Monday, July 18, 2016

GMGH Top 5 Tips when Living Overseas

Inspired by this Dollars & Sense post, I decided to post some of my own tips for extended overseas living / exchange students.

Top Tip #1: Buy the house brand when shopping
Think "Giant". House brand goods are usually, if not always, the cheapest choice that you can buy. When it comes to simple things like salt or bread, going with the house brand can save you a pretty penny while barely being noticeable about its quality. Actually for many items, you would actually be amazed that the supplier of the house brand good is also the supplier of another branded good as well! The main difference is that the branding and marketing costs have been totally stripped away, and that means savings for you.

(notice how there are no shelves? budget shopping!)

Top Tip #2: Shop at the budget supermarket
Since there isn't a house brand for every single item that you might need, you might end up just regularly shopping for normal branded stuff at the supermarkets and that's where this becomes important. Pretty much every country has their own tiers of supermarkets. Just like shopping at Sheng Siong instead of Jason's Market Place, the price of identical items could differ quite substantially. If I'm getting the same product either way, I prefer paying the cheaper price.

(not an actual picture of me cooking, but close enough)

Top Tip #3: Learn how to cook
I'd say that this is the TOP money saver, but it is also a skill, so it's not something that everyone can do. If it was, I'd put this as my top tip number #1! Learning how to cook can drop your food expenses MASSIVELY. I used to live in a city where there were no budget or simple casual dining options. A fast food meal would set you back $10, while a simple restaurant meal would be upwards of $20. However, cooking at home cost me an average of about $2-3 per meal!

(not very advisable, but whatever, #yolo)

Top Tip #4: Figure out the cheapest and most convenient mode of transport for you
Even in Singapore, some people don't do this right. Taxis can be insane. Buying single-use tickets can be absurdly expensive too. I've found that buying bundled tickets, metro passes and yes, even buying a bicycle has managed to save me tremendous amounts of money. When I had to commute to school, I figured out that buying a bicycle turned out to be much cheaper than taking the tram to school, which was still quite a far walk away and it's schedule was not always reliable.

(why does my roomie like hanging out on my bed?)

Top Tip #5: Get a roommate (or a few!)
It is definitely a compromise to live with other people, but there are direct and indirect monetary benefits. Straight off the bat, your rent is definitely lower than getting a studio apartment on your own. Your fixed utilities bills are shared (think internet / wifi) and maybe even other household expenses too (groceries like cooking oil, or household essentials like soap). Economics of scale come into play here too, so you can end up buying certain goods in volume and benefit from the bulk discount.

Whether you're going to be an expat, a graduate student, an exchange student or even someone who is just having an extended stay overseas, I think these are major money saving tips that can really stretch your dollars without being too much of an inconvenience in your life.

Do you have any top tips to share?


  1. With regard to tip #1 and #2, I will like to contribute 4 points.
    1. Always look at the per unit cost instead of the overall price. What may appear cheap to you may be more expensive per unit when compared to another higher priced item.

    2. Read nutritional information on the packaging. You may be getting more nutritional value e.g. higher percentage of a key ingredient. Again, do not be seduced by the lowest priced item.

    3. No harm shopping around the supermarkets. Need not stick to the cheapest. Recently, they had supermarket wars in the UK and you could get decent priced items at the supposedly more expensive supermarkets. Also, you may discover you enjoy the taste of say cherries from M&S more than the other supermarkets.

    4. Sign up for all their loyalty cards (it is free!). If you are there for extended period of time, you will definitely get some vouchers after some time.

    Moving on to tip #3 and #4:

    1. Make plenty of friends. It helps time to pass faster. You can have dinner parties too where everyone takes turns cooking for the group. You need not be staying together in the same house to reap this benefit.

    2. With a wider social circle, you can carpool. I offer to pick people up here if it is on the way for me as I know it shaves off that little bit for the students who are trying to watch every penny. It does not hurt me and I believe in paying it forward.

    #5 is tricky. You never know if you end up with housemates from hell. I prefer to stay in my own apartment as I can maintain a decent living environment.

    1. Sorry for the late reply caelitus, those are excellent points!

      I remember that in the markets that I used to shop it, (not sure if it is mandatory or not) but all food units had a breakdown in unit cost, like price / litre or price / kilo! It really helps a lot because you can also quickly do the math to see if getting different quantities could save you more money as well.

      If I'm indifferent to the brands of the product I am buying, I usually look at the nutritional values as well. Less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff!

      The housemate one can be a dealbreaker for most people. But for the most budget conscious, I think it would make one of the biggest impacts! If I had to pick a category to splurge on though, housing would definitely be it!


Observe the house rules.