Save. Spend. Splurge.

Are you really as rich as you think you are?

Odd choice for a title because in this personal finance blogosphere, we’re all saying that you are NOT as rich as you think but ever since my trip to Singapore I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be rich in your environment.



When I was in Singapore, I was told that a lot of people were rich there. Like SERIOUSLY rich.

They made their money back when the Asian stock market exploded, and legend goes that Singapore became a super rich little island almost overnight. 

Forbes says that 1 in 30 Singaporeans were millionaires in 2012, which means out of the 5.312 million people living in Singapore, 177,067 of them are millionaires, or 3.33%.

The average Singapore multimillionaire is male, 66 years old, married and has 3 children.

This makes him the oldest in the world in terms of average age, only a notch below those in Argentina or Austria.

In fact, the global average age is 60 years.

In contrast, HuffPo reports that Canada has 422,000 millionaires but it only makes up about 1.2% of the population.

Those numbers are certainly impressive but having visited Singapore, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was due to these reasons:


Since Singapore is an island, the following happens:

1. They don’t have enough space

It’s an island. Where are they going to go if they want to try and get into the real estate market to buy something or even rent?

There is only so much space to go around, and as a result the prices of homes have skyrocketed to rather insane amounts.

Rental prices for a condo?

  • Near city center: S$7,000 per month and can go up-to S$15,000
  • Waterfront housing: S$8,300-S$13,000 per month
  • City fringe areas: S$4,500 and can go up to S$7000
  • Condos outside of city-center: S$3,300-S$5,000


Just to give you a perspective of what it costs per year in USD:


2. Cost of living = Insanity; they have to import everything from food to cars

If the apartment costs did not tip you off, they also have to import everything onto their tiny island from food (Malaysia and neighbouring countries) to cars.

They do not grow ANYTHING there. They don’t manufacture ANYTHING.

It’s basically just an import/export country because it’s so well located in the hub of things.

When we were there, I was numbed into submission by the prices of food, because even after converting SGD to USD ($1 SGD = $0.78 USD), I couldn’t believe anyone would really pay $4 for a single stalk of green onions.

Or $30 for a bag of walnuts.

Malaysia and surrounding countries that export food to Singapore are certainly making them pay for the privilege of eating.

Sure, other stuff is cheap and delicious like their mangoes (we were right at the peak of the mango season from India), but anything that is foreign and imported is just ridiculously overpriced to my Western eyes.


Mmmm.. mangoes from India — absolutely THE BEST I have ever had

But let’s compare something more concrete and easily quantified:

How much can a car REALLY cost in Singapore?“, you scoff.

Disclaimer: I know jack squat about cars and am not into them. I am only picking similar cars based on the name but have no idea if the specifications match up exactly or not, but this should give you a rough idea.

Well let’s take a look at a Honda Accord in Singapore:


*COE = Certificate of Entitlement, or basically the government’s tax on those who can afford a car.

Now let’s look at the cost of a Honda Accord in the U.S.:

Putting it all together?

It costs around $120,000 USD for the lowest model of this car in Singapore versus $22,000 in the U.S. or 5.45 times as much.


Lastly, I went to a restaurant for some of their famous Chili Crab when I was in Singapore, it cost $50 SGD for a single, small crab covered in their “famous” (overly sweet and kind of gross) chili sauce.

$50 SGD = $39 USD for a single crab.


Now tell me again how rich they are?

3. They are living among others who are of a similar mindset

One major thing that stood out to me when I was in Singapore is how into money they are.

You think Americans are into money? Nuh uh.

Singaporeans are REALLY into money, that is the image of money and consuming it in gross quantities.

All they talk about is money. It’s the #1 topic of conversation there.

It is NOT taboo to ask someone how much they make or to try and glean a number out of them.

We think it’s impolite to talk about money (well, not anyone who blogs about money, obviously), but older generations such as our parents would never think of casually dropping in a conversation how much they make in rental income each month or how much their net worth is.

A millionaire might walk around in flip flops and a t-shirt there, but they are not above spending their money and showing off:

$26,000 cocktails….


It’s kind of evident when you see women decked out in designer bling, and trying to outdo each other in who has more money, although this girl made a tragic choice of clothing the day she happened to come across my camera:

If you want an insight into how the uber rich spend their money, you can always read this work of fiction written by a Singaporean on how the rich in Singapore live:



Another point that is brought up but not really emphasized is that many mainland Chinese (among others in other countries) leave their respective countries and go to seek out opportunities in other countries with their newfound millions / billions, and Singapore is a hotspot destination for them.

So, how has the average Singaporean multimillionaire acquired his status?

Surprisingly, from being the CEO or COO of a bank, hedge fund, private equity, venture capital, insurance or wealth advisory.

An average Singapore multimillionaire has a day job and he makes wealth, off the millions and billions of dollars parked in Singapore or the nearby region by the ultra-rich.

So, that Ferrari which whizzed past you on Orchard Road was probably that of an Indonesian.

And that high roller on the Baccarat table in the casino is probably a China “whale.”


China for instance, is extremely polluted and the government is not exactly democratic, not to mention the fact that the majority of Chinese people are poor, and the only ones who can actually afford to leave and start a new life abroad, are the uber rich.

The average salary of a Chinese worker varies by region, and ranges from 1000 yuan to 1600 yuan a month or $164.99 to $263.99 a month in USD.

clb-org-hong-kong-average-chinese-salary Via

Just think about it.

They have to live on about $165 – $264 USD a month, and while their cost of living is very, VERY low compared to the U.S. or Canada, it is not really a lot of money if they leave their country and try to start anew elsewhere.


So what’s my point in this entire post?


It’s ironic that they’re considered rich, but only if they were to leave Singapore and move elsewhere with their money.

Otherwise with everything taken into account of what it would cost to live a “normal” American life there, a million is not a million.


Millionaires in Canada or the U.S. ARE rich (well, relative to the city they live in, but it’s not as inflated as in Singapore), and if they have money, they really DO have the money because the majority of Canadians don’t, and our cost of living reflects that.

It’s not like our government puts a special $100,000 tax on millionaires who want to buy a car, or that if you’re a millionaire and you walk into a store, you would immediately pay 5X the price of what an average person would pay.

To put into another perspective, if we were to move to a country like Thailand, India, or Vietnam with the money we have saved now, we’d be filthy rich and able to live there comfortably the rest of our lives because the cost of living is just so low.


  • J.

    I am a Singaporean. Born and bred. And I like and concur with your conclusion. Your statistics and information of Singapore (I presume, off a limited sample of personal experience and Google research) is not quite representative of reality. The average Singaporean is likely asset rich but cash poor; they benefited from the property boom. But beyond feel good vibes, what is the point if you cannot liquidate your only home? Also (as mentioned by the comment below) the prices you paid or cited as examples are that of an extreme end.

    There is a lot more texture and social psychology to Singapore and the mindset of our people than what you care to publish above in a bid to inform (poorly). I would confess that I (too?) am quite put off by most of what I think and feel of ourselves.

    I’ll agree on one more thing with you though – not a big fan of chili crab either.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Excellent point about that asset-rich cash poor business….

      I think chili crab is just disgusting. Everyone says it’s so good and I just gag.. they ruin perfectly good crab. It could be vegetables and it would taste the same.

  • Lim See Min

    I don’t think you really know the prices of stuff here. A meal outside could go easily as low as SGD$2.50 A HDB flat which 80% of the residents here stay in costs not over $300,000 for a 2-3room one. The prices you saw are the overpriced kind. Hop into a random Giant, Fairprice or wet market and the prices are really not that expensive. As for the chilli crab, I think you were just out of luck/the shop was a rip off and you were sort of cheated/cultural differences, resulting in how a delicacy here is horrible for you. For the part of China, you are brainwashed by the Chinese media. A lot of China has pollution, perhaps, but there’s a huge region which has fresh air. Furthermore, believe me when I say that out of the 3 times I’ve been to Beijing (I’ve been to other regions of Beijing is always called out for pollution) in summer, the sky is always blue (of course, there are cloudy days). Their living expenses is cheaper? A tiny house in Beijing costs at least RMB$10mil. A mail in Shanghai costs about RMB$25 in a somewhats still comfortable environment. It’s crazy expensive. As for the millionaires part, I’m shocked it’s only 3.33%, since 80% live in HDBs, meaning at least 15% can live in better housing, such as condominiums. A condominium ranges around SGD$800,000 and up. Therefore I would think at least 10% are able to live in property worth SGD$1,000,000. Your assumption that most are from other countries is inaccurate too. I am aware you did not come for too long of a period, but we have many landed estates here, every single one of those houses costs at bare minimum SGD$1,000,000 and up(that’s assuming the developer went bankrupt and the bank which took control just wanted to sell it ASAP), usually, each is at bare minimum SGD$2,000,000 and up. Also, the top 10% in terms of salary is about $10,000 per month. These people with such a salary is able to make SGD$1,000,000 in about 20 years (that is, if they save less than half of their income). Not hard if you think about it, since accordingly the average millionaire is 66 years old. P.S. Forgot to give examples of usual food prices. They are expensive but definitely not as high as you have mentioned. A 1litre carton of milk is about $1-2. A cooked whole chicken sold in the supermarket is about $6. Kiwi goes for about $5 for a box of 4-5. A box of strawberries goes for $3.50 (All in SGD) P.P.S. Not everything is imported. A small percentage of Eggs and Fish are local. NTUC, a sub company of one of the biggest companies in Singapore, has land in Australia for rearing animals like cow for their supermarket Fairprice

    • Lim See Min

      *Western Media not Chinese Media. Both brainwash people a tom though.

    • Lim See Min

      I agree that the majority of the elderly here are not offended by talking about money. If anything, there’s a huge majority of us that are, especially the younger generation. (I think this is how it is with just Chinese culture, because according to some friends of mine in China, they are also always pissed when the older generation starts asking about money matters.)

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Thanks for all the specific notes!

  • Frances

    The cost of things is similar here in Bermuda, makes sense since we are an island and need everything imported too. Yet, it still kills me to pay $1.89/lb for bananas, $6.49/lb for grapes and $20 for a watermelon! (I don’t know why I just used all fruits as examples, will have to check on walnuts next time I am at the store, heh heh) Rents can be crazy high and gas is $2.18/L. And the topper? Anything I bring back to the island that is over my $200 limit, I pay 25% duty! I am originally from Alberta so I guess this is the price I pay to avoid the horrendous winters I grew up with! 🙂

  • Her Every Cent Counts

    Great post. I visited Singapore last year as a stop after my trip to Thailand and the economic shift from a country where food was extremely cheap to the opposite was nutty. I agree that wealth depends on environment. It’s also interesting how within the US this varies so much. In Silicon Valley where I live I pay $2350 a month for an 850 square foot, one bedroom apartment. People I know who live in other areas of the country think that’s absolutely crazy. What’s more, in the US tax law is set up for lower cost of living areas, so earning more one is penalized with high taxes but it doesn’t take into account cost of living. $1M in Silicon Valley isn’t that much at all, whereas in Kansas it’s a lot.

  • Zee @ Work-To-Not-Work

    This makes me want to eventually move out of San Francisco… Elsewhere in the country I could be more than half way to retirement… but not here. But I have family here and that’s a hard thing to decide you want to move away from.

  • Free To Pursue

    Loved the post. Being a millionaire is relative, isn’t it? We love to use that number because it’s still a meaningful sign of wealth from a North American perspective.

    What is wealth though? The ability to live the lifestyle you want to live. Here here for geo arbitrage! (when it’s in your favour that is 😉 )

  • Bridget


    Loved this post. Mostly would really love to just go to sigapore..

  • Kassandra

    I once worked with a fellow business consultant who was from Singapore and she was telling me the same crazy instances of sticker shock as you described in your post!

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I nearly fell over. That said, stuff like mangoes from India were cheap and unobtainable in Canada… even so, basic foodstuffs were just too expensive.

  • Money Saving Dude

    I agree with you, living in Asian countries will not cost you a lot of money. You can even retire in a tropical island in Asia for the rest of your life without being a millionaire in America.

  • AdinaJ

    I LOVED Crazy Rich Asians!! I’m hoping for a sequel …

    But, dude, a large bag of walnuts costs, like, $20 at Costco. Walnuts are just stupid expensive. (It’s entirely possible the Costco bag is 2x or 3x the size of what they sell in Singapore. Because it’s Costco and all.)

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