Money Diary #4: A Week in Singapore on an Intern Salary of $3,000

Welcome to Money Diaries, where contributors give you a peek into not just their spendings but also their lives over a seven-day period. Reading a diary is one pretty good way of living vicariously through another person and we hope you’re in for the ride. 

In this edition, a night-owl who has picked up a couple of millennial quarantine hobbies – baking sourdough bread, brewing kombucha, cooking and doing home workouts – navigates blurred work-life boundaries while working from home.

Profile

Age: 23

Education: Bachelor’s degree

Salary: An internship stipend of $3,000/month

Location: Singapore

Debt: $28,000 in student loans that I will start paying upon graduation

Monthly Expenses

Rent: I live rent-free with my parents, like most unmarried Singaporean adults do.

Utilities: Covered by my parents

Health Insurance: I get health benefits from my employer but I pay an additional $389/month for life insurance.

Mobile: $25 for 30GB of data/month

Subscriptions:

Netflix ($16.43/month)- I don’t even watch Netflix that much and my bunch of friends have NEVER reimbursed me for this.

Spotify Family ($2.50/month)

iCloud storage ($1.32/month)

CleanMyMac ($50/year)

Coffee subscription (1 bag) ($24/month)

Straits Times ($15/month)- I subscribe to this ONLY because of work and my employer reimburses me.

New York Times ($6/month)

New York Times Crossword ($28/year)

The Atlantic ($69/year)

Foreign Affairs ($35/year)

The Diplomat ($66/year)


Editor’s note: The contributor answered the following questions based on Refinery29’s Money Diaries series and it would be a waste not to share their response. Please don’t sue us.

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?

Yes, higher education was/is a non-negotiable. I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a university in Singapore. I took a loan and my dad pays the rest.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s) or guardian(s) educate you about finances?

I remember always wanting to own “nice things” because that’s how kids in school uniforms signal their status. But my mom would always tell me “don’t anyhow spend money” since I didn’t need those “nice things”. My dad always gave me the monthly allowance I asked for as long as I could justify any increases (e.g. school programs or inflation).

Vis-à-vis my peers who were getting daily or weekly pocket money, I learned to manage my monthly allowance from a young age so that I wouldn’t have more days than dollars. I would say that my parents took a try-it-yourself-and-learn-from-your-mistakes approach to my education about finances.

What was your first job and why did you get it?

My first official job was waitressing at the age of 15. Before that, I had a few summer gigs from friends’ parents that were more fun than work. I started working because I wanted to afford all those “nice things” by myself since my parents were never going to give in to my demands.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Maybe at the end of some months when I realize that I spent too much on food and entertainment while hanging out with my friends. There was no real worry because the “bank of daddy” would unconditionally bail me out but I would be ashamed by my personal failure to manage my finances like a proper grown up.

Do you worry about money now?

This stems from my tendency to worry about the consequential things in life. There’s always my tuition debt and insurance payments looming at the back of my mind. I have a comfortable savings account but now I’m worrying about what I should be – but am not – doing with my cash. 

Rationally, I don’t see a real cause of concern now despite the imminent COVID-induced global economic collapse; I am thankful for my current lot in life.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?

I’ve been responsible for myself since I graduated from high school as far as my personal expenses go— I’ve been juggling my academic workload, extra-curriculars, and working part-time throughout college. I have life insurance for myself, and I won’t be homeless or hungry as long as I’m living under my parents’ roof (for now).

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

It’s re-invested into funds, so I don’t ever see or touch it. It’s insignificant so I mostly just forget about it.

Daily Log

My editor told me “[I] can start this diary next week” when I told her I spent too much money the previous week (it’s the truth). I’m now debating with myself whether the week should start on Sunday or Monday. Either way, both feel the same this week because Monday is a public holiday and that means there’s no work (hooray).

I decided to start on Sunday since I spent substantially, which meant I had relevant content for this diary. I also belong to “Camp Sunday-is-the-start-of-the-week”, fight me. 

Day 1, Sunday

05:30 If you thought I woke up at 5.30AM, I’m sorry to inform you that I’m the antithesis of conventional go-getters. I’m finally headed to bed, exhausted. I was up completing some very brainless work. I was also half-watching a couple of Bon Appetit videos on 1.5x speed so that made doing brainless work less agonizing. Love that serotonin boost for my brain.

10:00 I am rudely awoken by my alarm. For something I hear multiple times every morning, I sure get startled by the ring. My friends had changed lunch’s location from town to someplace much nearer. I contemplate snoozing another half hour but spend that time debating with myself whether I should get out of bed. Talk about lose-lose situations.

10:30 The delightful thought of getting to open and try a new bag of coffee beans finally got me out of bed. But I mostly got up because the sound of fighter jets soaring overhead in celebration of Singapore’s National Day was too much.

11:25 My lunch appointment is scheduled for 11.30AM but I’m still at home. I contemplate taking a Grab to the location but decided against it because I’ve been spending way too much on Grab to compensate for my inability to be punctual after months of quarantine at home. I tell myself it’s okay to be late because everyone else is going to be late anyway. ($3)

11:45 Lunch was at a Korean barbecue buffet. We initially planned to have non-buffet Korean barbecue at a fantastic place. The buffet spread was palatable but I derived more joy out of cooking than eating the food. I thought about how I could have had a much better meal if my friends weren’t too lazy to travel farther for quality food. ($31 and not worth it)

14:30 My friends decide they wanted to have coffee. ($20)

18:00 My dad made dinner – honestly home cooked food is the best and I don’t even have to spend a dime. ($0)

20:00 My dad’s friends come over for tea and they brought boxes of dessert. I was stuffed from lunch and dinner but helped myself to some of that good stuff. ($0)

Daily Total: $54

Day 2, Monday

02:00 Party’s over. The guests finally leave; it was a good evening of banter.

03:00 Bedtime. I think about the significance of tanks rolling through residential areas this morning as part of National Day celebrations. I don’t set an alarm because there’s nothing to wake up for in the morning.

12:00 My dad wakes me up for lunch. My parents slept in too so they didn’t wake up in time to cook lunch. We have biryani from the neighborhood stall and I make a cup of coffee after and feed my sourdough starter. 

14:00 I recalled that I had to work on this piece and started digging up my monthly bank statements to figure out how much I’ve been paying for all my monthly subscriptions. Had a rude shock that I spent a ridiculous amount on Grabs in the last two months. This exercise culminated in an existential stock take of my life and my mind wandered to grad school application.

18:00 Dad made dinner again, delicious as usual.

21:00 I am still stuffed from the previous day and decide to go for a night run.

Daily total: $0

Day 3, Tuesday 

01:30 A US-based colleague reaches out to me. We figure out our time zones and schedule a call for 9am later. There goes my plan to sleep in. I work on some stuff to compensate for the day off I enjoyed on Monday – the rest of the world moves on even if you’re on holiday.

03:00 Bedtime. I think about all my unfinished work and unread emails which I have to reply to later in the day. I sigh internally.

08:50 I wake up and make it to my 9AM call. I’ve perfected the art of rolling out of bed, freshening up, and going online for a call in less than ten minutes. 

12:00 Mom made lunch. My parents are both fantastic cooks and I deeply appreciate that. ($0)

19:00 I have dinner in town with a bunch of friends and there’s no way I was going to spend an hour on public transport to get to town ($15)

19:15 I turned up at the pre-arranged time and place but what is punctuality when you’re meeting friends? I wait for everyone else to arrive.

19:30 A friend and I decide to get a cup of Boost instead of a meal. I order my usual cup of “All Berry Bang” and the cashier tells me that the upsize is only 50¢ more. I’m really not sure I can stomach so much but I think it’s a good deal and agree to the upsize. My friend declines when the cashier offers the same. ($5.50)

20:30 We head to an ice cream place for desert. I’m not hungry but I also can’t say no to a scoop of pistachio. My friend vouches for how good it is but I’m disappointed when it hits my taste buds – I make my life more difficult than it should be with my dumb standards. I buy some chocolate to make up for the disappointment ($14.50)

23:00 I buy my second pack of Golds of the year. ($14)

23:00 I start on my “second shift”. It’s kinda depressing to continue working after an evening out but there’s just so much to do. In between, I decide to make some fresh pasta for an old friend I haven’t met in a long time— we’re meeting the next day. Past reviews tell me “that sh*t slap”.

Daily total: $49

Day 4, Wednesday

05:30 Time to hit the sheets.

08:20 You know the drill by now, I wake up ten minutes before a call and show up virtually. Sometimes I wonder if people can tell I literally JUST woke up from the grogginess in my voice.

11:30 I keep the “exploitative” gig economy going under the moral guise of contributing to the livelihood of yet another Grab driver amidst these tough economic times. We strike a candid conversation about how it’s been tough to get riders these days and how she’s seen her income dip in the months since COVID began. She told me she’s a single mother supporting her elder mom and two kids and she’s doing what she can to keep her family going. I tip her – I hope Grab doesn’t get a 30% cut of the tip. ($20)

12:00 Yes, I *sneaked out* in the middle of the virtual work day for lunch. I miss coordinating CBD lunches with friends and having these meetings within walking distance. We decide to have Din Tai Fung and make a “DTF” joke. We have an extended lunch and exchange our sourdough starter and kombucha SCOBY. We make another joke that we just need to be plant parents to complete the millennial quarantine hobbies starter pack. Hobbies include: doing yoga at home, baking sourdough bread, brewing kombucha, and growing plants. Other suggestions welcome. ($25)

14:00  I run some errands since I’m out. I get three bags of semolina flour, a bag of whole wheat flour, and another bag of bread flour for my pantry. I realize the weight quickly adds up – talk about arms day. ($30)

15:00 I get back to work and respond to a bunch of urgent emails. My mom casually mentions how it’s great to have such a flexible job where I can take extended lunch breaks. I tell her it’s “living at work” instead of “working from home”. She contemplates the new perspective I offer and responds with a semi-hurtful “then you have no life”. 

18:00 Mom cooks weekday dinners – my parents are pretty progressive with housework sharing.  

18:30 I’m exhausted from the day (and lack of sleep) and take a nap.

23:00 I grudgingly begin my “second shift”.

Daily total: $75

Day 5, Thursday

03:00 Bedtime. For someone with such a dysfunctional sleep cycle, my bedtimes are pretty consistent(ly late).

10:30 What are office hours now that we’re working from home? I finally have no morning calls and sleep in a little.

12:00 Mom made lunch. 

16:00 A couple of friends hit me up in the middle of the work day and we chat about (1) tips for good writing & how powerpoints can suck, (2) how to salvage a piece of mouldy pu’er tea, (3) the state of my sourdough starter offshoot (if you’re wondering, to quote Bon Appetit: it’s ALIVE), and (4) more writing.

18:30 Dinner time marks the end of my day shift. I do my quarantine night time routine; I work out, do some reading (gotta make use of all my subscriptions y’know), and have tea with my parents. ($0)

23:00 I am a creature of habit and begin my “second shift”.

Daily total: $0

Day 6, Friday

06:30 Bedtime so I can start this all over again tomorrow — wait I mean later today. my life is so boring yet dysfunctional. Thank goodness it’s Friday.

10:30 Sleeping in has got to be one of the best things in life until you wake up to a couple of tasks from your boss. So begins a day of flurried activity – everyone’s motivated to complete things before the weekend.

12:00 Had some homemade pasta for lunch.

20:00 Ordered some extra spicy frog leg porridge (to spice up my life). Some uncle tries to cut the queue. Excuse me, we live in a place with rule of law, sir. Get in line. ($20)

23:00 Did you think I was going to work late on a Friday night?? Emails continue streaming into my inbox anyway, more work begging to be done. I ignore them. I sit by the coast – the sound of waves make for a very calming end to yet another frenzied work week. As much as I was still full from dinner, I satisfy my craving for McWings. ($5)

Daily total: $25

Day 7, Saturday

01:30 We met with no red lights on the drive back— were all these green lights a sign of something?

03:00 I’ve tried fixing my sleep cycle but have been failing for the past five months. I tell myself that 3am’s not too late.

13:00 I get to ~really~ sleep in. No alarms. Saturday mornings are the best (because I’m asleep).

14:00 I put off collecting my tailored jeans but pop by a local roaster for coffee ($5.50) and to stock up on coffee beans for the next two weeks ($54). I also visit IKEA to pick up some glassware for kombucha brewing ($20). There’s a 15-minute long queue to get in. I vow to order stuff online and have them delivered to my doorstep in the future. 

20:00 I do my quarantine night time routine as ushe

23:00 I feed my sourdough starter in preparation for baking a loaf the next day. I also replenish my stock of fresh pasta and brew my first ever batch of kombucha. Fingers crossed it’ll turn out well in a week. 

Daily total: $79.50

Weekly total: $282.50

Feature image by Bertille de Lestrade, follow her on Instagram @cettemaisonbleue.

a contributor

One of many contributors, sharing their stories under the cloak of anonymity.

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