Is a single’s place always in the parents’ home?

Updated: Apr 23

By Chandreyee Ray

PHOTO: Kedar D./ Unsplash

As a kid, I had a mental checklist of the things I needed to accomplish before I could consider myself a real adult. Aside from having coloured hair and learning how to walk in stilettos, this list included moving out of my parent’s house into a space of my own. I also naively thought that I’d be able to achieve most of these things before I turned 21, the legal age of adulthood.

Fast forward a decade or so, and all that checklist amounts to is a joke my friends and I can laugh at. Not only have I never bleached my hair or learned how to balance on needle-like heels, I also now realise that moving out as a single person is not a viable option for most young people in Singapore.

Singapore’s public housing is affordable and wonderful, but unless you’re married, you can’t get a public flat until you turn 35 years old. Yes, you read that right, 35! I’m not saying that 35 is old, but it is considerably older than when I thought I would already be the queen of my own castle.

I’ll be 23 when I graduate from university in a few months, and in an ideal world, I would want to think about moving out in the next year or two. But unless I want to rent an apartment, that doesn’t seem possible since I’m unable to buy an HDB flat.

I want to insert a side note here: I recognize that this struggle of mine is a privileged one. I am lucky enough that my parents can comfortably put me up in their home for many years to come, and I don’t have to worry about the financial burden of draining their resources indefinitely. I am also grateful that they have provided me with a comfortable shelter thus far, and I know that there are many people my age who do not enjoy these luxuries.

Despite this, I cannot help but feel disheartened when I think about my housing situation after I graduate. Like many fresh grads, it’s highly unlikely that I can afford to buy a private property with my starting pay, given not only the much higher property prices, but also the restrictions placed on loans available to finance private housing in Singapore.

For example, you can only finance up to 75 per cent of your private property through a bank loan, with a maximum loan tenure of 30 years. In comparison, up to 90 per cent of public housing cost may be covered by a bank loan, for up to 45 years. Buying private housing also means you are automatically ineligible for any government grants, which adds to your financial burden.

Renting is an option, sure, but like most Singaporeans, my friends and family think of it as “throwing money away”. Unlike places like the United States or the United Kingdom, where renting an apartment from as young as 18 years old is the norm, a majority of Singaporeans only move out of their parents’ homes when they have bought their own houses, which usually happens once they get married.

Our ever-pragmatic and prudent culture normalises this route, since this is the way to get the most bang for your buck: a dual-income household investing in a property that can be passed onto future generations, or even make a profit off it if you choose to sell.

Renting, on the other hand, provides no future security while draining a significant portion of your monthly income as a sunk cost instead of into an asset. Furthermore, residential rent prices in Singapore are notoriously high, especially after hitting a three-year high in 2019.

This, coupled with the fact that I intend to pursue a career in journalism (an industry not exactly known for its lucrative remuneration packages), leads me to question if giving up a chunk of my paycheck for a temporary living space makes sense. Instead, the pragmatic Singaporean inside me wonders if I will come to regret not saving up all that money for the day I can finally buy my own place.

What makes matters worse is that nearly nobody else around me seems to be struggling with this conundrum. A few of my peers are in long-term, committed relationships. They have either already secured a BTO, or are in the process of applying for one. The rest don’t seem to be concerned with leaving their parents’ homes yet — they are happy to wait until they are ready for marriage. For most of them, renting is not even an option they would consider.

I guess I should explain why I’m so keen to leave the nest.

I think that people should experience living on their own way before they get married and move in with someone else. I believe that this would teach crucial life skills like budgeting and managing a household — in short, ‘adulting’.

Everyday responsibilities like buying groceries, changing light bulbs, and keeping track of bills will come with their own lessons and go towards making me a more independent and effective adult. As someone who has never been on any sort of overseas exchange programme or truly experienced independent living, I don’t think I can feel like a ‘real adult’ until I live alone and learn to care for myself. Millennial problems, I know.

Practical skills aside, the value of living alone is that it allows you to truly discover yourself. In your own space, you have free rein.

You can explore your artistic side by dabbling in interior design and decorating your house. You can unleash your inner Gordon Ramsay by whipping up a new recipe every day. (It doesn’t matter if it tastes bad, you’re the only one who has to eat it!) You can create your own schedule, and factor in time for activities you enjoy without having to accommodate others.

I like to play mood music to put me in the headspace for writing, but I worry that this would disturb my mother who works from home. I also like to meditate in the evenings, but the calm is often broken by loud, bustling conversations from the kitchen.

I’m not the only one who could benefit from moving out. I would like to give my parents a welcome break from having me in their space all the time. Even though they claim to enjoy having me around, the three of us being home much more often during the Covid-19 outbreak has certainly proved that some healthy distance would not hurt.

My mother is a self-confessed worrier, and says that it is harder to worry about someone that isn’t constantly in your line of sight. In fact, she often jokes that seeing me once a week along with regular updates confirming my well being would be her prefered mode of interaction.

On a more personal note, I have never thought of marriage as a necessary milestone in my life. It would be nice to fall in love, sure, and even nicer to make a permanent-ish commitment to someone, but I believe that I could live a happy life even if that never happened.

Still, I now question my ambivalence towards marriage, since it seems to be such a natural stepping stone for most of my peers’ journeys into adulthood. My opinion hasn’t changed, but I wonder if I’ve made things harder for myself by wanting to move out as a single.

Thankfully, renting an entire apartment on my own is not my only option. I could still try to convince a few of my single gal pals to split the rent of an HDB flat with me, or rent a single room and share a house with strangers.

If all else fails, I’m lucky to have my parents, who will no doubt house me till I’m 50 if they need to. I could give them a portion of my paycheck in rent, not only as a show of gratitude, but as a way to keep me financially accountable and teach me how to budget effectively.

In the meantime, I will either have to get over my mental block over spending money on rent, or settle in with my folks for the long run.

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