Personal Finance

How I Spent My Money in 2019

A little over a year ago, I moved to Singapore. Plenty happened since then, most of which was reflected in the way I spent my money in 2019.

Challenges came with my move such as building a network of friends from scratch in a new city and finding an affordable place to rent. The biggest challenge was juggling my expenses both in Malaysia and Singapore. I was paying off my car in Ringgit but paying rent in SGD. I’d use my credit card to pay for a meal during a weekend in KL and then back in Singapore, I’d be scratching my head figuring out how to consolidate my expenses. It was tricky, to say the least.

Surprisingly, I faced another unexpected challenge, as well.

Lifestyle inflation.

Now that things seemed relatively more affordable, I wasn’t as disciplined with my spending. “Oh XYZ item is JUST S$ABC only, I can afford that, just buy lah!” became an all too common theme.

I spent money with very little guilt in 2019 and it dawned on me that this was the first time ever that I stopped worrying about money. No longer do I agonize over every single cent spent. It’s liberating but not without consequence.

Let’s dig into 2019’s expenses. Here, I consolidated all of my expenses both in Malaysia and Singapore and reporting it in SGD.

CategoryExpense (SGD)
Rent & Home Maintenance11,541.31
Donation & Gifts6,560.56
Car & Transport6,428.72
Food5,133.22
Vacation3,116.12
Loan2,000.00
Personal Care1,171.63
Entertainment1,045.03
Medical & Insurance958.17
Shopping884.19
Education734.04
Miscellaneous2,510.52
Total42,083.51

Combining my expenses from both Malaysia and Singapore, I spent a total of S$42,083.51 in 2019, which means on average I spent S$3,506.95 a month. This number is well over what I expected to spend in 2019 but still within a range that I’m reasonably comfortable with.

Rent & Home Maintenance – S$11,541.31

Or S$961.78 a month. This category includes rent, buying household items (a microwave!), paying for cleaning service, air-cond servicing, internet, phone and utility bills.

After living alone for the first time in 2018, adjusting to living abroad on my own (kind of, I have housemates now) was fairly easy. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to the freedom and flexibility of living alone that I have a hard time feeling comfortable in my parents’ house whenever I visit KL.

It’s also nice to know that, for the most part, I’m capable of being a responsible adult by keeping my living space tidy and clean; outsourcing the cleaning when necessary. And building habits that I wouldn’t have had I still lived with my parents. Like, doing my laundry every week, buying healthy groceries, and folding my clothes the Marie Kondo way.

And if doing chores feels enjoyable because a part of you wants to regain some semblance of control over your life by vacuuming the floor, then by God, enjoy every second of it.

Donations & Gifts – S$6,560.56

Or S$546.71 a month. I’m very, very surprised that this is the second biggest expense in 2019. I never thought I was a very charitable and giving person. I didn’t think I had it in me, to be honest.

I think when I stop worrying about money, I stop seeing money as something that could vanish in an instant thus I don’t feel the impulse to hoard it. When you eliminate that worry, you start seeing money as a tool that has an exponentially beneficial impact when used to help other people. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so generous last year, so much so that this category accounted for 15.6% of my overall spend in 2019.

Car & Transport – S$6,428.72

Or S$535.73 a month. Ouch. All those taxi rides and flights back to KL really do add up. Not to mention, I’m still paying off my car back in KL.

As much as I want to cut down on cab rides and plane tickets, the benefit of faster travel almost always outweighs the cost of the transport.

If Elon Musk invents teleportation at some point, I’ll pay top dollar for it without even blinking (if I can afford it).

Food – S$5,133.22

Or S$427.77 a month, or S$14.25 a day, or S$4.75 a meal. The most significant difference I’ve experienced having lived now both in Singapore and in KL is the food! Granted, local food is…. let’s just say….different in Singapore but one thing is for sure, food is more affordable. It’s incredible what you can get for S$14.25 a day in Singapore. And I don’t skimp on food, especially groceries. It’s worth noting that I don’t buy meat products, which significantly reduces my grocery bill. It’s also worth noting that I used to work in an area that had more affordable food options. Not anymore.

I foresee that my food expenses might creep higher in 2020, so I hope that I can control this category going forward this year.

Vacation – S$3,116.12

I do one big travel destination every year. In 2017, I went to Australia; the next year, I did a 45-week stint in Europe. In 2019, I went to New York City.

My vacations could’ve been a lot cheaper had I just stuck to destinations within South East Asia, but truth be told, I’m not someone who has wanderlust and constantly craves to travel. These travels I’ve done in the past often coincided with important events, like my brother’s graduation and tennis tournaments.

Loan – S$2,000

At the start of the year, a friend was kind enough to loan me some money while I got settled into my new environment. I suppose this act of kindness led me to pay it forward to other people throughout the rest of the year.

Personal Care – S$1,171.63

Or S$97.64 a month. Personal care includes skincare products, shampoo, toothpaste, makeup, etc. Some of my purchases in this category were a necessity, some were splurges. Buying makeup or going for a massage were instances that I indulged myself. The good thing is I don’t splurge on personal care as often as I used to so I was able to keep my costs low on this one.

Entertainment – S$1,045.03

I did, however, splurge on entertainment. In 2019, I went for 3 concerts, 1 music festival, 1 stage play, and 1 comedy show and a few movies at the cinema. Given that ticket prices were relatively more affordable thanks to the strong currency, I don’t think twice about going for a gig. Sorry, not sorry, wallet.

Medical & Insurance – S$958.17

Physically, I was fairly healthy in 2019. I didn’t fall sick very often but there were a few bouts of week-long colds. Most of the expenses in this category went to paying my medical insurance premium, which I am likely to top up in 2020 for Singapore.

Shopping- S$884.19

Or S$73.68 a month. Surprisingly, I spent a lot more than I expected on shopping in 2019 considering I don’t have the urge to buy clothes or accessories anymore. The bulk of this category can be chalked up to new officewear that I bought in November. In 2020, I might replenish my wardrobe with thrift buys, secondhand clothes, and high-quality items that last long (sticking to the slow fashion philosophy as I buy).

Education – S$734.04

I paid off my CFA exam fees in instalments and finally, passed the last stage of the exam in 2019! Money well spent!

Miscellaneous – S$2,510.52

Or S$209.21 a month. This category includes all of the other expenses that don’t really fit in any of the categories above. These include:

  • Passport & other renewal fees – S$267.87
  • CFA dues – S$305.53
  • Tax – S$959.64
  • Gym – S$530.70
  • Website renewal – S$259.67
  • Books & Stationery – S$176.50
  • Fees & Charges – S$10.61

Discretionary Spending for 2019

I qualify any expense that is non-recurring and could have been avoided or reduced as “discretionary”, such as vacation, shopping, entertainment, and donations & gifts.

My estimated discretionary spending for 2019 was S$12,313.10; half of which was for myself, the remaining half for other people. I’m quite happy that it wasn’t all about me! I’m not a soulless robot after all, awh.

Savings Rate for 2019

My savings rate for 2019 was 22.01%.

At the start of 2019, I set out a goal to achieve a 40% savings rate but that meant squeezing my belt really tightly and not enjoying life whatsoever. So, by mid-year, I revised the goal to 30%, which felt more feasible.

I missed my savings rate target by about 8%. But given the circumstances, I don’t really care all that much about that 8% gap after all.

Reflecting on 2019

All things considered, I had a good year. I still managed to save money and put it towards investments.

As I look back at my expenses for 2019, the thing that stands out most clearly was this: I lived pretty close to the life I envisioned for myself 4 to 5 years ago. It hasn’t been all that easy to get to this point, obviously. I’ve worked hard to undo my irrational fear of losing money, spending and giving money a little more freely. I also worked to increase my earning capacity, somewhat. I am, by no means, “financially free” and I still have to work my butt off to build up my savings.

Even as I had a lot of high points in 2019 like passing the CFA exam and getting to go to concerts, there were also some major low points and stresses that weighed on me. I still have a ton of work to do to improve myself, my mental health, my relationship with people and money. I’m excited to take up the challenge and looking forward to growing in the year to come.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how I spent my money in 2019! What was your 2019 spending like? Which expense category are you looking to improve upon in 2020? Comment below or come talk to me on FacebookTwitter, or  Instagram.

One Comment

  • david birkett

    Nicole, I tell my students to start at a minimum of 10%. (Always making sure they get the free money from an employee match in a 401K) Then every raise in income they get to increase the percentage by 1 or 2%.
    This allows time to pay off student loans before these contributions get too lofty. It’s not as burdensome to take a piece of a raise every year or two because we still see our take-home pay increasing.

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