Category: SG Budget Babe

Having a personal finance tribe

Have you ever felt down because your friends, colleagues or peers are judging you for trying to save money?Or perhaps you previously were labelled with some really hurtful remarks like “cheapo” when you’re really just being frugal, and moreover NOT at …

DBS digiPortfolio – one of the best and the safest robo-advisors thus far?

If you’ve no time to do your own investment research or monitor your portfolio, then this might just be the solution for you.
Always wanted to tap on the same investment expertise provided to high net worth investors?

Well, now you can.

This means retail investors like you and me can finally tap on the knowledge and expertise given to the bank’s high net worth clients (those with more than S$500,000 in investment capital). The same discipline and methodology to constructing and managing a portfolio for these HNW clients is now being applied to the DBS digiPortfolio.

Their robo-investment platform uses human insights and investment strategies from the bank’s wealth management team, while leveraging robo technology to automate and scale the investment offering to more investors.

The experts curate, monitor and rebalance the portfolios on your behalf. Great for those who struggle to find time to DIY their own investments, especially when the fee charged is among the lowest in the market when paying for this level of convenience.

The perks:

       Low management fee of 0.75%

       A starting sum of S$1,000 or US$1,000

       No lock-in period

       No rebalancing fees

       Saves time on research and rebalancing

There are no fees for account opening or withdrawal, and neither is there any sales charges, platform fees or switching fees that is typical of the mutual fund industry.

Instead, you pay only a 0.75% fee of your total portfolio value per year. This means that for a $10,000 portfolio, that’s $6.25 each month ($75 yearly) to cover portfolio management, investment insights, all buy/sell transactions and rebalancing.

A small price to pay for all the time and effort you get to save, and well worth getting started.

But here’s the big question on everyone’s minds:

How does it stack up against the competition?

Given the human involvement, the closest equivalent might just be the mutual funds instead of the pure digital robo-advisors.

And the charges in mutual funds do not come cheap. Typically, you can expect to pay 1.5% – 2.5% total expense ratio, which covers annual management fees, rebalancing and switching fees. That’s not even including sales charges and platform fees, which works out to be another 1% – 5%.

So from this standpoint, DBS digiPortfolio is a no-brainer.

Now, if you truly believe in taking the human element out entirely, then you’ll be comparing it against the other robo-advisors here:

Provider

Rates

Fees per
$10,000 portfolio

Minimum investment

DBS digiPortfolio

0.75%

$75

S$1,000

AutoWealth

0.50% + USD 18

$75

S$3,000

EndowUs

0.60%

$60

S$10,000

StashAway

0.80%

$80

None
(US$10,000)

OCBC RoboInvest

0.88%

$88

US$2,500

UOB uTrade Robo

0.88%

$88

S$5,000

Smartly

1%

$100

S$50

The choice is obvious to me, especially since I’d never put too much into the ETFs portion of my portfolio.

How to start investing

Investors can choose from between two ETF portfolios:


Select from one (of three) risk levels:

       Slow & Steady

       Comfy Cruisin’

       Fast & Furious

The asset mix and ETF selection in the Asia portfolio is something that no other provider in the market can offer right now, but what’s even more interesting is that DBS has chosen to go for UK-listed ETFs in their global portfolio, thus avoiding the tax problems of the US market that have plagued some of the other robo-advisors.


Which portfolio to choose will ultimately depend on your personal preference and which market you wish to gain exposure to, but personally, I’m leaning more towards the global portfolio, because there’s little to stop any Singapore investor from replicating the Asia portfolio themselves (other than the fact that the DIY approach will definitely require a larger capital than $1,000).

If you’ve never invested in the markets beyond high-yield bank savings accounts, fixed deposits, short-term endowment plans or the Singapore Savings Bonds, then the DBS digiPortfolio is a good place to start.

What’s stopping me from DIY?

Nothing.

The DBS digiPortfolio was never meant to compete against DIY investors – from a cost perspective, DIY almost always wins hands down.

You could buy the locally-listed ETFs via a low-cost brokerage and pay as little as $10 per transaction. To replicate the 4 ETFs in the Fast & Furious Asia Portfolio, that’ll cost you just $40 (although the trade-off is that you’ll need more than $1,000 for such a portfolio). Moreover, if you simply buy and hold without doing anything else. But if you were to rebalance your portfolio, you’ll have to pay another $10 each time you buy/sell any units. Depending on how many actions you make, that may or may not exceed the amount you would otherwise pay for DBS digiPortfolio.

And if you invest in the global ETFs, you’ll have to factor in recurring custodian fees and tax deductions.


We’ve not even calculated the cost of your time yet. How many hours would the market research and buy/sell transactions take you?

If you feel your time is better spent elsewhere, then this becomes a no-brainer.

As a DIY investor myself, I prefer to focus my limited time and energy to research the other portions of my portfolio that I cannot outsource, namely the stocks and property investments. When it comes to ETF investing, I’m more than happy to pay someone else to manage it for me as long as the fees are competitively low.

TDLR Conclusion

The DBS digiPortfolio is a welcome addition to the robo-advisory space, moreover when it gives us access to investment expertise that was limited to higher net worth clients only.

It also makes a lot of sense for investors who don’t have time to actively research and manage their portfolios, as well as those have always wanted to invest but stayed out of the markets because they’ve no clue on how to construct their own well-diversified and balanced portfolio.


Even for DIY investors, for those looking to diversify and add to the index component of your portfolio, this might just be a more cost-effective and productive way to do so. It certainly saves you from all the time and extra fees incurred each time you manually rebalance your portfolio.

I definitely prefer to pay a small fee for good service, so I don’t have to worry about this portion.

And at the end of the day, investing is both a science and an art, so I’ve never once believed that technology can ever replace the human touch and judgement.

Which is why the latest launch of the DBS digiPortfolio sounds like a bank has finally gotten this part right.

This post is brought to you by DBS. All opinions are that of my own.

Struggling with debt? Here’s 5 tips to becoming debt-free.

No one wants to be crippled by debt. But when your debts pile high and clearing them seems like an insurmountable challenge, don’t be afraid to seek out help. Here are 5 tips on what to do to reduce your liabilities and become debt-free.


1. Make clearing your debts your first priority.

Take a moment to sit down and draw out how much debt you have, and what you need to do to clear it. Downloading your credit report (here) is a good place to start and get an overview of where your finances currently stand.

Once you’ve acknowledged the extent of the problem, you’ll be better equipped to start dealing with it.



2. Plan out your income and expenses.

Clearing your debt should take priority, but in the meantime, you still have daily expenses to pay for. Draw up a monthly budget and see what areas you can cut down on your spending eg. making your own coffee and meals instead of buying out, switching to a cheaper electricity retailer, reducing your telco bills, etc.

Of course, cutting expenses alone isn’t enough. The next step will be to look at how you can increase your income, such as through side gigs like setting up a small e-commerce business, teaching tuition, driving Grab, etc.



3. Use savings and discounts.

To make every dollar stretch further, I like to buy groceries and toiletries when they’re on sale, or go for the house brands (eg. NTUC or Watsons) which usually retail for much lesser.



While credit cards and cashback apps can help maximise your savings, if you feel you lack discipline, then perhaps leaving your credit cards at home instead might be a better idea so that you prevent any further debt accumulation.



Look out for discounts and coupons that you can use in order to save and pay less. There are also group buys for groceries which you can take advantage of, and buy secondhand from places like Carousell or Facebook MarketPlace whenever you can.



4. Recognise the signs when your debt gets out of hand.

Are you using almost your entire income to pay off your debts?

Do you have to resort to borrowing or living on credit to survive the month?

Are you working overtime to clear your debts that your health is beginning to suffer?



If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, then it could be time to seek professional help.



5. Seek out professional help.

For eligible households, there are various assistance schemes offered at the national and community level that you can apply for and consider, such as via Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS). As long as you’re working hard to improve your financial circumstances, there should be no shame in asking for help. There are also various support systems available for families, children and the elderly that can help ensure that their well-being, education and health are not compromised.



However, if you’re uncomfortable with being seen on public platforms at the information sessions organised by CCS and prefer a 1-to-1 consultation, CCS offers this at $30, whereas Debtpedia does it for free and in the comfort of your own home.



Conclusion


Many people are afraid about the stigma involved in debt assistance, but you shouldn’t be. Ultimately, do remember that there’s nothing more important than clearing your debts and avoiding financial ruin.



Did you know that there is a scheme to save you from bankruptcy and clear your debts within 5 years (or sooner)? Book a confidential appointment today with Debtpedia to find out more!



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The tale of a sinking ship (or not)

A viral letter about The Queen Mary has caused shares of Eagle Hospitality Trust (EHT) to plummet. Is the sell-down justified, or could this crisis present a good opportunity to buy?

This post first appeared on Patreon. Subscribe for more exclusive investment insights!

When EHT’s share price crashed so much within a single day, I got all excited because hey, what if this was a fabulous opportunity to buy into a portfolio of international brand-name hotels for cheap?

The financial blogosphere is rife with everyone’s opinions on the issue right now but here’s my take, and why I bought.

What happened?


Before I go into details, there are primarily 2 risks for potential investors to be concerned about at this stage:    
  •    Cost of repairs needed for The Queen Mary
  •      If valuations for the properties in EHT’s portfolios have indeed been inflated
We gotta thank The Edge for their two pretty damning articles on EHT that started this whole sell-down. Here’s what happened:

The tale of a sinking ship?

The sell-down was triggered after an article in the Edge covered the viral letter from John Keisler (the economic development director of the City of Long Beach) to Taylor Woods (CEO of Urband Commons) alleging that the company had failed to meet its obligations to upkeep the ship, and would face the possibility of default. You can read the letter here.

Errrr but hey, this news is not new. As early as 2017, there were already reports stating that a study showed the Queen Mary needed at least $235 million in structural repairs and restorations in the next decade, due to severe corrosion and other concerns. The condition was supposedly so dire that politicians in Scotland (where The Queen Mary was built) called for an international fundraising campaign, urging Prime Minister Theresa May to put pressure on the US government to step in and save their architectural treasure. Woods said then that an expansive renovation program will result in more upgrades to the ship than what had been done in the last 30 years. As part of the 66-year lease agreement, Long Beach also agreed to pay $23 million for critical repairs.

As The Queen Mary is on a triple-net-lease basis, tenants (Urban Commons) are therefore responsible for the maintenance, property tax and insurance but the liability of structural works and capital expenditure is still the liability of the owners (Long Beach City).


EHT has since responded by saying neither itself nor Urban Commons is in default of lease on The Queen Mary, and the City of Long Beach has also confirmed this. Moreover, Urban Commons estimates that the repair works to be done within the next 2 years will cost US$7 million. 


It is also worth mentioning that EHT is also working with the City of Long Beach to establish the Historical Preservation Capital Improvement Plan (HPCIP), funded by passenger fees collected from Carnival Cruise Line Terminal. The tenant, Urban Commons, has also committed 2% – 3% of revenue to the Capital Improvement Fund (CIF). Both fund reserves are expected to support capital expenditure of US$4.5 million a year for repairs and maintenance of The Queen Mary.

So will the repairs cost $7 million or $235 million?

This is the big question on everyone’s minds.

Given that the results of the marine survey were already public knowledge since 2017, wouldn’t it have been easier for EHT to simply exclude the asset altogether from its portfolio from the start? I also find it implausible that Urban Commons would have signed up for such a terrible deal given the costs, which Heartland Boy mentioned here (I quote him verbatim):

Assuming that the findings of the Marine Survey is true, Urban Commons would have forked out a total of US$429 million (purchase price + repairs) for a 66-year lease on a decommissioned ocean liner. According to Eagle Hospitality Trust’s prospectus, it was revealed that The Queen Mary generated Gross Operating Profits of US$7.1 mil, US$6.5 mil, and US$11.2 mil in Years 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. It would take many years (almost 2/3 into the leasehold tenure) to even reach payback. The IRR for such a project would be so poor that it is hard to fathom the Board/Investment Committee ever approving such an investment. Moreover, Heartland Boy found it odd/not very plausible that a survey conducted in Jan 2017 could retrospectively form the basis of a sale of lease agreement executed in Apr 2016. This goes back to the point that any competent management would not have recommended/signed off on an investment when the cost of repairs, which the purchaser is obligated to co-pay, remains an unknown entity.

Yep.

How would EHT look like if we were to completely take out The Queen Mary?


In the worst case scenario, let’s assume that The Queen Mary has to be completely written off, while EHT retains the debt on its books. Do note that the ship:
  • is forecasted to contribute 14.5% to total portfolio Revenue
  • is forecasted to contribute 16.4% to Net Property Income 
Figures annualized, and valuations are for current share price of US$0.46.


Gearing will increase significantly from 37.5% to 42.5% if so, but still under the regulatory limit of 45%. What this means is that EHT should not be forced to liquidate its assets or issue new shares to raise funds in the near term.


Since EHT’s dividend policy is 100% of distributable income till the end of FY2020, this means that at current share price of 56 (US) cents, it represents a sizeable 11.9% yield even if EHT is forced to write off The Queen Mary.

That’s a pretty big temptation.

But now comes the second risk,

Are the properties in EHT’s portfolio massively overvalued?

The Edge ran another article earlier this week that highlighted several beneficial relationships, and the valuation figures used at different stages of the property ownership:

  • Crowne Plaza Dallas was purchased by ASAP International Holdings for US$27.6 million, then sold to EHT for US$50.7 million. The valuation adopted in the REIT is US$57.8 million.
  • ASAP acquired Renaissance Woodbridge for US$30 million, then sold to ETH for US$67.1 million. The valuation adopted in the REIT is US$76.6 million.

  • ASAP acquired Doubletree by Hilton Salt Lake City for US$31.38 million, then sold into ETH at US$53.4 million. The valuation in the REIT is US$60.9 million.

It raises the question as to whether there was some sort of financial engineering going on to make the books look more attractive to investors. But while we do not have that level of visibility, I can’t imagine that DBS (the REIT’s Trustee) could have failed so spectacularly by not do their due diligence on this prior to the listing.


Fun fact: The owners of ASAP Holdings (the Yuan family) also happen to be very sizeable shareholders in EHT, and who have been reducing their stake recently. Hmm.

So is the market overreacting, or is the sell-down justified?

At this stage, no one knows for sure. My guess is as good as yours, but I see this crisis as an opportunity to buy into a portfolio of US hotels for cheap. I mean, just take a look at what else you’re getting:

I ignored EHT at IPO because I wasn’t quite interested, but situations like this always get me excited enough to take a second look. And from the way I see it, even if EHT has to write off The Queen Mary, the numbers still look decent, and offer a juicy yield of 11.4% for investors who are willing to take the risk. After all, as the saying goes, fortune favour the brave (lol).

For investors who have the risk appetite for this sort of events, there might just be a potential for both capital gains and a decent dividend yield.

But if you belong to the camp who feel the lack of confidence in the Sponsor is warranted given what has been revealed recently by The Edge, then perhaps it might be better for you to sit this one out. Anyway, the results are out on 13 November so you could always adopt a wait-and-see approach before deciding.

By then, the ship might have already sailed.

Or not. (okay that was a bad joke :P)

With love,
Budget Babe

Guide to Preschools In Singapore – Which school offers the most value-for-money?

Does paying more get your child a better education when it comes to choosing between preschools? What are the differences between childcare centres, anchor operators and partner operators? Is a SPARKS certification necessary? Use this guide to help you navigate Singapore’s preschool scene!

——————————————

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

·      What to look out for when you go for a school tour

·      PCF Sparkletots vs. My First Skool vs. Star Learners vs. Carpe Diem vs. Agape Little University

·      What I learnt from visiting 10 preschools

·      Review of My First Skool
·      How to qualify for subsidies if you’re self-employed

——————————————


Nate will be turning 18 months next year, which means it’ll soon be time for him to go to (pre)school. Given the importance of setting a strong foundation during his developmental years, I embarked on 3 months of research and visited over 10 schools to identify what would be best for my child. 

Here’s a quick overview of terms for first-time parents:

  • Playgroup (PG) – 18 months to 2 years old

  • Nursery 1 (N1) – the year your child turns 3

  • Nursery 2 (N2) – the year your child turns 4

  • Kindergarten 1 (K1) – the year your child turns 5

  • Kindergarten 2 (K2) – the year your child turns 6
Preschool options are generally between (i) shorter playgroups lasting about 90 minutes – 3 hours or (ii) childcare centres offering half-day or full-day programmes. 

Government-supported preschools like My First Skool are usually more affordable than private centres.

This article consolidates my findings after visiting the following schools:

  • Playgroups (90 min – 3 hours): Star Tots, Apple Tree
  • Government-supported preschools (anchor operators): My First Skool, PCF Sparkletots
  • Government-supported preschools (partner operators): Star Learners, Carpe Diem, Agape Little University
  • Private preschools: St James Kindergarten, Cherie Hearts, Maplebear, Brighton Montessori
  • MOE Kindergarten (4-hour programme)
Students working on their writing attentively at My First Skool.

What should I look out for when I go on a school tour?

To help you better compare between preschools, here are some questions to ask when you visit:

Source: Skoolopedia
Table of Findings

Aside from higher school fees and a branded curriculum, I did not see much difference between the private preschools and government-supported ones. We narrowed our choices down to 5 government-supported preschools after completing the tours, and I consolidated our key findings of differences in the table below:
PCF Sparkletots

My First Skool

Star Learners

Carpe Diem

Agape Little Uni

Fees

$751.90

$770.40

$856

$856

$856

After Working Mother Subsidy

$451.90

$470.40

$556
$556

$556
Curriculum

Integrated curriculum

Skool-Educare (relationships-based approach)

Skool-Ready (inquiry-based learning approach)

Starbeam framework

Literature-based approach

Activity-based approach

Multiple Intelligence

Inquiry-based learning

Meals

Variety of cuisines in Singapore and other countries

*Introduction to different spices*

Variety of cuisines in Singapore and other countries

Variety of cuisines

In-house chefs

Centres participates in Healthy Meals in Child Care Centres Programme by HPB

Parental Communications

Communication booklet

Communication booklet

Field trips and celebrations

*Parental workshops*

Communication booklet

Field trips and celebrations

Communication booklet

Field trips and celebrations

Monthly newsletters

Field trips

Parent’s portal app

Parent-teacher meetings

Convenience

360 centres

146 centres

40 centres

31 centres

12 centres

Teacher-to-child ratio

1:8

1:12

1:15

1:22

1:25

1:8

1:12

1:15

1:20

1:25

1:8

1:12

1:15

1:20

1:25

1:5

1:12

1:15

1:20

1:25

1:8

1:10

1:15

1:20

1:25

Sidenote: PCF Sparkletots was quickly struck off our list after we visited 2 branches and observed that the children seemed too noisy and rowdy (even during lessons) for our liking.


What I learnt from visiting 10 schools

1. Fees range from $750 to over $2000 (centres under the same brand charge differently)

I was surprised to learn that the rates for different branches varied, even if it was under the same brand name. It’ll thus be best for you to enquire directly with the centres you’re keen on to get a more accurate budget.

2. A SPARKS commendation is better than a SPARKS certification.

The majority of preschools we visited were SPARKS-certified, but only a smaller handful receive a commendation.

The centre of My First Skool which I went, for instance, received a commendation and it truly showed when I toured the centre. I was impressed by their teaching methods and activities, more so than in some of the private centres. They also had very creative uses of their tools and props to create educational learning spaces, and I particularly liked how they created independent play spaces for the children to socialize and learn, even without receiving directions from a teacher.


Various learning spaces like these are commonly found in most childcare centres.
Most centres by My First Skool are equipped with a shock-absorbing vinyl flooring to allow children to
run about freely while minimising injuries.
3. Good schools focus on a holistic curriculum

The quality of the educational curriculum was generally fantastic among all the schools I visited – regardless of whether they were a private business, a social enterprise or a government school. Each also incorporated similar elements such as literacy, English, Chinese, numeracy, science, the arts, music, movement sports, and more. 

I compared the timetables among all the schools and found little differences, aside from the naming of their lessons and activities. For instance, although Agape Little University promotes their inquiry-based learning (IBL) as a core approach, I found the same at PCF Sparkletots and My First Skool as well.

The K1 and K2 students I saw at My First Skool were also able to write as well as the kids I saw at another private operator. This is important because you will most likely want to make sure the school you choose will prepare your child adequately for Primary One.

Review of My First Skool

Several of my mummy friends send their children to My First Skool and raved about their child’s progress, and after visiting in person, I can see why they’re so popular among many Singaporean parents:

  • Atmosphere: we really liked their learning environment, which had plenty of natural sunlight, bright walls with colourful furniture, and well-ventilated with fans and air-conditioning for hot / hazy days.

  • Teachers: qualifications aside, the teachers should most importantly be passionate about teaching young children, and not raise their voices in a harsh tone too often. Watch how they handle and keep the kids under control during lessons! The pre-schoolers we saw at My First Skool were not only well-behaved, but also listening attentively and engaged during lessons.

  • Curriculum:  instead of the traditional teacher-directed learning approach found in some preschools, My First Skool focuses on the development, well-being and active involvement of children through a relationships-based approach for children up to 3 years old. This helps to nurture them to become resilient and independent.

  • An immersive mother tongue program: Effective bilingualism starts from young. At My First Skool, I watched as the children played games that required them to switch between English and Chinese, while being taught basic greetings in the four official languages as well!

  • Spacious and child-safe environment: for Nate to run around and release his energy. Spaces designed with an open-learning concept are preferred as we’re not a believer of keeping children in enclosed rooms.
  • Parental communication: My First Skool not only has a parents’ portal app to view photos or videos of your child participating in class activities, but also includes a communication book, parent-teacher conferences, invitations for parents to join in centre events and field trips. One value-added service were the parental workshops offered, which we didn’t encounter in other preschools.
  • Affordability: My First Skool charges among the lowest rates of all the preschools we visited, second only to PCF Sparkletots.
·
Indoor play activities at My First Skool.

** Sponsored introduction to My First Skool **


It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most Singaporeans that My First Skool is the top choice for over 22,000 families. Here’s why:
Learning is fun and effective

If you’re a believer of child-directed learning, you will be excited to see the learning environment in My First Skool. Independent activity corners are set up around our centres, which empowers children to engage in their choice of activity (if they finish their work early), such as blocks, musical instruments, jigsaw puzzles, etc. This helps them to learn how to socialise, share, take turns and ultimately create rules of play within group settings.

Meals are healthy and exciting!

Fussy eaters will enjoy My First Skool’s exposure to a wide variety of cuisines, including local hawker dishes, Western, Japanese food, and more. It’ll be fun for your child as he/she learns and tries out the different spices and flavours. The meals are not only nutritious, but also carefully designed as healthier versions of both local and international dishes for children to learn while they eat!

As your child will usually have at least 2 of their main meals in school, it is important to choose a preschool accredited under the Healthy Meals in Preschools Programme (HMPP) by the Health Promotion Board (HPB). Take a look at some of the menu items prepared at My First Skool centres – or even just to get ideas for home meals – by downloading their Recipes of Love cookbook here, featuring dishes such as milo pancakes and teriyaki-glazed fish fillets!

Field trips with a purpose

Although most preschools take the children out on field trips, My First Skool goes one step further by organising trips to places like Little India, Chinatown, and more (often together with the parents).

Moreover, to ease the transition from kindergarten to primary school, K2 students get to go to a nearby primary school so that they can orientate and familiarise themselves with a new environment. Not every preschool has this, but I love the idea!

Accessibility

Nurturing and getting them “skool-ready”

For the younger pre-schoolers, My First Skool adopts a relationships-based approach which focuses on building strong and nurturing relationships between the teacher and child. When a child feels secure and engaged, learning begins. The programme also aims to develop a resilient child with a “I can do it” attitude – a trait which I feel is important for Nate to be empowered with!

Once they enter nursery, the inquiry-based curriculum encourages the children to explore their topics of interest, ask questions and investigate further for answers. They’ll learn how to read and write, solve problems independently, and will also go on field trips designed to meet specific learning objectives. 

A learning and library corner at My First Skool.
Zoom in on the white activity boxes on the left, which are designed to promote independent, child-directed learning.


THE IMPORTANCE OF CHOOSING WISELY

While some parents may be inclined to go for established names, I strongly encourage you to visit several centres to judge for yourself if the substantial differences in monthly fees are worth it. (We didn’t think so.) 

The profile of the students also matters. Some preschools have students of mostly certain races (Chinese / expat), so consider this if you’re trying to expose your child to the other local races and teach them about tolerance and inclusivity..

The enrichment classes organised by the preschool won’t be free, so you’ll need to fork out extra cash for those. We haven’t even included fees for swimming classes, ballet, piano, Heguru, or whatever else your child is keen to explore. And for parents who choose to send your child to a centre further away, remember to factor in school bus fees – these can easily go up to several hundreds a month!

My #1 tip when choosing a preschool:
make sure you can AFFORD it.

If you’re planning to have more than one child, this becomes even more crucial because if sending your child to a $1,600 (per month) preschool is already a stretch on your finances, then imagine multiplying that by 2 or 3!

This is also why we prefer to go with government-supported preschools, since their fees are capped, which will allow us enough room to pay for our second kid. After all, there are still other necessities we need to pay for – food, clothes, healthcare, books and more!

Do I qualify for subsidies if I’m self-employed?

To help parents with the cost of early childhood education, the government has extended subsidies to working mothers i.e. $300 a month off your child’s preschool fees if you’re a Singaporean. With the rise of gig workers in today’s economy, the good news is that self-employed mothers can also qualify for the working mother subsidy, as long as you work a minimum of 56 hours per month.


Freelancers, work-from-home mothers and folks who run your own businesses, take note!

You will need to go through a legal process in order to qualify:

  • Step 1: Fix an appointment with a law firm and say you wish to do a declaration of self-employed work for the purpose of applying for childcare subsidy. (Note that only firms with at least 10 years in service will have a Commissioner of Oaths.)

  • Step 2: Fill up forms at the law firm and make a declaration in front of their Commissioner of Oaths.

  • Step 3: The law firm will endorse and return you the documents on the spot. Bring these to the childcare centre and submit together with your child’s registration application.


Cost: approx. $25 (charges may vary between law firms)

Prior to February 2016, women could simply walk into the Supreme Court to do this declaration, but they no longer offer this for non-Supreme Court proceedings. All requests will now need to be handled by a law firm.  I’ve verified this personally when I made a trip down to check directly with the Commissioner of Oaths at the Supreme Court (accurate as of August 2019).


For those who are curious, you may download a copy of the statutory declaration form here from the Supreme Court website. You could write something like this: I am self-employed in ____ line of business and work ___ number of hours per month. 

Take the oath at a private law firm and you’re good to go!


TLDR Summary

If you choose a government-supported preschools like My First Skool, fees work out to be approximately $6,000 a year for one child. Those who prefer to enrol in private preschools can expect to set aside at least $20,000, which works out to be at least $100,000 spent from PG till K2. Woah!

Multiply your costs by the number of kids you have (or intend to have). Then factor in enrichment lessons, extracurricular activities, transport, healthcare, food and any other necessities for your child.


That’s what you’ll need to budget for. 

For a more accurate estimate, do call up the centre(s) you’re interested in to find out the costs. This is because the monthly fees vary even between centres under the same brand, due to different operating costs such as location rental, etc. 

And don’t forget to visit the preschool before you register your child! 

This post was made possible by My First Skool. All opinions and research findings are that of my own.

    What to do if you’re caught in a car accident?

    Worried that you might be the victim of a fraudulent car accident? Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.

    Ever been in a car accident that made you realise the dark nature of some drivers – especially those who try to twist the incident to their advantage and claim thousands of dollars from you?


    Let’s face the truth of motor accidents in Singapore – some are 
    staged by syndicates for a quick buck, while others simply involve opportunistic (or dishonest?) drivers who inflate claims to their benefit…all at your expense.


    For experienced car drivers, these tales are a norm, or perhaps you’ve even encountered a few yourself. But if you’re a new car owner, it is only natural to feel anxious when your first motor accident occurs.


    Just like 
    the “buffet syndrome” that plagued the healthcare industry (where consumers do not have to pay out-of-pocket for their hospital bills thanks to insurance), the same is happening in the motor industry; except that the authorities have yet to intervene. 


    How is this possible?


    Thanks to debatable car repairs and opportunistic car drivers, that’s how.


    Common tactics used


    Learn to spot the common tactics these rogue drivers typically use so that you’re less likely to become their next unfortunate victim.


    Some car drivers take advantage of accidents (no matter how minor) to claim a huge sum of money from the other party. It is easy to recognise such opportunistic drivers: they usually ask you for a private settlement in cash (usually an exorbitant amount), and if you decline, they threaten to file it against your insurer and sue you for damages.


    Aside from vehicle repair costs, one thing you should particularly watch out for is when the other party makes “false personal injury claims where personal injuries are grossly exaggerated”. This is also flagged out as 
    an example of motor insurance fraud in Singapore by the General Insurance Association. 


    Common tactics that such drivers tend to use include

    • threats at the scene of accident

    • inflating car repair claims (usually at an unauthorised workshop – one unaffiliated with any insurer)

    • ridiculous claims for “invisible” medical conditions that are difficult to prove (such as strains or whiplash)

    • claims for “loss of income”

    • sending a lawyer’s letter to threaten and subdue you into a settlement


    My husband and I were recently involved in two accidents recently, and here’s how differently both played out.


    Our experience: Accident 1

    My husband was unlucky enough to encounter one such accident recently, where the other party tried to claim S$42,000 for nothing more than a bumper kiss. It made us learn several lessons, and I hope our experience will help prevent others from landing into the same fate.


    These were the photos of the car whose bumper he “kissed” lightly:



    You can barely even see any damage on both cars (back for the black car, front for silver):


    But here’s what they’re claiming for:



    Driver

    Passenger 1

    Passenger 2

    Neck strain

    $3,000

    $3,000

    $3,000

    Back strain

    $3,000

    $3,000

    $3,000

    Right thumb contusion

    $2,500

    Medical expenses

    $80

    $70

    $80

    Medical report fee

    $320

    $320

    $320

    Loss of income

    To be assessed

    To be assessed

    To be assessed

    Public Trustee fees

    $225

    $225

    $225

    Costs

    $3,750

    $3,750

    $3,750

    Total Claims

    $10,600

    $10,600

    $13,000



    Car Owner

    Cost of repairs

    $4,600

    Rental car

    $960

    Total Claims

    $6,700

    You can be the judge of whether a $42,000 is warranted for such a minor accident.


    How I started suspecting that the other driver had less-than-honest intentions was in how he behaved at the scene of the accident. He took photos of my husband’s NRIC, but refused to give my husband a copy of his own, and did not allow my husband to take photos of his passengers in the car due to “privacy” reasons.


    It was only after we received his lawyer’s letter that we understood why he had acted so suspiciously at the scene of the accident – because with photos and videos, his claims for $10k and $13k on his passengers would have been unlikely to go through.


    What was shocking was that separately, I had initially shortlisted the guy’s company in our list of potential interior design firms to work with, but this accident made me see such an ugly side to the person’s character that it made me question whether they applied the same operational ethics to their customers engaging them for renovation, and hence we have since blacklisted them permanently. 

    Side note: Another friend of ours was also previously involved in a motor insurance fraud case, where the other party tried to claim several thousands for “whiplash” (another medical condition that is difficult to prove) and “loss of income”. Can you see a similar pattern emerging?


    Even if you have a dash cam view of the accident, how are you supposed to counter and prove that their so-called injuries do not really exist, or have been exaggerated beyond reasonable doubt?

    Moreover, in my husband’s case, a repair workshop that was barely more than 1 year in operation was used. This was a big mistake that we failed to prevent, because once the other party goes to an unauthorised car workshop, it is too late.

    Our experience: Accident 2


    Another accident happened a few months later, where a taxi driver rammed into my husband’s car at a carpark. This wasn’t just a light “kiss”; there was serious impact felt. In this case, the damages are clearly visible:

    A dent, scratches and blue paint.

    A dent and areas where the paint came off
    When he got out of the car, the first words out of the taxi driver’s mouth was an apology, followed by whether we were going to claim a lot from his insurance. He looked scared, and shared that usually when such accidents happen, rogue drivers tend to make claims amounting to tens of thousands against him and his insurer.


    “Are you injured? Please don’t do that to me”, he begged. It made me wonder how many times he had encountered such rogue drivers before to be so worried.


    My husband reassured him that he would only claim for the damaged area to the car, and would not claim for anything more such as injury or a whole car makeover.


    Our claim?


    $4,000
     for the left side of our car which was damaged and had the leftover blue paint that came off his taxi.

    Accident 1 vs. Accident 2


    $42,000 for a light kiss where you can barely even see any damages, versus $4,000 for an accident where the taxi that rammed into us had sent our car veering off track.

    What do you think?



    How can I protect myself?


    Learning from my husband’s mistakes, we realised a few key points in order to prevent anything like Accident 1 getting the better of us again in the future:

    Your best bet is always the video footage from the dashboard camera, so make sure you have one set up and working. 


    If you do end up in an accident, always take as many photos of both vehicles and all passengers. 

    For more tips, you may refer to this link.


    You may call me kiasu, but I would personally even do a video recording at the scene with the vehicles, the driver and all passengers involved. These are my other “unorthodox” tips:

    • Do not agree to a private settlement (unless you’re trying to save your NCD and the loss of your NCD premiums is much higher than the sum being asked for) if the other party is asking for an exorbitant amount. In this case, leave it to the car repair workshops and your insurer to assess.

    • Take note of any other parties who are not involved in the accident, especially if they’re giving out advice and name cards. They may just be touters out to make some quick cash by referring business to workshops for costly claims.

    • Insist on sending the car(s) to an authorised car repair workshop ONLY. Make them agree (in writing or on voice recording) that if they choose otherwise, then they agree to a lower payout as well. It’s their choice!

    • If you really want to avoid any dispute about their “loss of income” claims, try getting the details of the other party’s workplace as well (and that of their passengers) and pay them a visit to make sure they’re indeed at work. It’ll be ridiculous if you have proof of them at work but they’re claiming for loss of income later, isn’t it?

    What are some authorised workshops?


    Using Aviva as an example, you can check out 
    their list of approved car repairers, which includes names like ComfortDelgro Engineering Pte Ltd, Tan Chong Motor Sales Pte Ltd and Kah Motor Co. Sdn. Bhd.

    Once an unauthorised workshop enters the picture and helps the driver do extensive repairs (many not due to the accident), there’s very little you can do to reduce the claim from here.


    How do the insurers deal with this issue?


    I interviewed Aviva’s motor claims manager on how he deals with such claims, especially if he suspects them to be fraudulent given the prevalence of such tactics, and this was what he had to say:


    Interview with Albert Chua, Claims Manager of Aviva:


    SGBB: How does the insurance industry deal with such claims? How can such crazy inflations be acceptable?

    Chua: The industry deals with inflated or fraudulent claims by ensuring that all drivers who are involved in an accident is to file an accident report within 24 hours of occurrence. It should be understood that a certain level of inflation is legal for negotiation purposes. But gross inflation can amount to fraud.

    SGBB: How does Aviva deal with such inflated claims then?

    Chua:  Aviva deals with inflated claims by subjecting all accident claim vehicles to a survey by a professional motor surveyor to ensure the damages claimed are consistent to the accident reported.

    One way we try to help our Aviva Prestige customers is that they can activate our on-site accident service by calling us immediately, and we will send our mobile accident response service officers down within 20 minutes to the accident site to help. With an independent party by an insurer, there will be less incidence of an inflated claim.


    SGBB: Have there been any cases where the other party disputes the results? What happens then?

    Chua: Yes, there has been scenarios where the claimant rejects the insurer’s offer as they want more. They will usually engage their own motor surveyor, as well as a lawyer to litigate the matter, which therefore increases the costs further. There is a legal process to engage a Single-Joint-Expert appointed by a Judge to assess the repair cost, and decide on the final settlement amount.  


    SGBB: I understand unauthorised workshops contribute to the prevalence of such cases too, especially when the driver takes the opportunity to make major changes to the car since he can now claim the bill from someone else on the pretext of “accident damages”. How can we prevent this?
    Chua: Ultimately, it all boils down to public education on how a driver should react upon an accident. We encourage the driver not to go to any unfamiliar workshops, or workshops recommended at the scene of the accident. 


    The standard of repairs by many motor workshops in Singapore are so good that we cannot tell if a car was involved in an accident after the repair. However, when there is an opportunity to claim, they want everything new. 


    In some cases, our insured may therefore want to consider private settlement as a full-blown claim will always be more expensive.


    SGBB: What would be your advice for drivers if they get into an accident?

    Chua: Never get angry upon an accident. Stay calm and record all available evidence in a safe way. If the other party is open to negotiation, try to settle it within the next 2 days. And no matter what happens, report the accident within 24 hours. You can always update the accident report of any changes later. If in doubt, seek advice from your insurer immediately.


    SGBB: Any last words on this issue? What should drivers take note of?

    Chua: Gather evidence of the accident and the damages, position of the vehicle on the lane markings and details of all parties involved. Never admit liability, but only admit what happened factually. Private settle only when it makes financial sense.

    Remember, once the other party decides to engage a workshop who will inflate the claim, your insurer can only help to reduce the inflation. 


    Stay safe and ethical, guys.



    Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Aviva, which occured after I was determined to find out what and how the industry deals with rogue accidents like the one my husband was involved in. All opinions stated above are that of my own.

    Searching for the best SIM-only mobile plan

    I finally managed to convince my husband to switch his mobile plan, but was too lazy to redo my research among all the new plans and telcos in the market. Luckily for Seedly’s latest SIM-only comparison tool, which saved me hours of manually computing …

    SOAR Conference Jim Rogers

    In the current market climate with negative yieldsthe US-trade war, Hong Kong protests, Venezuela’s collapseLatvia’s banking crisis, Argentina’s government defaults, and even Michael’s Bury claims of a growing ETF bubble…it is no wonder that many investors are panicking. But the crisis could also point to ripe investment opportunities to buy cheap, as mentioned by the experts during CoAsset’s Summit of Alternative Retail Investments (SOAR). According to legendary investment expert and author Jim Rogers, he believes the next global financial crisis is coming, and it will be the biggest in his lifetime.


    I had the opportunity to be on the same panel as Jim Rogers, and here are my biggest takeaways:

    1. Bullish on China, bearish on US stocks
    It is no secret that Jim Rogers is extremely bullish on China. President Xi’s One Belt One Road project is the most significant of our era, and any investor who can find investments to bank on this is going to make a lot of money. 

    Rogers shared that he believes China (not the US) will be the next global economic powerhouse, which is why he owns many investments there and is not invested in the US stock market. A list of emerging industries in China where he sees ripe investment opportunities was also shared on the screen, some of which included railroads, solving pollution, healthcare, entertainment (culture) and agriculture. 

    2. Investment opportunities in agriculture and entertainment

    Rogers said that he is bullish about agriculture, especially in countries like China and Argentina. Agriculture has been the worst performing sector over the last 20 years, but he believes a bull run is coming, and urged investors to find opportunities in this sector. 

    Entertainment was another emerging industry which all the speakers agreed would be least unlikely to be disrupted in the technological age. I may have joked publicly about how we should train our kids to be an entertainer because that’s one job that will never be replaced by robots, but the truth is that the rise of the entertainment industry offers some compelling deals and returns at the moment. 

    Getty Goh, CEO of CoAssets, shared about how they had successfully funded several movies, such as “I’m Livin’ It” starring A-list movie leads Aaron Kwok and Mariam Yeung, which returned 9% p.a. Retail investors who wish to explore such investments in movies can turn to CoAssets, which is currently the only way for normal folks like you and me to get a slice of the pie.

    3. On the ETF bubble
    The panel was not favourable towards ETF, and several mentioned that they will look at investments not related to ETFs at this moment.

    4. On the USD, RMB and HKD
    According to Rogers, he believes that the HKD will no longer exist in the near future. At present, he is holding USD (but only because people deem it to be a safe instrument) and is planning to sell it at or near the peak when it goes up in the near future, and then switch into RMB.

    Rogers: “I think the RMB has a great opportunity. Hong Kong is strong only because China is still closed to the world. Once China opens up their market and makes their currency convertible, there won’t be a need for the Hong Kong dollar anymore, and Hong Kong will look very different from the Hong Kong we know today.”

    5. Not buying REITs
    Marc Leong, who sits on the committee for the Singapore FinTech Association, shared that he believes malls will revamp their spaces to provide more experiences for mall-goers. However, Jim Rogers didn’t have such an optimistic view towards REITs, saying that REITs were previously great investments because interest rates were low, but they will soon be affected as interest rates are overdue for a hike. 

    6. On commodities
    Jim Rogers shared that he is not only bullish on commodities, but that they are easier to figure out than equities because you only need to look at supply and demand. When I followed up and asked him on the panel if it was truly that easy, he added, “I said it is simple, but I never said it was easy”.

    That’s indeed the case for any investment where you want to make money on!


    7. Invest during crisis and disasters
    The Chinese phrase 危机 translates into both crisis and opportunity. Rogers said that these are the best moments to invest.

    So for those of you who believe in the future of Hong Kong (Jim Rogers doesn’t, and neither do I), you might just be able to pick up some good deals in its faltering stock market. 

    8. Never rely on “hot tips”
    All the panelists (and yours truly) emphasized about how relying on hot tips is a surefire way to lose money, fast. Jim Rogers also explained that even if you buy on a stock tip, you may not know when to sell and exit the position, and that could be your downfall.

    Like everyone else, I enjoy a good stock tip every now and then, but my approach has always been to read what others have to say, assess the stock further and make my own qualitative judgment before I decide whether to go in or stay out. If you’re keen to get access to my investment reports, you can check them out here

    9. Don’t fall for the illusion of safety 
    One of the key questions for the panel was on how an investor can trust the official financial numbers of Chinese companies, especially given Singapore’s notorious S-chip saga in recent history. To that, Rogers reminded everyone that even American companies (which have strict accounting standards) can have frauds – just look at Enron! And to anyone thinking that just because the numbers are official means they’re real, how can you really be sure?

    Marc had a great answer for this – diversify. His solution is that if you can’t trust anything, spreading out your risks would be your best protection.

    10. Do your own homework!
    And as always, do your own homework before you invest in anything. If you don’t know how, get educated. 


    All in all, it was a great event, and I must give thanks to CoAssets for organising such an insightful summit. With so much investment tips and knowledge shared, all of us who attended surely did walk away more enlightened on what to do in these turbulent markets.

    With love,
    Budget Babe

    Do you really need cancer insurance?

    Do you really need cancer insurance?In recent years, several insurers have started offering a standalone cancer insurance for folks who are worried about the costs of cancer – and rightfully so. The cost of treatment in Singapore can go beyond $46…