TL;DR – Eat for cheap, shop for less, exercise for free.
I know, I know, as much as Singapore is often portrayed like that glamorous city state in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, not all of us spend our weekends at a friend’s grandmother’s tan hua blooming party and even fewer Singaporeans can just walk into a jewellery store like Astrid Leong and buy a pair of million-dollar earrings without even hesitating.
So it’s okay if you’re a crazy, broke Asian or just a regular Singaporean like the rest of us, here’s our survival guide to living in this city on a regular paycheck. Or worse yet, on your NSF allowance or undergraduate income from giving tuition.
1) Mustafa Centre
Not just the only 24-hour shopping centre on this island for you to kill time when you’ve got nothing to do at 4am, there is seriously everything you can get at Mustafa – from household items, electronics, groceries to furniture, toiletries and makeup – at super competitive prices.
2) IMM Outlet Mall
Want to dress well without spending a bomb? This mall, like the name suggests, houses more than 90 outlet stores featuring brands such as Coach, Michael Kors, Nike, Adidas, Timberland, Onitsuka Tiger, and G2000. These stores usually stock off-season and discontinued items and are priced at up to 80% off.
3) Rice Garden
Did you ever think that you can enjoy economy rice chap chye png for $3 in Singapore? No, I’m not talking about a miserly one veg and plain rice meal but a rather substantial 2 veg/ side dishes + 1 meat meal for $2.70 at a hawker centre and $3 at a coffee shop.
NTUC Foodfare started Rice Garden as a social outreach programme in 2009, to provide affordable and nutritious meals to people from all walks of life. To date, there are 43 Rice Garden stalls all over the island (see complete list of locations here) and every year, more than 4 million meals are sold at all Rice Garden outlets.
As a social enterprise, they were concerned that rising food prices would affect consumers, and hence wanted an alternative to help Singaporeans stretch their dollars. They also look out especially vulnerable groups like the elderly and the low-income and offer concessionary meals priced as low as at $1.50 for them.
Recently, pay-it-forward or suspended meals have been rather popular where patrons pay for the food in advance for hawkers or cafe-owners to then give the pre-paid meals out to needy people when they seek them.
Rice Garden has actually implemented their own spin on such pay-it-forward meals since 2014. You can purchase the Rice Garden Community Voucher from the stalls or via email to email@example.com and distribute it to the less fortunate for them to redeem at any Rice Garden stall.
These vouchers are co-funded by Foodfare and can be used to purchase a meal at preferential rates i.e. voucher-holders can purchase a concessionary meal (selected 2 vegs + 1 meat) with the voucher.
In November 2015, Foodfare also inaugurated the Business Community Partnership Programme for budding entrepreneurs and existing F&B business owners to own and run a Rice Garden-branded stall.
Stall owners are responsible for day-to-day operations, while Foodfare contributes business and funding support. This partnership encourages entrepreneurship, while fulfilling their social purpose of providing aﬀordable meals to needy groups.
4) Catch free concerts at The Esplanade
Singapore’s iconic Theatres on the Bay often offers several free events ranging from concerts to recitals, cultural performances and even visual arts exhibitions. You can check out their website for the updated events listing.
5) Free yoga or workout classes
Designed to provide working adults an opportunity to fit exercise into their daily lives, Sunrise in the City by the Health Promotion Board is a studio-gym based workout programme that was traditionally held in the mornings, but now includes lunchtime and weekend sessions.
You can try more than 60 types of workouts, including aerobic dance fitness, mind-body programmes, strength and conditioning workouts, HIIT, Body Combat, and Jumping Fitness for free at over 30 different locations islandwide. Participating partners include Fitness First, True Fitness, TMP Fitness, Real Yoga and Platinum Yoga.
All you have to do is to sign up at the Sunrise in the City website for the slots you’d like to attend. Do be quick though, as slots tend to fill up fast.