They lived like students to save up

Mr Thomas Zhuo and Ms Jasmine Ong, both 31, started putting aside more than half of their take-home pay when they were 23 so they could get their own home by the age of 27.
Mr Thomas Zhuo and Ms Jasmine Ong, both 31, started putting aside more than half of their take-home pay when they were 23 so they could get their own home by the age of 27.ST PHOTOS: DAVE LIM

Freelance tutor Thomas Zhuo and project manager Jasmine Ong "lived like students" in their 20s, putting aside more than half of their take-home pay so that they could get their own home by the age of 27.

The couple, now both 31 and married for six years, have been planning this future since they were 23. They would spend $30 a week on food, usually packing lunch from home. They cut down on movie dates and went on one or two holidays a year, instead of every quarter like their friends.

At 27, they got the keys to their Built-To-Order five-room Housing Board (HDB) flat in Punggol. They have enough savings to pay off their 30-year housing loan of $230,000 today, should they need to.

"It was easily possible for us because we have simple habits," says Mr Zhuo. "We don't drink Starbucks or go clubbing."

His chief indulgence is $10 tubs of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, of which he consumes at least two every month.

While he believes millennials could learn to save more, he does not think Mr Tim Gurner's argument holds up to scrutiny.

"An occasional artisanal latte or a night out in the pub should not have a lasting adverse impact on one's finances. Even if you cut down $100 to $200 a week, rising property prices mean it might not be possible to afford your parents' flat in Serangoon that they bought 20 years ago."

In Singapore, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) automatically sets aside 23 per cent of one's monthly wage - if one is a salaried employee - which can be used for housing.

This has made it easier for young newlyweds such as immigration agency consultant Louisure Tan and her husband, both 26, to afford the down payment on their soon- to-be-finished Yishun flat without major spending sacrifices.

Ms Tan says: "If you've worked a substantial number of years, you should be able to pay the deposit off from your CPF."

They used to spend $10,000 a year on holidays, but have cut that down by half to save for the renovation.

But for many young Singaporeans who do not plan to marry or who have a foreign spouse, home ownership is a distant dream - however many orders of avocado toast they forgo.

Human resource associate Michelle Ng, 26, is single and says she does not aspire to own property. "If you're working in an economy where wages have stayed kind of stagnant in relation to inflation, and where housing prices are high, owning a non-HDB house is a pipe dream without a leg up from social or familial connections."

Likewise, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, 28, doubts she and her British husband will ever be able to afford more than rented housing in Singapore because property prices have shot up and wages have not kept apace.

"We forget that our parents' generation splurged on things too," she says. "Everyone does. Is it fair that they get to indulge themselves and millennials are expected to scrimp and save just to hopefully one day step onto the property ladder?"

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'They lived like students to save up'. Print Edition | Subscribe