There has been a lot of debate recently about whether the Singaporean Dream is still alive and well. And if so, is it attainable for the vast majority of Singaporeans?
This is a tricky question: especially when there’s no longer a set definition of what the ‘Singaporean Dream’ means. For the previous generation, it was the Five Cs; a somewhat cookie-cutter prescription for ‘success’ in life.
But Singaporeans have come a long way since then. Increasingly, younger families are discovering that they don’t need to conform to other people’s definition of success or happiness. They can forge their own path—one that matches their own philosophy on life.
As these portraits of three families demonstrate, the Singaporean Dream doesn’t have to follow a fixed blueprint. It can take on different meanings for different people.
A Family Prepares for a Big Move
2.5-year-old Niqklaus is upset.
It had nothing to do with his living arrangements, where he and his parents Jack and Nicolina, 34 and 29, temporarily share a 3-room HDB flat in Hougang with Nicolina’s sister—in preparation for an upcoming move to their new flat in Tampines.
No, Niqklaus is mad because his parents rushed him home for a RICE Media photoshoot by carrying him over the ramp that leads to the elevators. This may have gotten Niqklaus to his cartoon time faster, but it wasn’t what he wanted.
He’d wanted to walk the ramp himself. Slowly, by his own two feet.
In many ways, Niqklaus’ patience reflects his family’s dream of home ownership.
His parents, Jack and Nicolina, decided to follow the traditional path of an ordinary Singaporean family. Eight years ago, they met while they were both working in the civil service. In 2016, they applied for, and successfully got, a BTO flat in Tampines, which will be financed with their CPF Ordinary Account (OA) savings.
A year after marriage, Niqklaus was born. During this time, the couple went through career changes as well: Jack is now a self-employed private hire driver and Nicolina works as a mental health counsellor. Together, the husband and wife have been taking turns to be the primary caregiver for their son.
“I’ve been working since I was 17 and have been making CPF contributions for exactly half of my life,” said Jack. “While I do have other investments, it’s nice to have that extra peace of mind with the CPF savings I accumulated as a public servant: something that’s guaranteed and slowly earning interest in the background.”
Caring for a toddler has changed Jack and Nicolina’s perspective on what’s truly important. Before Niqklaus arrived, the couple would often go hiking or cafe-hopping on the weekends. Now Niqklaus has most of the say. He likes to look at fishes, so they take him to the S.E.A Aquarium or the Lorong Halus Wetlands. As a more hands-on and active child, his parents are considering signing him up for karate lessons instead of piano.
They expect to move into their new flat by next March. The move to their new home opens up an exciting new chapter for the young parents. They will have more privacy and the ability to renovate and decorate their own space. Their new Tampines apartment is near IKEA, where they expect to make frequent trips.
Even as they save up for these near term expenses, Jack and Nicolina are also planning for their long term future. When it comes to retirement planning, they’ve also adopted a slow and steady approach.
“I used to be a bit obsessive about the amount in my CPF Special Account (SA),” said Nicolina. “I like round figures, so I always wanted my monthly SA balance to be a round number. For example, I’d top up my SA savings to the nearest hundred or thousand.”
As their CPF savings grow with interest rates of up to 5% p.a., Jack and Nicolina can be assured of a stable foundation for retirement. By joining CPF LIFE, these savings will provide them with a monthly retirement income for as long as they live.
Beyond household finances, the couple has high hopes for their son. Niqklaus is growing up to be a generous child, willing to share his marshmallows and candy with his guests. Jack and Nicolina gave him the Chinese name Yi Kai (义凯), which, when translated, means ‘righteous victory’ or ‘succeeding the right way’.
Their hope is that as their son moves forward in life, he never forgets his family, friends and strangers who helped him along the way.
Because it’s not just about where you’re going. It’s how you get there that counts.
A Family of Travellers Learns to Stay Grounded
Speaking of going places, Lucas has been a globe-trotter since birth. At 1.5 years old, he has already been around the world, including countries like Norway, the Maldives, the U.S. and Japan. He may not remember any of it except in baby photos, but traveling is already in his blood.
His dad Charles, 34, is a commercial pilot for a local airline. His mom Doranne, 34, is a former banker who now runs her own online company, Little Happy Haus, which sells sustainable clothes and open-ended toys. She also posts photos of Lucas’ travel adventures on their Instagram account @themerriedlife.
This year, due to the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, the family’s life has been ground-bound for the first time in years. The family lives in Bedok, in their 30-year-old resale property, which the couple purchased three years ago by tapping on their CPF OA savings.
“When we bought the place, the property had not been renovated since the 1980s,” said Doranne. “Major work needed to be done: the piping, electricals, roofing, etc.”
The renovations took more time and energy than the couple had expected.
“Charles and I are not detail-oriented people,” said Doranne. “For us to have to decide the nitty gritty was quite painful: choosing the colour of the tiles, paint colour for the walls, the lighting, the fans, the doors, even the door knobs. Some couples may enjoy this kind of thing, but we prefer to be outdoors, exploring.”
All that work didn’t come cheap either. The fact that the home was financed partly by their CPF savings allowed the couple to set cash aside for the necessary renovations.
As a family who hardly spends time at home, claustrophobia became a real problem during the pandemic.
“As a family, we love going out. So (while) staying home during the circuit breaker, Lucas got quite restless and threw tantrums. To be honest, it tested our sanity as parents. Charles and I always look forward to our nightly glass of wine after we put him to bed.”
Owing to Charles’ schedule as a pilot, this year was also the first time he and Doranne started spending continuous time together, 24/7, for months on end. The couple found themselves bickering over the best way to raise their son, including arguments over the appropriate amount of screen time for a 1.5-year-old.
Even as they have these disagreements, both Charles and Doranne realise that it’s been a blessing to be at home together. Caring for Lucas has been frustrating at times, but it can also be highly amusing.
“He does all these funny things to make us laugh,” said Doranne. “He’s at this stage where he depends on us for everything. I think we will definitely miss that when he grows older.”
While the family has to adjust to a new lifestyle this year, they’re grateful for the little things that keep the family together, such as financial stability. In the current times of uncertainty, the importance of planning ahead financially has become even more evident to the couple. They’ve also come to appreciate the security that CPF provides—their CPF savings continue to earn interest and grow, allowing them to continue paying for their monthly mortgage and save steadily for their retirement.
“CPF is useful in that it forces us to save for our future needs. If I had put my money into high-risk investments, it may turn out badly. CPF, at least, provides risk-free interest on my savings. The current CPF interest rate is also better than most bank interest rates available today.”
A Family Enjoys their Golden Years
As children, we’re always the central character in our parents’ lives. So it’s nice when, as we grow older and become adults, our parents get to be the centre of attention for a change.
Ali Bin Benjari and Jumaati Bte Basari may be hitting 78 and 71 respectively, but the badminton trophies, dinner invites, and grandchildren (nine and counting) just keep on coming.
The couple have five children: three daughters and two sons. The eldest is about to turn 51, while their youngest, Khai, is 34 (pictured above). Two years ago, Khai got married and moved out of the house, leaving the parents with an empty nest in the quiet neighborhood of Jurong West. The HDB flat was purchased back in 1986 for the price of S$125,000, which was partially financed by the couple’s CPF OA.
Ali has been retired for 18 years now, as a former Malay public school teacher, while Jumaati is a housewife who cooks a mean fish head curry. Both have been keeping themselves busy in retirement: Ali teaches the Quran to students on a weekly basis. He’s also quite the sportsman, playing badminton, football and tennis well into his 70s. Badminton trophies are displayed prominently in the living room, with championships dating back as recently as 2018, when Ali was 76.
Jumaati on the other hand, has taken up gardening as a hobby, growing vegetables in the community garden. Before the pandemic, she was busy juggling her children’s invites to visit her grandchildren, though she thinks these are just excuses to get her into their kitchens to cook their favourite dishes.
“Our family is very close-knit, so we make a point of either coming back to this house, or taking turns hosting my parents at our own flats,” said Khai.
Since the pandemic and circuit breaker, the in-person visits have become less frequent, owing to their parent’s advanced age. This year’s Hari Raya celebrations went digital, moving to a 20+ person family Zoom call.
For both Ali and Jumaati, CPF gives them peace of mind in their golden years: Ali has been collecting CPF retirement payouts for nearly two decades and they’re happy to be less dependent on the allowances they receive from their children. While the couple is still in excellent health, Ali taps on his MediSave to keep his health in check. Under the Flexi-MediSave scheme, he can use up to $200 per year for outpatient treatments at Specialist Outpatient clinics, polyclinics and general practitioner clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS). He is also able to use his MediSave for his wife’s healthcare expenses as well.
“I advise my children that while it’s important to save money, they should not forget to make donations to the mosque and take care of others in need,” said Ali.
“My children are so busy with work and making money,” said Jumaati. “I remind them that it’s also important to be happy and enjoy time with family.”
Instead of the 5Cs, the Asyraf family’s version of the Singaporean Dream follows the three Fs: Faith, Family and Fun.
In a long and happy life, that’s fulfillment enough.