How to leave home, the sensible way.

It’s easy to run away from home. Just get angry one night, yell at your parents, your parents yell at you, and leave. Then what?

Hang out late in parks all night with friends one night, bounce around different friends’ homes for a while… but then what?

What’s your end game?

We’ve all heard the ‘stereotype’ — “I ran away from home, after a while my friends stop letting me stay with them, they moved on, I had no friends and no money, ???, gangs, drugs, jail.

Boring. Sad. Short-sighted.

Let’s talk about what it means to leave home in a thoughtful, sensible way. That gives you the best possible shot of a decent, maybe even happy life.

So. You want to leave home. What do you need?

1. Savings. How will you pay for everything?

Staying alive costs money. You’ll need food and shelter. I left home with $1,000. Then my laptop died, and I started having horrible toothaches. Which cost $400 to fix.

You can’t leave home without money. You just can’t. You’ll be completely dependent on friends and the kindness of strangers, which is a very ugly place to be.

Smart people strive to improve their odds. If you don’t have to leave home right this very second– meaning you don’t seriously believe that your life is in immediate, imminent danger– it makes sense to accumulate some savings.

How much do YOU realistically need?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what your costs might look like:

  • Rent: $600
  • Phone bill: $50, max.
  • Transport: $150 (assuming $5/day, everyday, which is on the high side)
  • Food: $300 ($10/day, which is tight but doable, because most homeowners here don’t let tenants cook)

Food’s the most flexible category here. If you have to spend more, $5 per meal, 3 meals a day, increase that amount to $450.

So you need, at the very least, $1,200 — $,1500. Let’s talk about how that money gets spent.

2: Shelter. You need a place to stay.

You can’t sustainably stay with friends for longer than a couple of weeks at a time. It’ll be really awkward, no matter what people say. And it’ll just be a miserable existence. That won’t do.

Your best option is to rent a room. Then it’ll be a financial transaction, and you will have a right to your own personal space/home.

Location depends on many factors:

  • Cost – What’s the cheapest liveable thing you can find? Probably a room between $500 to $600. When I was looking, I also considered ‘storerooms’ that people rent out for about $350.
  • Location – Staying near work is always a good thing. Do you want to remain in your neighbourhood? If you have family problems, you might want to go where you might be less likely to bump into family members.
  • Friends –Do you have good friends you’d like to stay close to? Friends who you really trust? If you’re leaving home, it’s likely that you’ll need people in your life.

My experiences: I wanted to stay close to my boyfriend, who then lived along Upper East Coast Road. There aren’t many HDB flats in the area, so my options were pretty limited. When I found a room for $500 behind the coffeeshop we used to frequent, I took it.

I was lucky that it worked out well for me- there was a direct bus to my first workplace, and close enough to the school I was teaching at after quitting that job. Wasn’t all great though- my landlady and her family were rather annoying, with questionable hygiene.

3. Food. How will you feed yourself?

You learn to cook cheaply, or live off sandwiches.

A lot of this depends on your job, and your living conditions. Does your landlord allow cooking? Do you know how to cook? Of course, we live in Singapore, land of the coffeeshops, so you can just live off $4 zi char. Or $2.50 porridge. Your call.

If you want to cook, meal planning will do you good. If you’re the kind of person who can eat the same thing everyday, even better! Buy the basics you need to eat a balanced diet, make meals you can easily bring to work.

My experiences: My first month living alone was awful, diet-wise. I subsisted on instant noodles, eggs, coffee and cigarettes. Taking care of yourself in a highly stressful and anxiety-inducing situation can be hard.

Taking care of yourself is even harder when you’re sick and miserable and missing work, though, so you have a choice. I quickly upgraded to proper food. Bananas and milk for breakfast or peanut butter sandwiches, eggs with mushrooms and broccoli for lunch. I usually ate dinner at the coffeeshop with the boyfriend.

4: A Job. How will you keep paying for everything?

What jobs can you do? 16’s the minimum working age for most jobs in Singapore. What are the common part-time jobs for youths? Do those full-time.

  • Look for anything that doesn’t require specific training. Pick up the newspapers and go through the jobs classifieds. My first job was legal secretary/photocopy bitch at a law firm, where I was hired based on a A-Level General Paper A, even though the rest of my cert was shit.
  • F&B’s always available. I find working hotel banquets tend to provide slightly better pay and working environment, with the added bonus that you don’t have to do your own laundry. My then-boyfriend-now-husband likes to talk about how he actually enjoyed working at Shangri-La, and contemplated working there full-time.
  • Retail. If you’re icky around food, retail is always another option. Department stores, book stores, whatever’s hiring. Walk around a mall close to where you live and you’ll probably spot a number of “We’re Hiring!” signs.

If you’re thinking much further ahead, about the next 5 years of your life or so, and you’re ready to make much bigger commitments in return for stability and certainty, look at bigger organisations.

Contract Teaching: If you’ve done your A Levels, and you think you’d enjoy teaching, look into that. Contract teaching pays enough for you to survive, NIE’s paid for, and a bond guarantees you a job.

‘Signing on’ – The SAF (Army, Navy, Air Force), HOME team (SCDF, Police, etc) .

  • With an O-level cert, a 3rd Sergeant in the Army gets a salary of at least $1,740/month.
  • 5 O-level credits lets you become a Fire and Rescue Specialist with SCDF, with a starting pay of $1916 and a two-year training bond.
  • Signing on as a Police Officer with an entry rank of Corporal gets you a monthly salary of $1,820 and a $10,000 (!!!) sign-on bonus.

There’s a pretty wide range of options, and being a civil servant has all kinds of perks, like regular bonuses, subsidised medical and dental care, etc.

Cabin Crew – Got a pretty face? Why not try interviewing with SIA to be cabin crew? The interviews happen every two months or so, you get paid about $1.8k for 3 months of training, then you’re bonded for two years. Travel the world, get paid a decent amount, clean toilets in the sky.

Most of these option also allow you the option of studying part-time, with or without scholarships. Making yourself employable should be a priority once you have all your basic amenities in check.

All these suggestions are pretty basic, more or less attainable for anyone willing to work hard.

Leaving home is a serious, difficult and traumatic decision.

If things are so bad they warrant you leaving home, you no longer have the safety net that most of your peers do. No parents to send you $10 to top up your EZ-link card, no one’s CPF to borrow to put yourself through further education.

The consequence of making the decision to leave home is that you’re saying “I don’t need you, I can rely on myself”. So you better damn well be able to. Financial security should be your most important priority.

You’re also going to have to deal with your emotional health. Family problems are rough. People don’t talk about them very much. Hardly anybody admits to it on Facebook. You might feel increasingly isolated from your peers, as your life takes a very different turn from theirs. If that’s the case, seek out support from other avenues. There ARE people who’ve been through what you’re going through.

How do you know if leaving home is a sensible option for you?

You’re at least 16 years old. Any younger than that and you can’t do anything.

You’re done with secondary school, you have at least your N/O-levels. If you don’t even have that, life is probably going to be really ugly for you, mostly because it’s hard to get a ‘stable job’ that will pay reasonably well and provide opportunities to earn more.

You really, truly, honestly believe that your family/environment at home is toxic, for you. Your parents are abusive (physically, emotionally, mentally), or they make decisions that are not in your best interests.

Abuse is really a lot more extensive, beyond “they beat me.” Have you tried your absolute best to talk to your parents? Have you tried talking to other family members? Do you have older, smarter friends that you can trust to think this through with? Sometimes parents are just not qualified to be parents.

That said, it’s true that most kids who are unhappy with their parents are just being stubborn know-it-alls. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. So if you have real problems, you’re going to run up against the additional, unfortunate bullshit of people assuming that something must be wrong with you. You might even think something is wrong with yourself.

And, you know, it might be true.

You’re willing to make sacrifices in order to change your environment. Most people don’t realise just how much peace of mind comes with having a safety net, a roof over your head, food in the fridge that your parents pay for. How many times have you cabbed home late at night with no money, and called home for someone to bring money down?

It’s not even really possible to fully grasp the sacrifices you will have to make, the heightened sense of stress you will feel at times. This isn’t a decision you can go “just see how la” with. Prepare for it as much as you can, and realize that it’s going to get really ugly and difficult.

I hope this has been helpful.

I wish no one ever had to need such advice, but I also wish someone had laid this out for me when shit hit the fan. Godspeed.

See discussion on Reddit.

Obama and #LittleIndiaRiots

Here’s a quote from Dreams From My Father that feels very appropriate when thinking about the Little India riot:

“I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless, how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives on Chicago’s South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair.

“I know that the response of the powerful to this disorder- alternating as it does between a dull complacency and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware- is inadequate to the task. I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all.”

Is Entrepreneurship Risky?

1: There’s a rather unhealthy narrative around entrepreneurship that doesn’t correspond to reality.

As something either reserved for the rare few bestowed with divine purpose, or a hideously risky proposition, for people with a taste for crawling through fire and brimstone. That’s the yin-yang of it.

I think both sides are exaggerated.

  • Successful entrepreneurs exaggerate it because it makes them look good. Myth-building. See: Steve Jobs at Harvard.
  • The media encourages it because it makes for more compelling reading. People want to read about larger-than-life figures. Demigods, not mere mortals.
  • “Non-entrepreneurs” encourage it because it allows them to say “nah, not for me, I don’t have the stomach for that sort of risk”.

2: Risk is misunderstood, and attitudes towards risk are misrepresented.

Entrepreneurs don’t seek out risk, they seek to minimize it. (I think it’s very risky to assume that investing in paper qualifications automatically makes you valuable to other human beings enough that they’ll pay you for it, but that’s another story.)

It’s very possible to take small, calculated risks while minimizing your potential downside.

Sounds complex?

My idea of taking a small calculated risk was to post pictures of t-shirt ideas drawn on MS paint on Facebook. Potential downside = my friends laugh at me, life goes on. Nothing lost. Nowhere does it involve me quitting school to start a pushcart at Bugis Street or something.

3: The bold dramatic gesture is overrated.

We all like to romanticize the bold dramatic gesture, but how often does that ACTUALLY happen? Zuck, Gates and Musk all built their ideas while still in school, and they all left with the option of returning if things went sour. (So calling them dropouts can be a bit of a misnomer.) Jobs and Wozniak were working at HP when they built Apple, and only quit when they got a nice fat order. Richard Branson started Student when he was a… student.

4: Just make lots of little things in your spare time.

I think entrepreneurship is simply taking little steps towards solving real problems that bother you, and that’s something people can TOTALLY do in their spare time. Start a blog and write about things that matter. (You can reach HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of people. Why would you even need a resume anymore?)

Create stuff. Publish them and share them with the world. It might not work out, but it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You’ll learn a lot of cool, interesting stuff. Statement was completely built (and is still entirely run) on spare time. Both of us hold full-time jobs. If we wanted to focus on building and expanding the business, we totally could. (But I guess we kinda enjoy being bochup founders.)

I think the main issue is that people are used to thinking that we CAN’T do very much about problems, or that we have to do something dramatic like blow your savings renting a storefront. We ran Statement for a long time from this Facebook page, taking orders via PM.

Okay I got to get back to work now, just had to get that off my chest.


Don’t take stupid risks like an idiot.

  1. Work on fun little side projects that take baby steps towards solving the problems that actually bother you. I wanted t-shirts that I actually wanted to wear, and a blog that I actually wanted to read. What do YOU wish existed?
  2. And how can you do a tiny fraction of it without taking a senseless risk? (Fantasizing about being a pastry chef? Don’t make wedding cakes before you try your hand at selling cupcakes.)

Do it. I promise it’ll be fun.

Yours lah,