a report by Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in November.

There are several reasons why some Singaporeans may be unable to retire:

  1. High cost of living: Singapore is known for its high cost of living, which can make it difficult for retirees to make ends meet. The cost of housing, healthcare, and daily expenses can be a significant burden on retirees, especially those with limited savings.
  2. Inadequate retirement savings: Many Singaporeans may not have saved enough for retirement due to a variety of reasons, such as a lack of financial planning, low income, or financial setbacks. The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is the main source of retirement savings for most Singaporeans, but some may have withdrawn their funds early or used them for other purposes. (like buying a HDB Flat)
  3. Longer life expectancy: Singaporeans are living longer, which means they need more savings to support themselves in retirement. With increasing life expectancy, the cost of healthcare and long-term care may also become more significant.
  4. Inability to find work: Some Singaporeans may be unable to find work in their later years due to age discrimination or health issues, making it difficult to supplement their retirement income.
  5. Family responsibilities: Some Singaporeans may have to support their children or elderly parents financially, which can put a strain on their retirement savings.

These factors can make it challenging for some Singaporeans to retire comfortably, and may require them to continue working or rely on government assistance to make ends meet.

One of the traits of being a Singaporean is that most Singaporeans are risk adverse.

Singaporeans are unwilling to take risks to invest, and as a result, most turn to properties which have proven to be something that could beat the inflation.

Eighty percent of Singapore citizens live in state-subsidized public housing and the median resale price of these homes was at a record S$545,000 in October, 35% above its pre-Covid level.

With Singaporeans with excess cash turning to buy more properties, and the push to increase population by the government by importing foreigners is creating a bubble where it is common to find public housing that cost over $1 million.

Public resale home prices in November rose 10% year-on-year, while rents are also jumping, according to flash data from online real estate portals SRX and 99.co.

Singaporeans were told that their 99 year leasehold HDB flats are assets which they can use. Even when at the end of the lease, the HDB flats are worth $0, many still want to believe that their HDB flat is still an asset.

With everyone with excess cash going into real estate, the prophecy is becoming true, prices of homes and commercial properties are increasing, and rents are going up.

The same thing is happening to vehicles. COEs are costing a lot more that the vehicles, and it is still going up.

For example, you can buy a motorcycle for $3,500, but the COE for the motorcycle is $12,189, almost 4x the machine price. For most people who need it, they will have to lease the motorcycle or take a 7 year loan…

And for housing, this is going to be the same case. Most people will take loans to buy their housing, and even for public housing, it is common to see 30 year loans now.

The keyword here is “Interest”. With a high interest rate, the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots will worsen. The rich that buys multiple properties, making profits and not paying capital gains taxes while the poor have to take 30 year loans for their public housing that will one day become $0. This is already happening, but many are working too long hours to realize that the rich would make more money on property appreciation than the poor could ever imagine for 100 years.

I have a friend who came from a well to do family, and he bought his $1 million dollar condominium at the age of 25, deposit paid by his family. Even though his salary is $3,000, he was able to service the loan by renting out a room. 5 years later, he sold his condominium for $1.5 million, making almost $500k profit. (no capital gains tax)

I have another friend who got married at the age of 25, and required almost 5 years to save up to place a deposit on public housing, and eventually got his place and paid for the renovations. Even when he is paid $6,000 a month, he now has a 30 year lease to pay, and he needs to pay even when he loses his job. Now he is stuck in his job, needs to hang on to service his loan, whether he likes it or not.

And yes, a lot of Singaporeans already own their public housing or a private property, and it probably is their biggest investment that they have and most of them do not want to entertain the idea that there should be a price reduction to keep it affordable for future generations.

Many Singaporeans want low cost public housing, and even when it is leasehold, they do not want the value of their housing to drop. Many non-PAP parties have suggested the idea of a more equitable housing, but the word affordable may make some of them nervous as they do not want their prized investment to lose value.

This is because, policies created are done to maximize the price of the HDB flats (with an increasing land value added) And since it is a leasehold, it will yield $0 at the end of the lease, making it more like a liability than an asset.

Yes, I’m a Singaporean. Singapore, the once glorious city that had uplifted many people from the villages to transform it into this city is now facing a situation of income divide.

Many do not want to admit or simply do not know that they cannot afford to retire.

And yes, Singapore is becoming the most expensive city to retire, despite what the government says, this is a fact.

So, even when I probably cannot afford to retire, don’t take pity on me, I probably will be one of the many in the country that will work until I drop dead at the age of 83.

This was first published on Robin Low’s medium post and reproduced with permission. Low is a former Singapore Democratic Party candidate at the General Election 2020 for Yuhua SMC. 

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