The economics of a Singaporean familyBY MATT YOUNG
There’s a little bit of an oddball crowd out there in Singapore—the type that considers moving to Johor Bahru.
It’s more dangerous, less convenient, and there may be some language issues for those who don’t read Malay.
Then there’s the really odd crowd: my wife and I.
We’re Singapore-area expats who have never really lived in Singapore. Our living destination of choice the moment we stepped out of Changi Airport for the first time was Johor Bahru, or JB as everyone calls it.
We saw the glass half-full out there in yonder parts: It’s more real, more spacious and less expensive. JB used to attract the inner outlaw within us too. Sometimes we’d wonder whether we got stopped at border security with certain items—as innocuous as they were—and laugh. We love that death penalty thingy. Drugs—really? Not that we’re into that. Just saying.
We’ve been leading a life of bliss ever since, until Baby Samantha decided to pop out of my wife last July.
They say life changes when you have kids. But when you’re living on the border, it’s especially apparent. As your values change, so do the values that each side of the border brings.
Before the baby
Before Samantha was born, here’s how my wife and I would have rated each side of the border, with 1 being worst and 10 being best (and by the way, feel free to disagree in the comments section):
Safety: Singapore = 9/ JB = 6
Convenience: Singapore = 8 / JB = 7
Cost-of-living: Singapore = 4/ JB = 8
Entertainment: Singapore = 7 / JB = 5
Quality-of-living: Singapore = 7 / JB = 7
Overall: Singapore = 7 / JB = 6.6
After the baby
Now that Samantha is born, here’s how those ratings change:
Safety: Singapore = 10 / JB = 4
Convenience: Singapore = 9 / JB = 4
Cost-of-living: Singapore = 2 / JB = 9
Entertainment: Singapore = 8 / JB = 4
Quality-of-living: Singapore = 8 / JB = 6
Overall: Singapore = 7.4 / JB = 5.4
So, what’s changed?
Well, JB and Singapore haven’t changed much. We have. With Samantha, safety has become more important to us, and the divide between safety in Singapore and JB seems vaster. Hence, that’s reflected on our ratings.
Because we work in Singapore, the usual travel will become more onerous now that we have a child. Singapore thus becomes more convenient, and JB less so.
Singapore has never seemed cheap. It seems more expensive than ever now, while JB keeps looking better in terms of cost. We rent a nice 3-bedroom condo in JB overlooking the Straits of Johor for about S$800 per month. We estimate the price
for such a unit in Singapore, without the view, to be about S$4000 to S$5000 per month. It’s amazing what a 1 km stretch of causeway does to prices.
Singapore gets a boost in entertainment, mostly because expat friends are all there for a quick catch-up in between diaper changes.
Meanwhile, I can’t remember going to a park in JB, while I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Singapore. And believe me, we want child rearing to be a walk in the park—at least as much as possible. Quality-of-life up in Singapore, down in JB.
That said, it is worthwhile distinguishing between old JB and new JB (i.e. Nusajaya, just across the Second Link). While we don’t live in Nusajaya, we have visited and were very impressed. That would probably give JB extra marks in safety and quality of living, but convenience and entertainment still are lacking until the region is more developed as an integrated community like Singapore.
In summary, in areas where Singapore was better than JB before childbirth, it got even better afterwards. Meanwhile, JB lost marks across the board, except that now it seems even more extraordinarily inexpensive to live there by comparison.
Next April, our JB lease is up. While we still ponder where we will live next, increasingly the answer is Singapore so long as we can afford it.