If you’re too gullible, it’s easy to be misled by the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast since Disney made “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993. Shot mostly in Singapore, a thriving city-state in Southeast Asia, it features jet-setting, Prada-wearing social butterflies flaunting their wealth and status.
Hence, I have to state the obvious: not all Asians in America, or any other developed country like Singapore, are rich, let alone, crazy rich. On the contrary, with the rising cost of living due to inflation, many are struggling just to make ends meet.
But like America, the country has a large number of millionaires, who have a net worth of US$1 million or more. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2022, there are 298,650 millionaires in Singapore, which is 6.1% of the adult population.
So there’s no shortage of everyday millionaires who got wealthy the old fashion way— by living frugally cheaply! For people like us, saving money is the ultimate high as long as we’re comfortable and happy.
I recently visited the city-state of Singapore en route to Manila for cheap. And since I was traveling solo— I didn’t have my family with me— I had the ultimate freedom to cheap out on everything!
One thing that I can conclude, time and time again, on every vacation is that phoning a friend who knows the area (if you happen to know one) is the best way to save money.
Booking a cheap flight
The best way to search for flights is through Google Flights. The site showed me the available fares to Singapore for the selected dates. You can also track prices by enabling email notifications if you want to. I could have flown from Philly, but it’s always cheaper to fly from Newark airport in New Jersey.
Roughly the size of Metropolitan Philadelphia, I thought two days would be enough to explore the small country. My original flight itinerary would have easily set me back $3,000:
March 11: New Jersey to Singapore, $1,600
March 13: Singapore to Manila, $300
March 20: Manila to New Jersey, $1,100
But since my final destination was Manila, I had a money-saving idea:
Why not visit Singapore on two separate days by choosing the longest layovers in the city?
Besides, the flights with the longest layovers are usually the cheapest!
In the end, I was able to book a flight on Cheapoair.com, my favorite flight provider, for $1,139— a whopping 63% savings— Ka-ching, ka-ching!!!
Getting around Singapore for cheap
Singapore has a well-developed and efficient public transport system that can take you to most places in the city. The best way to get around Singapore is by using the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system, which is clean, fast, and air-conditioned.
You can buy a Singapore Tourist Pass or an EZ-Link card to pay for your MRT fares and enjoy unlimited rides for one, two, or three days. You can also use these cards to pay for the bus, which is another convenient and affordable way to get around Singapore. Buses cover almost every corner of the island and offer scenic views of the city.
Prefer more comfort and flexibility? You can also take a taxi or use a ride-hailing app like Grab (Singapore’s version of Uber) as I did. Taxis are metered, but there may be surcharges depending on when, where, and which company you board.
If you’re ultra-cheap, you can carpool with strangers using GrabShare. Who knows? You might get ultra-lucky if you happen to sit next to a Singaporean dead ringer for Constance Wu.
That’s exactly what I tried to do— to get to a friend’s flat— from the airport since I already have the app installed on my phone. But the app had trouble getting me a ride. Either that or it knows what I had in mind, lmao.
Upon reaching the destination, I was surprised to see the Grab driver again minutes after I left the cab. It’s apparent he was chasing me!
It turns out the default payment on the app was set to cash instead of my credit card, and I didn’t have SGD$ 22 with me!
My good friend ended up paying for my ride. I offered to pay him back, but he wouldn’t let me.
Where to eat for cheap
Singapore is known for its diverse and delicious food scene, and you can find many options for cheap and cheerful eats. Here are some suggestions:
If you are in the mood for Indian vegetarian food, you can try Annalakshmi, a restaurant run by a charitable association that lets you pay as you wish for your meal. You heard that right— PAY AS YOU WISH! You can enjoy dishes like dosa, idli, dal, curry, and more.
If you want to experience the local hawker culture (i.e. food court), you can head to one of the many food centers around the city, such as Tiong Bahru, Old Airport Rd, Maxwell, Newton, or Lau Pa Sat food center. You can find a variety of cuisines, such as Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan, and dishes like chicken rice, laksa, satay, rojak, and more. Most of the dishes are under $10 and some are even under $5.
If you are looking for something more international, you can try Bamboo Bowls, a place that serves nutritious Asian bowls inspired by different cities, such as Singapore, Sichuan, Saigon, Bangkok, Bali, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Seoul. You can get a bowl for $10 or less, and add proteins for $5 more.
In the end, my friend and I ate at Lau Pa Sat because it’s only a 5-minute walk from the Fullerton center where we had our photo shoot. We ordered delicious Turkish lamb and a spicy Indian dish– too spicy that I couldn’t recall the name.
He spent less than SGD$ 15 or around $10. I didn’t have local currency to chip in, and it was too much trouble to download the app to pay for the food. It’s unfortunate that they don’t accept credit cards. We Americans tend to assume everyone does.
But I was able to buy my friend drinks atop the CapitaGreen, one of the tallest skyscrapers in Singapore. Four drinks cost me US$ 70, but I’m happy to finally find a place that accepts credit cards so I can treat my friend.
Where to stay in Singapore for cheap
Everyone knows Singapore is not a cheap destination. A night at the cheapest room at the world-famous Marina Bay Sands hotel during the offseason can set you back US$500. But of course, there are some options for budget accommodation. You can find some affordable hotels, hostels, and serviced apartments on various websites such as Booking.com, Agoda.com, and Hotels.com.
Some of the best cheap hotels in Singapore according to Booking.com are:
lyf Funan Singapore by Ascott: a 4-star hotel with a garden, free WiFi, and a fitness center in the Funan Mall. It has a rating of 8.5 out of 10 and costs around $135 per night.
Orchard Hotel Singapore: a 4-star hotel with an outdoor pool, fitness center, restaurant, and bar on Orchard Road. It has a rating of 7.6 out of 10 and costs around $186 per night.
Days Hotel by Wyndham at Zhongshan Park: a 3-star hotel with a fitness center. It has a rating of 8.1 out of 10 and costs around $160 per night
Hostels or dormitory-type accommodations are even cheaper. Some of the best cheap hostels in Singapore are:
Hipstercity: a hostel with free breakfast, WiFi, and lockers in Lavender. It has a rating of 8.3 out of 10 and costs around $79 per night.
The Bohemian: a hostel with free breakfast, WiFi, and laundry facilities in Chinatown. It has a rating of 8.2 out of 10 and costs around $75 per night.
CapsulePod: a hostel with free WiFi in Geylang. It has a rating of 8.1 out of 10 and costs around $53 per night.
“But these options are not cheap enough!” you might say. That’s what I thought too. So I did the cheapest option an ultra-cheap guy like me would do: stay at another friend’s house and sleep on his couch.
We certainly had a great time catching up and reminiscing about our college days. Not only did we bond more during my stay, but I also saved a lot of money along the way— Ka-ching, ka-ching!!!
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