Living on FREE in Singapore, the worlds most expensive city, possible? (with Daniel Tay)

Singapore is consistently one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in and yet there is a thriving community of people here living on FREE! Must Singaporeans work till we drop? Must retirement be a 65-year-old thing? Is there a better way to live? In today’s episode, we explore how a thriving community in Singapore is leading a new way of life, living leanly yet in abundance, as well as the idea of consumerism and how can we can thrive on what others don’t want.

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podcast Transcript

Daniel Tay: I think it’s possible to do it in Singapore. It’s just that you have to give up certain luxuries like public transport.

Reggie: Wait, public transport is a luxury?

Good day, guys! Have you ever wondered, can you ever live a life on free? Like in Singapore, the most expensive city in the world. Can you live without spending anything at all? Not like spending a little bit, but like nothing. Today, our guest has led a movement known as the Freegan movement.

And I wonder, how free can Singapore be? He has done his runs for sure, gathering wealth over the years, and steadily reducing his ongoing expenses. So, I would like him to share with us his way of life and explore a different view of money. So, let’s welcome, Mr. Daniel Tay!

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Daniel Tay: Hi everyone, I’m happy to be here to share what I know.

Reggie: So, you were saying about ending your business. That was the main cause of your money worries.

Daniel Tay: Yes, I used to run a business. I ran a fee-based financial planning agency. I ran the business with a partner for about one and a half years before the partnership failed. Back then, I had to either pivot or close down the business.

I did a review of my personal and business finances. I found that 80% of my money worries came from the business. So, if I stopped doing business, I would overnight eliminate 80% of my money worries. So, I was going through some difficult stuff back then. So, I decided to, you know what, I’ll just take a break.

I’ll give myself a safety net to come back to the business if I wanted to in the future, in a different form, but I’ll just take a break first. Based on my personal finances, I could last two years without income. So, I decided to just do that, and spend the two years trying to figure out how I can live in Singapore without using any money at all.

I didn’t really, exactly succeed in doing it. But, I did manage to reduce expenses quite drastically. I think it was possible to do anything. I think it’s possible to do it in Singapore. It’s just that you have to give up certain luxuries like public transport.

Reggie: Wait, public transport is a luxury?

Daniel Tay: If you want to live completely without money?

Reggie: Okay, oh yes true. Context guys, we’re talking about living free.

WOOHOO! Public transport is a luxury.

Daniel Tay: If you want to give up stuff like water, electricity and demand. I mean, you can get it. It’s just more inconvenient. If you stay HDB flat with town council services and all that, you wouldn’t be able to use money to pay for those lah.

Although there are still other ways that other people do it. So anyway, I decided, you know what, I don’t want to inconvenience myself so much. So, I decided to just continue paying for these things. I don’t buy physical things, but I do buy services. Healthcare, transport, legal, financial, medical services.

I still pay for them, but physical things… mostly I can get it for free because other people don’t want certain things. And there are a lot of other people. So, I have a lot of other people’s things that I can choose from.

Reggie: Like that portable cooking thing that you picked up?

Daniel Tay: At their void deck? Yes! I was waiting for the lift and I saw this uncle beside me looking at some stuff at the bin side, so I also went to look. “Hey, this is a portable gas stove, I can totally use this.”

Reggie: Damn, I could so use it like camping and stuff, right?

Daniel Tay: Oh, so what happened was a friend of mine. She got a portable gas stove, and then we needed the gas. I was like, “I don’t want to buy a gas…”

So, I decided to just leave it there for three months. And then after that, she tells me, “Can you go and get the gas because we want to test out whether this stuff works or not?” So, okay, after three months I hadn’t got the gas; I wasn’t actively looking anyway. So, I reluctantly went over to Potong Pasir, bought the $5, $6 for three cans of gas, went back, and tested it out.

It works. The very same week, 2 to 3 three days later, I walked past that bin. I found five cans of gas, brand new, same brand.

Reggie: It’s a science.

Daniel Tay: I should have waited longer.

Reggie: Yeah, you should wait a lot. You just should have stuck with the ideology.

Daniel Tay: This is Freegan life. Whenever you give up and buy something, you will find it within the next few days.

Reggie: That’s really, really cool. So, you actually don’t live free per se. You still pay for services, things that you find essential.

Daniel Tay: Yes, I pay for services. I rarely ever buy things. Currently during this pandemic, I’m supporting a local business, a minimart. So once a week, I’ll buy some groceries from there.

 

Yeah, that’s I think what I pay for.

Reggie: So do you mind sharing with us, how much do you actually spend a month?

Daniel Tay: $450, including insurance.

Reggie: How does that look like? Like what’s the breakdown, if you don’t mind,

Daniel Tay: About $60 to $70 on EZ-link top ups. $30 on mobile bill, about $50 to $70 on utilities and the groceries.

What else do I have? I still do contribute self-employed Medisave contributions, which actually qualify me for the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).

Reggie: Oh, so you still got the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), nice!

Daniel Tay: Yeah, what else…

Reggie: 1 year of SIRS can allow you to live 2 years

Daniel Tay: Thereabouts.

Reggie: Because you spent barely 50% of that.

Daniel Tay: Correct.

I’m in the lowest 20% of income earners in Singapore, I guess you can say. Yeah, but other bills are annual insurance premiums, annual IT services like Dropbox, for example, I still keep that.

Reggie: Fundamentally, I think what we are trying to understand is, because I was very amazed when I found out that is someone like this, like yourself, that actually go the extra mile to live free.

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: In some ways, right? And I think there’s always a give and take. It’s something that we’re trying to…

Daniel Tay: Yes, there’s a give and take, and it’s fun. What you give up on is convenience because you use money to get stuff. What you are actually paying for is convenience.

There are many ways to get stuff for free, but from not so convenient ways lah. Not being convenient doesn’t mean that you have go spend extra hours to get it, because you also have to spend hours to go and buy stuff. Inconvenience in the sense that, when you receive too much stuff. You don’t want to throw it away because other people can use it.

The inconvenient things like, you just want one, but you end up with 10. So, you have to find a way to give away the remaining nine. You want one power bank, you’ve got four. You want one mobile phone, you get four. So…

Reggie: Where do you get all these stuff?

Daniel Tay: It’s not replicable. So, if I can repeat it and I could get four every month, then I’ll teach you.

But if it’s only once-off, yeah.

Reggie: It’s like a gift in some ways,

Daniel Tay: A gift in some ways, yeah.

Reggie: Okay, then on this Island of Singapore…

Daniel Tay: I can tell you the power bank lah. I was at this point of time, I was trying to promote the use of this app in Singapore called OLIO because a lot of people were trying to misuse my Facebook group to give away free food.

And I was like, all the members were like, there were so many 10 to 15 posts of giveaways every day. Can we do something about it? So, we try many options. I discovered this app called OLIO. It’s a food sharing app that comes from the UK. So, I try to get people to use it. I had a large supply of high quality expired food.

So, I tell everybody, go on the app. I’ll give you the request for the food there. I’ll give it to you there, but don’t ask for it from me through the Facebook group.

Reggie: They’re trying to divert everyone out of the group right?

Daniel Tay: Correct, or actually increase the usage of the app from 2000 users now, currently to 55,000, but anyway that’s another story.

So, I wanted a power bank then. So, I put on my posts in the app, it says like, you can come and collect the food, but if you happen to have a spare power bank, just let me know. And that’s how I ended up with power banks. It’s like this guy said, “Hey, I’ve got two power banks, I’m not using them. Would you like to have them?”

Yeah, of course. Sure.

Reggie: Okay, that’s cool. Can I have one? Next time okay, you got extra, you remember me. So on the topic of living for living on free, you definitely started somewhere, like what you just said about your money worries and you realize that, most of your money worries were because of business, right? But business aside, there’s a personal element of how you spend.

Just give us some idea, because I think for many people that are listening, it’s like what the hell, is this even possible? So what were some of the first few things that you’ve decided to let go?

Daniel Tay: I wouldn’t say it was something I came up on my own. I had a Freegan mentor back then and he guided me.

Reggie: Was he free?

Daniel Tay: Free guidance? Yeah, yeah.

Reggie: You know these days everything also charge right? Every mentor, everything also charged right, anyway okay.

Daniel Tay: Yeah, so he really helped, but for whatever reason, we’re not in contact anymore. Anyway, so he told me that the first problem you need to solve first is you need to get free food, because food is something you eat every day.

And if you can get free food all the time, you automatically save for $300, $400 a month, which is like, almost $5,000 a year. So that’s the biggest thing. So, he told me to go and ask my neighbors for the food that they are not eating and that it’s edible, but they’re not eating and they throw away.

I was like, “Got such thing meh?” ‘Cause my own household, we mostly finish all the food that we have. Expired food, not expired food, all just eat lah. But, neighbours? So first, I went to talk to this auntie. She’s this elderly low-income auntie that stayed next to me and she receives food twice a day from charity.

So I was on fairly good times with her, so I went to ask her. I was very paiseh to tell her that I want her food lah. I said, “I’m doing a project on food waste.”

Reggie: Everything also use project, right? Everybody door knock also, “Oh we’re from the school and we’re doing a project.”

Daniel Tay: It’s kind of true. I was doing a project on food waste! So, I asked her, “Auntie, do you have any… do you often throw away food?” And to my surprise, she said, “Yeah, yeah. I often throw. Every day I throw away some food.”

And I asked, “what kind of food you throw away?”

“Oh, you know, the charity gives me lunch and dinner, right? They gave me rice, they gave me meat, vegetable, fish. But you know ah, auntie got chronic illnesses ah, I got diabetes, I got high blood pressure. I got gaut. I cannot eat everything that they gave to me.

So I eat about half of it, then the rest, I don’t know what to do. So I throw away loh. But very kek sim (激心) lah, but what to do, I don’t know who wants.”

Then I was like, “Auntie, I want lah. Can give to me or not?”

Then she said, “Oh you want you take lah.” She had a packet of rice. Then she said, “Take this one. I got enough rice.”

And I took the packet from her. I was like, “Thank you, Auntie.” She said, “No, no, no. Mr. Tay, you don’t thank me. I thank you. You take the rice. I don’t have to throw away. I don’t feel kek sim (激心 already. I don’t feel heart pain. You take, I’m happy.”

So I said, “Auntie, since you every throw away food, can I come every day and take from you?”

And then she said, “Mr Tay, I don’t want to trouble you lah. You don’t have to come to my house every day. Every time I got food, right, I get into my wheelchair, I come to your door, I hang on your door, then you just take inside and put in your fridge lah.” That’s how I got free food delivery service

That’s how I got free food delivery service every day. You open door, there’s food hanging out there. Sometimes one packet, sometimes two packets.

Reggie: What the hell… Okay, okay!

Daniel Tay: That’s one neighbor. Then, because she received food from charity and that was three years ago. It’s kind of similar now. I asked the auntie before, “Why don’t you tell the charity, don’t give you this kind of food because you can’t eat?” Then, it’s because the charity cannot tailor make each order lah.

So they just give. Then you’ll have your social worker that gives off fruits lah, give milo lah, give sugar lah, all these things she cannot consume! So she take all give to me lah. Or else, she don’t know what to do, just stuck at her house.

Reggie: Oh…! Interestingly, she felt grateful for giving to you.

Daniel Tay: Yes! ‘Cause she doesn’t have to throw it away! Because she is quite elderly and she grew up in more scarce times, so she knows the value of food and don’t want to throw it away lah.

But this is what I mean, inconvenience lah. You have so much that you don’t know what to do with it. Yeah, so that was one neighbour.

Another neighbor I talked to, he’s a Taoist. So every day he does offerings to his ancestors. So, apples, pears, pineapple, or whatever lah. Then I asked him, “Will you have any food that you often throw away?”

He said, “No I don’t throw away lah, but sometimes all these fruits I offer, I will leave it downstairs for the animals to eat lah, because I offer so much, but me and my wife, we got two of us. So, we cannot finish eating. You want or not?”

“Yeah, of course lah.” Fruits ah, when you’re on a low budget, fruits are kind of expensive.

Reggie: Yes, yes. Yes. Fruits are actually very expensive, especially seasonal stuff, right?

Daniel Tay: Correct, so okay lah. That’s how I get regular oranges and apples. Occasional pomelos and pineapples.

Reggie: So, you actually eat very healthy lah? In that sense even though you don’t spend anything on food.

Daniel Tay: Ah… yes.

Reggie: Is that still the reality now?

Daniel Tay: It depends on what you eat lah. If you eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, generally vegetables and fruits are among the easiest things to get for free.

Reggie: Okay, because highly perishable, so people need to throw away.

Daniel Tay: Correct. Correct. And they’re also kind of cheap from a business’ perspective. And the margins are fairly high compared to meat even. So businesses don’t mind getting more of it, and then whatever they cannot sell, just throw.

Reggie: So that’s food, right?

Daniel Tay: There’s also getting expired food.

Because normal people, normal consumers, “Oh, expired already, past the date already. Throw, throw, throw.” Then, go out and buy the same thing. But food expired doesn’t mean cannot eat lah. Expired means cannot sell, but doesn’t mean cannot eat. Even non-expired sometimes also cannot eat lah.

You must do a taste test, look, smell, taste test, to determine whether the food can be eaten or not lah. So, that’s how I discovered that lots of people throw away lots of expired food that can still be eaten. So, I started collecting all of this, and expired food is a bit more unhealthy because a lot of it is processed food.

So, there was a period of time I put on quite a bit of weight because of that, expired food and stuff. So, I started to limit myself and try to eat more healthily lah, yeah.

Reggie: So you’re not alone on this journey, right? Like you started yourself, knocking the door of your neighbor. And then, I know somehow it became a thing, right?

You have like a whole entourage of people that share these same beliefs.

Daniel Tay: So, I started a Facebook group called Freegan in Singapore. It was just a group to unite some of my friends who know that I lived this kind of lifestyle. I just share photos of stuff that I get for free, like I find this gas stove kind of thing, I would take a photo and put it online.

And then after a while, friends started introducing other friends, and then the media got involved, and the group exploded. So, I didn’t actually set out to start a whole community or movement. I just want the Facebook group to share the photos of the stuff that I took, to show people that this is real. Now, everybody is like taking photos of the stuff they find and everyone knows it’s real.

Reggie: It’s possible, right?  

Daniel Tay: It’s not just me in my own HDB neighborhood. Although after going through a few HDB neighborhoods, I would say that I was fortunate to stay in an area where they had the good stuff.

Reggie: Mmm… And honestly, I live in Malaysia.

So now that I’m back, this is my observation. It’s that Singapore really has a lot of very good stuff that people don’t want.

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: We do have a lot of surpluses. I don’t go around taking stuff from downstairs. I mean, probably I should right, since we’re talking. But just on Carousell alone, on Carousell people sell stuff, right?

And the quality and the price that you pay for stuff here in Singapore and the stuff that you get in Malaysia is different. In Malaysia, people really use until quite cui already, right?

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: No more life already, then they sell that shit. But here, you can really get like, I got my recording equipment for half the retail price. I can get bicycles for really cheap. You can get a lot of stuff because people have so much, and they buy so much.

And I think that, in that sense, that’s the beauty of where your life comes in.

Daniel Tay: But when you think about it, when you buy so much, there’s a lot of money spent on stuff that they don’t really fully use. And when you’re talking about spending money, you’re spending your time getting that money. You’re spending your life away, trying to buy money, and use that money to buy stuff that you don’t really fully utilize.

It’s kind of a waste lah. Waste of time, waste of life, waste of money. So, if you get stuff for free, then you’re not using your time to buy money and then use the money to buy something. Because every transaction you lose value.

So why don’t you just use a few hours of time to get this stuff for free directly? Cut out the middleman.

Reggie: Cut out the middleman which is making the money.

Daniel Tay: Yeah!

Reggie: Okay, interesting. Do you consider … Freeganism is one level. But, I talk about being frugal quite a bit, so I’m curious about what are your thoughts about frugality? What is being frugal to you? Because free, you know, it’s like one level above me, like sensei of frugal. Different people see frugality differently. So I’m curious, do you believe in it, and how do you see being frugal?

Daniel Tay: My mentor used to say, there’s frugal. And one level higher, there’s cheapskate. And one higher is freegan. If people call you a cheapskate, you should be insulted because you’re not good enough to be called a freegan.

Reggie: You are a freegan, okay. I never insult you! You’re a freegan. There’s frugal.

Daniel Tay: To me, frugal is more of a mentality, more of a lifestyle, a kind of mentality that you don’t want things to go to waste. It’s not so much about saving money and being thrifty and being cheapskate, or freegan. It’s about not wasting stuff. In some sense, life is to put it to use. I do use other people’s stuff or my own stuff. Use it until gao gao, song song, and then really cannot use already then throw away lah. Or some people go one step further to upcycle or recycle lah.

Yeah, so that’s what being frugal really is. It just so happens that being frugal helps save you money. Cause you don’t buy something new. You don’t have to buy a new shirt when you already have a shirt that works, you don’t have to buy a new bag, because you have a bag already. You don’t have to buy a new, you don’t have to spend thousands, $2000 buying a new handphone when your old handphone still works. It’s just a bit slower, a bit lagging. Just change the batteries lah.

Reggie: Mm.

So what you just said is frugality is very much a concept, right? It’s an idea, right?

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: But freeganism is one step further. It’s a way of life.

Daniel Tay: Freeganism is… okay so frugality is more on a personal level. I use the stuff that I have until it’s properly utilized. Freeganism is a bit bigger. it’s like, I use your stuff until it cannot be used, then I will… yeah.

Reggie: Okay. So what if one day people stopped spending anyhow and everyone becomes frugal, how are you going to live? Because if others no longer waste, how are you going to live?

Daniel Tay: I look at my own lifestyle today. Despite what I do, I still do and always think of stuff, because there’s some stuff that I have only… Okay. Let me use a specific example. I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago. I needed a pair of crutches and a walking boot. I got them for free, of course. And I got them from a friend who used the crutches for something else.

And then I said, “Thank you for this. I will return it to you.” And he said, “No, no, you keep it.” So, I used it for a week or so. Then after that, I don’t have a use for it anymore. So, I passed it onto somebody else who needed it. So, what I’m saying is that we all have things that we use for only for a bit, for a while, and then we don’t need it anymore.

And we pass it on, even if you’re the most extreme frugal or freegan person. There is just stuff that you don’t use all the time. So, you just pass it on lah. That’s one thing. Second thing is for stuff they still use quite often, but not everyday kind of thing, you could have a few of them in a community and you share. So, community life is extremely important for me as a freegan because of the social aspect, and because of the stuff that the whole community gets for free.

So, we did a community, you probably have more than enough of everything that you need. You just need to ask and somebody here, I want this thing and I would need six of it. Maybe next time in future, I want something, you get two of it. So if everybody lives like me, I reckon there will still be some waste.

I think waste is going to be extremely hard to eliminate, unless you have an upheaval of the economy and turn everything into a circular economy, which is not going to happen in the next 20 years, but we can work towards it.

The fact that I can do, and a lot of people in Singapore can do this, means that there are problems with the current economy lah, the current supply chains, current situation. So, our lifestyle just tries to take advantage of these loopholes. And if the economy somehow manages to change. I’m quite pessimistic about that, but somehow if that changes, I’m sure our mentality of finding loopholes will help us get around that.

Reggie: That’s interesting. So, in that sense, are you a big proponent of sustainability, because it sounds like you are?

Daniel Tay: Well, I originally did this to learn how to save money.

Reggie: So it’s not like this big voo voo go, right?

It’s really from your own way of life?

Daniel Tay: They are three motivations why people do have this kind of way of life. First thing is they want to save money, get stuff for free, confirm save money, right?

Reggie: Confirm save one. Don’t spend anything, everything free.

Daniel Tay: You know, on Quora right, people ask, “How can I save my myself?”

Don’t buy things. Simple as that.

Reggie: No need to think too much. Just don’t spend, you save.

Daniel Tay: Correct, so save money is the first reason. Second reason why people do this is because they want to help other people.

They can give money and buy things for people, but that’s not sustainable because you have to keep working to earn money. But if you get things for free, all you can do is just clean it up, do some simple repairs, and you can give stuff infinitely to people who need it, right?

To help people is the second thing. The third thing is to help save the environment, to reduce waste and all that. When you live this kind of lifestyle, you automatically have to do all three. Because you don’t want to waste, so you end up giving stuff to help people, and because you save stuff from going to the bin, you are reducing waste, helping the environment.

So, when you do this, you’re automatically doing all three. But, usually when a person gets into this lifestyle, 50% of us do it because we want to save money, 30% want to do it because we want to help other people, and 20% want to help the environment. This is what I observe in the people in the community.

Reggie: Okay, that’s interesting. So, for you, the main driver was to save money. Yeah, because at that point in time, you realize that you had a lot of money worries because you were doing a business and you were struggling and it was affecting your life.

Daniel Tay: Yes, that’s part of the reason, but I’ve always been a kind of a frugal person because of my upbringing with my grandparents.

Reggie: Those are cheapskates, it’s an insult because you’ve already leveled up. Right?

Daniel Tay: Yeap! Frugal lah, I remember I had a grand uncle who would go around, pick stuff from the bins, and come back he would invent stuff or make stuff. And I always found that to be quite inspirational.  My other family member is like, “This uncle is just like that lah…”

Reggie: Just wait lah, quirky guy. Siao siao one.

Daniel Tay: I turned out to be that guy.

Reggie: Inspiration, wrong inspiration from families viewpoint.

Daniel Tay: So, I’ve always been looking for ways to save money. And this was like a challenge for me. I was like, because I was working as a financial planner, and I had at that point believed that in order to retire simple, you need a minimum of $150,000 to have a basic retirement lah, maybe one holiday a year kind of thing.

Reggie: One holiday a year is considered basic ah? We’ve reached the level 一年一起 (yī nián yīqǐ) is considered basic, alright.

Daniel Tay: Yeah, then after that I discovered this way of life from my mentor, who’s 45 years old, spends $100 a month, retired, has everything he wants and needs.

This is more than 10 times less than what I… This is … Okay, there’s this business coach called Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach in the U.S. He’s coached some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and he has this thing called a 10 X multiplier. It means you don’t look at multiplying your business two times.

Two times, you just do more of what you’re doing. You think about how you can multiply a business 10 times, because the level of thinking required to bring a business 10 times is different from what you’re currently doing. You cannot just do more work. You have to change the way you think, change the way you do business completely, and retiring at more than 10 times less than what normal people can do.

It’s like you got to really change your thinking, and ya lah, my thinking really got changed. Yeah.

Reggie: I mean objectively, when you look at it, if you spend 50% of your income for every year you work, you can live two years. All right. So, if you only spend 10% of your income, for every year you work, you can live 10 years.

Daniel Tay: Correct.

Reggie: So objectively, when you bring your expenses to $450, or even your mentor siao kia ah, down to $100 right, then essentially you can live forever without really needing to do more.

Daniel Tay: You get people who have saved up a million dollars, they invest it, say 5% a year, can net them about 50,000 for their retirement, but how many years do you spend working to accumulate that $1 million?

How many years of investing? What if we can do the same for $100,000, work 10 times less, of course 5% of that is $5,000, which is sufficient for me lah.

Reggie: I get that, I get that. So, on that note of the way of life, it is based on what you just said. I think we all get it that you don’t spend a lot, very lean.

You’ve gone through some things to cut down your expenses. How has this whole process been, and where you are at, not spending a lot, but living in one of the most expensive country in the world, how do you view life at this point in time?

Daniel Tay: Wah this kind of question very chim leh. Can you elaborate further?

Reggie: Essentially, it’s like for most people, there’s a certain narrative. You work hard, you retire, and then you invest blah, blah, blah, and then you retire. But you already fast track all the way, because you hacked the system, right? You essentially go down the other side, which is, I don’t bother to increase my income. I just cut my expenses to like free.

$450, okay. So, that’s the benchmark. And you end up having a lot of time, right? Because you have a lot of think and you have a lot of time to embrace life differently. So, I just want you to share with us, like how do you see life at this point in time?

Daniel Tay: I get you. I went through a crossroads, recently. I’m 41 this year and this 2020, besides dealing with a pandemic, it has also been a year for me where I close certain chapters in my life for good. And being at this crossroads, I had to sit down and think, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? One thing, although I was a financial planner, but one thing I learned is that long-term planning doesn’t work for me.

It works for some people, but for me, I have too many interests. I have too many things that a friend of mine calls it shiny things, “Oh, you want to do this? You want to do this, you want to do this, you want to do this. But if you’re working, you don’t have the time to do it. When you’re not working, you do have the time to do it.

There’s just so many things out there that I want to try. So, I wanted to sit down and think, where do I want to take my life? Do I want to come up with some kind of overarching philosophy to live my life? But I have no real plans. I would plan my life three months at a time. And that seems to be pretty good.

So, I decided to sit down and think and ask myself, when I’m 70 years old, when I’m 80 years old, what do I want to be able to say about my life that I’ve lived? And I would like to be able to tell stories, that are interesting stories about the life I’ve lived. And if I want to be able to tell stories, it means I need to have interesting experiences from now until I’m 70.

So yeah, that’s how I view life. Now I want to have interesting experiences. I don’t want to accumulate things. I do accumulate some things quite a bit.

Reggie:  But you somehow accumulate right, you want free, everything people give you.

Daniel Tay: So I have to learn to say no. “No no, can you pass it to somebody?” That’s what the community is for.

Reggie: If you have an extra power bank, you can pass it to me.

Daniel Tay: I can teach you how to get it!

Reggie: Okay! Okay!

Daniel Tay: Yeah! So, I want to accumulate experiences. Experiences doesn’t necessarily mean you have to travel.

Travel is one good way to get experiences, but you can have a lot of experiences living in Singapore as well. Learning to be a dumpster diver, I discovered a whole side of Singapore, which I never knew existed, back alleys where all of the bins are. And it’s like, there’s so much that goes on in back alleys that we don’t see, we don’t know about, you could get different experiences by taking a different job.

You don’t have to work on a job for 10 years, 20 years to get a full experience. You can get most of a job’s experience in three to six months, maybe about 80% of the job experiences and the other 20%, you talk to people who’ve been there 10 to 20 years. And then you learn from there.

And that’s another way to get experiences, and with different experiences that you get, your mindset changes, your perspective changes. You become more empathetic. You become more open-minded. You become, “Eh, like that also. Oh! Like that also can.” Then, you learn all these little loopholes that people have been doing, and whatever’s useful for you, you just take and use.

Whatever’s that’s not useful… Oh, that makes it an interesting story. So actually, since the start of circuit breaker, I’ve been doing this daily Facebook posts called COVID Chronicles. It kind of chronicles my daily life in this COVID pandemic. I thought it would be a nice way to document this period in time. And then since I put on Facebook almost every day, a year from now, Facebook is like, “One year ago, you were doing this.”

So, it would kind of tell me how things have changed in one year lah. Oh yeah, I do write books, so previously as a hobby. Still as a hobby. But last time, I had to sell books to earn money. Now I don’t lah. I could just write books because I like to write.

Yeah, I don’t have to worry about the income side. If you give me a bit of pocket money, it’s good. If not, then okay lor.

Reggie: It is what it is.

Daniel Tay: Yeah. So that’s life lah, moving forward. Of course, it’s subject to change. One thing I’ve learned about my life is that it’s unpredictable. There are things that happen that you can never predict for.

Things that you couldn’t even imagine. So, if you plan your life and you try to follow up the pattern strictly, you’re going to cut us off a lot of opportunities, a lot of experiences that you would never have imagined possible. So, I like to keep things a bit open. That’s why I only plan about once every three months.

Where do I want to be three months from now? And the plan is not so much about I need to achieve these things, but it gives me a direction, but if something else more interesting comes along, like

Reggie: Like a shiny object

Daniel Tay: Yeah, like getting interviewed for a financial literacy podcast. Yeah okay, this wasn’t planned, but okay!

Sounds interesting. Yeah.

Reggie: Thank you, you’re very nice.

Daniel Tay: You’re welcome.

Reggie: So based on what you’re saying, like planning every three months and experiencing different facets of life, that you never had prior if you had followed the narrative, study, work, work, work. Everybody knows that narrative.

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: So, in that sense, then it debunks the idea of long-term planning because you know your way of life is not very long-term planning, right? You have a general arc that you’re trying to do, but I’m talking about a long-term financial planning, right? So, then it challenges your notion, it challenges the whole idea of planning your finances long term.

Daniel Tay: Yes and no. I think when you do financial planning, one of the most important things that people forget is that you got to review your plan from time to time as when your lifestyle changes, your income, your expense level changes as well. So, you need to adapt a plan. You need to make modifications, changes.

Planning is not just, you plan one time, set in stone, and it will roll out. Financial plans don’t work that way, neither is life. That’s something I learned about financial planning often. Yeah so, you got to be able to, okay this plan doesn’t work for me, scrap it, let’s make a new way. And for what I went through was a life phase transition.

Transiting from running a business to retirement, early retirement. It was supposed to happen 20 years later, but let’s just bring it forward. And so, in that sense, that aspect of financial planning still works. It’s just that it’s earlier. And because normally when people retire in their sixties, for example, they need to plan maybe 20, 30 years of retirement.

They need to make sure that the assets can last that long through investment or otherwise lah. When you retire at 40, your assets need to last 40 to 50 years.

Reggie: Yes.

Daniel Tay: So same principles, how do you invest it? How do you invest it strategically to make sure it lasts that long? Same principles apply. You just have different numbers to work with lah.

Reggie: Okay, so for someone that is starting up, just starting to get a job and just entering the workforce and partaking in the financial narrative that everyone has, from your optics, maybe not everybody wants to be a freegan, right?

Daniel Tay: Right.

Reggie: But from what you’ve gone through, what are some of the advice that you can give these people when they’re trying to live their lives?

Daniel Tay: Don’t settle for being a cheapskate.

Reggie: Back to the cheapskate!  

Daniel Tay: Not everyone wants to be a freegan, some just want to be cheapskates. Okay, I think the number one trap that people fall into, especially in Singapore, is a lifestyle inflation or lifestyle creep. For those who are not familiar with this, it would be keeping up with the Joneses. And for those who are not familiar with this, let’s say you start work with your entry level job, every day you eat cai png () la, whatever.

Reggie: Yeah, when you go to cai png, all the executives very young, new cai png people.

Daniel Tay: Cai png economic rice is supposed to be cheap. Not everywhere is cheap lah, sometimes it’s cheap lah. It’s a simple meal lah. And then later on when your salary increase right, it’s like tsk, I don’t feel like eating cai png every day, a bit sian. I want to eat in café restaurants. You end up spending more. And not just in terms of food, but every area of your life. You don’t want to use a cheap android phone. I want the high-end Samsung or you want a high-end iPhone.

I don’t want to use my hand-me-down from my parents or my cousin anymore. I just want to buy a brand-new phone. You do all this because you want to feel good about yourself. Once in a while, it’s okay. But every year, you need to buy a new handphone, it becomes a lifestyle already. This is lifestyle creep.

You earn more money. You think that you deserve to spend more money, and over time it becomes a lifestyle. You don’t take the bus to work anymore. You don’t go squeeze in MRT. You take Grab instead. Oh, that’s addiction by itself. Yeah, it’s a lifestyle thing. It’s a lifestyle choice at first, but there’s a saying that, luxury once enjoyed, becomes a necessity.

Reggie: Yes.

Daniel Tay: So, after a while, when all these lifestyle choices become necessities for you, it becomes very hard to let go. And then, boom, you’re trapped. You need to earn money to fund your lifestyle, right? The little bit that you can save after that goes towards your retirement. And that’s why people get trapped working for decades just to earn enough money to retire.

It’s not just about that. It’s also funding their current lifestyle, and their future lifestyle. So, if you never fall into this trap, you never end up taking Grab everywhere, you never end up eating more than cai png, but you never really end up going for those hipster cafes, and buy bubble tea, and then Starbucks or whatever. Kopitiam coffee can already lah. Even if you go into freegan style, you dumpster dive a packet of coffee, then you make your own.

Reggie: Then you make your own, bring around.

Daniel Tay: Ah, you bring your own bottle, you go to the office pantry, use the hot water, (pào) your own coffee, ah free. I do that at work.

So yeah, that’s definitely the most important thing, don’t fall for lifestyle trap, lifestyle creep, lifestyle inflation. Track your expenses, see what you’re spending on. Try to get free if possible lah!

Yeah, the number one rule is lifestyle. Maintain your lifestyle. Maintain your basic lifestyle. If it was good enough for you when you first started out, why is it not good enough for you now?

Reggie: Mmm. And in a short period of time, suddenly you become very rich, right? Like that is what I experienced lah.

Daniel Tay: You can be like Keith from Investment Moats, started out planning $300 a month, still spends $300 a month 10, 15 years later after working. Some people can do it.

Reggie: Yeah, and as you are able to keep up to a certain lifestyle, and you don’t participate in the inflation process, somehow inevitably you become very wealthy.

Daniel Tay: Yeah, and you don’t have to worry about inflation. 5%, 4%. 5% or 4% of zero is still zero.

Reggie: That’s true and also when I was traveling in Japan, I tried very hard to talk to the Japanese lah hor. You know, you get the idea, right? They cannot speak English, very jialat, but they try very hard.

So, we were chatting and what I found out was, most of them actually cook and pack lunch to work.

Daniel Tay: Yeah.

Reggie: And actually, if you think about it, it’s amazing.

Daniel Tay: It saves a lot of money.

Reggie: Yeah, and it’s very nice, very tasty. You get to control every single thing that goes into your lunch.

Daniel Tay: Yeah, but the difficult part is the convenience, remember? Money buys you convenience.

If you can, in Singapore, we’re all very stressed because of the fast-paced living, we live off convenience because it saves us time. Saves us a few minutes here, a few minutes there, but in order to buy that convenience, we need money, which costs us years of our life. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Reggie: Fair, I totally get that. And yeah, so essentially, your central belief is you go free, you can lean down everything, and you can just kind of shorten your whole journey.

Daniel Tay: Go big or go home.

Reggie: Go big or go home, or go free, or go cheapskate. So you never go cheapskate, only go free. So, everyone that’s listening and they want to emulate your life, let’s say they really want to be like you, what is the first thing they should do?

Daniel Tay: I’ll give you the truth. The three projects that my mentor gave me. Firstly, find a way to get food for free every day.

Reggie: Which you elaborated.

Daniel Tay: You can get from neighbors, but there are other sources as well. I won’t go through the details here, but, yeah, free food in the morning. That would save you like, what’s your budget of food, like $400 or $500 a month?

Reggie: About there.

Daniel Tay: Yeah, around there. That saves you a lot of money. And it gives you a kind of leeway in your budget that you may not already have. But of course, don’t give that $400 or $500 to a road show insurance. “Eh, you want to save $400 or $500 a month?”

Reggie: Wow that’s a whole big topic on its own.

Daniel Tay: But yeah, the extra $400 or $500 a month lets you channel it to other places that you’ve always needed more money for. A bit of upscaling, give you a bit more to your parents or something, or just simply save. Okay. That’s the first thing.

Second thing, what I do and there’s a whole different spectrum.

What I do is I walk around HDB void decks and pick up stuff. I used to do this every day from 9:00 to 10:00 PM as a form of exercise. It’s very good exercise and you get lots of free things. Nowadays, I don’t do it because I don’t stay in a good HDB area anymore, but as and when I do come to a friend’s house, I look at their void deck and I pick up stuff.

Good stuff.

Reggie: Like that cooking thing?

Daniel Tay: Yeah, correct, correct. So, you can still pick up a lot of stuff. It doesn’t have to be out there. Like from a bus stop to your home, just detour, look at a few decks, a few bins, see what people throw away. You can just take that, and all these little things count, because stuff that you find useful and you will use, means that you don’t have to spend money to buy it.

So, it can amount to quite a lot. For me as a freegan, it basically covers all my other expenses that you or other people buy. Clothes, shoes, bags, laptop bags, power banks, whatever, everything that you buy, every physical thing that you buy, I get for free. And that amounts to maybe another $500 a month or so?

You spend a lot more, you don’t think you spend a lot more, you go to Daiso and then you see how much you spend. All those little things, everything $2 what. Eh? How come I end up spending $50 ah? So all the little things count. So that’s number two.

Number three. You don’t have to do this, but there are people doing this. So, what they do is they go to the back of businesses after they close and they collect the stuff that they throw away.

Nowadays, we are a bit higher lah. We go right to the front of the business. I talked to the boss and say, “Hey boss, you’re throwing all these things, you cannot sell right? Like that waste food lah. Why not you give to me, I can make sure it goes to people who can use it lah?” You asked 10 businesses, 9 will say no. But, one who says yes, will give you food every day for 20 people.

Then, you cannot eat it yourself lah. So you share, you tell people, “Hey,” you can your neighbors, you can tell friends, “I got this food, would you like to come and take? The business cannot finish selling.” And then that’s how you form a community. Or when you have a regular supply of free stuff other people want, a community forms around you.

Cause they all want free stuff. And typically, people in the communities will be very inspired by how generous you are, how giving you are. You’re not really generous. You’re just… They’re helping you. You’re not helping them, right? They are helping you, right? If not, all these stuff goes to waste.

Then, the whole community will be very inspired with that. And then somebody will tell you, “Eh I got this thing, I don’t know who wants ah? Maybe you can help find somebody who wants it lah. So in Freegan, we have this chain, the one who rescues the item gets first pick or whatever.

They usually end up taking the best of whoever wants. Whatever else, goes on to the next person and the next and the next and the next. So, the person who does the rescuing, the person who does the packing or sorting or cleaning or organizing or giving, gets the next bit and so on and so forth. So, it pays to be a rescuer because you get the best stuff, but you can also not be a rescue, and just be what we call a consumer.

Consumers are very important because without consumers, we have too much stuff. Yeah, so you can just be a consumer in a community and perform your consumption service to help reduce waste.

Reggie: This is so cool. It sounds like a whole pack and that’s like a packing order. So, thanks for coming on this podcast.

We definitely learned a lot from you and if our listeners want to get to know you better and get to know your movement better, where can they find you?

Daniel Tay: Okay, on Instagram I’m at @freeganinsingapore, on Facebook you can search for my name. Actually, if you Google my name, and you take out the Bakerzin guy, you can find my name on page 1 of Google lah. You can find me on Facebook, or email me, or find my blog.

You can contact me that way.

Reggie: Okay, thank you, thank you. Thanks for coming on the show, Daniel, we will hope to see you around again. Take care, bye!

Hey, I hope you learned something useful today and truly appreciate that you took time off to better your life with The Financial Coconut. Knowledge is more powerful when shared, debated, and discussed. I hope you share what you gained with people you love. And I want to hear from you. Give me some questions and help me along with building our community of financially savvy coconuts.

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With that, have a great day ahead. Stay tuned next week and always remember, personal finance can be chill, clear and sustainable for all.

Okay, so I hope you guys learned something, had fun with Daniel. It was really fun because very different perspective mah. Usually, people talk about cost cutting. They don’t talk about reducing expenses, and all those are good stuff, but this guy goes like all the way, the extra mile. If you follow him on Facebook, you will see that during this 7th Month, he really go and collect a lot of food and all those kind of stuff.

So, kudos to him. Good stuff. Everybody has their own life choices. You decide how you want to live your life. But I think what we are trying to do is really to give you perspectives and then you get better, you make better and more informed decisions. And that’s something that we really believe in here at TFC.

And next week, we’re going to talk about something similar to this. Because you realize that there are a lot of personal finance forums out there today, right? Big and small, I will not name names, but you already know who is who lah. And we look at these forums also, we find that there are some major problems in the forums, not in a sense that the guys that are doing the forums have issues, but more like because a forum is an open platform, everyone can talk. 

So, there are all sorts of weird things that are going on in the forum. And next week, we’re going to talk about some of these things.

I’m going to point out some of these observations that we have, that we find we are very bothered by. And we, I mean, a few of us within the creative team and, some of these, guys that are more active in our community. They DM me and they talk about it. Some of them have some thoughts about what’s going on in a lot of these forums.

So next week, we’re going to spend some time, we’re going to share with you some observations that we have, that we feel that you should be aware of. When you’re visiting this forum, it doesn’t mean that they’re funneling stuff that are not good, but it’s just that understanding and being aware of these views will serve you better and sussing out in searching for information. So, yep. See ya next week!

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