Three Things More Expensive for Singapore Parents Than Milk Powder

The cost of milk powder in Singapore has risen to a level even PAP MPs cannot endure.

If you weren’t paying attention, the rise in milk powder prices has been hogging quite a few headlines.

How expensive is Singapore milk powder?

According to the Mandarin chart below, the price of milk powder in Singapore (#2) is third to Hong Kong (#1) and China (#4), but looks double that of Malaysia (#3).

Milk powder Singapore
Source: Zaobao

Although you can find different brands selling at various price points (also with varying quality perception), 99% of the Singapore fortified milk formula market share are taken up by just 5 brands (Euromonitor International). 

Abbott alone occupies almost half of the local market.

Milk powder Singapore
Source: Zaobao

I was amazed at how big a hooha was made out of this milk powder price increases, as this has been going on for years already. 

This is an anomaly in a country where the increase of public transport prices of a few cents per trip can cause hordes of netizens to curse ex-Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (in the past until he quit).

How angry were parents against rising milk powder prices?

Milk powder Singapore
Milk powder tins at NTUC Fairprice

As I’m in a few parenting groups, I noticed that anger was not so much against milk prices. 

Some parents took offence at Dr Koh Poh Koon’s comments about “there’s no real reason to pay up more for something that is just as good and much cheaper“; most were just silent readers.

If you’re not a parent of a baby or young child, this passive lack of vehement response in parent groups (the ones most affected by the prices) would seem weird.

Nevertheless, I think it’s good that someone finally flagged out this issue of rising milk powder prices, even though the Competition Commission of Singapore had already started looking into it last year (good timing eh?).

There are a lot of netizens who have angrily aired their views online against the government, PAP, supermarkets etc etc on the behalf of parents of young children like myself.

Thank you for your concern, but I think I should also take the opportunity to clear up the air regarding the costs of early parenthood in Singapore.

In our national obsession over milk powder prices, we may have missed out discussing these other costs which cause parents more grief.

1. Milk powder isn’t the most expensive cost for parents’ wallets 

If you think paying ~$200 every month for milk powder is a crime, do you know the cost of full day infantcare is around SEVEN times that? 

No shit.

Even though the Early Childhood Development Agency has put a limit on how much anchor and partner operators can charge, if you include the assumptions that: 

  • both parents are working
  • both earn median gross monthly income (now above $4000 each a month)
  • have 2 dependants

This family will pay $1,400 – $600 = $800 a month for a full day infantcare slot (worth 4 months worth of milk powder).

Milk powder Singapore
Source: HeyBaby

Liddat you still wanna complain about milk powder ah? Bopian, buy off the black market lor.

Or switch to Malaysian milk powder, at your own risk (there is a difference in quality hor, like Malaysia vs Singapore Milo powder, chocolate and even some cosmetics).

2. Cost of a future university education in 20 years will double

Assuming you want your child to be the 30% who gets into university, the cost of university tuition fees in 20 years has been calculated by Dollars and Sense to be ~$70,000 (or 29 freakin’ years worth of milk powder).

Milk powder Singapore
Source: Dollars and Sense

We better cross our fingers and wish really hard that in 20 years time, Singapore will value the other 70% in skills-based vocations much more than our society treats them today.

3. Opportunity cost of a career

There are many mothers and some fathers who give up their careers to take care of the children.

Let’s look at a hypothetical case:

  • working mum quits her job after completing her 4 month maternity leave to look after her baby 
  • she returns to work when her baby turns 2 years old and enrols in childcare
  • she could have earned a median gross monthly income of ~$4,000
  • loss of monthly CPF employer contribution = 17% * $4,000 = $680

20 months of unemployment * $4,680 = $93,600 (or a whopping 39 years worth of milk powder wtf!).

There are parents who give up their entire careers to look after their families for decades!

20 months of unemployment just scratches the tip of the iceberg in opportunity cost.

This scenario also doesn’t take into account the annual pay increments she could have gotten, promotions she missed, and the risk of re-entering the workforce at a lower pay and position compared to her previous job.

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In case you’re still hung up over the cost of milk powder, these insights may make you feel a little bit better.

1. Not every family needs to purchase milk powder

Milk powder, aka formula milk or FM in parent lingo, is usually not the first choice of many parents today (grandparents’ views may differ).

In the past, when Singaporeans didn’t have as much access to nutrition and nutritional education as we have today, giving babies FM over BM (aka breast milk) was a safer bet in ensuring the future generations were given enough nutrients.

But with more research into the benefits of BM and a global movement to make BF (breastfeeding) acceptable again, many mothers would try to BF first before using FM as a supplement.

Milk powder Singapore
Source: BabyCenter

Some mothers can express so much milk, they can donate to the less fortunate, preserve some into a milk charm or keepsake, or make milk baths for their kids which would nourish their skin. 

2. Got milk? funds and freebies

Recently, low income households could apply to CDCs for the NTUC FairPrice Foundation-CDC Milk Fund which will distribute vouchers to 7,500 low-income families ($200 for children from 6 months to 3 years old, and $100 for kids aged 4 to 6 years old).

If you didn’t qualify, don’t worry. Some enterprising beneficiaries have taken to the internet to sell off these vouchers (see 3 vouchers below, taken on a good quality branded Parklon mat).

Milk powder Singapore
Source: Gumtree

Many parents can sign up with the various milk powder brands to get free samples of milk. 

The more generous brands are Aptamil (free 900g tin) and Nestlé Nan (free 400g tin). You can even try setting up multiple accounts to get more freebies.

3. Thriving online marketplaces and communities for milk powder

With technology, it is much easier to compare prices of milk powder online. 

Qoo10, Lazada, Carousell, Kimsang, Facebook, Gumtree and closed groups are just some platforms parents can check out.

You can even use cart coupons, wait for timesale dates, barter trade baby products for milk powder and even set up a give.asia campaign for a cause such as to help a low income family or an abandoned baby in hospital (unfortunately sad but true).

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What’s next after milk powder prices?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy this milk powder price saga is causing some commotion.

This gives the parents of Singapore an opportunity to ask milk powder manufacturers why they are pricing their products so expensively.

I believe a large chunk of it goes into branding, as I’ve been to at least three focus groups or surveys by various expensive milk powder brands. Typically, mummies will share how their video or print ad campaigns could be improved.

However, this is the nature of a private marketplace where prices are dictated by demand and supply. 

It is interesting to see how some netizens demand government intervention for certain issues that benefit them, and yet insist the government stop interfering in many other matters.

To sum up, milk powder prices are honestly not the biggest cost of living challenge that new parents grapple with.

So who will be the next MP to raise our other struggles up in Parliament?


Also published on Medium.