Category: SG Budget Babe

Why are so many mummy influencers peddling dubious slimming pills and consumables?

Does anyone still remember Slim10?

The notorious dieting pill, produced by a manufacturer in China, led to various cases of thyroid problems, liver failure and even deaths throughout Asia among people who had consumed it. 2 harmful substances (fenfluramine and nicotinamide) were later detected, as well as traces of 2 other banned substances (thyroxine and triiodothyronine); all of which were not listed in the ingredients list submitted to HSA.

Now, I want you to take a close look at what happened to the distributors who were responsible for selling the pills:

Screenshot from MustShareNews

Now, you would think Singaporeans would have learnt to be more careful of diet pills by now, much less the ones that are sold online instead of through a reputable healthcare or medical store, but apparently that’s not the case.

With the rise of lifestyle influencers marketing slimming pills and consumables on their Instagram, I can’t help but wonder whether these products are TRULY safe, and what’s to happen should anyone end up being harmed by them. After all, we now know that distributor liability cannot be really established in Singapore after the Slim10 case, so it is more crucial that consumers be aware and informed of what they’re really getting into.

I was going to stay out of this, but it has been MONTHS since the issue was first raised to me by a concerned reader, and still no one has done any expose or a further investigation into the safety concerns of the slimming products that are increasingly marketed on Instagram.

The marketing and sales tactics employed by these influencers for these products are disgustingly similar – you’ll find it on their Instagram Stories, where it disappears after 24 hours (unless they pin it as their profile highlights)…therefore leaving no trace or evidence that they ever promoted or sold it.

The problem also lies in HOW these slimming products are being promoted and sold by none other than mummy influencers themselves, who generally tend to enjoy higher trust among their followers who believe that they will not recommend or consume anything that could harm themselves or their babies. These influencers push out claims that the products are absolutely safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mums, even when there is hardly any concrete evidence to prove so. This is emotional marketing at its best, guys.

Thankfully no lives have been lost, and no foetuses / babies have been harmed so far from the mothers who consumed these slimming products (or at least, none whom I know of), but could it be because it is still too early to tell?

I took a deeper look into these products that the influencers are selling and here’s my take on it:

Tremella DX+

1. So, did HSA approve this product or not?

@charlottekiew states that the product is HSA-approved, going so far as to show a screenshot of the HSA document as evidence to back up her claims.

   

But, let’s see what was covered up behind her edits…

“This letter is not to be construed as an endorsement / approval of the product TREMELLA-DX”. Yes, now we know the truth of what was covered by the huge “DM to order!” edit, guys.

At least one reader of hers believed Charlotte’s claims that it was indeed HSA-approved and thus absolutely safe for consumption and sale in Singapore, but eventually found out it was false (and provided me with the screenshots above and below for the purpose of this piece to warn people).

2. Contradictory statements on whether this product is safe for pregnant mothers

One seller specifically highlights that the product is prohibited for consumption by pregnant women, whereas @charlottekiew and @vannytelly claim that it is safe for expecting and nursing mums.

Compare these contradicting claims and decide for yourself:

Source: A seller on Qoo10


3. Formulated in Japan…but manufactured in? Malaysia?

 

In case you’re wondering, the ingredients listed are: water, mixed berry powder (strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry), tremella powder (a white fungus), wheatgrass, pumpkin fruit powder, dandelion, green tea, xanthan gum.

 I quote the below excerpt from Diet Pills Watchdog, which has done a fabulous write-up on this:

Tremella DX+ claims to offer 30 benefits in one, when in reality it struggles to offer customers a single benefit that we could find. Any claims that this oral yoghurt can bleach or lighten skin is preposterous, and had us checking and re-checking the advertising materials to see whether we had misread. There is also virtually nothing in this product that can help customers lose weight.What makes this version different from the original Tremella DX is the use of glutathione, which is used throughout the body in many healthy functions. Unfortunately, the form that this antioxidant has been presented in is not easily absorbed by the body, making this another strange and pointless inclusion in the formula.Tremella DX+ is available to buy for relatively low prices on convenient Malaysian online stores. The lowest price we found for a standard 16-sachet pack was 76 Malaysian Ringgitt (RM) – this is around US$17.50. Although Tremella DX+ is claimed to be Japanese in origin, our research implies that the product is made in Malaysia by and for the Chinese market. The product’s unclear ownership means that it is sold mainly by independent distributors, many of whom have probably been scammed themselves into buying useless stock. We do not recommend Tremella DX+ to our readers.

4. Does it make sense that the HSA letter was issued in 2015 when the distributor was only incorporated as a company in 2016?

Source


Meizi slimming pills aka 美资玲珑素 (or 美資玲瓏素)

This has recently been promoted and sold by influencers @charlottekiew and @shantelkiehls , who encouraged their followers to DM them to order.

1. Look at it being packaged in ziplock bags LOL.

2. Is it really safe? What are the ingredients in the pills?

Aside from claims that it is made from purely vegetarian and herbal ingredients, I was only able to find the purported main ingredients (but that doesn’t tell us anything about whether there could be any other ingredients or traces of harmful substances in it): hemp seed flour, fructose, aloe vera gel freeze-dried powder, sorbitol, soybean dietary fibre, cassia seed powder, celery fibre.

 


3. So, did HSA approve this product or not?

Another reader and I was unable to find any mentions of the product on HSA’s website. If you do, please let me know!



WoWo Collagen Jelly

Most of you should be well aware of the entire controversy surrounding WoWo products by now, but aside from the WoWo distributors, there are 2 well-known mummy bloggers and influencers who are also promoting the jelly – @vannytelly (yes, her again) and @bongqiuqiu

1. Firstly, why is it so pink?! Were artificial colourings used?

 

Many of the influencers promoting this only mentioned that it is made from bird nest and collagen, but a further search led me to this full list shared by a seller on Shopee:

A5 premium grade Indo bird’s nest, collagen peptides, collagen powder, soya peptide powder, wolf berries, lily bulbs, deep sea collagen extracts, gelatinum asini.

I don’t really see how any of the above ingredients would have led to such a bright pink colour in the jelly, leading me to believe that either (i) some sort of chemical reaction occurred to produce this hue or (ii) there are more unnamed ingredients that we don’t know of, and who knows if they are harmful?

2. Miraculous marketing claims!!! This product cures all! 

If you even believe their claims that eating this collagen jelly will help you to make your breasts bigger, stabilise your menstruation cycle, improve constipation, build up your immune system, lightens pigmentation and acne scars, etc…

Yes, they’re claiming this ONE product can do that much. Lol.

Source

 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see how the ingredients can actually achieve such miraculous effects. I don’t believe it one bit!

TLDR Summary

  • There has been an increasing number of influencers, specifically mummy bloggers, who are promoting and selling slimming pills / drinks / consumables on their Instagram Stories, where the post disappears after 24 hours without a trace.
  • The said influencers mentioned in this post includes @vannytelly , @charlottekiew, @shantelkiehls and @bongqiuqiu , but there could be more that I’m not aware of as these are the main 4 that readers have escalated to me due to their concerns over potential misrepresentation and safety issues.
  • The selling tactics generally focus on how it is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mums, when there is little evidence to prove so. Some even go so far as to claim that it is HSA-approved (not at all), or even offer guaranteed refunds in the event of no result.
  • As we learnt from the Slim10 saga, it is difficult to attribute liability to distributors of such slimming products, even if they are eventually found to contain trace elements of harmful of banned substances. And yes, even if the pills harm you or cause any deaths due to consumption, it is unlikely that the distributors (or the influencers in this case) will be held legally responsible.
  • If a slimming product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • You should probably also never buy any questionable product online or directly from someone whom you barely know, especially if you cannot confirm the safety of the product or its full ingredients list. 

HSA has repeatedly told Singaporeans to be wary of buying slimming products online. In September last year alone, HSA seized over 39,000 units of illegal health products, many which were weight-loss products ranging from pills to beverages, and were labelled with claims such as “100 percent natural”, “herbal ingredients” and “quick effect”.

Do you see a glaring similarity here?

Remember, even if anything detrimental happens to you because you ate these slimming products sold to you by the influencers…they will probably walk away scot-free with no legal liability.

Your health is your own. Do what you deem fit, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

And pregnant / breastfeeding mums, please, I urge you to play safe rather than be sorry when it comes to these sort of slimming supplements. Don’t let your moment of vanity become a lifelong regret.

With love,
Budget Babe

Note: All screenshots in this article have been contributed and sent to me by my various readers. I do not claim credit for them, but the watermark is essential after I was recently a victim of a major news website seemingly plagiarising my article and attempting to pass it off as their own.

Warning: To Mothership.sg, if you DARE to plagiarise my story without proper credits, YOU WILL FACE LEGAL ACTION.

Get cashback or miles on your income tax payments? Why not!

Wow, I wasn’t expecting so many of you to appreciate my previous post on reducing your income tax – thanks for the support!


To all the new readers who just visited this space because you got directed here from Ho Ching or IRAS, hello!

Anyway, as a continuation to the earlier post, now that we’ve explored the various ways to reduce our income taxes, the next step to look at would be the mode of payment. Should you opt for monthly repayments or a one-time yearly bill? Should you use GIRO or your credit card?

Unfortunately, if you’ve ever tried paying for your cashback with your credit card in a bid to earn cashback or miles, you would have probably realised by now that tax payments (as well as that to government organisations) are usually excluded from these rewards.

Even the SCB Unlimited Cashback card, which I’ve previously reviewed and raved about here (seriously, go get one now if you haven’t already! What’s more, get $270 in cold hard cash if you apply for one before 30 April 2018 here), excludes tax payments from cashback as seen in their exclusion clause 3j.

You see, most of the banks and credit cards reward based on discretionary spending i.e. products or services that you want to buy instead of the stuff that you need. That’s why categories like dining and shopping get such generous cashback / miles rewards, because you could technically live without eating out and buying new stuff.

As such, one glaring gap in my credit card strategy was in how I could never get any rewards back on my mandatory spending, such as when paying for income taxes, insurance and clearing off my loans. It was frustrating to see how I wasn’t able to get anything back on the expenses I couldn’t avoid every month!

Until recently, that is.

Those of you who have read my Guidebook to the Best Cashback Tools in Singapore should be familiar with how much I’ve raved about CardUp since discovering them months ago.
With CardUp, you can now pay for insurance premiums, rent, school fees, condominium charges, income taxes and get cashback / miles doing so!

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How CardUp works


If you study the T&Cs of most credit cards, you’ll realise that no miles or cashback are given for payments made to government agencies, insurance premiums, ez-link top-ups, donations to charitable organisations, etc. CardUp basically enables you to make single or recurring payments online via your credit cards on these spending categories where you couldn’t previously use your card.


Now, this is a big game-changer because prior to CardUp, there was no other service or tool that allowed you to do this! Previously, you could only pay for your rent, mortgage and other mandatory expenses through bank transfer, cash or cheque options. This eliminated a huge chunk of big-ticket spending that can actually help you rack up significant credit card rewards.


There is a 2.6% processing fee imposed (due to the banks and credit card fees), so it is vital that you choose a card that netts you positive rewards even after paying this.


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What if the recipient doesn’t accept credit cards?


CardUp does a bank transfer to your recipient, so it doesn’t matter whether or not they accept credit card, and neither do they need to be registered with CardUp. This is what makes CardUp such a fantastic solution, and I only wish I discovered it sooner.


CardUp already has many recipients on its platform, but if you still can’t find yours, all you need to do is to set up a new recipient so that the transfer can go through. In addition, you can even set up recurring payments so you don’t have to log in every month just to transfer.


What you can use it for
  • Paying your income tax, property tax or utility bills
  • Insurance premiums
  • School fees (childcare, secondary schools, universities and private institutions)
  • Condominium fees
  • Charity donations
  • Car loans
  • Rental
  • and more!
Sounds good! Which cashback card should I use on Cardup then?

The best strategy would be to use a cashback credit card that gives you a higher rate than CardUp’s service fee in order to net positive cashback.


Here are the cards I would recommend to use with CardUp:
  • UOB One
  • Standard Chartered Manhattan (SCB is no longer accepting new signups for this card, which is a huge pity, but if you were lucky enough to get your hands on it previously please maximise it!)
  • BOC Family
  • Maybank Platinum Visa 
You can also check out their cashback calculator here first to calculate the amount of cashback you’ll get when you pay via the recommended cards!

Before CardUp broke into the scene, I was paying for my tax bills once every year, but now, I’m opting for monthly repayments via CardUp in order to get my credit card rewards.

So when you pay for your income tax bills from next month onwards, don’t forget to route them through CardUp so you can chalk up more cashback / miles while doing so!

For readers looking for a further discount, I’ve reached out to CardUp and they’ve offered $20 off your first payment fees when you enter the promo code “SGBUDGETBABE“.
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Always remember, credit cards can be your best friend if you know how to use them well! You can read more about maximising cashback tools in Singapore here on my previous post too ; have fun!

Note: This post was written in collaboration with CardUp.

With love,
Budget Babe

How to reduce your income tax in Singapore (make use of these tax reliefs and deductions!)

Back when I was still in my first job, my annual income tax was only about $200. This was based on a yearly income of $30,000, of which I saved $20,000 – read about how I did it here. (Nope, no bonuses either.)

I don’t mind paying taxes as I understand and appreciate the fact that the money is channeled for the government to help the lower-income groups, as well as pay for other public goods such as our roads, education, etc.

But ever since I got headhunted to my second, and now third, job where I received a pay raise each time, my income taxes have jumped significantly and it has come to a point where I’ve been looking into (legal) ways to reduce paying so much. For context, my income tax jumped by over 10x, but my salary hasn’t jumped 10x at all!

I’ve talked about how achieving financial freedom involves cutting down your expenses while looking for ways to increase your income at the same time. Income tax is definitely one area where you’d want to reduce, because Singapore’s tiered income tax system is such that the more you earn, the higher percentage of taxes you’ll have to pay.

For someone earning $30k a year, they only need to pay 2% of income tax, or $200.
If you earn $3,500 a month and get a 13-month bonus, you’ll be looking at an annual tax of $935. If you’re luckier and get more (eg. 3 months bonus), you can expect to pay $1,425.
But if you earn $80k annually (about $6k monthly with bonus), you’ll be paying $3350.
If you earn $100k a year, you’ll be paying over $5k…which could otherwise pay for a holiday to Europe!

While evading taxes is a crime, there are perfectly legal ways for you to reduce your income taxes. Here’s some:

1. Top up your CPF account (and/or that of your parents).

I used to give my parents their monthly allowance in pure cash. However, ever since I found out about this hack, I’ve changed this to put the money as voluntary contributions to their CPF accounts instead. Given that my dad is already retired and my mum will soon be eligible to withdraw her funds, this approach makes a lot of sense to me as my parents still get their money, and I get to concurrently enjoy tax rebate for the same.

Since the maximum tax relief we can claim is $7000, you can also make voluntary top-ups to your CPF Special Account (SA) where it can earn attractive interest rates, and up your tax relief amount further to a maximum of $14,000.

Do it before the end of the year so you’ll get the tax relief! I’ve blogged about this previously here as well.

2. Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) relief.

If you’ve already maxed out your CPF tax reliefs, you can also make use of the SRS relief scheme to enjoy up to $15,300 of tax relief if you and/or your employer make contributions to your SRS account!

3. Donate to charity.

It (literally) pays to be kind!

I’ve always believed in contributing to charity to help those who are less well-off than us. After all, I come from a family whose parents couldn’t even afford to send me to university, and I benefited from the university scholarship (generously funded by alumni) which allowed me to pursue my studies, so I’m extremely familiar with the struggles of not having enough money.

Because of my background, I have a soft spot towards donating to bursaries and other funds for needy students.

Aside from helping those who need it, the additional good news is, you can claim 250% in tax deductions based on the amount you donated!

4. Claim tax relief for supporting dependent or handicapped grandparents / parents / siblings / spouse.



If you have or parents, living with you who are older than 55 and earn no more than $4,000 annually, you can also claim up to $9,000 tax relief for supporting them (or up to $14,000 if they’re handicapped, in which case the income requirement doesn’t quite apply). But if you have siblings who are claiming for the same, you’ll need to split that evenly with them. There are also tax reliefs if your grandparents stay with you.

Unfortunately this scheme doesn’t apply to me since my mom is still working and my dad only just retired recently, so his annual income still exceeds $4000 for this year, but I’ll be able to claim this soon next time!

If you’re supporting a handicapped spouse or sibling, you can also claim up to $5,500 of tax relief.

5. For married spouses, claim NSman Self Relief.

Husbands can claim up to $5,000 if they’re a key appointment holder (or up to $3,000 if they’re not but served reservist), while their wives can claim $750 tax relief.



6. For parents, claim Parenthood Tax Rebate / Qualifying Child Relief / Working Mother’s Child Relief / Foreign Maid Levy Relief

It seems like the government is really encouraging us to have kids, as they’re giving out a lot of tax subsidies for those who do!

On your first child, you can claim $5,000 of Parenthood Tax Rebate. If you have 2 kids, add on another $10,000 for your second child. Or, if you’re like my cousin with 3 children (or more), you can add on $20,000 more for each subsequent child! This works out to a significant total of $35,000 of tax rebates if you have 3 children and make the maximum claims for them!

Under the Qualifying Child Relief, you can also claim up to $4,000 per child if your offspring is younger than 16 years of age or studying full-time.
Tip: the spouse with the higher income should be the one claiming for this, as it could probably reduce his/her taxes by a larger margin!

For mothers who are working and handling dual roles (mad respect to you women), you can claim 15% of your earned income in tax reliefs for your first child, 20% for your second, and 25% for each child if you have 3 kids or more! Do note that the total cap for QCR and WMCR is $50,000 per child, but that’s already a lot of tax deductions (and making me think twice about whether we should aim to have 2, or 3 kids!)

If you’re hiring a domestic helper at home, you can also claim twice the amount of foreign maid levy paid for a maximum of one foreign maid last year against your earned income.

7. For landlords, claim tax deductions on rental expenses.

Saving up to 15% of your gross rent or actual rental expenses incurred can be quite significantly, while protecting your (somewhat) passive rental income earned!

Worked Example

Thus, by using the (applicable) methods above, a working mom (under 55 years old) who earns $6k a month with a 13-month bonus, yet has 2 children and lives with her retired parent who’s helping to care for her kids, can get away with paying NO income tax, instead of the original $3,210!

*Assumes the following parameters:

That’s a whopping $3,210 saved in taxes (which you can then use to fund a holiday abroad, or other expenses) as long as you make full use of the reliefs available!

And that, my dear, is how you can legally get away with paying ZERO taxes in Singapore.

As your income rises (the moment you get any pay raise, commissions or bonuses), you’ll soon realise that your income taxes rise disproportionately and you could be paying a huge chunk if you aren’t savvy about the various relief schemes available for you to tap on. Considering how much you’ll have to pay otherwise, this is where saving on your taxes become increasingly important!

However, do also bear in mind that there is a cap of $80k on the amount of tax reliefs you can claim. You can also calculate your income taxes and reliefs here on the IRAS income tax calculator.

Looking at the schemes available, wouldn’t it make sense for the husbands to be stay-at-home dads while the mothers go out to work? 😛 (since there isn’t a working fathers child relief scheme). If you want to reduce your income taxes, having kids will definitely help!

At any rate, just don’t try to avoid paying taxes as the Singapore government now considers that as a predicate to anti-money laundering! That involves personal and even criminal liability, so just be a good citizen and pay your income taxes. But be a smart citizen so you can get away with paying less, or even none at all 😉

Public Service Announcement (PSA): Remember to file your income taxes by April 18, 2018 🙂 and don’t forget to make use of these tax reliefs and deductions that I’ve just shared!

With love,
Dawn

Note: This post was written in conjunction with IRAS, and all infographics shared here are rightfully credited to them!

Savvy Travels – Siem Reap Itinerary on a Budget

It has been close to half a year of working non-stop without a break, so my husband and I decided to go on a short getaway to Siem Reap, Cambodia. In all, we spent 4D3N there, and our total expenses came up to about $600 per person for the entire trip.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Item

Cost

Flight (Jetstar)

$290

Accomodation

$80 for 3 nights

Travel insurance (FWD)

$14.40

Tour – Angkor Wat

$17 (tour) + $48 (entrance fee)

$25

War Museum

$6.50 admission

Food

$60 (approx. $15/day)

Transport (by tuktuk)

$34

Shopping & others

$25

TOTAL per person

$600

Flight tickets
Given that the flight duration was only slightly over 2 hours, we opted for a budget carrier – Jetstar – so that we could spend more on accommodation, food and activities instead.

We paid $290 per person inclusive of taxes.

Accommodation
I highly recommend booking a hotel near the Night Market or Pub Street, as that is within the city centre and where you’ll find everyone heading to after 6pm for the bustling nightlife and activities. The great thing about Siem Reap is that there’s a hotel for every budget, and you’ll save on transport fees (i.e. the tuk tuk rides) as long as you’re staying within walking distance of the night market.

Our hotel suite which was super affordable and HUGE!

We chose Lavender Angkor Boutique, which is owned and run by the locals, and was a short 7-min walk from the night market. It cost us only $80 per person for a 4D3N stay.

Local hostels or cheaper budget hotels are also aplenty, and you’ll find rooms going for as little as USD per bed a night. One of our friends snagged a hotel room for just USD 13 / night!

Transport
When we landed at the airport, we ordered a tuktuk (remork) ride for USD 9 to our hotel. If you’d rather not breathe in all the dust from such a ride, a car is also available for just USD 1 more.

The best way to get from your hotel to the night market every evening would be via foot. For other attractions, they’re mostly located quite a distance away but you’ll find a horde of tuktuks easily available on the streets, and it’ll cost you anywhere from USD 5 to USD 20 for a ride depending on the distance.

Our tuktuk driver, Mr. Kim

If you need a good tuktuk driver, we really loved ours – Mr. Kim, who is contactable via Whatsapp at 
+855 12 589 955. A father of three, he was extremely sincere and patient while waiting for us to be done at the various attractions, and was even familiar with most of the hipster cafes that are popular online. He even gave great ideas for other sites to visit – including the Pink Temple – and most importantly, he has a good command of the English language so we didn’t have any issues communicating with him throughout the trip. We met and were approached by so many tuktuk drivers while we were in Siem Reap, but only Mr. Kim managed to win us over because of how genuine he was (and no hard-selling or ridiculous markups of his tuktuk rides compared to some of the others on the streets!).

I’m not sure how much it’ll cost to hire a tuktuk driver for the day to take you to Angkor Wat and around the other temples though, but I’d recommend a tour for that with an English-speaking guide instead so that you can better appreciate the history and the differences between all the temples, as they might look almost the same to you otherwise. Alternatively, you could also get your own private car hire here for just S$20 for 5 hours (way cheaper than any of the tuktuks!).

Tours

Our 4D3N itinerary was pretty straightforward and looked like this:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Morning

Breakfast in hotel

Breakfast in hotel

Breakfast in hotel

Afternoon

Arrive in Siem Reap

War Museum

Night

Head to night market

Flight home

The night market

We used Klook for our tour bookings and the prices were the same, if not cheaper, than what was offered to us by the local tour agency offices which we enquired with in Siem Reap. I’m not sponsored by Klook for this trip but I’ve used them on so many holidays and really recommend booking with them for the quality and competitive prices they offer.

Starting the morning at Angkor Wat and ready to trek the temple grounds!

Angkor Wat

The inner temple grounds

Ta Phrom – more famously known as the site of filming for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider

Bayon Temple 

Our main regret was that we didn’t get to catch Phare, the Cambodian circus – this was fully sold out during our stay and we didn’t manage to book it beforehand on Klook either.

The tour for Angkor Wat was extremely hot and tiring due to the humid weather; we clocked over 10,000 steps across 7km that day while trekking the different temples! I would advise bringing insect repellent, a cap or umbrella to shade you from the sun, and even a fan or water spray to cool yourself down from the heat.

A photo with our tour guide Vanna, who’s from the fishing village we visited. We loved his tour so much that we rewarded him with a generous tip at the end of it!
Olden-style houses in the fishing village

The kids will run up to you and hound you for money / sweets. Don’t give any to them unless you’re prepared to have a whole swarm surround you the next minute!

Catching the sunset at Tonle Sap Lake

Food and other expenses
We mostly spent the rest of our cash on food, drinks, massage and (barely any) shopping. Breakfast was settled at our hotel, which served complimentary breakfast and it was so yummy that we made it a point to wake up early every morning just to make it in time before breakfast hours (6am – 10am) ended.

Our delish hotel breakfast spread every morning

Beer is as cheap as USD 0.50 in many bars along Pub Street, and you’ll find most dishes ranging from $3 at the local restaurants to $8 at the international ones. I didn’t try too much of the street food since I had a weak stomach, but for those of you who are game enough, you can try nibbling on their fried scorpions / tarantula spider / snails for the fear factor!

My husband tried the scorpion (USD 2 with a shot of hard liquor)

and weed (happy) pizza too

We particularly enjoyed this family-owned restaurant that is located across the street from Nature Republic, which served such yummy local food that we went back twice during our trip. Dishes are mostly USD 3 each, and our entire meal pictured below with my avocado shake cost us only USD 10.50!

So there you go, here’s how we did Siem Reap on a shoestring budget of $600 per person! In a city where tours, accommodation, food and drinks are extremely affordable, you shouldn’t have to spend too much to have a good time here.

(You can even trim that further to just $500 if you get a 1-star hotel or opt for a hostel, and get flight tickets on sale! Don’t forget to book through Shopback + use your cashback credit card while you’re booking online for more rebates!)


For first-time users, you can also key in the promo code BB5 to add a $5 off voucher into your wallet (you can add the code into your wallet first for future use, valid until 30 November 2018). Remember, I’m not sponsored by Klook for this, but I’ve been personally using them for my trips and their tour bookings are extremely competitive, if not cheaper, compared to what you’ll usually find locally!

With love,
Budget Babe

My favourite app to always get 50% off dining and activities, even during peak hours!

For those of you who love dining out, what’s a good way to save on your dining?

By using a cashback credit cash with the highest rate for dining + savings app.

You’ll find the respective credit cards with the highest dining cashback rates on the SGBB Cashback App (just tap onto weekday / weekend dining to view the respective rates), although currently BOC Family Card holds the honour of 10%. However, this benefit is capped at $30 – which means you shouldn’t exceed $300 in food every month – and provided you also chalk up $700 in monthly spending.

On the best savings app for food, eatigo undeniably offers the best value…IF you can dine at the odd, off-peak hours. So while the app is great for those who are self-employed and do not have to stick to regular schedules like most of us corporate slaves, it isn’t that fantastic for the rest of us who have schedules to align to.

And for those of you who got a copy of The Ultimate Guidebook to the Best Cashback Tools in Singapore which I published earlier this year, you’ll be familiar with The Entertainer, which I recommended as the best app for shaving 50% off your dining and activities in Singapore anytime, even during peak hours! 



But if you haven’t heard of The Entertainer app before, think of it as an extensive booklet of coupons which gives you 1 for 1 deals on dining, hotels, spas, activities and retail, all within a single place on your mobile. With it, you can get 1-for-1 deals on over 1,700 merchants for dining, drinks, hotel bookings, spa sessions and many more. 

Here’s a preview of some popular merchants on the app:

  • Food:
    • Fat Cow
    • Bedrock Bar and Grill
    • MUNCH
    • Patisserie G
  • Activities / Shopping:
    • BOUNCE
    • Bubble Soccer
    • Photography (brides-to-be, you can even get a 50% discount off AndroidsinBoots here!)
    • The Tinsel Rack 
and more!

  

Tip: Remember to combine with your cashback credit card for savings AND cashback!


The app may seem a little pricey at first, but you won’t regret it because you only need to go to three nice restaurants in the year (or a single hotel stay) and the savings you get will be more than enough to cover what you paid for the app! There’s an entire range of merchants, including top-notch ones like Jamie’s Italian, Fat Cow, Bedrock Bar & Grill, Wave House Sentosa and more.


 

I recently met a couple who are huge fans of The Entertainer app, and taught me how they maximised the app in their own lifestyles, and they agreed to be interviewed so they could share their story with all of you here today. (As they’ve asked to retain their privacy, we’ll simply use Mr. and Mrs. S to refer to them from here.)

1. Tell us more about yourself.
Mr S is a civil servant while Mrs S is a banker. We’ve been married for a few years now, and our hobbies are eating, travel and exercising, necessarily in that order!

2. How did you come across The Entertainer app? 
Mr & Mrs. S: We were planning to visit Fat Cow for a birthday celebration, and a good friend mentioned she had 1-for-1s via the Entertainer app. All we had to do was to download the app, and she pinged us the coupons, which worked out really well for our pocket! 

3. What made you purchase the app (especially in contrast to other free dining apps which offer discounts)? 
There was no looking back after the Fat Cow experience, we wanted to check out the other 1-for-1s and being foodies, this was perfect allowing us to try more places.

4. How much have you saved on The Entertainer in 2017? 
USD2,521 or SGD3,393! Here’s a screenshot from our app.

 

5. How does The Entertainer app fit into your regular lifestyle as a couple? What do you mostly use it for? 

Food food food food! And occasionally gym and hotels. Basically it opens up many new possibilities for us to explore, and makes our days more exciting.

6. Other than dining, have you tried any of the other services?
We have used it at several boutique gyms – mostly classes where we have tried pilates, aerial yoga..

7. What are some restaurants / services you would recommend on The Entertainer app?

We highly recommend Bedrock Bar and Grill for awesome steak, Poke Lulu and Living Botanica for their drinks! In fact, you would have earned back the cost of the app by just using it at Bedrock once! 

We also recommend Osteria Art for fine dining, Patisserie G for desserts (these guys take their desserts almost too seriously), any of the high teas offered by the 5 star hotels on the app, Bangkok Jam (their curry fish head is really awesome), Group Therapy for a “chillax and nua” cafe experience, Working Title for their burgers and Mad for Garlic for their garlic-infused pastas and pizzas. Actually there’s too much to list! We were really spoilt for choice when rummaging through our memories picking our top eats. For 2018, we are looking forward to using more of the services offered on the app. 

(Dawn: I also highly recommend Guac and Go – located near Guoco Tower – if you’re an avocado and salad lover like I am!) 

——–

I first reviewed The Entertainer app back in 2015 here when they had 800 merchants (and they’ve doubled that number since), where I had first tried out the free version and redeemed some basic vouchers. I was so blown away by the offers on the app that I immediately upgraded to the paid version afterward just so I could get access to the thousands of 1-for-1 coupons.


How The Entertainer works

Simply browse on the app to see the different vouchers per merchant, and head down to the merchant outlet to redeem. What’s more, you get 3 vouchers per merchant, which means you can go back for repeat visits while always paying 50% lower than what their other regular customers are paying!



If you’re planning for a hotel staycation whether in Singapore or abroad, you can also pick from their offers which basically allows you to stay for 2 nights while paying only for the price of 1. Hotel partners include InterContinental, Shangri-La, Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt and more, as well as various hotel resorts and lodges.


Couples will also love this app as you get to engage in a myraid of activities that will keep your date nights novel and exciting, while chalking up substantial savings at the same time. I’ve been using this app pretty often this year and foresee that we’ll be using even more to chalk up the 50% savings.


 


Get a further 10% off with promo code SGBB2018, which means the app will only cost you $95 for thousands of coupons. What’s more, you’ll get Cheers Singapore 2018 (1-for-1 drinks across 130 outlets in Singapore) bundled in for free. 

The average savings per member in 2017 was SGD 725, so you can just imagine how much you’ll be saving with The Entertainer app!


Here’s another tip: Share The Entertainer app with your friends and family, and split the cost even further that way! 

Foodies and couples, you won’t want to miss this.
With love,
Budget Babe
Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post. I’ve been using The Entertainer app since 2015 and reached out to The Entertainer in Q4 2017 to ask them for a reader promo code so you guys can enjoy some discounts off the original app price!

IPO Analysis: Sasseur REIT

Sasseur REIT is an upcoming Chinese outlet mall portfolio that is currently open for IPO applications and will soon be listed on SGX.


This is the third retail REIT in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to be listed here – BHG and Daisin Retail Trust are the other two – pointing to the growth in the spending power of the Chinese middle class, which is expected to continue growing. With a CAGR of over 24% per annum, it is expected that China outlet malls will become the biggest in the world by 2030, surpassing the outlet mall markets in Europe and USA. While I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on these estimates, I would however review this IPO as both a dividend and growth stock for the future.

You’ll currently be buying into a portfolio of 4 retail outlet malls located in Chongqing, Bishan, Hefei and Kunming. 


Details:
– 266.6 million shares for offer at $0.80 each, raising S$396 million 
– 13.8 million public tranche
– IPO closes on 26 March at noon.

Business:
Sasseur REIT owns and manages four outlet shopping malls in China, valued at RMB 7.34 million (or S$1.5 million) in total (although I would take these valuation numbers with a pinch of salt). All of these outlet malls have an occupancy rate of above 90% each, with land tenures of 30 – 37 years and includes 4,466 car park lots (translates into extra revenue for the REIT).

Strengths

1. A chance to ride on China’s growing consumer market

The PRC outlet market industry has experienced a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.8%, and is expected to continue its growth at a 24.2% CAGR from 2016 – 2021.

Most of you should be well familiar with how the Chinese shop and spend by now, but if you haven’t seen it for yourself, I kid you not when I say they can go insane at outlet malls. I saw this firsthand in both the US and Italy where the PRC folks were buying bags and bags of discounted branded stuff…whereas all I walked out with was a pair of Nike shoes, lol. These outlets get so much sales from the Chinese that even their salespeople are trained to speak in the language (I remember the shock I got when I saw the Italian salesman speak in Chinese to a PRC customer!).



The concept of “face” or “mian zi” is huge in China, and you only need to see them buying to be convinced of this. Sasseur REIT offers an opportunity for investors to ride on this trend.

2. High occupancy rate and low tenant default risk.

Their outlet malls at Chongqing, Bishan, Hefei and Kunming have high occupancy rates of 96.4%, 91.5%, 95.8% and 96.1% respectively. This comprises of over 1,119 tenants which means that even if a few tenants were to default, it should not pose too much of an impact to Sasseur REIT.



3. Strong sponsor and sponsor interest.

The sponsor is Sasseur REIT is one of China’s largest retail outlet mall operators, Sasseur Cayman Holding Ltd, which was founded in 1989 and currently manages 9 retail outlets in China. They will be the largest single unitholder with a 55% to 58% interest, which represents good news to retail investors since there will be a strong incentive for the Sponsor to ensure the REIT performs well.

The sponsor also had a 2 billion net profit for FY2016 (S$420 million) which signifies a relatively strong financial position.

4. Positive management fee structure.

The manager will receive a 10% per annum base fee of the REIT’s distributable income, together with a performance fee of 25% of the difference in DPU between each financial year. I like how this management fee structure is based on distributable income and DPU growth, which further aligns the interest of the manager to ensure that the REIT does well.

5. Strong interest from cornerstone investors

The list includes prominent investors like JD.com (through their subsidiary, Adroit Ideology Limited), Bangkok Life Assurance PCL (a leading life insurance company in Thailand) and CKK Holdings (which operates Charles & Keith and Pedro).

6. Decent dividend yield above 6%


The expected distribution yield is 7.5% for 2018 and 7.8% for 2019. I’ll look at the most conservative figure in this case, which would be the 6.1% forecast yield for this year without factoring in the EM agreements.

As a dividend stock, 6.1% is a fair yield that I would accept for a REIT investment, which is higher than Suntec REIT (5.2%) and Capitaland Retail China (6.0%)…although it still can’t beat my Sabana REIT which is giving me a historical yield of over 10% based on my last purchase price, heh.

7. Fixed and variable income model.

The structure of most REITs are easy to understand – they lease out their assets and collect rent from tenants, which they then distribute to unitholders. However, Sasseur REIT adopts an interesting model that warrants a second look and further evaluation on its merits and downsides.

Instead of a pre-agreed rental model, or even one with escalating lease agreements structured in, Sasseur REIT instead receives a percentage of the tenant’s sales turnover as rental. What this means is that Sasseur REIT’s income is highly dependent on the sales performance of its tenants, and dividends could therefore vary from year to year. 

To incentivise consumer spending and sales, Sasseur REIT offers a VIP membership program where customers qualify by spending more than RMB 600 at any one of its outlets. At the moment, there’s over 809,000 VIP members who contribute 50% to 65% of the sales in its outlet malls. 


Aside from these sales-based leases, a small proportion of Sasseur REIT’s tenants are under conventional lease models where they pay a fixed rent, or the higher of turnover rent and fixed rent. These tenants include the F&B operators, cinema and other entertainment or lifestyle providers.

Its fixed income portion also comes from the fact that in the event where the resulting rent falls below the Minimum Rent, then Sasseur REIT shall be entitled to receive the shortfall. (RMB 472.9 million or S$95.9 million for FY2018, and RMB 611.4 million or S$124 million for FY2019). This basically provides income support to Sasseur REIT for the first two years whereby it is guaranteed a minimum rental, but will fall away in 2020 onwards.
This leads me to the biggest and most important risk in my next section…


Risks / Red Flags
1. Loss of income support after 2019

Unless the agreement is restructured to guarantee the minimum rent payment to the REIT after 2019, we could potentially see a drop in the REIT’s income, especially if economic conditions worsen or if the Chinese cut back on their spending at outlet malls. If you’re investing into Sasseur REIT, you probably should keep an eye on how it’ll perform from the third year onwards.

Another point to note is that the percentage of distributable income will fall by 10% after two years.

2. Extremely susceptible to economic cycles, especially recessions.

The outlet malls that Sasseur REIT owns are mainly focused on discounted luxury and high-end brand items, which makes them highly susceptible to economic cycles. In an economic boom and growing disposable income, all will be good; but in a recession where consumers tend to cut back on their discretionary spending, Sasseur REIT will surely be impacted negatively, and even more so because their rental model is based on tenant sales turnover.

Sasseur REIT claims that “the outlet mall industry tends to exhibit counter-cyclical characteristics and resilience during economic recessions” (page 32) but I don’t know how the US market consumer behaviour is supposed to be representative of how the Chinese will react in similar conditions, plus that runs contrary to what I believe so I’m just going to brush this claim aside as marketing speak.

3. Heavy exposure to fashion.



Fashion accounts for almost half of Sasseur REIT’s portfolio property income. In times of recession, we’ll probably see this discretionary spending on clothes and fashionable apparel be the first to go.

4. High concentration risk – Chongqing outlet

Another factor I’m pretty uncomfortable with is the fact that out of its 4 outlet malls, Sasseur REIT derives a majority of its sales and revenue from its Chongqing outlet. Take a look at how the different malls compare.

Now, there’s a good explanation for this – the Hefei and Kunming outlets became operational only in 2016, so there’s limited data for us to analyse. In contrast, Chongqing has been operating since 2008. 

However, given that Chongqing outlets accounted for over 70% of its income last year, this makes me a little uneasy given the high concentration risk.

5. What’s the actual gearing ratio?

Based on its IPO prospectus (page 163), Sasseur REIT claims that its gearing ratio stands at 30.3%, which leaves them with enough room to take up more debt for acquisitions and growth if they need to.

However, I’m not so certain about the accuracy of this because based on its unaudited pro forma financial statements (page 155), I arrived at a ratio of 40.8% for 30 Sept 2017 instead (630,155,000 / 1,552,002,000), and this is considered high if we compare it against the other REITs listed here.

6. Short land tenure and weighted average lease expiry (WALE)

At 30 – 37 years remaining on its land tenure, this seems rather short at first glance, but there’s apparently a good reason (page 110) when you consider China’s Urban Land Regulations, which stipulate that maximum term is up to 40 years for commercial, tourism and entertainment use. The Chongqing outlets are held under the land use right for commercial use, limited to 40 years, which includes the time taken for developing the land. Sasseur REIT states that it will be able to apply for renewal of this land use right at least a year in advance of its expiry.


Another point to note is that at 3.2 years, the WALE is quite short in contrast to other REITs listed on SGX. 


7. Forex risk

Lastly, as Sasseur REIT receives its income in RMB and pays out dividends in SGD, we’ll be exposed to forex risk in this case, as with the other REITs listed here locally which derive a majority of their income from overseas markets.

Financials

With its NAV at $0.773 per unit, the current IPO price represents a fair value to NAV (1.03 P/NAV ratio). Then again, it is hard to expect any decent REIT to price its offering at a significant discount to NAV.

Moreover, don’t forget that Sasseur REIT will be distributing 100% of its distributable income until 31 December 2019, with a promised yield of above 7% if all goes well for the next 2 years.

I’ve also not really discussed much about its growth potential (highlighted on page 11) where Sasseur REIT has been granted a right of first refusal (ROFR) from the Sponsor, giving it the opportunity to acquire the Sponsor’s Xi’an and Guiyang outlets, which commenced operations on 30 September and 9 December last year respectively. In addition, the Sponsor also manages 3 other pipeline properties in Hangzhou, Nanjing and Zhongdong Changchun, which were not injected into Sasseur REIT’s current portfolio since these properties are not currently owned by the Sponsor.

My suspicion is that due to 
(i) the stability of dividend payouts and income support for the next 2 years, 
(ii) the expected CAGR for China’s outlet mall market and 
(iii) the potential asset growth for Sasseur REIT in acquiring (2 to 5) more outlet malls in the near future
that explains why the IPO price is valued as such.


Conclusion

Having seen firsthand on the Chinese consumers’ shopping and spending tendencies, I’m inclined to apply for this IPO placement just to ride on this booming market, which I believe should continue to grow unless a serious economic recession hits China. However, I’m wary of Sasseur REIT’s income support model, high gearing ratio and over-reliance on Chongqing outlets. 

It is also interesting to note that Sasseur REIT seems to have invested quite seriously into its marketing efforts to push out this IPO, as seen from this huge booth that they set up at Raffles Place just to distribute its IPO prospectus…which you can easily find online here


Nonetheless, there was a good video that shows how traffic and activities at the outlet malls look like, although the girls manning the booth couldn’t tell me where I could find the link so I can rewatch it back at home in detail. I was a bit disappointed as I had thought this was a golden chance to perhaps speak with its investor relations team, or at least an insider who would be able to share more insights into the malls that Sasseur REIT owns, but the girls manning the booth couldn’t really answer my questions, saying that they were mainly hired to distribute the prospectus to potential retail investors in the area.

With its unique offering and demand for its IPO, I won’t be surprised if its share price flies after listing.  It’s worth a shot, but not a big one based on the risk factors I’ve identified above. Hence I’ll be applying for a small tranche for now and watch this closely for further developments.

What about you?


With love,
Budget Babe

Is the motor insurance industry headed down the same path as healthcare?

The same warning signs that led the state of our healthcare insurance to what it is today has also just appeared in the motor insurance industry. What’s going to happen next?

If you recall, earlier this month, it was announced that patients with new Integrated Shield Plan (ISP) riders will no longer be able to enjoy zero co-payment of their hospitalisation bills. A 5% co-payment will now be imposed (capped at $3,000 annually) to address the issue of over-consumption of medical services

Between 2005 – 2016, the industry’s claims ratios surged from 42% to 84%. These rising claims have prompted hikes in ISP and rider premiums, but that didn’t help the insurers from still making underwriting losses.

Q: How did this come about? 
A: Rising claims + underwriting losses.

For many years, riders on top of their healthcare insurance policy (which would allow one to not fork out a single cent for hospitalization) were highly popular among Singaporeans, with 1 in 3 Singaporeans opting to take up a rider. 

But in the last 2 years, ISP premiums had risen by up to 80%, with older policyholders and those on private hospitalisation plans experiencing higher increase. Yours truly was one of them. One of the causes identified by Health Minister Chee Hong Tat was that the zero co-payment feature of these full riders had resulted in a “buffet syndrome”, which led to over-consumption and over-charging of healthcare services.

He pointed out that the average medical bill size for full-rider policyholders was about 60% higher than for those without riders, even though the former group are generally younger and in better health.

Were there warning signs that this was coming?

Yes. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised by the news. That’s because after having seen how all the healthcare insurers suffered from underwriting losses in 2016, and coupled with the rise in healthcare costs, I knew this move was only a matter of time. 

Source


The industry chalked up underwriting losses ranging from S$7.3 million to almost $30 million, with AIA and NTUC Income suffering the biggest hits. Even AXA, which only started selling ISPs and riders in the second half of 2016, suffered a considerable loss.

Now, there’s no point in crying over split milk, which is why I haven’t really bothered writing a commentary about the state of the healthcare insurance industry (mainly because I expected it) until today…because I just spotted a glaring similarity in another insurance segment:


Is the motor insurance industry headed down the same slippery slope?

We already know by now that the healthcare insurers got to this state because of rising claims and underwriting losses. But why aren’t we talking about how the same warning signs have now appeared in the motor insurance industry?

I quote:

Motor insurers in Singapore are expected to review the commercial viability of their business after booking a combined underwriting loss of S$27.2 million in 2017 compared to the previous year – the segment’s first underwriting deficit since 2010. 

The general insurance industry’s 2017 full year results were announced by the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) yesterday, revealed a 3.3% drop in gross motor premiums to S$1.1 billion while claims rose by 12%, representing an increase of S$60 million. 

Loss ratios in motor jumped to 64.9%, the highest recorded by the industry in the last 5 years.


What does that mean? In other words, for every dollar of premium collected, 65 cents was paid as a claim. When you factor in operational overheads, distribution costs and commissions to agents for selling the policy…what I’m seeing is that the motor insurers are hardly making any money.
This points to the high possibility that we may see a huge rise in our motor insurance premiums as well. 
IP riders were created as a way for insurance companies to boost their profits, and it is a rich irony that the insurers themselves, after years of enjoying the spoils, appealed to the Ministry of Health to make co-payment compulsory.
“Yet the full-rider predicament could have been prevented if the starting point of insurers was to act more responsibly. Responsible competition is the name of the game. There was no need to fight tooth and nail for the last policyholder and win the battle, only to realise belatedly that fighting among themselves has cost them the war.

The insurers must be made culpable for their actions, which have brought us to this undesirable state of affairs. They should not attribute the problem to the demands of free markets. Nor should they have appealed for regulatory intervention when things went astray.

Their actions seem to suggest that insurers did not act in their own best interests.

By chasing the short-term profit, they effectively mortgaged away their own future.

Most gallingly, however, they took risks with our future.”


With love,
Budget Babe