Update: See my followup to this after six months.
Many of my friends know that I am almost obsessive about collecting data about all kinds of stuff (the pizza versus apples graph, which is sadly out of date, is particularly notorious). I also keep track of my expenses pretty precisely, cataloging and categorizing everything I spend money on.
Now that I’ve lived aboard Oia for a little more than a month, I can start to ask the question: is living on a boat in Singapore cheaper than living in a rented apartment? Of course it’s really too early to ask this question since expenses vary from one month to another and you really need to gather data over time, but at least I can compare my first month of living aboard to a representative month of apartment living and see how things play out.
In Singapore, living on a boat has ramifications not just for the cost of housing (rent for an apartment, berthing for a boat; and utilities), but also for transportation, since there are no marinas really convenient to public transportation. Actually, that’s not completely true: RSYC is decently close to buses, and Keppel Bay Marina is in walking distance (15-20 min) to Singapore’s metro, the MRT. But Keppel Bay is full and not accepting new vessels now; and RSYC is, from what I’m told time and time again, too rolly to live aboard. (I may judge that for myself eventually.) And of course, when you own a boat, you need to take care of it; and by buying an older boat I set myself up for a variety ongoing maintenance expenses.
I decided to compare the month of March, my last full month in my studio apartment at City Square, with my first month living aboard Oia (April 17 to May 16). The big caveat: I’ve found myself spending the night in “mainland” Singapore fairly often, which means I’m only really “living aboard” (or at least, sleeping aboard) a little over half the time. I looked at most of my expenses, but only some of them really changed when I moved aboard, so I’m only including those here. I converted everything to US dollars with the prevailing interbank rate on the date of the expense. Please don’t use this data to steal my identity or sell me stuff or do anything else nefarious.
The first takeaway from all this is that Singapore is expensive. That apartment rental rate is, in fact, obsolete: the market rate for the same apartment is now above S$3000 (today, ~US$2130). And while it was certainly a nice, new apartment, it was by no means ostentatious, having only one room with no separate bedroom. Of course, it does reflect my preferences: having a place to myself instead of renting a room, convenient to work, and so on. If you really have to you can get a room somewhere away from the CBD for around US$500.
There is less flexibility in berthing rates in Singapore, of course, since there are only a few marinas. However, One 15, where I’m staying now, is among the most expensive; if I was prepared for the inconvenience, I could move to Changi and save US$150. But it doesn’t seem worth it.
Utility costs are dramatically lower for a couple reasons. I got rid of my internet costs altogether (I included them with utilities because for me, internet is a utility almost as essential as electricity or water). Most marinas provide free wifi.
And you just naturally use a lot less water and electricity aboard a boat. Oia is equipped to cruise for weeks on end with stuff like 130W of solar panels, LED cabin lighting, a water-conserving shower head, and so on. It’s almost like ready-made off-grid housing. Essentially the only shore power I use now is for air conditioning and occasional battery charging. And I use so little water the only charges I’ve received for that are token “minimum water charges” of S$5 every couple weeks. (Probably I could toss in US$15 for laundry here though, since I’m now paying for that explicitly, whereas before with a washer and dryer it was essentially a utility cost.)
Transportation is interesting. I was concerned this was going to be a big drain because I generally have to take taxis to and from One 15. I also have to pay an entrance fee to Sentosa, the island where the marina is, because they won’t consider me a resident unless I own an apartment there. That’s S$2 on weeknights and S$6 on weekends, not trivial. And indeed, transportation has been kind of expensive, with almost 90% of my transportation costs over the last month spent on taxis. But it turns out I spent quite a bit on taxis before I lived on a boat too, and the MRT isn’t super-cheap either, so at first glance my transportation costs have only gone up somewhere between 30-50%.
The caveat I mentioned above, that I stay away from the boat fairly often, comes into play here, and I could reasonably guess that my taxi costs would increase by another US$200 if I really commuted to and from the boat every single day.
Something I hadn’t thought about until I moved aboard is the cost of food, in which I include grocery costs and eating out. Since I’ve been living aboard, I find myself eating out a lot, which is both more expensive and less healthy.
Mainly I’m eating out more because I’ve been reluctant to use Oia‘s fridge: the current batteries aren’t all that super and I’m not consistently at the boat to make use of food there anyway. I also have yet to really get around to cleaning and organizing the galley to my satisfaction. I’ll have to start cooking soon anyway, because I miss it.
Obviously the big change of having a boat, particularly an older one, is that you need to take care of it. There are a lot of projects in motion: new upholstery, new electrical system. There are also a lot of smaller things I need or want: new life vests, a grill, various new electronics, and so on. All of this stuff adds up to what’s essentially a recurring boat maintenance cost. Last month that was around US$1k, which is maybe a little less than it’ll be on average over the next year or so. In a furnished, newish apartment, you don’t often have to buy new “stuff” or fix things yourself, so this is an all new expense.
In all it appears at first glance that, at least for me, living aboard in Singapore is comparable in cost to living in an apartment — not much cheaper. Really it’s just a shift of expenses. Instead of paying rent, I’m spending some more on taxis. Instead of paying more rent, I’m spending some more on food. And instead of paying yet more rent, I’m spending lots on boat projects and boat stuff, which is a welcome shift — at least it’s fun and rewarding to spend money on those things, which yield challenging projects and require some interesting research, whereas spending it on rent is like throwing it into a black hole.
I think I’ll have to look again in a year or so, assuming my situation doesn’t change too much between now and then, to really decide how the costs of living on a boat in Singapore stack up.