S'poreans head to JB as ringgit hits record low

This is written by Tiffany Fumiko Tay of Singapore Straits Times.

Singaporeans Neo Yiwen (left) and Adelina Chan stocking up on household items at Tesco hypermarket in KSL Mall in JB yesterday. Singapore Straits Times photo:TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY, courtesy of STEVEN TEO

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans have been getting more bang for their buck on jaunts to Johor Bahru (JB), and not just for groceries, as the Malaysian ringgit hit a record low of under RM3.05 to the Singapore dollar, last week.

Mr Steven Teo, 37, made five trips to JB in the past few weeks to have dental work done for himself and three of his four children.

He paid RM800 (or S$270) for a dental crown, which he said would have cost S$600 here, and RM80 each for his children's cleaning and polishing, which costs "upwards of S$45 in Singapore". The area manager for Singapore Pools said: "The savings are quite substantial and worth the effort as I have four kids. For big ticket items like root canals and crowning, the difference is even bigger."

Shoppers such as Ms Lina Chen, a 38-year-old who works in sales, have been crossing the Causeway to stock up on groceries and to fill her car's petrol tank. She drives to JB with her mother weekly to buy items such as detergent and health products. "My mum is diabetic, and uses a lot of needles for insulin injections. Needles here are expensive, about S$1 plus each. In JB, it's half the price," she said.

Another regular JB shopper, Ms Jen Lo, said that grocery shopping for her family of seven can be expensive here. "I can buy a wheat germ loaf for S$1 plus in Johor. That's almost half price," said the 35-year-old administration manager. " I also buy a lot of milk formula for the kids, and pay RM70 for a tin. In Singapore, it's S$70."

KSL City Mall, which is popular with Singaporeans, was bustling at lunchtime yesterday. Singaporeans Adelina Chan and Neo Yiwen, both 27, were stocking their trolleys with household items at the mall's Tesco hypermarket. "It's so much cheaper here with the exchange rate now," said Ms Chan.

Singaporean Ahmad Syed Abdullah, 53, owns the House of Traditional Javanese Massage chain, which has six branches in Singapore. He opened branches in Johor last year in KSL and JB City Square mall. His business did so well that he opened a second, 4,000 sq ft, outlet at KSL yesterday. About 80 per cent of his customers in JB are Singaporean. He charges RM95 for an hour-long massage in Johor, compared to S$70 in Singapore. "The overhead costs in Singapore are so high. In Johor, we have 50 per cent profit margins. And we are so full, we have to turn people away every day," he said.

Another group reaping the benefits of the weak ringgit are JB residents who work in Singapore. Singaporean Muhd Syahid Shah, 28, lives in a house in the Johor suburb of Kempas, about 15 minutes from the Woodlands checkpoint. He commutes to Singapore six days a week to do shift work as a traffic enforcer, and said the low ringgit means that he gets a better exchange rate when he converts his salary. But he is worried that this might not last long, if Malaysian retailers start charging more.

Malaysian George Carkoo, 45, a guest relations manager at Tanjong Beach Club, has been working in Singapore for 19 years. He takes a two-hour journey to work from his home in Larkin. While he is enjoying the exchange rates, as he converts most of his pay to ringgit, he hopes the currency will stabilise as his compatriots are finding it hard.

Malaysian Tong Yeo, who was shopping at KSL yesterday, said the weak ringgit has made it harder to go on overseas vacations. "Things are already more expensive with Malaysia's new 6 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). Now, I really have to watch what I spend."