ST Oct 25, 2006The second article is on owning cars vs using public transport:
The price of a good maid
By Newsdesk Reporter, Arlina Arshad
AFTER giving birth to twins in July this year, marketing executive Ng Su Ming, 35, decided to hire a maid. She wanted someone who could help look after the twins and another toddler when she went back to work.
Her husband consulted several agents and decided to engage one which charged an agency fee of $1,388, more than double the average.
Homemaker's director, Mr Alvin Kor, recommended Ms Lore Lee, 27, a mother of two who had worked with children in a Philippine hospital, and who had looked after triplets before.
Madam Ng said: 'The agent was very detailed and comprehensive, he went through everything with my husband for two hours. Other agents would just give you a one-liner and two pages of maids' biodata.'
She is pleased with her maid who is 'very good in childcare, has initiative and can read medicine labels'. Her maid's salary is $50 more than the market rate of $350 a month. 'It's OK to pay a bit more for a maid who is well-trained and can stay with you long-term,' she said.
Maid agents say good maids are available if Singaporeans are willing to pay higher salaries ....
ST Oct 25, 2006Everybody's circumstances are different. Anyway, I'll share mine. Personally I don't drive, but I do employ a maid. In fact, I am just about to employ a second maid. Considering that my domestic requirements are fairly average - two young kids, 5-room HDB flat - this may seem a bit of a luxury.
Getting more on board
ANY review of public transport usage will have to contend with one Singaporean immutable: the wish to own a car. For many it is a validation of success; some are attracted to the assumed social cachet. The mobility a car offers surprisingly is not thought to be the sole reason, as would be evident in cities with unreliable or patchy bus and rail services. But Singapore's transport system is reasonably good for a city of its population and compactness. A controlled rise in car ownership also happens to be a policy objective to fulfil citizen wants, subject naturally to the limitations of road-building capacity. Understanding why car use has outpaced bus-and-rail's rate of growth in the period since the last land transport policy study was done, in 1996, is in the circumstances less relevant than making public transport so efficient car-owning office workers would prefer it for the convenience. The family car would strictly be used for evening and weekend social purposes.
On the other hand, I don't own a car. And a car is a lot more expensive than a maid (or two). I believe that having two maids adds more to my quality of life than having a car, or for that matter, having one maid and one car.
It helps, of course, that years ago, I had deliberately decided to buy a flat very, very close to a NEL MRT station (then still under construction). Today, the line is up and running, and I can travel from my home to Plaza Singapura (Dhoby Ghaut MRT) or VivoCity (Harbourfront MRT), faster by train than I would be able, by car or taxi.
Another thing about the flat purchase. When we got married, my wife and I considered our housing options - to buy a condo; a HDB resale flat or a new HDB flat. We quickly dismissed the new HDB flat option, because it would mean living in some outlying area of Singapore (like Sengkang - where transport is a hassle).
We ultimately decided against a condo, because we wanted (1) to save money, and (2) to live either near my parents or hers, and there were no suitable condos in those locations, and (3) we knew we wanted kids, and therefore we wanted a bigger place, and the old HDB 5-rooms are considerably bigger than new HDB 5-room flats, and for that matter, bigger than most condos.
So we ended up with the HDB resale flat, which is near my parents' place (10 minutes' walking distance) and very, very near a NEL MRT station. As it turns out, I get to spend more time with my parents, and they with their grandkids, than would have been the case if my home was further away.
To "make up" for living in a HDB flat, we decided to get a country club membership so that we could use the facilities and "enjoy life". This was a rather silly mistake. We still have the membership today, but like most country club members (excluding the golf addicts), we hardly ever go. The novelty wears off quite quickly.
Around the time we were considering buying a flat, we heard that HDB was planning to corporatise, and we suspected that the HDB subsidised loan scheme would be ending. So we decided to take it up before it was really abolished (indeed it is now no longer available for new HDB flat buyers). We were one of the last batch of Singaporeans to get this kind of loan.
So we pay a fixed interest rate of 2.6%. It doesn't rise with the general market. It is pegged to be 0.1% more than whatever the prevailing CPF Ordinary Account interest rate is (that is, 2.5%). This wouldn't have been possible if we had bought a condo and taken a loan from a commercial bank. For these past three or four years, we have been totally unaffected by rising interest rates (unlike those of you who have an outstanding mortgage with Standard Chartered or DBS etc).
I can prepay, in part or in full, my kind of HDB loan at any time, without fees or penalties. But I have never prepaid. That's because instead of prepaying the loan where interest is chargeable at 2.5%, I would rather chuck my excess money (CPF or non-CPF) into investments (it is quite easy to get returns higher than 2.5%).
For example, I've chucked a lot of my excess CPF Ordinary Account money into the CPF Special Account. Instead of using that money to prepay a loan accruing interest at 2.5%, it makes more sense to put it into CPF Special Account where it earns interest at 4%, guaranteed by the triple-A rated Singapore government).
Back to maids. Why do I want two? After careful consideration, I realise that time is the most precious commodity for me and my wife. As lawyers, each of us earns quite a lot of money, considerably more than the average Singaporean. The money is comfortable. Time is what we lack. So instead of using money to buy material luxuries (like expensive holidays, designer furniture or branded goods), we plan to use money (the costs of employing two maids) to buy time.
If this works out the way I envisage - we will hardly ever spend any time on things like cooking, doing the laundry, buying groceries, mopping the floor, ironing, making the bed etc. It may not be fair to expect, or possible, for one maid to do all that well AND look after two young kids. But I think it is a fair expectation, if we employ TWO maids.
Thus when I come home after work, I expect to be able to spend 100% of my time in a quality way with my kids. Or on my personal projects. Same for my wife (except that she doesn't have any personal projects). If I alternate the maids' off days, there won't even be a Sunday where the household will be "maid-less".
Will I need two maids indefinitely? No. Only until the kids get older, and become more independent. That will be in a couple of years' time. Then we'll go back to one maid. And eventually, to no maid. We'll get part-time help then; like a cleaning lady who comes in twice a week to do the housework.
Some people think that doing your own housework is character-building and enriching. I can understand, even appreciate, that philosophy. I know a very wealthy & successful lawyer, a senior partner in Singapore's largest law firm, who thinks that way. He and his wife do all their own housework (and they have kids too). His wife had a car; he rode a motorbike. Bear in mind that he is the kind of person who could well afford two BMWs, or three.
In another way, he is rather unusual. For many years he had no credit card at all. He paid everything in cash - this is his psychological method of stopping himself from overspending. This approach has its pros and cons. This way you will avoid living on credit. On the other hand, if credit cards don't tempt you into overspending, then their usage is actually good, since you collect rebates and points for buying things that you would have bought anyway.
What is the purpose of my long, meandering post? Actually, it is quite simple. I certainly do not claim that my lifestyle decisions, or that senior partner's lifestyle decisions, are best for everybody (in fact, at the start, I already said that everybody's circumstances are different). What I wanted to do is demonstrate that actually, life in Singapore does offer a variety of options.
For example, you DON'T necessarily have to own a car. You DON'T necessarily have to live in a condo. You COULD possibly have a successful career, yet have kids - and quality time for them. You DON'T necessarily have to have a credit card. A country club membership COULD be a stupid idea.
Wow, I just dealt with all of the 5 C's.
Two more thoughts - you DON'T have to have a maid. Or you COULD possibly have two.
Don't be a cow. Drop that herd mentality. Think about how YOU want to live your life, and not how society seems to expect you to live your life.