20 ways to stretch your dollar in 2020

As we start a new year and a new decade, The Sunday Times highlights 20 ideas to help you get the most bang out of your buck.

Money matters

1 GET A HIGH-INTEREST SAVINGS ACCOUNT

Consolidate your banking transactions such as salary crediting, credit-card spending, bill payments, as well as loans and investments, with one bank and you potentially can earn interest rates that beat the fixed deposit rates of around 1.7 per cent on the market.

All three Singapore banks - DBS, UOB and OCBC - as well as some foreign retail banks such as Standard Chartered, Bank of China and Maybank have their own versions of such savings accounts.

2 MAX OUT YOUR TAX RELIEFS

Central Provident Fund (CPF) members can save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in income tax by contributing to their retirement funds under the Retirement Sum Topping-Up Scheme. The bonus: With the annual interest of up to 5 per cent in the Special Account and up to 6 per cent in the Retirement Account, your savings are earning more than if they sit in a bank.

You can receive tax reliefs of up to $7,000 for topping up your own Special Account or Retirement Account to get the corresponding amount of tax relief, and up to another $7,000 for topping up that of your spouse, parents or grandparents.

Another way to reduce your chargeable income is to contribute to the Supplementary Retirement Scheme. Singaporeans and permanent residents can contribute up to $15,300 a year, while the amount is capped at $35,700 for foreigners.

3 GET EXTRA BABY BONUS

For those with children, you can deposit money in your children's Child Development Accounts (CDAs) and the Government will match it dollar for dollar up to a cap of $3,000 for your first and second child.

 
 

This means, if you save $3,000 in the account, the Government will deposit another $3,000 into the account.

The maximum dollar-for-dollar matching is capped at $9,000 for the third and fourth child and $15,000 for the fifth and subsequent children.

The CDA earns a higher interest of 2 per cent, and unused CDA savings will be transferred to a Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) when your child turns 13, while unused PSEA savings will be transferred to your child's CPF Ordinary Account at age 30.

Home and utilities

4 REFINANCE OR REPRICE YOUR HOUSING LOAN

See if you can get your housing loan refinanced - switching to another bank offering lower interest rates - or repriced by switching to another loan package at your current bank.

If you are taking out a Housing Board loan at 2.6 per cent interest per year, it pays to shop around for a bank loan, as there are many fixed-rate bank loans offering interest of 2 per cent or less.

5 SWITCH ELECTRICITY RETAILERS

Since the launch of the Open Electricity Market (OEM) in April 2018, four in 10 Singapore households have switched to an electricity retailer.

According to the Energy Market Authority, those who switched retailers enjoyed savings of 20 per cent to 30 per cent compared with the regulated tariff. This means, if you spend about $100 on electricity each month, you stand to save about $20 to $30 by just switching your electricity supplier.

Compare the price plans of the 13 retailers here.

6 GO GREEN AND CUT YOUR ELECTRICITY USAGE

You can cut your electricity bills further by changing your light bulbs to LED ones.

 
 

According to the National Environment Agency, the purchase price of a bulb and the cost of electricity for 15,000 hours of similar light output is about $26 for an LED bulb, compared with $48 for a compact fluorescent bulb and $182 for an incandescent bulb.

Another energy-saving tip is to set your air-conditioner on a timer so that it will not run the whole night. Depending on the power consumption of your system, this could save up to $20 a month.

7 GET A SIM-ONLY MOBILE PHONE PLAN

The explosion of players in the Singapore mobile network scene has dialled up more savings for consumers.

If you don't need a new mobile phone, you can reduce your monthly phone bill - potentially by half - by switching to a SIM-only mobile phone plan.

Most of these SIM-only plans cost about $20 a month, offering more than 20GB of data and at least 100 minutes of talk time.

8 USE NATURAL CLEANING AGENTS

Common food items like white vinegar, baking soda and lemon are great cleaning agents that work well in getting rid of stubborn stains and grease, and are safer for health.

You can make a paste from equal parts vinegar and baking soda to remove set-in stains on your clothes or stove tops, sinks and basins.

These two ingredients are also very effective for cleaning toilet bowls. Pour one cup of each into the toilet bowl, let them froth and fizzle for 15 minutes, and finish off with a light scrub and a flush.

The best part is that a 450g box of baking soda and a 600ml bottle of white vinegar costs about $1.50 each - much cheaper than most household cleaners and a safer option than using strong chemicals around the home.

Transport

9 RENEW YOUR VEHICLE CERTIFICATE OF ENTITLEMENT (COE)

If you drive and your car is in good enough shape to realistically last another five to 10 years without too many problems, renewing your COE would be a cheaper option than buying a new car.

The combined cost of revalidating the COE and the amount that you have to forgo on the scrap rebate is usually much less than the cost of a new car.

10 BUY A MONTHLY TRAVEL PASS

For those who travel by public transport and don't have the option of getting a student or a senior citizen concession pass, consider getting an adult monthly travel pass.

For $128 a month, you can take unlimited rides on public buses and trains. If you already spend more than $4.30 a day commuting, this pass will help you save on your transport costs.

11 TAKE THE TRAIN BEFORE 7.45AM ON WEEKDAYS

If you commute by train, another way to save on transport costs is to leave your home earlier to go to work. You get a 50-cent fare discount if you tap in at any MRT or LRT station before 7.45 am on weekdays, except public holidays.

Shopping

12 SHOP THE SALES

With the frequency of sales in the year, it makes little sense not to wait for the next big sale to buy new clothes and big ticket items like household appliances, or stock up on your health supplements or beauty products.

Festive seasons like Christmas, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya have come to be marked by special markdowns.

If you shop online, you'd be familiar with the "double-digit date sale" frenzy - the original 11.11 or Singles' Day sale on Nov 11 is now book-ended by the 9.9 and 10.10 sales in September and October, and the 12.12 sale in December.

Of course, there's also the Black Friday sale on the last Friday of November - one of the biggest sales in the annual calendar - and followed by Cyber Monday.

You can also get hefty discounts on tour packages, travel insurance and various subscriptions to digital services during these sales.

13 BUY WHOLESALE

It pays to shop around for deals, especially for things you use regularly in large quantities or need for special occasions.

For your festive feasts, you can stock up on fresh seafood at wholesale prices from food factories in the Jurong Fishery Port area. If seafood is not your thing, you can also find frozen meats such as wagyu beef and Angus tenderloin there.

Another place to shop for gourmet food at wholesale prices is Woodlands Terrace, where food factory outlets offer a large variety of ready-to-eat and frozen seafood, meats and party snacks. Prices can be even cheaper if you buy in bulk, so grab a friend or two to go with you to save even more. Be warned: The area is usually crowded before a major holiday like Chinese New Year.

Flower lovers could head to the stretch of nurseries along Thomson Road to pick up imported fresh cut flowers at wholesale prices.

14 DISCOUNTS AND REBATES

Other than cashback credit cards, there are also mobile apps such as ShopBack that offer cash rebates on online shopping, travel bookings and even groceries. Pro tip: Link your cashback card on the platform to enjoy rebates from both.

Savvy users told The Sunday Times that they have saved hundreds of dollars through the platform when shopping at major online retailers, including Amazon, Lazada, Alibaba and Booking.com, as well as offline with ShopBack's more recent in-store rebate programme.

Senior citizens enjoy discounts of 2 per cent to 3 per cent at major local supermarket chains when they shop on certain days. At NTUC FairPrice, the discounts are on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while Giant and Sheng Siong offer discounts for older people on Tuesdays and Wednesdays respectively.

15 THRIFT SHOPPING

ST ILLUSTRATION: CEL GULAPA

You can also save some money and do your part for the environment by buying second-hand clothes, furniture, toys and books.

Organisations such as the Red Cross, the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), the Singapore Anglican Community Services and The Salvation Army run a number of thrift shops across Singapore where you pick up items for a few dollar apiece.

One of the biggest is the Praisehaven Mega Family Thrift Store by Salvation Army, which is conveniently located next to the Hillview MRT station.

Sports and leisure

16 DITCH THE GYM AND USE FREE RESOURCES AT HOME OR OUTSIDE

A search on YouTube will show up any number of free exercise videos ranging from yoga, Zumba or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that you can follow in the comfort of your own home.

If you prefer to go outside and exercise with a bunch of people, the Health Promotion Board organises hundreds of free workout sessions suitable for different age groups.

These range from hour-long aerobics sessions to weekly runs at scenic and iconic locations led by professional trainers and pacers to team sports like Ultimate Frisbee and football.

A complete schedule of the activities and venues is available here.

17 CLAIM YOUR ACTIVE SG CREDITS

When ActiveSG - the national scheme to encourage Singaporeans to exercise - was launched in 2014, the Government gave all Singaporeans and permanent residents $100 ActiveSG credits each.

If you have not already done so, register for an account to claim these free credits, which can be used to pay for entry to public swimming pools, book sports facilities as well as to use the ActiveSG gyms.

They can also be used to offset 30 per cent of the sports programmes run by ActiveSG, which include sports like badminton, tennis, Pilates and archery.

18 BORROW E-BOOKS AND AUDIOBOOKS FROM THE LIBRARY

Instead of paying for that e-book or audiobook, you can save tens of dollars by getting it from the public library if it's available.

With the National Library Board's Overdrive app on your mobile phone or tablet, you can borrow up to 16 e-books and audiobooks online. A plus point is never having to worry about misplacing that library book or forgetting to return it and incurring overdue fines.

Travel guides are also readily available in the e-book format and they come in very handy when you go on holidays, where you can have a whole Lonely Planet guidebook sitting inside your mobile phone instead of taking up luggage space.

19 FREE CONCERTS, WORKSHOPS AND TOURS

While a pop concert ticket can cost up to several hundred dollars, there are also many free entertainment options in Singapore.

As many as eight national museums and heritage institutions are free for Singaporeans and permanent residents. They include the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore, The Peranakan Museum and Singapore Philatelic Museum, as well as the Indian Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and Reflections at Bukit Chandu.

Some of Singapore's parks and nature reserves such as Singapore Botanic Gardens and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve also organise workshops and tours on a regular basis, which are free for all to attend. Find out more about upcoming activities here.

For classical music lovers, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra holds free concerts at various venues such as the Victoria Concert Hall, Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens almost every month. Some of them require pre-registration for a ticket, while others are open for anyone who shows up. Check out the line-up here.

Others

20 QUIT A SPLURGE HABIT

With the beginning of every new year, many of us are motivated to set new goals to eat better, work smarter or spend less. This is where a monthly challenge may come in handy to help with this.

If you're aiming for savings, decide which expensive habit you can kick. But instead of (unrealistically) swearing off, for instance, that daily cup of bubble tea for the year, set yourself a 30-day goal. After that, you are free to go back to your habit.

Chances are, by going cold turkey for a month, you might realise that you don't miss it that much and quit it altogether. At the very least, it would start you rethinking your splurges and help you save money for those 30 days.

Happy New Year!