It's not just about the Letzelters' $2,400 grocery bill - Alvinology

It’s not just about the Letzelters’ $2,400 grocery bill

I raised my eyebrows at The Straits Times’ recent article on the U.S. expatriate family, not for the reason everyone is highlighting.

I’m referring to this article in case you haven’t seen: “US couple learn to find ways to adjust to life in Singapore” 

Everyone is of course flabbergasted by how a combined monthly salary of S$29,000 – easily the annual income of many Singaporean families here – is considered inadequate by expat standards. And what kind of groceries are they buying for a family of five (maid included), which cost up to $2,400 every month?

Everyone is completely missing the point here. The bigger, and more exciting issue here, is about a changing population and labour market trend. Singapore’s falling currency value and cost of living (for expats) are making it less attractive for U.S. expats to stay in our country. If the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen against the Singdollar, it might contribute to an exodus of expats – the man of the family Mr Letzelter himself “has noticed a significant attempt by the Singapore Government and firms to hire more locals rather than expats since 2014.”

The fact that Mr Letzelter’s claim was not cross-referenced to any labour market survey, or citations to policy changes that the Government implemented that year, hints at shoddy reporting. Why only cite the example of a single expat family from the United States? Usually, don’t reporters need to come up with three examples?

Putting the Letzelter family alone in the media spotlight smacks of disingenuous intentions. What’s the point of publicising a laundry list of their monthly expenditure and headlining the article as “US couple learn to find ways to adjust to life in Singapore” when it only makes the average Singaporean heartlander point and laugh at them for overspending? Seriously, the headline might as well read “US couple spends $2,400 a month on groceries” for maximum clickbait, since the article is so superfluous.

The Letzelter family of four in their Thomson Road apartment. Credit: The Straits Times
The Letzelter family of four in their Thomson Road apartment. Credit: The Straits Times

I would really like to read a follow-up story which properly explores these questions:

1. Is it only U.S. expats who find it difficult to make a living here, or are expats of other nationalities finding it similarly difficult to maintain their desired standard of living?

2. What kind of passes do the various expats hold, and has the Ministry of Manpower really been stricter with issuing them since 2014? What is it with the year 2014 anyway? What happened? When did this trend really start?

3. The article mentions that Mr Letzelter used to be paid 40 per cent more than what he was getting in his home country, but that has since shrunk to 20 per cent in the past three years. Why? Is it due to currency? Did he get a paycut? Was inflation factored in? How did he arrive at “20 per cent”? Again, is this a trend or is it just happening to Mr L?

4. What kind of jobs do expats of Mr L’s demographic hold? If they leave Singapore en masse, how will it impact our local labour market and our economic competitiveness? To put it bluntly, can Singapore live without them?

4. As a separate human interest story maybe for the lifestyle section: What kinds of groceries are these expats buying, from FairPrice supermarket no less, which tote up to $2,400 per month?!? What are these items which make them “comfortable”? And how come their maid is paid $1,000 per month? What are we Singaporeans (and our maids) missing out on???

Seriously, I want to know.

Featured image credit: AsiaOne
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