Saturday, 18 October 2014

Tips for saving money (from a Mum of 6)

Recently I was featured in the Chinese language newspaper about ways a family can save money. For those who read it, here's a disclaimer. This is not a direct translation because some of the things the journalist wrote were slightly miscommunicated, although the article was generally accurate (to be expected, with a potato speaking to a 'bao'). So here's sharing 6 tips on how we save.

1) Toys

They get 3 presents from us a year - Birthday, Christmas and Children's day. I don't give them extra pocket money to save for toys. I find that method doesn't teach them very much. I have come up with a better strategy to teach them financial literacy. Their pocket money is just enough to buy food in school (P1/2: $1, P3/4: $1.50, P5/6: $2). Besides that they are allowed to keep $200 per year from their hong bao money (the rest goes into their bank account) and if they finish it up they have to wait for the next Chinese New Year. I give them this lump sum to practice budgeting and hopefully inculcate good spending habits in them from young. (Rubbing my hands in glee awaiting the day I get some ROI… although I have been told "don't bet on it!")

Before I started this system, they were constantly whining for a small toy here, a small knick knack there, and those seemingly insignificant amounts added up to a lot. Now they get 3 gifts and that's it. Oh, and ad hoc presents if either the hubs or I go on holiday without them. And of course, not forgetting the grandparents who spoil them silly (mostly #1).

Not only do I cap their toy expenditure to a fixed budget each year, my goal is to teach them to be responsible with their money. Initially they were overjoyed to get such a huge amount of money at their disposal and they will use it all up within a few months. However, the next year they will realise their folly and be more prudent with their spending. Paradoxically, when you hand over the reins to them, they end up saving most of it after the first year of learning that the cash is not limitless and no, unlike mummy's wallet, the bills do not replenish themselves magically. I also teach them delayed gratification by getting them to note down the toys they want and to request it from their relatives for their birthdays. Sometimes, by the time their birthday comes around, they have already decided they don't want the toy anymore. Very simple but effective way to halt the need to buy something every time they go out.

When they were young, I believed in buying good toys such as puzzles and blocks, and these sets can cost quite a fair bit. I would split the cost of the toys with the mummies in their playgroup and we would rotate them every month. Now that I've started blogging, we are so fortunate to receive lots of quality toys. A big thank you to our sponsors!
Dresses for CNY and Christmas
2) Clothes

Most of their clothes are hand-me downs from friends and relatives. They are so used to it that they don't even question it. In fact, it's loads of fun to get to choose from a whole pile of clothes. Besides, most friends these days have only 1 or 2 kids and their clothes are still very new. Now that the older girls are in their teens and have started to buy their own clothes, the younger ones are more than happy to receive their clothes once they outgrow them as their older siblings are more 'fashionable'.

When we go on vacation and need winter clothes, we borrow from friends and relatives. They are quite happy to lend us as their kids have probably outgrown them. I find it not worth buying to be worn only once or twice, plus finding storage for bulky winter clothing is going to be a problem too.

If I need to buy new clothes for example for Chinese New Year, I shop on the internet and buy during the Black Friday sale which happens at the end of November. The discounts are massive, around 50-80% off. I got 2 of the above dresses from Carters during last year's black friday sale, and they cost around $10 - $20 each. I usually share shipping with 1 or 2 friends to reach the cap of S$400 (no GST charged) as shipping gets cheaper the more you buy.

3) Activities

As the hubs works from home, and the kids hardly have any tuition or enrichment classes, we go for activities during the weekdays where admission charges are cheaper. Places such as science centre/sentosa, indoor playgrounds, cinemas, even buffets are all cheaper during the weekdays. Multiply that by 8 and it becomes substantial. Besides, I really dislike crowds so we like to stay home during the weekends. 

For holidays we like to travel during off-peak season as the air fares are lower, such as the one week break in October designated for PSLE marking, much to the chagrin of their teachers as the year-end exams begin on the Monday back in school. There was one year when #3's teacher decided to hold extra classes during that week and #3 did not turn up. She called me on Sunday to enquire and I told her we just arrived back at the airport and she was dumbfounded. Before you balk at the idea, I have found out that their results doesn't get affected much by a vacation before the exams. Besides, October is a great time to travel weather-wise.

4) Buy in bulk

The journalist was asking me to share some marketing tips, and the best times to spend on daily necessities in a cost-saving manner. (Maybe people think a mummy with 6 kids should have all these worked out. Well I don't, so if you do know, please share with me.)

What we do is to buy our fish and meats directly from the wholesaler as you can imagine the amount of food our household consumes in a week. Not counting all the additional 'random kids' as my friends like to call the other children who turn up at our house regularly. There was this really cute boy (our neighbour) who declared to me yesterday, "I can stay in your house the whole day. What's for lunch?"

5) Tuition

One of the big on-going expenses of Singapore parents with school-going children is tuition. Some parents start kids off with tuition from as early as Primary 1, and some go to the ridiculous extent of having several tutors for every subject when they are in P6 (group, individual, local tutor, native Chinese tutor).

For us, I only give them tuition as a last resort, mainly in the P6 year to plug the gaps. Sometimes, in P4 or P5 they request for tuition but I tell them having tuition is a luxury as it costs a lot of money. I tell them to put more effort to figure it out themselves or to ask their teachers for extra help. Most teachers are willing to give them extra help after school, and #1's teacher even opened her home to give them extra lessons before the 'O' levels. I encourage them to ask their friends for help on subjects they are weak at, and to return the favour in subjects they are strong in. When I finally give them tuition in P6 or in Sec 4 they will cherish the extra help from the tutor.

There was once when #1's tutor texted us 5 minutes before tuition to cancel and #1 was already seated at the table with her books open. She exclaimed, "Huh! How come?" Her godma was so amused and said that this was the first time she saw a child disappointed in not having tuition instead of jumping for joy. I choose my tutors very carefully and get them to teach in a way which the child learns best. I will not waste my money and my child's time on tutors who do not produce results. I will also communicate with their tutors regularly to see how we can best address the needs of the child. That was how we managed to get #3 from failing her subjects to 2nd position in class.

#1 asked for Math tuition in Sec 2 but I refused to give her, simply because I wanted her to learn resourcefulness and not take the easy way out and rely on someone to spoon feed her. In the end, by Sec 4, she managed to work her way up to an A grade. So proud of her. In most primary schools, if they fall below a certain grade for their exams, the school provides remedial lessons. Some parents dread to see that white piece of paper which they have to acknowledge, but I'm more than happy to allow them to attend. Free tuition! Why not?

After having 3 kids go through the PSLE, I realise that for #1 and #2, it was fine for them to start tuition in P6 and still manage straight As, but for #3 who was much weaker and who had several inexperienced teachers over the years, I should have started her in P5. For the next 3 kids, I will monitor them more closely to see if they need to start tuition in P5. However, I refuse to make tuition a part of their lives because I have seen how many of their friends dread tuition and feign illness to skip it. Some of their other friends have the mentality that they don't need to concentrate in class because they can always rely on their tutors. Ends up, their parents are paying unnecessarily for tuition instead of utilising tuition judiciously to plug the gaps.

6) Part-time jobs

I get them to work from the time they turn 14. Nope, contrary to popular believe, it's not child labour. It is perfectly legal to work part-time from 13 years old (I told them I will kindly give them 12 months of grace period). People ask me where can 14-year olds work? I am careful about where they work as they are still young, so it is either in friends/relative's companies doing things like waitressing or simple clerical work, or to give tuition to friends' children.

Similarly, when they are in secondary school, I give them enough money to buy food in school (Sec 1/2: $2.50 a day, Sec 3/4: $3 a day) and they are still allowed to keep the $200 a year from their hong bao money. By the time they are in Secondary school, $200 is not enough to last them a year. Thus, the money that they earn during the June and December holidays will go towards their expenses on their outings with their friends and to pay for their shopping.

I firmly believe in the value of paid work, especially with this generation of entitled kids. This is to teach them the value of money and that it is easy to spend $50 on a pair of jeans but not easy to earn that $50. And the best part for mummy is that henceforth, they are responsible for earning their own keep. 2 down, 4 to go!

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~


  1. Wow, this is indeed admirable. Thanks for sharing, lots to learn from this, starting from P1 daily allowance! Gonna check out the school canteen's prices too.

  2. Yes, check out the prices (they are usually between 80cents to $1 per dish) and give them just enough. When I gave #1 slightly more and told her to save the rest, she ended up buying knick knacks from the bookshop with the leftover money saved in the week. But when I put her in charge of her own $200, she stopped buying such nonsense and automatically 'saved' her money for more important buys.


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