Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cost of living in the United Kingdom-Food

Food to me is quite compartmentalized: Eating in at home, Eating out routinely (fast food, hawker food), Eating out at restaurants for occasions and really atas (high class) restaurants reserved for the very special occasion.

Eating in at home/Cooking for lunch is cheaper in the UK. Eating out routinely is more expensive and restaurant wise, the prices are thereabouts.

Why the disparity? First I have to qualify that with the UK's rate of VAT. VAT is just like our GST levied at the point of sale. Unfortunately, it is 20% and not 7% like in Singapore. Quite high huh!
VAT is levied on food sold for immediate consumption (e.g. in a restaurant) but is NOT levied on essential items. This includes stuff like medical prescriptions (7.85pounds per prescription regardless of quantity or type of medicine), food and drink for human consumption (excluding stuff like alcohol, fizzy drinks, sweets, ice cream and crisps which are deemed not "essential"). This is why groceries are so much cheaper here. I think this is also a fairer system in that despite VAT being intrinsically regressive, steps have been taken like zero rating essential items to reduce the regressive effects of this tax. I think this is a puzzling step Singapore has yet to follow.

With groceries being cheaper, you'd expect that eating in is cheaper.

A few price comparisons between the nation's largest grocer and Singapore's largest grocer NTUC shows some quite remarkable disparity.

The following is a short list of items I have compiled which I think are broadly similar. I have taken prices from tesco.com and fairprice.com.sg.

The top columns are goods in the UK and the bottom, Singapore.
exchange rate are ~ 2:1.

Tesco Everyday Value Wholemeal Bread 800g: 47p
Budget Enriched Wholemeal Bread 600g: $1.60

Tesco Creamfields Semi Skimmed British Fresh Milk 4 pints (2.272L): 1 pound
Farmhouse Fresh Milk (2L): $5.35

Tesco Everyday Value Frozen Chicken Parts 2 kg: 3.09 pounds
Frangosul Frozen Chicken Cuts 2kg: $7.90

Tesco Everyday Value Eggs x10: 1.09 pounds
Pasar Fresh Eggs: $1.80

Kelloggs Frosties 750g: 2.68 pounds
Kelloggs Frosties 300g: $4.95

Tesco Sunflower Oil 1L: 1.68 pounds
Fairprice Sunflower Oil 1L: $4.15

Tesco Everyday Value Long Grain Rice 1kg: 40p
Budget Long Grain White Rice 5kg: $5.90

Tesco Everyday Value Plain/Self Raising Flour 1.5kg: 52p
Fairprice Plain/Self Raising Flour 1kg: $2.25/$2.75

Have a look for yourself. Things are cheaper. Of course, chinese foodstuff is more expensive, for example a bulb of garlic costs 25p whilst it wouldn't even cost 20c in Singapore, Lady's Finger which I absolutely love stir fried is 3.29 pounds a kilo, etc.

I cook for lunch normally. This is my cost for 4 meals:
1/2 kg of long grain rice- 20p
1/2 kg of chicken breast meat- 2 pounds
1 bottle of Tesco sauce (sweet sour, black bean, whatever)- 99p
1 Broccoli- 70p
 Works out to be 1 pound per meal.

Eating Out routinely
This is your everyday McDonald's meal or a simple lunch at the hawker center.
In Singapore, a Mcdonald's meal won't cost more than $7 but it's about 4.29 pounds here. However there are always coupons which they give out where it's 2.19 pounds for a Big Mac and a medium fries. Still expensive by Singapore standards.

I don't frequent "atas" coffeeshops like Costa or Starbucks often whether in Singapore or UK, so I can't comment, but friends who do say the prices are actually slightly cheaper in the UK. (I don't understand why people would buy a S$6 cup of coffee anyway)

No such thing as hawker centres here. So what do people eat for lunch? I personally cook. Usually I have classes 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and a half day on Friday. So, I will cook for M to T and then cook something special or eat out on Friday afternoon.

What do others do? Usually, they will go and buy baguettes or subs from cafes around the Uni for about 2.5 pounds for quite a large meat sub, think its about 9" long. Otherwise, Tesco has a meal deal where you can choose a sandwich, crisps/apple/banana and a drink for 2.50 pounds. I suspect Tesco's profit margin for this particular combination is pretty high.

So, what do you do when you're hungry and have nothing to eat at home? Quite a miserable selection here to be honest. Everything here closes by 7, so your only option is what people call "takeouts". These are usually shops which sell very unhealthy food like fried chicken and chips, pizza, and other stuff like Chinese food, Indian food etc. They then deliver to you provided you meet a minimum order, usually in the region of 5-7 pounds.
Your average takeout menu.

The food is usually very unhealthy, laden with all your baddies like cholesterol, saturated fats, calories etc. It can be quite a nice treat sometimes but I suspect the proliferation and popularity of these takeaways are fueling Britain's obesity crisis.  However, it is cheap (usually in the region of 2 to 4 pounds max per person), probably the cheapest kind of food you can get in this country. So the poor again are disproportionately hit.

Eating out in restaurants
For some reason or other, buffet restaurants here are cheap. In Leeds city center, there is a chinese buffet my friends and I often visit when we require a chinese fix and don't feel like cooking. it's 6.2 pounds for a selection I'd say is around sakae sushi's. A higher quality Thai Buffet is 11 pounds.

The other restaurants I've been in, like Beefeater etc are around the same price as the equivalents in Singapore, about 10-15 pounds for a steak or so.

Obviously, there are many more atas restaurants around which are the same price or so but if you ask me, I enjoy my $4 yu pian mi fen with $1.50 sugar cane juice more.

As you can see, if you have the time, cooking is cheaper and people here cook alot. As you can see, the alternative is grease laden food which really can't be good for the body. I think it's probably one of the reasons why the angmohs in general already know how to cook and us Singaporeans just learn how to cook when we come here.

However, high quality restaurants are in no shortage here and you easily can get a good meal for around the same price as in Singapore.


Friday, May 25, 2012

My cost of living in the United Kingdom- Transport

With Yorkshire not exactly being a bustling metropolis, public transport is sketchy and not to mention expensive. I shall cover 3 aspects in this post, namely, short distance public transport (within the W Yorkshire county), long distance trips cross country and private transport (i.e. cars and taxis)

Short Distance Public Transport
Now, this is one thing that is extremely expensive in the UK. As people will already know, the London Underground costs 2 pounds per trip within zone 1-2, which is to say about a 16km radius around central London.
As for West Yorkshire, buses and trains do not use the oyster card (which is like the EZ Link card). The "technology" is still pretty backward.
For example, the West Yorkshire buses still use printed paper tickets and you pay to the driver. The driver can give change which makes the queue at certain city centre stops get quite long. Also, the trains still have train conductors who (depending on their mood) chirpily or grumpily shout out "tickets please!"

A sample fare is this:
A trip spanning 5 bus stops or less: 1 pound
A trip anywhere in Leeds Metro area: 2 pounds
A trip anywhere in West Yorkshire (Bradford, Leeds, Halifax etc): 2.80 peak, 2.50 off peak
Unlimited number of trips within West Yorkshire: 4.60 peak 3.80 off peak
5 person ticket after 9.30AM everyday within West Yorkshire: 7.80 (probably the only ticket that is cheaper than Singapore)

As you can see, this is way more expensive than Singapore.

Also, Metro Trains are expensive around the county. When I had to go to a General Practice for lessons once a week on Tuesdays, I had to pay GBP4.50 return for a short hop of only 16km. That would not cost more than S$4 in Singapore. Moreover, the trains do breakdown but people don't have the same hoohaa as they do in Singapore, they just get on with it and take the next train.

Long Distance Cross Country Trips
Ironically, this can and frequently is cheaper than Metro services. For example, I once paid 11 pounds for a return trip to London (330km; the same distance from Singapore to KL). In Singapore, you'd pay S$35 for a single to KL. However, the normal price is usually 15 pounds for that return trip.

I also paid 20 pounds for a return train trip to London once. But most of the time that trip will cost you 25 pounds. 

Fares are generally very very cheap if you book early; and not that expensive even if you don't (if you're willing to take a coach and not train).

Generally about 7 pounds single if you're travelling 300-400km, 15 pounds single >600km (e.g. London to Edinburgh).

Private Transport

Taxis in Leeds can be comparable to Singapore after factoring all the surcharges in the latter.
In Leeds, the taxi system is competitive. However, the cars can vary wildly, from Skoda Octavias to even BMW 5 series. Prices are simple. No bewildering surcharges and you just pay what is on the meter. No tipping required. Also, the system is alot more efficient; for private hire "call to book" taxis are cheaper than flagging down "hackney carriages". This is more logical than the system in Singapore i think, the drivers don't have to waste fuel driving around and the passenger has the peace of mind knowing a taxi is coming. You never have to wait more than 15m for a taxi even at peak hours. No charge for prebooking a taxi hours in advance too!

Taxis generally charge as such:
2.70 pounds for the first 1 mile. (1.6km)
10 pence per subsequent one tenth of a mile (160m). Every 1 mile, extra 10p charge. (means 1 mile costs 1.10 pounds)

Compare that with Singapore:
$3.20 for first 1km
20c for subsequent 335m
variety of surcharges

Of course, Singapore taxis are still cheaper. But I dont have to travel more than 2 miles normally, whether I am going to school, doing grocery shopping or going to the movies.

Next, Cars.

Cars are so much cheaper than Singapore. For example, a BMW 5 series/Mercedes Benz E200 costs 30,000pounds. Compare that to what, S$250,000? A Skoda Octavia (roughly equivalent to a Toyota Corolla Altis in Singapore) costs 15,000 pounds. I can also get a second hand Ford Mondeo 2.0 Diesel with 160,000km for 1.5 grand.

Most cars here are also diesel except for the Japanese cars. That's probably the reason why Japanese cars like Toyota and Nissan are not popular here. Also, the Japanese cars here cost around the same as the European marques like Vauxhall (Opel), Skoda, Ford (american) etc.

Insurance is quite expensive I think. I'm not sure how much it costs in Singapore but I remember my dad is paying S$9xx with 50% NCB. My friend's dad is paying something like 600 pounds with ?max NCB for a Renault 407. For me, the insurance quote is shockingly high at 3500pounds per annum for a 2005 Ford Mondeo 2.0 diesel.This is the reason why I did not buy a car.

Fuel is also expensive. Petrol is at 1.33 pounds per litre and ULS Diesel is at 1.39 pounds per litre. Even though Diesel can do about 30% more than an equivalent Petrol car, the fuel cost per litre is still more expensive than a petrol car in Singapore.

Parking generally is free except in the city centre where it is 1 pound an hour. So, still quite cheap.

Thus, you can see that transport is more expensive in the UK than Singapore (except cars).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My cost of living in the United Kingdom- Rent and Utilities

In this post I shall touch on the issue of rent and housing. Next year, I am staying with three other friends in a ~1,200 sq ft 3 storey house opposite the university's main building. Our rent per month for this house, excluding bills, is GBP 1,120. That works out to be roughly 64.50 GBP pppw.

Now, this rent is slightly below average for the area; this is because we only have two toilets whereas other more expensive houses have en-suite toilets (this means every room has a toilet).

This area is very much more expensive than outlying areas in Yorkshire where I live, as it is in the city centre and one does not require use of a car.

If one were to look about 5 miles (8km) out of town, the rent falls drastically to 43 GBP pppw (for a four bedroom house, two toilets with a garage and backyard).

Let's compare this to a rent for a ~1,200 sq ft 5 room HDB flat in the outskirts of town, say Choa Chu Kang. The rent is 2,500 SGD for the whole house, bills not included. This works out to be 72.11 GBP pppw. This is for 4 bedrooms and 3 toilets.

As the sale market broadly follows the rent market, I shall not comment on it.

Next, Utilities.

The UK has a multitude of power suppliers you can choose from. These include E-on, EDF, Sainsbury's, npower etc. Singapore has Singapore Power.

Tariffs on Singapore Power include:
28.78c per kWh (14.4p per kWh) for Electricity
22.16 per kWh (11.08p per kWh) for Gas
$1.17 per cubic metre for the first 40m3 and $1.40 per cubic metre for subsequent amounts

Tariffs on E-on include:
20.95p per kWh (42c) for first 720kWh annually and 11.678p per kWh (23c) subsequently
8.248p per kWh (16.5c) for first 2680kWh annually and 4.085p (8c) per kWh subsequently (gas is often used instead of electricity for heating)
Tariffs on Yorkshire Water:
41 GBP standing charge and 60p ($1.20) per cubic metre. 

As you can see, electricity, gas and water as a whole are comparable to Singapore standards. Gas is cheaper in the UK but water is much more expensive. This is because piped water includes heated water (during winter, the cold taps can get really cold).

With rents cheaper and utilities comparable, accommodation is cheaper in the UK.

Next post coming soon. :) 






Monday, May 21, 2012

My cost of living in the United Kingdom- introduction

I had an interesting discussion with people recently regarding the cost of living in the United Kingdom.
As some may know, I am currently a medical student in England, but I am not in London.

I want to dispel the oft-held notion that the United Kingdom is an expensive country to live in. In actual fact, it is not. I would daresay excluding London, it is cheaper (even before taking into account higher wages in UK) to live in than Singapore. (Doctors earn more in Singapore nett, but that's an anomaly; most other professionals earn more here than in Singapore)

Over the next few posts, which will be as and when I have time, I will try to explain what my cost of living is. Readers can then draw their own conclusions. Of course, certain things are more expensive here, but I think overall, it is cheaper to stay in UK excl. London.

Over and out.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

bought tesco

bought Tesco at 317pence. tesco is UK's leading grocer with 30% of market share in the UK. it is also the second largest grocer in the world after Walmart by profits. it also has operations in America, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Malaysia, South Korea etc. I personally shop here because there is a loyalty card programme and the prices are the same as the other big three (asda-walmart, wm morrisons and sainsbury) here, essentially giving me a 1% cashback.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Diesel cars

not a investment post but just something I noticed staying in the UK. More than 60% of all passenger cars here are diesel engined, especially newer cars (2001 and newer).

Diesel has many pros over petrol especially in a metro driving setting; it has more low end torque (more power at lower revs) and is much much more economical than petrol (some cars like the citroen c3 diesel can get up to 30-35km/l on expressway driving). Not to mention cheaper than petrol (in singapore at least. it's more expensive in the UK). what puzzles me is why the government imposes a diesel car tax and the car makers arent keen on bringing in diesel models. the modern diesel car has much less CO2 and particulate emission and may even be cleaner than petrol cars (except NOx emissions).