LOL Mondays: How I Stretched My NSF Allowance

Being a recruit back then was like taking part in a math olympiad.

By Alywin Chew        21 August 2023

The recent news about the hike in NSF allowances got my friends and I reminiscing about the antics we had to resort to in order to survive on our recruit allowance of $240.

Yes. That was our monthly allowance. Which essentially meant having just $60 to spend per weekend.

Now, unless you’re someone who has the luxury of Netflix-ing and chilling with a girlfriend after booking out, you’re probably going to be like many other recruits – desperate to be out there, making the most of your limited time in the civilian world.

You know how platoon sergeants always complain that recruits have no sense of urgency? 

Nah, that was never a problem outside of camp. In the real world, away from the camouflage cream and mosquito repellents, recruits were always rushing from one place to another, trying to squeeze too many activities (that cost money) into too short a time frame.

As such, getting by with such an allowance wasn’t easy.

Some people say the recruit days are the darkest in the entire NS experience. I disagree. To me, it was an invigorating math olympiad that constantly kept me on my toes. Why? Because I was constantly performing complex math calculations and thinking ahead to determine whether I had enough money to last the weekend. 

Here is a summary of a typical Saturday night out during my recruit days.

Budget: $60

6:30pm: My friends and I buy the early bird Zouk tickets. I question my life decisions. Should I really be clubbing with only $60 in my wallet? Maybe I should’ve swallowed my pride and begged my parents for some money. (-$20)

Left: $40

7pm: We walk to Zion Road Hawker Center to have dinner. I plan to be frugal so I decide to spend just $2 on chicken rice even though I’m starving. But the braised egg looks very enticing. The auntie also persuades me to add a serving of roasted pork. The glistening crispy skin calls out to me but I bite my lips and fight the temptation. But I remember how bad lunch at the cookhouse was. I decide to indulge myself. (-$4)

Left: $36

8pm: We walk to a nearby 7-Eleven to get pre-party drinks. The boys each buy two cans of Tiger Beer. But I know a better way to get tipsy – I buy just one but finish it within a minute. My world spins. I think I’m a genius. But I soon realise it’s downright silly that I do not have anything to drink for the next 2 hours. I buy another can.  (-$8)

Left: $28

10pm: Party time! We make our way into the club and find a corner to set up “camp”. I make eye contact with a girl, smile and comb my fingers through my…non-existent hair. My friend teases me, “Eh, your botak head itchy ah?”

11pm: We are done with the two complimentary drinks and head to the bar to get more booze. My friend orders everyone two shots of B52 each. My heart starts to race, not because of the alcohol but because I know I don’t have much left to spend. (-$18)

Left: $10

1am: My lips are parched. I need another drink. Or two. But I’m also starving. Should I save my remaining cash for supper? Or do I satiate my thirst? Wait. I barely have enough to take a taxi home. I hatch a plan.

1:10am: I put the plan into action. “I’ll bet you $20 I can pick up that girl at the counter,” I say to my friends. They check the girl out and say, “She’s way out of your league, recruit.” We shake hands and seal the deal.

1:15am: I approach the girl at the bar and explain to her the bet I just made. She plays along. I buy her a drink and we chat for a bit. She asks why I’m wearing eyeliner. I look at my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I still have some camouflage cream on my face. (- $10)

Left: $0

1:30am: My friends are shocked that I succeeded. But these chao recruits only have $12 to spare. (+$12)

Left: $12

2am: I bump into the same girl while on the way to the toilet. She asks if I would like to buy her another drink in exchange for her number. I ponder. She has such a pretty face. Her smile is so beguiling. My mind begins to wander. I find myself drooling…

…at the thought of prata and Milo dinosaur. 

3am: Supper time at the prata shop. I order two kosongs and one Milo dinosaur. (-$4)

Left: $8

4am: I’m in the taxi home and I realise the fare is going to be more than whatever I have left in my wallet. I hold my breath as the taxi comes to a stop at the junction. I see money disappearing into thin air with each blink of that wretched green man. I sheepishly tell the taxi driver to stop four streets before my block. He tells me we’re not there yet. 

I tell him it’s fine. He insists on driving me all the way. I tell him to stop, again. He ignores me. I raise my voice a little and tell him to stop once more. He tells me we’re almost there.

“Uncle! I need to puke!” I say.

He slams on the brakes. The taxi jerks violently. I really do puke. Uncle demands payment and orders me to leave the cab. (-$8) 

Left doing the walk of shame.

So, do I agree with the latest allowance raise? Most definitely. I don’t wish for any recruit to go through what I had to. Being constantly broke is a terrible feeling to have. 

One friend did disagree, though.

“That’s ridiculous. $755 is way too much money,” he bellowed.

“Why do you think so?” I replied.

“Because recruits these days do so much fewer push ups compared to us!”

LOL Mondays is an ongoing series of slice-of-life stories from freelance writer and NSman Alywin Chew. Look out for the humorous tales which will be posted every first Monday of the month, to help you drive away your Monday blues!

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