Ask Singaporeans about starting a family and chances are that many would say yes – with a few conditions attached.
One is that they are happy to do so but later, maybe after they have established their careers. And as for the number of kids? Maybe one or two.
But pose the same question to Mr Ahmad Hadzwan Lee Bin Muhammad Aiman, 28, and his wife Mdm Nurul Ain Binti Mohamed Nor, 24, and the answer is quick.
Four kids, they declare proudly.
“To us, having children is a blessing, and we would like to have more than just one or two,” said Mr Hadzwan, an operations executive.
After getting married in May 2018, they moved into their flat in February the following year. The next month, the couple welcomed their first child Zuyyin, who has since become the biggest source of joy at home. In between cuddling and cooing, they explained that they have already taken steps to prepare for their family’s expansion.
“We didn’t really think too much about our spending before and just made sure to spend within our means,” noted Mdm Ain as she cradled her daughter.
For them, the decision to have kids – and several of them – does not come easily. They worry about rising costs, and whether they can afford to feed so many mouths.
But they decided to go with their hearts mainly because of their love for kids and partly because of the support given to them by the Government, said Mr Hadzwan.
Family planning in the works
Encouraging young Singaporeans to start families and have kids has been an important part of the Government’s agenda.
Since 1988, Singapore’s fertility rate has declined from 1.96 to a historic low of 1.14 in 2018. At the same time, the population is ageing – almost half of Singapore’s population is projected to be aged 65 and above by 2050.
These demographic changes have huge implications for Singapore’s economy, society and identity, collectively forming one of the nation’s biggest challenges.
One solution that is straightforward but difficult to implement is to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies. While starting a family is a personal and emotional choice, the Government has been trying to make it easier to take that first step through the use of various policies and incentives.
Over the past years, the Singapore Budget has played a key role to help grow the family. Steps taken include the Enhanced Proximity Housing Grant, boosting childcare subsidies, introducing the Child Development Account First Step under the Baby Bonus Scheme and rolling out the Medisave Maternity Package, among others.
For Mr Hadzwan and Mdm Ain, these packages have helped them with their decision to both start and grow their family.
One big help was the Enhanced Proximity Housing Grant, which gives a subsidy of up to $20,000. That helped Mr Hadzwan buy his first flat: a resale executive maisonette in Jurong West.
“I wanted a larger house because I was always thinking about the eventual size of our family. So when we saw this, we did our sums, and the $20,000 grant helped quite a bit,” he said, adding that the flat cost nearly $600,000.
“It’s not a brand-new house, but a maisonette is my dream home, so I’m happy to be able to live in one and also have enough space to bring up four kids. We didn’t want to constantly upgrade to a bigger house because that will end up costing more.”
Another pillar of support has been medical subsidies. For Mdm Ain, contracting diabetes during her pregnancy meant that she had to visit the gynaecologist at a public hospital often during her first two trimesters. But instead of paying $100 to $135, each visit cost $30 to $40 instead.
These subsidies are part of the MediSave Maternity Package, which covers delivery expenses and pre-delivery medical expenses such as consultations and ultrasound scans, in both public and private hospitals. Mothers are allowed to withdraw up to $900 for pre-delivery medical expenses, between $750 and $2,150 for delivery expenses and up to $450 for each day in the hospital.
“We opted for a subsidised Class B2 ward after I gave birth so that our MediSave could cover all the costs,” recalled Mdm Ain, a preschool teacher. “My sister-in-law’s stay at a Class A ward cost $1,800 per night while mine was only $79, so I rather tahan (put up with it) for two nights and use the money for other needs instead.”
Planning for the future
But while they have things under control for now, the couple continues to worry about the future, especially over the issue of rising costs.
Currently, Mr Hadzwan has to buy diapers, milk powder and clothes, which cost about $400 a month, for his newborn. And when Zuyyin gets older, he has to start thinking about her education. Multiply those concerns by four and it’s clear that planning ahead is important.
“Zuyyin is our priority, so all our savings and expenses will revolve around her and our future kids,” said Mdm Ain.
Part of these expenses are offset by the annual GST Voucher, intended to assist eligible Singaporean families with cost of living pressures. In the last two years, Mdm Ain has received $300 in regular cash payments, while an additional one-off $300 Bicentennial Payment was awarded in 2019. This allowed the family to free up some budget for a short trip to Kuala Lumpur some months back.
As a household, the couple has also received $280 in U-Save rebates, which help offset a part of their monthly utility bills. These rebates, disbursed on a quarterly basis, have contributed to lowering their overall household expenses.
In addition, the Merdeka Generation Package from Budget 2019, which includes healthcare subsidies for older Singaporeans, helps young families as they are able to plan for the next generation while worrying less about their parents.
Indeed, Mr Hadzwan is firmly focused on the future, with an eye on creating new opportunities for his children.
The couple is keen to have their kids learn Mandarin, given the rising influence of China in the global economy.
“Knowing Chinese is becoming more important these days and I think it will be useful for Zuyyin’s education and career,” said Mr Hadzwan, whose father is Chinese.
To help her, he plans to pick up the language himself by using his $500 SkillsFuture credits. He added: “At home, we can teach her Malay, and hopefully I can help a little in Mandarin.”
“We are hopeful that by creating a suitable environment for our children to grow up in, they will have opportunities to achieve more than we have.”