Saturday, July 27, 2013

Penny Pinching

While the rest of Singapore seems to be wallowing in brand spanking new shops and restaurants and spas and theme parks and $500 a head dinners, in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, we’re in the grips of a severe austerity drive. We’re practically surviving on bak kut teh and diluted chin chow.
            And by ‘we’, I mean of course, Saffy. Amanda just got promoted to junior partner at her law firm, so she is flush with cash. As soon as her increment came in, she disappeared into Prada for four hours and emerged with a brand new wardrobe that should last her till next Christmas. If she could bathe in champagne, she probably would.
            Meanwhile, Saffy has set her bank account balance to a special app on her phone that pings every time something happens to it. Such as a deposit or, which is more likely these days, a debit.
            The other day, a ping alerted her to the fact that her bank had just credited two cents to her account.
            “Oh my God, two cents? What’s that for?” She busied herself tapping and swiping. There was a moment’s silence. “Interest payment? I got interest payment of two cents? Are you freaking kidding me?” she shouted at her phone.
            “You should donate that to charity,” Amanda said from behind her latest copy of French Vogue.
            Saffy looked interested. “Oh? Why?”
            “You can claim a tax relief on the donation.”
            “Really? How much?”
            “Two cents.”
            Saffy spent the whole of lunch ranting about how she now totally understood why the last king and queen of France got their heads chopped off. “I would have been in the front row! Can you imagine the insensitivity of that Amanda?”
            Sharyn put down her chopsticks and stared owlishly at Saffy. “Aiyah, she joking, what!”
            “Well, it’s not funny, Sharyn! I’m practically broke. And by the way, you’re paying for lunch.”
            Sharyn waved her hands magnanimously. “Aiyah, of course, lah. This is Crystal Jade La Mian, I can afford. Next time, hor, we go to Crystal Jade Golden Palace, you pay.”
            Saffy radiated resentment as she sipped her chrysanthemum tea.
            “Ay, I ask you, hor,” Sharyn went on. “You got no children, you got no husband…”
            There was a glint in Saffy’s eyes. “Where are you going with this, Sharyn?”
            Sharyn flapped her napkin at Saffy. “Aiyah, don’t be so sensitive, can or not? I was saying, you got no children, no husband, no car, no mortgage, but you got good job and your rent so low…How come you got no money?”
            The question haunted Saffy. She went back to the office and spent the whole afternoon looking at her online bank statements.
            “I have no idea where the money goes,” she later said to me. “Like, I took out $100 two days ago, and today, I’m down to $5! How is that possible? Have you been stealing from my purse?”
            Wisely, I ignored the bait. “Didn’t you have lunch with Sharyn earlier in the week?”
            “Yes, but that was only, like, $20.”
            “Then you bought some make up at MAC.”
            “Just some lipstick!”
            “And you topped up your MRT card.”
            Saffy shrugged. “$10.”
            “You took the taxi to and from home.”
            Saffy’s brow furrowed as she did the maths. “$30.”
            “And there’s your $95!”
            Saffy looked shell-shocked. “My God.”
            “A hundred bucks doesn’t get you far these days,” I said and immediately realized that I sounded just like my mother, though, to be fair, what she actually says is: “A thousand bucks can barely buy you lunch these days.”
            Depressed and defeated by the state of her financial affairs, Saffy has put herself on a strict budget of $10 a day which must cover everything from transport to meals. Every evening, she comes home and empties her purse to count what she has left over. The most she ever collects is ten cents.
            “This is awful!” she moaned this morning. “All I’m eating for lunch is Old Chang Kee curry puffs! At this rate, I’m going to be fat and explode in zits.”
            “I thought you loved their curry puffs!” I said.
            A sob escaped from her. “But not every day! But everything else is so expensive! And the teh-o down the road just went up by five cents! The nerve of that uncle! And I miss catching the cab! Do you know what it’s like to catch the MRT during peak hour? Oh my God!”
            Absent mindedly, she pulled out her new MAC lipstick and delicately swiped her lips. “I do love this colour,” she murmured. 

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