A Crash Course: Durians For Dummies

Chinese New Year is coming up! And one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year is the food- it also coincides with one of the durian seasons throughout the year in Singapore. I think I must be one of the few Ang Mohs I know that LOVE durian…it’s also gotten to the point of almost addiction/obsession; if I pass a durian stall I simply have to buy some. Which, is not ideal…this girl has expensive taste!

  Price point is normally one of the main reasons why people don’t want to try durian; if you buy durian and don’t like it…you’ve wasted your money. So that’s why I decided to do this crash course of durian…my favourite to my least favourite. Disclaimer- I actually love most types of durian!

Black Thorn

I love this type of durian the most for many many reasons. The first being it’s appearance; the flesh looks a lot more appealing than the smaller and paler XO or D24. It’s bright yellow and pretty meaty looking. It has small seeds in comparison to the amount of flesh on the fruit, which is always something I look out for when buying durian. I would say that this durian is a lot ‘fruitier’ that the others- I don’t find the smell too overpowering and it has a very fruity sweet initial taste. The aftertaste is bittersweet, leaving an overall pleasant durian-eating experience. Black Thorn (or Black Gold as I’ve sometimes seen it labelled) is my favourite durian due to its overall pleasant mouthfeel and satisfying taste. To me, it’s the most enjoyable durian experience.

Mao Shan Wang

The Cat Mountain King is the most famous and expensive durian type. It’s price-point is on par with Black Thorn. I really do feel like the expensive durian types are so for very good reason; like Black Gold, MSW has a very good flesh to seed ratio; you definitely get your bang for your buck with the amount of creamy fruit you get. Its texture is amazing- I often thought that a creamy fruit would be gross, but it is so satisfying, and hard to find with any other kind of fruit. MSW can be sweet, bitter, or bittersweet. I tend to like the sweet ones the best.

Wang Zhong Wang

This type is so good that it made it to number 3 in my list even though I’ve only had it ONCE! It is called the ‘King of Kings’, and for good reason. It’s so bright in colour, with a texture that is smooth but still with a tiny bit of bite. It’s also a perfect balance of bitter and sweet. It’s just as expensive as the other two- told you I had expensive taste- and I will definitely be eating more of it in future.

Red Prawn

Cheap and cheerful and does the job. This bright, sweet durian’s flesh is so creamy to the point that it’s sticky. It has that classic durian smell (i.e., it stinks) but the flavour is ideal for me because I like it super sweet. It’s not my first choice but it’s definitely nicer on your wallet and does the job of being a tasty fruit!

D24

I would say that this type is really good for beginners; it’s not as expensive as the A Grade brands, the seeds are very small in comparison to the flesh, and it has that classic bitter-sweet taste. The only reason it’s not higher on my list is because I sometimes find it a bit underwhelming in comparison to MSW or Black Thorn. It’s also not as creamy sometimes as I would like it to be.

XO

I think the main reason XO is my least favourite (but still great!) is that it looks a bit gross- it sometimes looks super pale or almost like it’s gone off, and almost like deflated-watery flesh. This actually is purposeful; XO has a longer fermentation period to give it more of an ‘alcoholic’ aftertaste. Don’t get me wrong, even though it’s bottom of the pile for me, I would still 100% eat it, especially if I’m on a budget.

*New Bonus Never Tried* Green Bamboo

I saw this new ‘brand’ of durian advertised recently at a fruit stall by my place. I was super excited to see it, apparently it is very sweet at first with a slight bitter aftertaste.

Durian is not something I thought I would ever like, mainly because of its smell and notorious reputation. But the main thing I like about durian is that it’s special- it’s an experience and it’s a fun thing to share with friends. I hope this list gives some novices a clue about where to start on their durian journey!

I Travelled During a Pandemic and got Covid

I wanted to write an article about my recent travel experience regardless of the outcome, and I wanted to write it to help those who are going to be travelling during this time, or are even thinking about it. We’re in our third year of the pandemic and I hadn’t seen my family in two years. Regardless of the situation, I was going to take any opportunity I could to go home to see them.

That being said, there’s a few things I wish I knew before flying. Even though I had friends that had flown before me, there were new developments every day with the Omicron variant that definitely kept me on my toes.

Pre-Flight

My main concern was coming back on a VTL (vaccinated travel lane) flight, meaning that when I returned to Singapore there was no need to quarantine. This was paramount as I had face-to-face training booked at work. I was going for two weeks, mainly because I’d already taken a lot of time off for our wedding and staycays, but also because I am a licenced financial services consultant in Singapore- I cannot legally work or give financial advice in other countries and if I was out of SG for too long I would run into tax issues.

VTL flights were CRAZY expensive- one BA flight was about $6,000. I love my family but was not about to pay that. So, I found a cheaper way to fly via Berlin with Scoot, return VTL, pretty cheap. I also booked a pre departure test for the UK, booked a day 2 test for when we got there, completed our passenger locator form and my VTP (vaccinated travel pass). I would recommend printing everything off for a smooth transition, and I even printed off all travel itinerary, insurance and our marriage certificate (he’s a Singaporean so I knew I could come back on a family ties lane if there was another lockdown).

Flight

With all our documents ready and check-in online done it was time to head off. Thank goodness we got to the airport early because, even though we had already checked in, it didn’t matter. We still had to queue and have Scoot check all our documents, which was fine and didn’t take too long, but they seem to have more staff ‘assisting you’ at the automatic booths than for the Covid checks, which seemed counter-productive, and our assistant kept pressing all the wrong buttons, so it would have just been easier to do it ourselves. But once check in was done, everything was easy and the flight to Berlin was pretty smooth.

That’s when the panic started. We only had a two-hour layover in Berlin (which was totally my own doing; we landed at 9am and all other flights to England weren’t until 7pm, and I would rather take my chances than sit in an airport for that long). The issue was that, because it was self-transfer with two different airlines, we had to go through passport control, collect our bags, check them in again, go through security and then immigration a second time before boarding our next flight. This was the most stress I’ve experienced in a long time, and if it weren’t for the kind family in front of us at immigration letting us past, we would have missed our flight. Anyway, we got our connection just in the nick of time and arrived safely in Manchester.

Being At Home

I am not over exaggerating when I say that seeing my mom at Manchester Airport for the first time in two years was like something out of Love Actually. I cried, she cried, and there was a tonne of people in the exact same situation, embracing each other after years of being apart. It was at this moment that I realised that all of this was worth it. It was like time had stood still and nothing had changed being back at home. It was also very special because this was the first time my husband was coming home with me and had met my parents face to face.

Whilst I was home, I met friends, got my booster and went to a club. Although I will say that because of my constant fear of Covid, we were super careful; wore masks EVERYWHERE, constantly hand sanitised, stayed in small groups and sat by ourselves with masks on in the club (lame I know). The UK had become very lax about the situation, with no one really checking vaccination status or wearing a mask. And to some extent I agree with the majority that it does need to be taken as an endemic now, but I had a flight to catch in two weeks.

Omicron Panic

During the trip I had several friends cancel on their plans because they had tested positive and were self-isolating. I was happy to hear, however, that they weren’t taking long to recover and had little to no symptoms. Governments worldwide didn’t see the positive side, however, and with news that Europe was shutting their boarders the panic started to set in. Our flight back to Singapore was again via Berlin and it wasn’t long until EasyJet cancelled our flight from Gatwick.

Then Singapore announced that it was suspending all VTL sales…we had 4 hours to frantically book flights. I found a pretty reasonable booking with Turkish Airlines arriving in Singapore on the 1st January.

Heading Back

We flew back from London and, after a lovely time with family and friends, we got our lateral flows done in Boots somewhere in Piccadilly, did our Health Travel Declaration for Singapore and stayed next to Heathrow Airport.

The gentleman at the Turkish Airlines desk was incredibly helpful and the document check was very smooth. Everything from that point to Istanbul went very well and felt like normal flying times. When we got to Istanbul we had to have our VTL documents checked again, which was fine for us but not for all- there were people being told they had to say in Istanbul Airport, others on the phone to their respective embassies and some being interrogated about their trip to Singapore. I genuinely think this happened because Turkish Airlines doesn’t make it clear on their website that the flight is a VTL- I had to trawl through several websites to confirm and the VTL flight only happens in January once every two weeks. And if you weren’t from Singapore, how would you even know what a VTL is?

Landing

Everything when we arrived in Singapore was smooth- we got our bags quickly, and, although I hadn’t pre-booked my PCR, it was quick and efficient. We got home and awaited our results…the morning came and my husband got a call from MOH saying that he had tested positive on his PCR. This came as quite a shock as we were both negative before we left, my whole family had tested negative and we are now testing negative on ART tests. Hours later I still had not received my results. But eventually they came in and were positive too. We now both have to quarantine for ten days (from result, not from test, so essentially 11 days), which I am pretty upset about. For some context, it came out in the news that those on non-VTL flights will no longer have to do a PCR on arrival, and self-isolate for 7 days. If they test positive on an ART they have to isolate for 72 hours or until they test negative. Please tell me why for VTL it is a 10 day quarantine, regardless of how soon you test negative?

Final Thoughts

All in all I am very happy I went home and nothing will take away that time I spent with friends and family. However, I do feel that the VTL scheme is just a way of making money- ticket prices are insanely high, the number of tests is insurmountable and the PCR upon arrival was $125, which I got the results well after 24hrs instead of 6-12. And on top of that I still have to quarantine longer than if it was non-VTL. The level of extra documentation and stress made flying incredibly nerve-wracking. I used to be a frequent flyer and travel a few times a month- this trip I was incredibly anxious, panicked and it was overall such an unpleasant experience. Also, if I knew I was going to test positive anyway, even after all the many precautions I took, I probably would have cared less and relaxed a bit more.

Here’s to 8 more days stuck inside!

Great Singapore Christmas Gift Ideas!

A lot of us are headed back for the holidays, myself included. And for many of us, this is the first time we’ve been back in at least a couple of years. So, if you’re struggling to think of what gifts to bring back for your relatives, here are some quintessential Singaporean things you can give them, along with some cool shop ideas of where to get unique Singapore gifts.

  1. Kaya and Pandan

These two flavours are pretty much the first thing I think of when I think of Singapore. Kaya toast was invented during the Straits Settlement Period by Hainanese cooks. This coconut jam is traditionally served on buttered toast, with soft-boiled eggs and coffee. It is the most popular traditional breakfast, and outlets such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast can be found everywhere across the country. So why not pick up a jar of kaya to bring back for your family to try? Let them feel the real taste of Singapore.

Pandan is a fragrant leaf, commonly found in kaya spreads but also in other good, such as cakes and biscuits. These can also be great options as gifts to bring home for the whole family.

2. Kopi

There wouldn’t be kaya toast without kopi- a highly caffeinated coffee originating during the British Malaya era, with Hainanese roots. This local coffee normally packs a bigger punch that other coffees, because of the roasting of Robusta beans, as opposed to Arabica. You can purchase bags of roasted kopi beans, which make an excellent gift for any coffee enthusiast. You can also buy coffee bags (like tea bags, but with coffee) of kopi, so no need to bother grinding them etc.

3. Art Faculty

If you’re looking for a shop with great gifts, you can try checking out the Art Faculty. This social enterprise is dedicated to showcasing and honouring the unique talents of artists on the autistic spectrum. You can buy masks, sustainable goods, cute accessories and more, all with a Singaporean twist. I particularly like the cute little pins that look like a bowl of laksa, chicken rice or xiao long bao, and their cushion covers of artist’s depictions of famous places like Smith Street. Check them out at Enabling Village, 20, Lengkok Bahru, or visit www.theartfaculty.sg.

4. Cat Socrates

This cool shop has two outlets- one on Joo Chiat Road and one on Yong Siak Street. Here you can find all manner of quirky or interesting gifts, all to do with Singapore. You can find cook books from all of our various cuisines here such as Peranakan, Asian vegetarian food and even cookbooks based on things you can find at the wet market.

  You can also buy various Singaporean-based games, such as The Singaporean Dream, Say What? (in different languages such as Malayu, Hokkien and even Singlish), or my personal favourites are the Singaporean-themed home range. You can purchase Peranakan tile magnets, Singapore trays, tea towels, placemats…you name it!

  There is simply a tonne of great gifts ideas here, all with adorable Singapore-inspired motifs!

5. Naiise.com

Naiise.com is a creative online marketplace chock full of unique gift ideas. If you click on the ‘Go Local’ section, you’ll find loads of quirky things that make great Christmas presents. Some cute stuff I stumbled across were; a cushion that looks like a curry puff; a plush otah pencil case, and various t-shirts with Singaporean flora and fauna. I myself have a t-shirt with a durian shaped like Esplanade (because its nickname is The Durian).

Take a look at their site- there is so much stuff on here I simply cannot list it all. A lot make for excellent presents.

I hope this short list gives you enough ideas for lovely, unique and Singaporean Christmas presents. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

How To Spot An Investment Scam

I know of a lot of people who are very apprehensive or sceptical when it comes to investing; and a lot of the time this is due to the fact that they feel that it’s really a minefield out there- they are afraid of being scammed or losing all their money in a fake investment. So, what are some red flags to look out for? How can we spot an investment scam? Here are some things to look out for…

  • Guaranteed Profits

To me, this is THE MOST obvious and biggest red flag. Any ethical and licensed professional will tell you that all investments come with some risk. If you’ve read my previous articles, you will know that investments can and should be based on your own risk tolerance, and investment returns are never guaranteed. If an investment promises you guaranteed profits (usually at a high rate of return)…it’s most likely a scam.

  • Ridiculously High Returns, Usually In Short Periods Of Time

Ah, the second most obvious red flag. If someone tells you that your investment will make you high returns in a short period of time (like 40% a month), and that you have to get in or get out quick- it’s most likely too good to be true. Fixed deposits give returns of say 3%, endowments at about 3-4%, mutual funds can be around the 8% mark, and even stocks can give you average returns of 12%, all of which is on an annual basis. So this just shows how ridiculous and preposterous such returns on a monthly basis can be.

I always let my clients know that investments are long-term commitments, so if you want a ‘get rich quick scheme’, you are more likely to fall into the hands of a Ponzi scheme. What is a Ponzi scheme? This investment fraud model works by a person offering their first investors high returns on their initial investment. Then, they find new investors and give their money to the original investor, making it seem like their investment has legitimately grown. This continues by recruiting new investors to fund the old ones, whilst lining the scammers pocket with the excess. Once the scammer is unable to find new investors, the scam dries up, and the whole thing crashes. This is similar to a Pyramid scheme (more like a web than a pyramid), that promises quick returns. Those who are involved are incredibly vulnerable of losing it all.

  • They Use Telegram Or WhatsApp

Another, less obvious red flag is if you are given very little information about the investment or company themselves, but you are then added to various ‘investment group chats’, with people from different countries all discussing how the investment is going. Maybe there are members of the group that are hyping up the investment, encouraging those to buy more shares. Chances are they are using a ‘Pump and Dump’ method, whereby an individual drives up the price of an investment by encouraging others to buy, driving the price up. That person then sells, earning loads, and the overall investment crashes, causing everyone else to lose out.

  • Unwillingness to Explain Investment Strategies or Methods

If someone tells you that they have managed to obtain riches and live a life of luxury due to an investment, but are unwilling to share with you a concrete strategy for how to invest, chances are it’s not real. They may have rented the luxury items they flash, or their lifestyle is not as amazing as it seems. They use buzz words and generic concepts, instead of legitimate financial methods. They may promote high risk trading strategies, such as crypto or forex, without explaining the massive risk these can of investments entail, essentially convincing you to gamble with your money.

  • They Are Not Licensed

If all else fails, check whether the individual is licensed. In Singapore, financials are heavily regulated. Financial institutions should be regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and we have to have an RNF code that allows us to practice our business. In Singapore, there are very many regulations against foreign investors purchasing investment plans, to prevent money laundering, and professionals are not allowed to solicit advice unless it is in Singapore. Everything is also heavily documented; there is a lot of paperwork that is involved in Singapore investments. So, if someone promises you something quick and simple, with no paperwork and overseas transfer, or is unwilling to share they license code or business info…you guessed it…it’s a scam.

All in all, the age-old phrase, ‘it’s too good to be true’ is definitely the case when it comes to investments. If something is really going to make someone rich, quick, without little to no knowledge or effort, everyone would be doing it and we’d all be loaded, which clearly is not the case. The truth is, in Singapore, we have a very well-off population. And how do they get like this? By trusting professionals and financial institutions with their money, and using financial methods like dollar cost-averaging and holding long-term. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- be weary of new companies or investments that promise you the world with little to no credentials to back it up.  

What Is An NFT?

This question has been cropping up all over Twitter, in conversation, and was even the first question that came up when I started typing into YouTube. So what is an NFT, is this going to be similar to the Dot Com Bubble or the Tulip Mania in 1634? (Yes, this is where Dutch people thought that tulips were super cool, so much so to the point that a tulip bulb could cost 10 times the annual income of a skilled worker.) Let’s dive a little deeper into the internet’s latest craze.

Let’s start with the basics- NFT stands for ‘Non-Fungible Token’. To be honest, the word ‘fungible’ was one that stood out to me, not because I like that word, but because its definition is so specific and complicated that it’s easier to just say ‘replaceable’. Essentially, this means that an NFT is unique, one-of-a-kind, like the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo. An NFT is unlike any other. The T, token, is all to do with blockchain. Essentially, blockchain is a public record of transactions; so if one person makes a transaction, everyone else can see it, and it’s almost impossible to change, hack or cheat the system. This kind of technology has become very popular as peoples’ mistrust of centralised banks increases.

This is all well and good, but what do all these concepts have to do with GIFs? Or random pictures online? In theory, this all boils down to human psychology. Who decided that gold was valuable? Or paper money, or fine art, or….anything for that matter? If a large enough group of people decides that something is of value, then it becomes so. A large group of people basically decided that things online (tweets, pictures, music, highlights of an NBA game, you name it) are valuable enough to have a numeric value to them. But, how can someone buy something that doesn’t tangibly exist? Well, with blockchain, we have the technology to be able to put these purchases on public record, so that no one can dispute that a specific person has bought a specific image, or whatever it may be.

Does anyone remember Nyan Cat? That strange little GIF way back when Myspace was a thing? It’s a GIF of a pixelated flying rainbow cat? Well, in February, Nyan Cat’s creator Chris Torres sold the NFT version for roughly $580,000 USD. This was the first ever meme to be sold as an NFT, and I think it does mark a new era where digital artists can have the same recognition as normal ones.

And I know that all this may seem ridiculous to some, ‘how can you own something that doesn’t exist’, but the reality is that our world is now moving online. Back in the 90s, the internet was taking off; people would never have imagined that all our banking can be done online, we can send people money via our phones or that we wouldn’t need a physical credit card or cash to make payments. Isn’t that the same as us thinking that NFTs aren’t real? Money is no longer just tangible cash or card- it’s a figure on our computer screen. So I think it’s only natural for the world of investments to head in this direction. I think that the stage our world is at with NFTs, is the stage we were with the internet in the 90s. It’s a hype right now, the new technology is exciting. But, will it crash or burst like the Dot Com Bubble, the Real Estate Bubble or Tulip Mania? Is this all a fad that will burn out- the brightest star burns quickest…will that be the same for NFTs?

How Social Media is Messing Up Your Money

Social media has definitely become a very integral part of our lives; we can connect with our friends, share our idea, show off our photos and pretty much expose every part of our lives online if we wanted to. It’s especially great for us expats to stay in touch with people at home and abroad. I also think social media is a great tool for broadening our horizons, listen to new ideas and keep up with the news. However, it has a flip side; what we see on social media is not 100% real…people only showcase the best aspects of their lives online; be that be their jobs, their holidays…their belongings…everything is not as it seems. That’s why it’s particularly important to be conscious of how social media affects you. Here’s some ways that social media is BAD for your bank account.

FOMO Spending

This is a term I heard of lately and, as soon as I read it, it instantly resonated with me. FOMO (or, ‘fear of missing out’) is something I suffer from frequently. I often feel like I need to attend every social event or gathering, and that if I don’t, I’ll be missing out on so much fun and good times. Especially now, during lockdown 1094829953892 (whichever one we’re on), I feel like I need to get as much social interaction as I possibly can. But, this isn’t always so good for my wallet…brunches, drinks…. some of you may go on friend staycays. This all adds up!

  It’s always good to cultivate a friendship circle that is empathetic and adapted to your financial lifestyle. Having friends that are understanding of your financial needs and limitations, is not only healthy for your bank account, but also for your mental health. It’s not fun feeling pressured into buying something, or spending when it’s beyond your means, and if you’re not able to express this to a friend, maybe it’s not the right group for you. A recent study shows that 27% of millennials feel uncomfortable saying no to a friend when they can’t afford an activity. And 48% admitted to spending beyond their means to hang out with friends. This is only exacerbated with that fact that we will see everything on social media.

  Not only that, being in financial trouble because of spending on nights out or luxury items, it a lot tabooer (yes, that’s a real word) than admitting to being in student debt or having a housing loan. This can lead to secretism, shame and denial about one’s financial standing. Honesty is always the best policy, even when it comes to voicing out to your friends not wanting to spend beyond your means.

Advertising and Luxury Goods

This one seems obvious but it may not be as obvious as you think. Adverts are almost everywhere, including plastered all over social media. What’s even worse, they’re not adverts for things we don’t particularly want or like- they are specifically tailored for each and every person, based on the videos they’re watching, the content they’re digesting. Product placement is secretly crafted into everything we watch; from product reviews, video sponsors and sneaky product placement, we are always consuming adverts one way or another. Luxury brands in particular are coming up with fresher ways to reach younger audiences, such as TikTok, and it’s working; a recent survey showed that millennials spend $500 on average a month on luxury items, and 51% said they would forgo healthcare in favour of luxury goods. Which, is crazy to me. Where I believe that healthcare is a human right, I know that we don’t live in a perfect eutopia where everyone has free healthcare and education. So, to hear that the majority of the younger population favour brands over health, it really saddens me. This shows that the ads we’re seeing, are working! I also think that more expensive isn’t always better quality, which is what a lot of people forget to remember. Think of all the celebrity products and brands that…aren’t good?! Like all the Kardashian ventures that were a flop, or all the influencers skincare lines, that have been proven scientifically not to be any better for your skin than drugstore brands. It’s always good to be aware of what advertisements are there to do- they are there to SELL. Of course, they’re not going to tell you all the negatives. And at the end of the day…is a designer handbag going to make you feel better if you fall sick, or would that healthcare insurance have been better?

Hauls and  OOTDs

All these trends, particularly the ones on TikTok, I originally thought were harmless, but when I thought about it deeper, I can see that they could be quite toxic and detrimental for one’s relationship with money. For example, the idea of ‘Outfit Of The Day’, suggests that it’s not ok to wear the same outfit twice. Which of course, is ridiculous. Of course people wear their clothes more than once. Studies show that comparing ourselves to the highlight reels we see on social media can lead to feelings of depression and inadequacy, which in turn leads us to spend more on items we don’t particularly want or need, in order to look good for a day- a split second in time!

  I love watching a good haul video, but they are not healthy. Decades ago, fashion had four seasons, and people only had a select few pieces in their wardrobe, that they would mix and match to create new looks and outfits. Flashforward to today, where fast fashion sites have thousands of new products added every day, with fashion seasons being broken down into micro-seasons, adding more pressure for us to buy. A haul video is this concept on steroids, whereby influencers will buy multiple pieces, spending a tonne of money in one go, try them on, on camera, review them, and probably never wear them again. People doing the hauls are often sponsored, or are being paid every time someone shops with their discount code. If we were to do these hauls, we’d just end up spending a tonne of our money, on clothes we probably don’t need, and maybe we’d wear these items a couple of times and that’s it. What a waste of money.

I’m not trying to sound like a Grinch, or a preacher, as I will admit, I do partake in fast fashion and I enjoy watching product reviews online, but I wrote this so that we can be mindful of how our emotions affect our spending; what we see on social media is not fully real, and we don’t need to spend beyond our means to emulate these kinds of habits. I could go on for ages about how unrealistic beauty standards and social media models is a toxic and expensive concept, but maybe that’s for another article. What’s your biggest social media pet peeve?

Live the High-Life on a Budget!

I must admit that when you live in Singapore, and you see all the luxury surrounding you, it’s very difficult to not get sucked into the spending lifestyle; it’s difficult to not go to nice brunch places, restaurants or expensive bars. It’s difficult to not feel the want to buy nice brands. It’s difficult to not want to live it up in Sentosa. I find all this stuff hard to avoid sometimes when I see everyone around me enjoying Singapore as much as possible; especially seen as travel is not an option. So I thought, is there a way to live ‘that life’…without paying for it? Turns out, there’s a few little hacks you can do to live the high-life on a budget!

Opt for Lunch Instead of Dinner

This one is great if you need to take clients out or you have a group of friends that like dining in higher end restaurants. Many restaurants do a set meal for lunch, at a fraction of the cost of dinner prices, and you still get to experience the beautiful ambience and surroundings. Spago, Café Melba, FOC, Artemis and even KOMA all have cheaper set lunch menus.

Save On Luxury Experiences

Staying in the house 24/7 is not good for our mental health, especially when working from home. We need to go out and socialise, but we also can’t spend every night or weekend doing fancy things- our bank account will not thank us. We need to find a happy balance, and one way to do that is by saving on experiences. You can use websites like Fave to book discounted tours, yacht parties, theatre events and more. Buy packages for massages if you plan on going frequently, as it works out cheaper. Not only that, if you like beach clubs, now many of them don’t have a minimum spend, so you can spend your weekend relaxing at a beach club!

Organise Events at Home

I think this is a really great tip whilst we’re in heightened restrictions. I love entertaining at home and spending time at friends’ houses. So why not make the night really special by creating an event, be it a quiz, a game, or even hosting a wine and cheese night? All of these items can be bought way cheaper from a shop, than in a restaurant, bar or pub (I recommend buy from Wine Connection stores or Wines4U on Lazada).

Be Smart with Your Money

Instead of over-spending and maxing out your budget, cut back on areas you can afford to so you have room for more! Make sure that your rental isn’t over 30% of your monthly salary, do a big shop of your groceries instead of a weekly shop (studies have shown that doing bigger bulk grocery shops save you more money than a weekly one). I’ve done plenty of articles of how to manage your budget, eating healthy on a budget and even how to reshuffle you finances, so check them out. But basically, the less you spend on fixed expenses, the more budget you have to work with!

Do Smart Investing

The power of dividends! Did you know that some investments you buy, pay you money quarterly, depending on how well the shares are doing? This is a great way of hitting your short-term money goals with little to no effort. I suggest investments with dividends pay-outs to clients who maybe want a bit extra when they go on holiday (booking flights are crazy expensive right now), to help pay off some unwanted bills or for them to save up for moving. What’s great about dividends is that you don’t have to cash them out if you don’t want- you can leave them in your investment to accumulate money, and cash out when needed.

At the end of the day, the only real way we can live the high-life is to really evaluate our finances and plan correctly, by budgeting, saving and investing. But, using some of these money-saving tips and ideas can really help you save that little bit extra, and still enjoy your free time! What do you do to save?

Why Should Expats Invest In Singapore?

This question often comes up a lot. A lot of expats don’t even know if they can invest in Singapore, let alone if they should. Locals and PRs are automatically enrolled into CPF, which they can use to pay for medical, housing and have money set aside for retirement. Because us expats do not have access to this, I would encourage expats to start setting aside money for these areas; we already know how expensive medical can be (which can be tackled with insurance), and buying property is costly wherever you are, and we all need to set aside for when we retire (the earlier the better!) Investing helps to beat the rising cost of goods and services; you can usually estimate inflation at 2%, so in order to make sure your cash doesn’t lose buying power, you need to beat this rate. With a current account in Singapore gaining interest of 0.05%, you’re actually losing money by keeping it there.

But why invest in Singapore if we’re not from here? I’m going to list a few reasons why expats should invest in Singapore.

Singapore As A Business Hub

Singapore joined the ASEAN Economic Community on the very last day of 2015, and since then investors and business people alike have viewed Singapore as a safe and efficient entry point into South East Asia. Not only is our geographical location very advantageous, our technology and infrastructure is highly advanced in comparison to neighbouring countries. It is the world’s busiest port and a top location for investments in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore is often number 1 in many business surveys:

  • #1 Best business environment in the Asia Pacific and the world: Business Environment Rankings (BER) 2019, The Economist Intelligence Unit
  • #1 in the Asia Pacific and #5 in the world for Best global innovation: Global Innovation Index 2018
  • #1 in achieving human capital (knowledge, skills, and health) in the world: Human Capital Index 2019, World Bank

All these accolades prove that Singapore is a credible and reliable country for people to invest; most of the globe’s largest companies have a base here, and are very successful, so this is a good indication for individuals that this is the place to invest.

Stable Economy

This goes hand in hand with another great reason to invest in Singapore- our economy. Singapore has arguably the World’s most stable economy, with no foreign debt and a consistent positive surplus. As of last year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore owns over US$270 Billion in assets, and Singapore dollars are backed by gold, silver and other assets (unlike other fiat currencies that are no longer backed by gold), meaning that Singapore’s dollar is one of the most stable. The MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) regulates foreign exchange rates, keeping it stable.

 This is in great contrast to neighbouring countries’ currencies, like two of the weakest in the world, Vietnamese Dong and Indonesia Rupiah. Internal and external conflicts, civil unrest and clashes, incorrect economic decisions of the government and dependence on raw materials cause further instability.

Imagine going for a coffee one day, it costs $2, the next it costs $10 and the day after it costs $5…does that sound like fun? Of course not- it’s not ideal to invest in a currency that changes on such a regular basis, especially if you want to exchange it into another currency.

For example, trading between Australian Dollars to Great British Pounds, Japanese Yen, US Dollars or Euro is often incredibly volatile (some of the highest volatility in the world), so do you really want to keep losing money every time you convert or transfer?!

Regulations

The government and laws that this country implements, give business people and investors peace of mind when they park their money here; anti-corruption laws are heavily enforced, and the MAS ensures that entities must hold licences to engage in fund management activities. That means that if you invest in something that is regulated by MAS, you have no risk of this company being a cowboy, blowing all your assets of being part of some Ponzi Scheme. So long as they are regulated, you are guaranteed transparency, anti-money laundering and no dodgy dealings. This is a great safety net for first-time investors to know about.

Tax Benefits

Many countries heavily tax investments and overseas residents. Singapore is involved in many tax treaties and avoids double taxation where possible. Capital Gains on investments from financial institutions are not taxed (unlike in countries such as India and Australia) and there are tax reliefs available to foreigners, especially if you’re investing and using things like an SRS account.

Looks Good On PR Application

This point might be very appealing for some; Permanent Residency. For those trying to obtain PR, this can really work in your favour. While the scoring process is shrouded in mystery, we know that financial ties to the country are big bonus points on the application. If you have invested in Singapore, with a financial institution, it shows that you are dedicated to growing your wealth here, and achieving your long-term financial goals in Singapore. Note that it doesn’t have to be a large sum, even if you’re regularly contributing small amounts, this is great too.

Can Be Accessed Anywhere

One of the main questions I hear when I’m planning investments in SG is, “What if I move back to my home country? Will I still be able to access my money?”. The simple answer is yes; whatever money you have invested in Singapore belongs to you, regardless to where you are. Top up or withdraw with ease whilst abroad. This, paired with the strong and stable currency, means that if you move abroad later, you may also see the upside potential to your SGD going further in a different country. Win-win!

I do think that there are many more reasons why investing in Singapore is an excellent idea for expats, but that’s for another day. For more information on SRS, PR Applications and how investments work in Singapore, feel free to contact me using the comment section, or by scanning the QR code below.

How To Have A Healthy Conversation Without Mentioning Covid

We’ve been stuck in this situation now for almost two years (I know, I can’t believe it), and how Covid is affecting the world can be a lot to take sometimes. I definitely get down about how things are, especially because I’m unable to see my family. But then I also feel a huge amount of guilt, because I still have my health, my husband, my job and thankfully all my family are well and safe. I know that many people are not that lucky; those that have lost family members, lost jobs, got covid themselves, stuck abroad etc…so I feel that the pandemic can affect me two-fold; feeling sorry for myself but then feeling worse for others and feeling guilty that I ever felt sorry for myself. (Have I talked about my feelings enough yet?)

Not only has Covid-19 majorly affected peoples’ mental health, it’s affected the way we communicate. Lockdowns meant that we didn’t have many new topics to chat about, most things were online so we lost that personal touch and, arguably the worst thing…we can’t seem to have a conversation without talking about COVID! So, let’s cut the chit-chat and let’s explore ways that we can have healthy conversation without bringing up 2021’s ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’…Covid-19.

Be Open Minded

It’s often difficult to talk to someone you may feel is not on the same page as you or someone who has different opinions to you, but try to be understanding of people’s situations. We all deal with stress differently, so if we all try and take other’s perspectives into account, it can lead to a healthy conversation that is not closed off or filled with animosity. Conversations are there to put us in a good mood; we are social creatures and communication mentally stimulates us. If you’re unsure of what conversation topics to start with, try finding some common ground. Even if it’s just the weather, or discussing an object in a common space, this is a good way to start and allows you both to openly talk and feel more comfortable.

Be Observant and Listen

Everybody wants to feel heard. Everyone appreciates a listening ear and no one really likes to feel like they’re being ignored or talked over. To be an active listener, try to ignore any distractions in the room; talk in a neutral environment; focus on what they are saying, not how you’re going to respond and don’t rush the conversation. Observe the other person’s body-language and facial expressions. This is great if you’re running out of stuff to talk about as well, you can comment on something they’re wearing (nicely) and ask them more about it.

  Practicing good listening also can lead to better, more valuable conversations. You can keep this going by asking open-ended questions, use affirmations to validate the other person when you agree, and always try to show an interest in what the other person is saying.

Change The Topic

When someone else brings up Covid, and you would really rather not talk about it, there are some ways you can steer the conversation away. You can use the topic to ask if anyone has learnt any new hobbies or skills, share your experiences or ask how people are handling working from home. If you’re having this conversation over a video call, take the opportunity to ask for a house tour or ask about things in the zoom, to steer the conversation away from the C word. You can talk about current pop-culture references; we’ve all upped our Netflix intake over this period, so talk about Too Hot To Handle, Squid Game or The Circle…or whatever you’ve been watching!

Here are some conversation starters if you’re getting a bit stuck:

  • Have you learnt any new recipes lately?
  • Are you working on any new projects?
  • How are your family?
  • Have you been reading anything good right now?
  • Where do you normally go for a stroll/bike ride?
  • What have you been doing to wind down in the evening?

I’m sure that one of these will land, and then you can use your other tools to build your conversation from there.

                Honesty Is the Best Policy

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to share how you’re feeling. If you don’t want to talk about the pandemic, you can firmly state that you simply do not wish to discuss it and that you want to talk about other things. This may be necessary if you feel that the other person does not share the same views with you when it comes to the rules, restrictions, vaccines or how the government is handling it. It’s not worth getting into arguments over things that you cannot change, so sometimes it’s best to just…not talk about the topic at all.

I know that all of these things are always easier said than done, but implementing a few of these tools and techniques can improve your conversations and relationships with others around you. Not only that, it can improve your mindset, making you feel calmer and in control of your discussions. I hope this has helped even one person- being mindful about these things, particularly being an active listener, has really helped me over this tough period. Stay safe everyone and we can get through this.

How To Eat Healthy On A Budget In Singapore

So we all know that hawker centres, although cheap, are not the healthiest, and buying ‘free from’ or organic food can be ridiculously expensive. So is there a way to find a happy medium…by making healthier choices but still not overspending? Here are a few top tips I have for you!

Less Rice

When you’re ordering at the cai fan stall (the one where you can pick and choose what you want), ask for less rice, brown rice or no rice at all! That way you don’t overeat processed carbohydrates and you can fill up on healthy stuff, like boiled vegetables or steamed fish. Even if you they don’t give you less rice, you can use the excess rice to soak up the extra sauce and oil! And all this for just a few bucks.

Cook At Home

This is an obvious choice; cooking at home means that you know what you’re putting into your body and the quantities of food you’re using. But sometimes produce can be pretty pricey, especially if you’re ordering your groceries online. But there are ways you can save the pennies when buying your weekly shop;

  Do a bulk-buy of dried food such as beans, lentils, rice and even herbs and spices. Keep track of how much of these you have. These good can keep for a very long time and you normally don’t need huge amounts with every meal, meaning they will last longer!

  Buy your fruit from fruit stalls- it’s way cheaper than the supermarket and often riper and juicier (check out my article ‘Random Money Hacks I Do’, where I talk about buying fruit at night).

  Not only that, you can start buying your meat and vegetables at wet markets; if you go later on in the day, there are often discounts and deals to be had!

  Get protein from non-meat products such as tofu, which is so cheap in Singapore. Top Tip- press the tofu by layering it in between kitchen roll and putting a plate with a heavy weight on top of it. This will squeeze out all the water. Once all the water has been squeezed out, you can marinate it in whatever you like…honey, soy, chilli, you name it! Then all it needs it a quick roast in the oven (or air fryer) and you’ve got a juicy, tasty meatless protein for dinner.

Healthy Cheap Restaurants

If you do want to eat out on a budget but still want to eat something fresh and healthy, there are loads of places you can try! Smol do great tasty grain bowls that are affordable and have vegan options, Green Dot has all veggie bentos there are easy on your wallet, Simply Wrapps has cheap and affordable healthy options and the Soup Spoon have classic and delicious soup and salad at a reasonable price.

So check it out! Explore with your cooking! Venture into the hawker centre! Just because you want to eat healthily, doesn’t mean your relationship with food has to be boring or with a scarcity mentality. Live life and enjoy!