Singapore is one of the most economically developed countries in the world. As a result, the cost of living in Singapore is especially high, in fact one of the highest in the world according to a study done by Knight Frank. What this economic boom hides within this city is a hidden class of poor, with 105,000 families in Singapore earning $1,500 per month. That’s $50 of living expenses a day for the whole family in an average 30-day month.
Amos Chen, a Singapore student, is trying to make this unfortunate fact known. Launching what is called a $5 challenge, he will be feeding himself 2-3 meals a day on a mere $5 in an attempt to put himself in the footsteps of low-income families in Singapore. What he does not spend, he will donate to This Is Home Truly, a local campaign that helps the homeless in Singapore. His Facebook page is updated daily with his progress, his creative endeavours to save money, and his reflections throughout the process.
For those who are not familiar with the $5 Challenge, it was created by Singaporeans Against Poverty, a campaign that aims to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. They uncovered the statistics shown above and calculated that a $1,500 monthly wage, after paying utilities, schooling, housing rental or loan installments and medicals, will leave you with the amount of $5.
We spoke to Amos about his journey halfway through this challenge, inspiring his lecturer to join in the challenge, and taking food samples just to save a few dollars!
What inspired you to do this challenge?
This is actually part of a school assignment for a module called Social Media and Digital Campaign Management. For this individual assignment, we’re suppose to spark social conversations on social media.
The idea of this campaign was conceived 3 days before I took up the challenge. I was just talking to my friend on our way home from school, and he was telling me about his internship experience, where he was helping with the filming of a documentary for the FYP of 2 students, Nicholas and Lewin from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Their FYP, “Living on Less” was essentially about raising awareness towards relative poverty in Singapore by putting themselves in the shoes of low income individuals for 2 months (they did it in June and July earlier this year).
So when I got home, the first thing I did was to search for their videos to see what it was like for them, as well as to find out more about The $5 Challenge, which is an initiative by “Singaporeans Against Poverty” to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. And I got really inspired and excited after that.
I figured that if I were to launch a campaign for a month, it’d definitely have to be something that I believe in and feel strongly about.
How many people have joined you in this challenge?
What is the main goal of this challenge?
The main goal of the challenge is basically to limit our daily expenses on transport and food to $5. But if I were to factor in transport, that would already take up half of the budget since I travel to and from school every day. This is why, for me, I’m tweaking the challenge a little bit, just to limit my daily expenses on food to $5. This is also the reason why I’ll be donating the remaining amount from the budget to charity, which challenges me to spend as little as possible on food, as opposed to just keeping within the budget. I just want to show that it is possible to spend within our means and still be able to give back to the society.
I’ll be donating to This Is Home Truly, a campaign my friend started (for the same module also) to raise awareness about homeless individuals in Singapore. He’ll be raising money to buy sleeping bags for these people.
What has been the hardest part of this challenge?
The hardest part initially was resisting the urge to get my cup of teh-c bing (iced tea) after every meal. Even if it’s still within the budget, I had to resist the urge so that I’ll be able to donate more to charity at the end of the challenge. As of now, I’ve got that under control.
Now, the challenge is about planning my meals, and stretching my grocery budget. It’s really really difficult to cook for one person actually. And I’m making a point not to mix my groceries with my family’s (like I have my own loaf of bread), as I want to be as authentic and real as possible.
Also, it helps me keep track on my spending. So I really have to plan what I’m having for each meal, because I have to finish the food with the shorter shelf life first. Having said that, I try to buy food that can be kept over a long period of time. My parents are worried about my health (which is a valid concern), but I’d like to think I’ve been eating well the past week. I hope I can sustain this!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to save money?
How can people contribute?
People can contribute by helping to spread the word and raise awareness about this cause, and if they are inspired to take up the challenge, that’s even better! They may also choose to donate the savings from the budget to charity. One of the main reasons why I decided to donate to my friend’s cause is because of a common vision we share – that every cent counts. Everyone can make a difference regardless of the amount we donate. 10 cents might seem like an insignificant amount to us, but it probably means a lot to the less privileged. There’s so much that can be done when a small amount is compounded!
If you’re interested to do the $5 Challenge as well, check out Singaporeans Against Poverty’s website, where they explain what the challenge is about and even have a Google Doc journal for participants to share their experiences.