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In the past, the high value of a golf club memberships in Singapore lead individuals to consider them as an investment in addition to a status symbol and way to access great golf courses. However, membership prices have been trending downward in the last decade. Due, at least in part, to the fact that several clubs were unable to renew their land leases. For some, this decrease in membership prices might raise the question: are golf club memberships still worth considering as an investment?

Costs and Benefits of a Golf Club Membership

Despite the relative decrease among many golf membership prices in recent years, prices at several clubs still exceed S$100,000. The current average sale price of all golf club memberships in Singapore is approximately S$67,423. Prices tend to vary based on the size of the course as well as the expiration date of the club's land lease.

Even if you are optimistic and believe that you will be able to resell your membership for its full purchase price, you will have to consider the ongoing cost of monthly subscription fees. We estimate that the average subscription fee is approximately S$139 for a family membership, materially less than the average cost of 18-holes on a weekend is about S$215.

Average Greens Fees Singapore

While this may make a golf club membership look like a good deal, most memberships come with a transfer fee, which is payable by the original member and reduces the incentive to resell the membership. This fee varies significantly, but averages about S$18,666. Therefore, at most golf courses, only the most dedicated golfers will pay less as a member. However, casual golfers that are interested in the benefits of a country club membership may want to consider courses that charge less expensive transfer fees. For example, a handful of golf clubs charge transfer fees of just a few thousand dollars, which can be viewed as much less significant to those planning to hold the membership for an extended period of time as this cost can be spread out over several years.

Golf Memberships: Still a Good Investment?

Ultimately, it is very difficult to accurately project how golf club membership prices will change over time. Unlike buying and selling stocks, which values' can be assessed by analysing the financial performance of public companies, the market for golf club memberships is much less transparent and difficult to predict. For these reasons, seeking a return on a golf membership itself is a speculative venture.

Alternative Ways to Save Money on Golfing

If you do sign up for a golf club membership, it is possible to save on your monthly subscription fee by using a credit card that offers rewards for recurring monthly bills. These benefits include airline miles and cashback rebates. For those that don't have enough room in their budget to justify becoming a member of a country club, it is worth noting that several credit cards offer golfing privileges to cardholders. Notably, the Maybank World MasterCard provides up to 2 green fees per month at 120 fairways in 25 different countries to cardholders that spend at least S$1,000 each monthly.

The article Are Golf Club Memberships Good Investments? originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

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With so many travel trends taking Singaporeans by storm, there is no longer a cookie-cutter approach to a typical vacation. This means that every traveller's risks, budgets and goals will be different. Thus, when it comes to the easiest, but arguably one of the most necessary travel purchases—travel insurance—there is no one-size-fits-all plan. This is why insurers differentiate their products in an attempt to attract travellers of all types. One of the most typical ways travel insurers differentiate their products is by offering both single trip and annual policies. Below, we explore who will benefit most from either a single trip travel insurance policy or an annual travel insurance policy.

Long-Weekend Travellers: Single Trip Policies

Singaporeans who typically stay close to home and don't venture outside of the ASEAN region for more than a few days may be better off with a single trip policy. Even if you take advantage of all the public holidays in 2020, you will still only be travelling abroad for 28 days, 8 days less than you would need to travel to break even with an annual policy. In most cases, a basic, cheap travel insurance policy would benefit those travellers who spend their long-weekends in familiar destinations or visiting family in countries close to Singapore. For instance, you can find a cheap 3-day policy for as low as S$15.

Singaporeans and Expats with Family Abroad: Annual Travel Insurance

Expats or permanent residents who frequently return to their families fare better with annual trip insurance, especially if they take longer summer and Christmas holidays. This is because if you have a set yearly travel schedule, it is easier to purchase an annual plan from an insurer that offers the benefits you'll need most in your home country and only worry about renewal once a year.

If your home country has expensive medical care, then you should look for a policy that offers high medical and evacuation coverage, especially if you no longer have healthcare coverage in your home country. For instance, travellers going back to the United States can look for annual global policies such as Allianz's Global Gold Plan that provides unlimited medical and evacuation coverage. It also offers generous travel delay and missed connection benefits, which can be especially helpful for long flights with connections that present a higher risk of missed flights due to delays and short connecting times. Furthermore, the benefits reset during every trip, so you won't have to worry about your plan's coverage running out after multiple trips.

Long-Term Travellers: Single Trip Policies

Travellers who are planning a trip longer than 3 months in duration should consider a single trip policy. While intuitively you may think an annual plan would be the better option, single trip policies actually have longer periods of coverage and can be cheaper in the long run. For example, annual policies typically only provide coverage for trips that are 90 days or less. This means you would have to go back to Singapore when you reach the 90 day mark before continuing on your journey.

On the other hand, single trip plans have an average coverage period of 180 days per trip (roughly 6 months). Furthermore, they will present a better deal, with 90-day single trip plans costing 20% less than a 90-day trip as part of an annual policy. For travellers preparing a long-haul trip, splurging on a travel policy with unlimited medical and evacuation coverage and flexible adventurous activity coverage can be a good bet, especially if you are planning on participating in sports or venturing to unfamiliar places.

Travel Bloggers: Annual Travel Insurance

Travel bloggers who go abroad frequently and have a tendency to explore relatively less touristy areas will benefit most from an annual travel insurance policy. First, you'll be getting your money's worth if you travel more than 5 weeks in a year. Considering that the average annual policy for worldwide coverage costs S$357 and a week-long global trip policy costs S$78, you can make your money back by going on at least four week-long and one long weekend trips. Second, it is one less thing to worry about when you're already in charge of planning a whole itinerary to share with your audience.

Bloggers who combine travel and fashion blogging should look for a travel insurance policy that offers not only high trip inconvenience coverage but also high limits on individual items (i.e. policies with individual item limits over S$500). Travel bloggers who are just starting out can consider an affordable annual policy, like FWD, that lets you customise benefits to fit your budget and needs.

Business Travellers: Annual Travel Insurance

Unless your company provides you with travel insurance for your business trips, then an annual travel insurance policy will make more sense for you. Similar to travel bloggers, business people usually have a lot on their plate before leaving on the trip, so the convenience of an annual policy will be beneficial. To get the greatest benefit from you policy, you should look for a plan that offers work-friendly benefits. For instance, Aviva's travel insurance plans offer such coverage with flexible trip cancellation, loss of frequent flyer points and a replacement traveller benefit.

Other Ways to Stay Protected While Travelling

Beyond travel insurance, there are a few other things you can do to keep yourself protected on holiday. Firstly, you should research your destination and its customs to stay aware of its current political and social climate and the country's laws. Second, you should do what you can to fit in with the locals. This includes wearing the proper attire, not standing out with flashy jewelry or clothing or flashing a lot of cash. Third, you should try to learn helpful phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. While English is becoming more commonplace, locals may appreciate your effort and may be able to help you better if you get in a pinch. Last, it's worth booking with a credit card and reducing the amount of cash you travel with. While cash can be useful in some cases, it is easier to recoup lost costs with a credit card, especially in the case of theft.

The article When is it Worth Buying an Annual Travel Insurance Policy? originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

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From onesies to pink or blue cupcakes, baby shower gifts may be cute, but are often predictable. Even more, guests at a gathering without a registry may end up buying duplicates (and there are only so many diaper bags a mom can use). For family and friends readily spending S$25–S$100+, it's worth considering a few unique options that will stand out from the bunch. These 3 gifts not only reward the guest of honor (and her baby on the way), but can also reward the giver for spending.

1. 'Prenatal Massage' Day at the Spa

There's nothing more relaxing than a day at the spa–and as it turns out, prenatal massages are actually great for pregnant women's health. Benefits range from reducing stress and joint pain to decreasing depression and even the risk of premature birth.

Prenatal massages can be quite affordable as well, making them a reasonable gift option for relatives and close friends of the mom-to-be. While the average cost of a spa treatment is S$130/hr, prenatal massages at both standard and high-end spas tend to have lower average costs.

In addition, many credit cards offer rewards for spend at salons and beauty parlors. CIMB Visa Signature Card offers 10% cashback on spa purchases, and Standard Chartered Visa Infinite Card offers special discounts at luxury spas at The Fullerton, Westin Singapore, Ritz Carlton and more. While guests who opt to gift a prenatal massage may not have something to wrap up in a box, they'll definitely please the mom-to-be while also enjoying extra deals or cashback.

2. Natural Wellness Products for the Baby

For those who prefer to bring a physical gift to the party, natural skincare products specially formulated for babies is a great option. Several baby lotions, rubs and shampoos on the market cater to health-conscious moms who insist on organic, chemical-free products. While these products are attractive, they can also be quite expensive. It's relatively easy to buy baby wash for S$10–S$15 at Watson's, but all-natural products of equal size can run to S$25+.

Fortunately for givers, many of these products are sold online–which is not only convenient, but also allows purchasers to earn discounts and rewards. Many of Singapore's best shopping credit cards offer up to 4 miles per S$1 online shopping spend, which is great if you tend to travel or are saving towards your next trip. In fact, if you buy S$50 worth of products, you're already on your way with 200 miles–an added bonus for a purchase you might've made anyways. Buying premium baby gifts can be both thoughtful and personally rewarding.

3. GrabPay Credits

While you may want to pair this option with a sentimental card or perhaps some flowers, sending GrabPay credits to the mom-to-be can be a practical and valuable gift. Both before and after giving birth, it can be difficult simply to get around. Pregnant women have a 42% higher risk of getting in a car accident than the general population, and public transit can feel crowded and induce anxiety. Enjoying a free Grab ride using these credits can be safer and more convenient for a new mom. Credits can also be applied to food delivery, or on purchases with select merchants.

Using GrabPay also comes with a myriad of benefits. While sending funds as a gift may not directly accrue rewards, consumers can enjoy special promotions and discounts just for using the platform. Through the GrabRewards system, individuals earn points for money spent through GrabPay, which can ultimately be redeemed for privileges. These privileges range from prioritised ride bookings to discounted airport lounge access worldwide. Overall, engaging in the GrabPay system can be as beneficial to guests looking for a unique gift as to the final recipient.

Bonus: A Gift from New Moms to their Babies

Whether the baby shower is yet to be planned or the newborn has already come home from the hospital, moms can give a great gift to their child by simply setting aside a small sum for them. The average effective interest rate for savings accounts in Singapore is 1.43% p.a., which would allow funds to grow as the child grows older. At a point of maturity, the child can enjoy the money set aside plus its accrued interest, while also taking their first steps towards understanding personal finance.

The article 3 Unique Baby Shower Gifts that Also Reward the Giver originally appeared on ValueChampion.

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Office settings can have a surprisingly strong impact on employee performance. With the right combination of atmosphere and perks, it's possible to improve productivity without implementing massive changes in company policy. These 3 recommendations can improve employee performance and potentially, quality of life–all without requiring extensive effort on the behalf of the employer.

1. Bump Up the Temperature

Even while many aircon servicing companies recommend maintaining a temperature between 24–25°C, some companies–both in Singapore and abroad–maintain office temperatures below 20°C. Such low settings not only drive up electricity bills, harm the environment, and reduce aircon lifespan–they can also damage workplace productivity. In fact, according to research by Cornell University, the optimal temperature for workplace productivity is 25°C. In the corresponding study, employees demonstrated a 44% decrease in typing errors and 150% increase in typing output when temperature increased from 20°C to 25°C.

Office temperature can have a particularly strong impact on women. In a recent study, females' accuracy increased by nearly +2% on math and +1% on verbal tasks with each 1°C increase in room temperature. While men's performance decreased slightly, women's gains where proportionally greater. Overall, employers in colder offices might achieve a net boost in productivity by keeping the thermostat at a warmer temperature.

2. Provide Free Coffee & Snacks

Surprisingly, drinking coffee and consuming healthy snacks can measurably boost employee performance as well. An extensive amount of research has shown that caffeine can significantly boost productivity, with benefits ranging from sharpening focus to boosting team engagement and cooperation. Providing snacks is also a great option. Short snack breaks can improve the brain's ability to consolidate ideas, and healthy options (like fruits and vegetables) can even boost happiness and creativity.

In addition, these benefits can boost morale by saving workers time and money. Starbucks loyalists may be able to save S$75+/month if they opt for workplace coffee; those who brew at home or pick up coffee at stalls can save on time and convenience. Similarly, free snacks can potentially reduce employees' grocery bills or even dining expenses.

If supplying the entire workplace with free coffee and food just isn't sustainable, managers might instead consider taking their team out for lunch a few times a month. Depending on the company, it may be possible to pay on a personal credit card, and then have the expense reimbursed. This allows managers to both treat their team and earn credit card rewards. However, it's always important to check company policy first.

3. Shorten the Workday

Finally, long hours don't always translate into greater productivity. In fact, a UK study found that of 1,989 office workers, 79% stated they weren't productive for the full workday–even further, participants estimated (on average) just 2 hours and 53 minutes of actual productivity per day. Extended work hours also detract from employees' free time, limiting their ability to pursue hobbies and interests. Shortening the workday and allowing for more leisure time may boost happiness and quality of life–which research suggests can actually boost productivity by 12%. While it may seem counterintuitive, cutting a few hours off of the workday may be better for both employees and the company's bottom line.

Employees: Stand Up for Yourselves

If your office isn't ready to implement such changes, you can still take actions to improve your wellbeing while also boosting your productivity. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Temperature: Even if the aircon is running, ask if you can open a window. "Mixed mode ventilation" combines air conditioning with natural breeze to provide greater flexibility in setting the temperature (good for you) while also lowering the office's electricity bill (good for your company).
  • Snacks: Even if coffee and snacks aren't free, take a break and treat yourself. Short breaks relieve stress and help you to focus, and by thoughtfully managing your spend–whether through loyalty programs or credit card promotions–you can often enjoy discounts on meals.
  • Long Hours: While you may not be able to control the length of your workday, you can–and should–make the most of your paid time off. Research has shown that working during your vacation days can actually decrease your productivity in the long run.

The article 3 Ways Employers Can Boost Office Productivity originally appeared on ValueChampion.

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From destination bachelorette parties to custom-made formal wear, being in a wedding party has become an expensive affair. In fact, these commitments have become so expensive that roughly one third of wedding party members go into debt as a result. We researched a number of ways for you to avoid racking up too much debt without sacrificing your participation in these special events.

Book Flights Early

For long-distance friends or relatives of jet-setting brides, travelling for a bachelorette party may be simply unavoidable. If you're paying for your flight and accommodations, it is possible to strategically limit your total travel cost and still be able to attend. First, if you are flying, it is important to book your flight in advance. Our research indicates that travellers can save hundreds of dollars by booking their flight a few months in advance.

On the other hand, lodging rates are not necessarily cheaper or more expensive several months in advance. Therefore, while it is helpful to compare prices before you decide to book, it does not always make sense to book hotel rooms well before your group's trip. Finally, if you plan to travel frequently for a series of weddings, it is worth considering a travel insurance policy for financial coverage for inconveniences such as lost luggage and flight delays or cancellations.

Save up for "Wedding Season"

It often feels like weddings occur in waves, and paying for all of the associated costs of being a bridesmaid is consequently overwhelming. The best way to prepare for these expenses is to add a spending category to your annual or monthly budget that accounts for the costs of attending your family and friends' weddings.

One easy way to set aside money for major expenses like attending a wedding is to automatically make deposits to a savings account each month. Not only will this account earn a higher interest rate than a current account, it will help you mentally set aside what you plan to use for such events.

Consider Renting Dresses Instead of Purchasing

Depending on the bride, your outfit as a bridesmaid may be somewhat flexible. If you feel comfortable, you could suggest that you rent your outfit rather than purchasing it. The financial benefits from renting are clear. For example, companies such as Rent a Dress charge a fraction compared to retail costs, while also offering a wide range of style choices. Additionally, if you'll need different styles for a number of weddings, renting provides you with the flexibility to use a variety of dresses without making several substantial financial commitments.

Optimise Your Credit Card Usage Before and During the Event

If you are paying for any significant expenses related to the wedding or bachelorette party, it is important to make sure you are using the right credit card in order to accumulate the maximum amount of benefits. For example, the best credit cards in Singapore offer great cashback and air miles rewards. This means that if you are charging a significant amount of expenses to the right credit card, you could recoup a substantial amount of your money or significantly off-set the cost of your next wedding party.

Compare Personal Loans If You Must Go into Debt

While credit cards are great for those that can repay their entire bill within a month, the average annual interest rate charged by credit card companies is significantly higher than those of other types of lenders. For example, while credit cards tend to charge approximately 25% annually, the best personal loans charge as little as 7-10%. Therefore, if you cannot avoid going to go into debt due to your bachelorette and wedding responsibilities, it is best to consider a personal loan as a financing tool.

The article 5 Tips for Being a Financially Savvy Bridesmaid originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

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At the peak of summer, with temperatures hovering around 32°C, nothing may seem more important than keeping your flat nice and cool. However, with most wall mounted aircon systems ranging from S$1k–S$3k+, buying an air conditioner isn't an easy option for everyone. Even more, currently-owned units require maintenance and cleaning, and their use can quickly bump up your monthly electricity bill. Overall, these expenses can feel quite daunting.

As a result, many Singaporeans look for alternative ways to keep their homes cooler–but are there any methods that are truly as powerful, while still remaining cost-effective?

Solar Films Can Reduce Room Temperature by 5°C

While most people are familiar with typical suggestions for indoor cooling–taking advantage of natural shade, buying a few low-maintenance plants, optimising airflow–fewer consider options that involve any kind of home renovation. Installing solar window films, however, is an great way to lower temperature without using electricity or even requiring maintenance. While professional installation is usually required (which comes at a fee), quality films can last over 20 years, block up to 79% of solar heat and 99% of UV rays, and even sustain indoor temperatures as much as 5°C below that found outdoors.

Solar films in Singapore vary substantially in price, ranging from S$40–S$160/sqm. Given typical flat dimensions, this translates to about S$100–S$400 for a bedroom (approx 2.5 sqm windows) or S$200–S$800 for a living room (approx 5.0 sqm windows). While these sums may at first seem high, even the maximum–S$1,200 for both 1 bedroom and living room–is less than half the cost of a high-end aircon system. Taking into account aircon maintenance and cleaning fees, installing solar films would actually save money over time.

Cooling Paint – Another Way to Enjoy a 5°C Drop

A few years ago, researchers from Ngee Ann Polytechnic developed a paint product with incredible heat reduction capabilities. "X-Cool," as it's called, can reduce interior temperature by at least 5°C when painted on the exterior walls of a building. While X-Cool is primarily designed for corporate buildings, equally powerful residential variants have emerged since, including Nippon's SolaReflect paint. Such products can be found for about S$100–S$120+ for a 5L can, which is more expensive than non-solar alternatives–especially given 5L doesn't cover a very large surface area. Nonetheless, the cost of multiple cans is still far less than most aircon systems, which means investing in cooling paint could save you money in the long run.

It's worth mentioning that it's against regulation to paint HDB corridors or exterior walls. For those who aren't able to utilise outdoor cooling paints, there are a few indoor options. These products usually need to be diluted and mixed into another paint, which takes a bit more effort.

Powerful Fans Won't Cool, But Can Blow Air 3.5 mps

For those who aren't interested in a larger project (convenience has value in itself), buying a powerful fan may be worthwhile–to an extent. By nature, fans do not actually cool the air. Instead, they push air throughout the room, eliminating stagnant heat and creating a "windchill effect" over skin. While the temperature of a room is unlikely to change, a powerful fan can blow air as fast as 2.5–3.5mps, maintaining peak force for at least 0.5m (~2ft) beyond their face.

Powerful fans can be a bit expensive. The Dyson TP04 model–known as a market leader–costs an incredible S$899. Cheaper fans have lesser force, and therefore, less of an impact. Fortunately, several credit cards offer rebates for spend with furnishing vendors, which can help to mitigate price. For example, both Citi Rewards Card and OCBC Titanium Card offer 4 miles per S$1 spend with vendors like IKEA and Lazada–which translates to 3,596 miles for that same Dyson purchase. CIMB Platinum MasterCard also offers 10% cashback on purchases with vendors like Harvey Norman, COURTS, Best Denki and more–all of which sell a variety of fans.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there are a few cost-effective alternatives to a traditional aircon system, but they do involve a bit of extra work in the short term. If you do have experience with home improvement projects, investing in solar films or cooling paint could be a great way to save money, while also cooling your home. It's worth mentioning that in all cases–both for an aircon system and the posed alternatives–upfront cost can be quite high. Because of the potential for long term savings, you may want to consider taking out a personal loan or drawing from your savings account, if needed. If you can responsibly keep up with payments and/or avoid fall below fees, you're investment in alternatives now may save you S$100s over the upcoming years.

The article Which Aircon Alternatives Actually Work–And Save Money? originally appeared on ValueChampion.

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As you are gearing up to go on vacation, you may be prepared to experience some minor disappointments. Flight delays, lost baggage and even pick-pocketing are all accepted risks of travel. On the other hand, most people rarely anticipate airline strikes, which could leave them stranded with little recourse. Unfortunately, this happened twice in the first half of 2019, first with China Airlines in February and then with EVA Air in June. After the first strike in February, 50,000 passengers were affected after more than 200 flights were cancelled. The EVA Air strike in June had an even bigger impact, with over 850 total flights expected to be canceled and more than 170,000 passengers affected. So what happens to travellers who are victims of airline strikes? We discuss the options below.

How is the Airline Responding?

Five days after the inception of the most recent EVA Air strike, EVA Air's website is still showing a large portion of cancelled flights, including Singapore-Taipei routes. However, the airline has said that it is working to arrange alternative flights and reduce delays. This means that the passengers who were affected will most likely get rescheduled to operating flights without having to pay extra. Furthermore, according to EVA Air's website, the airline will be waiving the service and tax difference fees, as well as no-show fees. Lastly, EVA Air will waive the cancellation fee and refund 695/525 tickets traveling on EVA or UNI Air operated or marketing flights.

What to Do if Your Trip Was Affected by a Riot Strike

If you are a traveller caught in the midst of an airline strike, there are a couple of things you can do to decrease your trip disruption and any financial losses. Regardless of whether you are in the middle of your trip or have an upcoming one, you should call their travel agent or the airline directly to figure out your options. While EVA Air was fairly generous in waiving their fees, airlines are not actually obligated to do anything to help passengers. Thus, you should expect every airline to respond to their strikes differently and have a contingency plan in the event you won't receive any help. Despite this uncertainty, airlines have typically waived rebooking fees or put travellers on a standby flights with partner airlines when labour strikes occured. In this case, getting to the airport early may help you secure a flight as close to your original departure time as possible.

Will Travel Insurance Cover Financial Losses Due to Airline Strikes?

Whether you are in the middle of your trip or haven't left yet, you should confer with your travel insurer if the airline isn't being helpful. Generally, if you are able to recoup the costs for trip delays, disruptions or cancellations with your travel agent or airline, your insurer won't approve your claim. However, if the airline won't cover rebooking fees or doesn't offer compensation for delays, then you may be able to file a claim with your travel insurer. In order for your claim to be successful, the insurer must explicitly mention that industrial strikes are covered under their policies. You can also call your insurer if you are unsure of the language in your travel plan's policy document. Most plans offer 24/7 emergency assistance so you can call them from anywhere in the world at any time.

However, you may not be covered if you brought a travel insurance policy after the news of the strike was made public. Furthermore, some insurers will only cover strikes that caused Singapore to issue a travel advisory. If you travel insurer doesn't cover disruptions due to airline labour strikes, you can see whether your credit card's travel insurance policy will cover you instead. For instance, the UOB PRVI Miles American Express card has a travel insurance policy that will pay out for a travel delay every 6 hours due to strikes (image below).

Tips on Reducing Financial Loss During Travel Emergencies

While you can never fully avoid the risks associated with travel, there are a few things you can to reduce the impact of a travel-related emergency. For one, travel insurance is a great way to protect yourself financially against a majority of travel-related issues. When looking for a policy, you should read the policy wording to make sure it covers all of your concerns. It also helps to find policies that may cost slightly more but are more lenient in their coverage. For instance, some travel insurance policies will let you claim for travel cancellations for any reason. Buying your policy as soon as you book your airfare and hotel can also prevent your insurer from denying your claim because you bought a policy after a disruption was made public.

Second, it is worth budgeting a little more than you need for your trip. This way, you'll have an emergency fund to draw money from, and you won't be forced to draw from your hard-earned savings if you can't get your money back. Last, you should stay aware of what is happening in your destination country. As soon as news of any potential trip disruptions are made public, you should reach out to airlines, hotels and your insurer to see what your options are. Staying aware and taking action as soon as possible is usually the best way to reduce stress and start working on solutions.

The article Will Your Travel Insurance Cover You in the Event of an Airline Strike? originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

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There are a number of reasons why individuals may choose to rent a home rather than purchase one. For example, some HDB rules and grants make it harder for some individuals to purchase flats. Others may have a hard time getting approved for a home loan, or may prefer to avoid this financial burden altogether. Perhaps based on these factors, renting has become an increasingly popular practice in Singapore. In order to help renters understand the market and find an affordable place to live, we analysed updated rental prices and provided tips on reducing their rental cost.

Rental Prices Vary Significantly by Neighbourhood

As renters might suspect, certain areas of the island are significantly more expensive than others. For example, we found that the median monthly rent for a 4-room HDB flat in Central (S$2,700) is S$1,000 more than in Bukit Panjang and Choa Chu Kang. It is also noteworthy that the median price for 4-room flats in most neighbourhoods is at least S$2,000.

With that said, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Woodlands, Punggol, and Sembawang lead the way in terms of affordability. These areas have median rents ranging from S$1,400 to S$1,500 for 3-room flats, S$1,700 to S$1,800 for 4-room flats, and S$1,800 to $1,900 for 5-room flats. These rates are much lower than other neighbourhoods where median rents reach S$2,150, S$2,700 and S$2,800, respectively.

How Have Rental Prices Changed Since 2018?

Another way for prospective renters to compare different areas is to compare how prices have changed over time. We found the median price of 4-room flats in some neighbourhoods have decreased materially in the last year. For example, homes in Yishun and Marine Parade are about 5% cheaper in 2019 than in 2018. On the other hand, flats in Central have increased by about the same amount.

How to Save Even More on Your Rental Flat

For many individuals and families, even rents in the most affordable neighbourhoods represent a significant financial burden. To help these consumers, we've identified a few easy ways to make renting a little bit more affordable.

Don't Be Afraid to Negotiate

First, while it may be uncomfortable for new renters, it is sometimes possible to negotiate for lower rent with your future landlord. Even if you are able to get your monthly rent down by just S$25-S$50, you'll be able to free up S$300 to S$600 annually for your other necessary expenses or your personal savings. Current renters may be able to negotiate with their landlord to keep their rent steady, or even get a decreased rate if they were very reliable tenants.

Limit Utility Expenses

Additionally, while rental agreements can vary, it is always important to limit the cost of utilities. For example, some landlords will include some or all utility costs in the total rent price. If you are responsible for your utility bills, it is important to make sure that you limit your total costs. For example, it is possible to reduce your electricity bill by purchasing efficient appliances or switching to a more competitive electricity plan.

Consider Renting a Single Room

Finally, individuals that are hoping to find a very affordable place may consider renting a single room for a time, in order to accumulate savings for a larger flat some day. The price of a single room varies quite a bit, but it is not unreasonable to find individual rooms priced between S$700 and S$1,000. Before you sign up for one of these arrangements, make sure that you have met the landlord and your future roommates and that you have a solid lease agreement.

The article Top 5 Most Affordable Neighbourhoods in Singapore for Renters originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

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For many, souvenirs are an important part of travelling as they serve as reminders of happy memories abroad. However, the increase of global tourism has taken its toll on the environment, so travellers are now looking for ways to travel sustainably. Beyond choosing eco-friendly accommodations and transportation, this also includes cutting down on souvenir purchases. So what should you buy if you do want to take home a piece of the country you visited? Below, we look at Singaporeans' most popular travel destinations and explore 5 of each country's iconic souvenirs that are practical, ethical and can help you be a more sustainable traveller.

What Makes a Sustainable Souvenir?

An ethical and sustainable souvenir is generally categorised by a few factors. First, it is locally produced. When you purchase an item from a local artisan, you are not only supporting the local economy, but you are also supporting generations of cultural heritage. This is important in today's globalised world where many small artisans can not compete with mass-produced, cheap items from international companies. Second, the souvenir is not made from environmentally unfriendly sources. This includes items made from exotic woods or endangered animals that are often exploited. Third, the souvenir has a use-value. Purchasing something practical that you will use often reduces waste, in turn reducing your environmental impact. Another option for a practical souvenir is something consumable like food and beverages, especially if they are unique to the region.

Malaysia: Nyonya Beadwork

Malaysia remains the most popular tourist destination for Singaporeans. Its proximity and plethora of activities makes it an attractive destination whether you want to relax on the beach or try out the hottest new hawker stall in Kuala Lumpur. One souvenir you can consider getting in Malaysia are nyonya slippers. Not only do these slippers have a rich history, but it is a practical souvenir whose purchase will be in support of local artisans that have been diligently preserving the Peranaken cultural identity.

Nyonya beadwork originated in the early 20th century and is mainly referred to the beadwork on slippers (also called kasut manek). While originally worn by Peranaken men and women, they are now mainly worn by women. The motifs of the beadwork are of Chinese origin, but there is also some European influence, showing the integration of different cultures throughout Malaysia's rich history. Originally, the kasot manek were made of cut beads that now are no longer available, making vintage kasot maneks highly treasured. There are only a few shops in Penang and Melaka where you can find ready-made slippers or get fitted for custom shoes. Though shoes with nyonya beadwork can be pricey (around S$96-S$130 for pre-made options), the intricate and delicate craftsmanship can make them worth the money and give you something to wear on special occasions for many years to come.

Thailand: Thai Silk

Similar to Malaysia, Thailand is a great destination for anyone looking to experience great cuisine or relax among its tranquil natural wonders. While there are a plethora of crafts you can get just walking in the markets in cities like Bangkok, Thai silk is a good example of a practical souvenir that supports local communities, is environmentally friendly and can be a symbolic reminder of your time in Thailand. While Thai silk is traditionally derived from mulberry-eating silkworms, you can now purchase a more eco-friendly variety made from Eri silkworms that feed on cassava and castor leaves. Cassava leaves are typically discarded, but using them for silk means that the entire plant can be utilised, reducing waste. Furthermore, Thailand is the first country in the world who has received the "EU Flower" logo for its Thai silk—an indicator that its entire production process is recognised as environmentally friendly.

It is fairly easy to get fake Thai silk, so there are a few tells that can help you distinguish the fake from the real. First, you should look for a peacock emblem on the fabric, which was put in place by Thailand's Agriculture Ministry to prove the silk's authenticity. Second, the price of the silk will reflect its quality—typically, authentic silk will cost 10 times the price of fake silk (around 600 to 2,500 Baht). Creating silk is an arduous process so it would be highly unlikely artisans will only charge a few dollars per metre. Last, real silk should be able to pass easily through a wedding band and have a sheen when held up to light. You can visit the Chatuchak Market if you want to get silk directly from the source and support local craftsmen or from a silk shop (such as Jim Thomson and Anita Silk Shop) if you are looking for contemporary home decor or apparel.

Hong Kong: Hand-Painted Porcelain

Hong Kong is full of interesting things to see and purchase, meaning it should be fairly easy to avoid getting kitschy souvenirs. Whether you go shopping for Chinese antiques on Upper Lascar Row or stop by a Sasa store to get the popular Po Sum On healing balm, it is easy to find unique items to bring back to Singapore. However, if you are looking for something that is ubiquitous with Hong Kong, you can consider purchasing hand-painted porcelain from Yuet Tung China Works. Producing porcelain since 1928, Yuet Tung China Works is the only hand-painted porcelain factory in Hong Kong and sells a range of tableware, including dinner sets, tea sets and mugs. It specialises in Guang Cai porcelain, which originated in the city of Guangzhou. While prices are hard to come by online, visitors have said prices are reasonable for sale items but can get expensive for bespoke dinner sets.

Hand-painted porcelain is becoming a dying art due to the decreased interest in learning the old painting techniques and the rise of mass produced porcelain. Thus, this can make it a great sustainable souvenir for several reasons. First, you will be supporting local artisans that have devoted their time to keeping a cultural artform alive. Second, you will also help support Joseph Tso Chi-chung's (one of the porcelain Yuet Tung's artisans) venture to provide free education to teens who want to learn traditional hand-painting techniques.

Bali: Batik Textiles

Though Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, Singaporeans mainly travel to Bali to enjoy its historical sites and famous beaches. While Indonesia is known for a variety of crafts ranging from intricate woodwork to silverwork, its most recognised cultural craft is the batik. In fact, in 2009, UNESCO recognised the Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Thus, not only are you supporting local artisans, but you are also getting a souvenir of important cultural heritage.

The term "batik" refers to a centuries-old technique using a dye-resistant wax and dye to create designs on fabric. The wax acts to keep dye from seeping into areas that the artisan wants to keep undyed. In Bali specifically, the Batik fabric is traditionally used for the Balinese songket, which is used during religious rituals and wedding ceremonies. However, to avoid appropriating ceremonial garments, you can get traditionally-made Balinese batik textiles as skirts, shirts or dresses. While you can find ready-made Balinese batik textiles in shops in Ubud, you can also take a class in one of the several Batik workshops where you can practice the craft on your own for a truly unique souvenir. Batik-making workshops are also a fairly affordable activity, costing around S$50 for 1-2 day workshops.

Taiwan: Oolong Tea

Taiwan is famous for many things: night markets, electronics, jade and mountain retreats. However, one item that definitely takes the prize for being both uniquely Taiwanese while helping you support local economies is tea.

Taiwanese tea is markedly different from its Chinese counterparts, making it a good purchase if you want something relevant to the destination. Taiwan's tea culture became established during the Qing Dynasty, when immigrants from the Fujian province settled in Taiwan and started farming the tea seedlings they brought with them. Taiwanese oolong, specifically, is a highly sought after tea due to its longstanding history, county-specific varieties and high quality. Furthermore, Taiwan has been making strides to make its tea farms eco-friendly and sustainable. After the government started destroying tea farms in 2016, tea farmers have turned to organic farming methods without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

The price of the teas will reflect all these features. For instance, white tip oolong tea that is exclusive to Taiwan, cost S$46 per quarter pound in 2017. Other oolong teas can cost S$15 to S$50 per 100 grams. While these teas are available globally online, we would recommend staying close to the source to support the local economy directly. For instance, you can visit Zenique or Wistaria Tea House in Taipei. You can also check out Eco-Cha, a Taiwan-based online tea retailer that sources teas from sustainable and traditional farms. Beyond just bringing back a tea that you can consume and enjoy with friends and family, you can also learn about its production. A tea farm tour can cost between S$50 per day to S$365 for a 2-day private tour.

Souvenirs You Should Avoid

There are also souvenirs you should avoid, either because they harm the environment or because they are simply culturally disrespectful. Examples include tortoise-shell, ivory, coral, rosewood and seashell products. For example, tortoise-shell products are typically made from the shells of endangered Hawksbill sea turtles, while coral is endangered and takes years to grow back and seashells are frequently illegally harvested and traded. Similarly, Rosewood takes years to grow and has been put under trade protection due to heavy trafficking. Finally, ivory—along with other exotic animal product—souvenirs usually come from illegal wildlife exploitation and hunting. If you are unsure if a souvenir is ethical or allowed to be sold, you can ask the shop for a CITE permit or see whether or not you need to declare the souvenir upon returning to Singapore.

There is also the question of mementos that can be seen as culturally insensitive. Examples of these include artifacts or stones from Greek archeological marvels, pieces of the Berlin Wall and other artifacts from similarly solemn sites. Not only is this technically stealing but you will also be taking away important pieces of history that should remain part of the site for everyone to enjoy. Similarly, getting religious objects from a country that holds that religion close to its cultural heart is frowned upon. A good example of this is buying Buddha statues in Thailand for decorative, rather than religious, purposes. As a general rule, your aim should be to remain respectful of the culture of whatever country you're visiting. Also you should make sure your souvenirs will be accepted by Singaporean customs. Any items taken by customs officials will not be financially reimbursed even with the most flexible travel insurance policy.

The article 5 Iconic Souvenirs Worth Purchasing for the Sustainable Traveller originally appeared on ValueChampion's blog.

ValueChampion helps you find the most relevant information to optimise your personal finances. Like us on our Facebook page to keep up to date with our latest news and articles.

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