“I recently attended an informal meetup with Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo together with other parenting bloggers to chat about the challenges of parenting. The takeaway for the session was that every family has its own concerns and needs, but we agree that as long as we are working parents, the employer plays a very important part in establishing a healthy work-life balance for us, the employees. But we all know that legislation may not really help in that aspect.
Life is all about making choices ― you choose between getting a spanking new car or taking public transport, going for a designer bag with name you can hardly pronounce or settling for a more economical one. Buying a cup of frozen yoghurt that costs as much a meal for the average person is also a choice you make. You definitely have the choice to spend and to be happy.
These days, it is not uncommon to hear youngsters and even my peers complaining about the cost of living and how they have to put off having starting a family because of their unimaginable fears over the cost of raising a child. But is the situation really this bleak? It is human nature to fear unchartered waters, but it is also true that life rewards the bold and courageous. Never try, never know, they say. This is not some useless 10-point online article giving you half-baked useless advice on how to save money or why you should have children. But I would like to share MY story of how we survived having four kids.
“We could have chosen to live our lives differently, getting a car and going for exotic holidays whenever it pleased us, BUT we chose to have kids. It was our choice.”
I remember having barely joined the workforce when my now mother-in-law (girlfriend's mother back then) said to me, ‘Steven, you know, hor, our neighbour two units away is selling their 3-room flat, you want to buy or not ah’? From that conversation, my fate was sealed ― I knew I had to find out how to make that happen. Luckily, the flat was only going at valuation, which meant that I did not need to come up with any cash-over-valuation. It was really important because I had no savings at all, having only started work not too long ago. As we were eligible for HDB first-timer grant of $30,000, as well as the Proximity Housing Grant of $10,000, I got a whopping discount of $40,000.
So, my monthly repayment for my HDB loan over 30 years was $116 per month for me and $115 for my wife. We started small, but we lived within our means and we were happy with our situation. Today, the CPF Housing Grant for first-timer couples has been enhanced to $50,000 for a 4-room or smaller resale flat, and $40,000 for a 5-room or larger resale flat. The Proximity Housing Grant has also been increased to $20,000 to help families who want to buy a resale flat near their parents.
We could have chosen to live our lives differently, getting a car and going for exotic holidays whenever it pleased us, BUT we chose to have kids. It was our choice. We were definitely not influenced by the Baby Bonus ― it just happened that our vision of having kids was aligned with the Government’s. I sure hope no one is so short-sighted as NOT to realise that the Baby Bonus of a few thousand dollars is hardly going to compensate for a life-time of ‘liability’! However having said that, the money definitely came in handy when I had to pay my credit card bills for my wife’s Caesarean delivery! And for new parents who need to get that high chair, baby pram, or need funds to do up a baby room, you can think of it as the Government’s gift to the family. Who can complain of having more ‘free’ spending money?
Find out how Steven makes government schemes work for him…
Before we knew it, our family had grown and so had our expenses, especially our childcare costs, which we definitely require since we both work. My mother-in-law whom had happily egged me to buy our own flat, helped out a fair bit to take care of our infants before they turned 18 months and were thus eligible for childcare. At one point, when we had up to three children in childcare at the same time, I had to fork out almost $3,000 per month just for fees.
Thanks to for the Childcare Subsidy scheme, we reduced our childcare cost by $300 per child, and this is definitely a lifesaver! That’s not all, between our four children, we also have a total of $36,000 that the Government matches to their Baby Bonus Child Development Account (CDA) account. This simply means that whenever I pay through their CDA accounts our childcare fees are halved again. That pretty cool, right?
“I seriously feel that Singapore is still a wonderful place to raise my kiddos.”
We are definitely not high-income earners, hence the Parenthood Tax Rebate of $55,000 to offset any of my income tax payment would take me a REALLY long time to use up. Why is it only MY account? That's because my wife need not pay income tax at all, as her Working Mother’s Child Relief of 15 per cent for Steffi, 20 per cent for Leroy, and 25 per cent each for both Stacci and Louie means that she is only assessed at only the remaining 15 per cent remainder of her annual income. Sure sounds great, right?
As my children grew and needed more space, we also started looking for a new home. We had become so accustomed to our neighbourhood that we gave up the idea of uprooting from our mature estate, especially now that the two older ones had settled well in their neighborhood primary school. Resale flats nearby command a pretty high premium BUT the new BTO projects that opened up a couple of years back had attracted a horde of applicants, too! Luckily for us, we managed to apply under the Third-Child Priority (TCP) Scheme and got a new 5-room flat of our choice ― we are expecting our keys to in the next few months! If we had applied together with the main group, I don’t think we would even get a chance to choose.
Life's definitely not a bed of roses, even if it is, there are thorns that hurt, too. I have a lot of complaints too, like not being able to bring prams up buses unfolded (though now, the Government had just announced that open strollers are allowed on public buses!), why can't taxis allow more passengers especially if they are young kids or why is there so much homework to do? But on delving deeper into the issue, I seriously feel that Singapore is still a wonderful place to raise my kiddos. No matter how many incentives the Government throw in to get singles together, or couples to have children, the choice ultimately remains with us, with ourselves. If you are like me, and decide to have kiddos of your own, be sure to know that you can tap into many Government grants and subsidies to lighten your load. Sometimes, us Singaporeans are known to over worry. But be brave, it is not as scary as it seems…and the rewards? Immense!”
Steven Teo, 39, who blogs at The “Perfect” Father, is dad to Louie, 2, Stacci, 5, Leroy, 7, and Steffi, 9.
Photo: Ealbert Ho
This article is in collaboration with HeyBaby
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