Saving 17K as an NSF: Money Tips During NS

Saving 17k NSF

National Service, a dreaded time for most males as they approach the age to enlist. Nevertheless, it is a rite of passage for every Singaporean son, who has to see through 22 (or 24) months of service in the defence of our little island home.

Of course, when I was 19, days before I entered the boat to Pulau Tekong, I couldn’t help but feel like I was losing 22 months of my life. More importantly, this was 22 months of my youth, which I could’ve spent enjoying myself!

I’m sure most of you felt the same, or are feeling the same as you look to enter your National Service sometime in the future.

But I want you to reframe that thought for a moment. Instead, if you’re going to have to ‘waste’ 22 months of your life, why not make the most out of it? Why not use NS as a stepping stone to build your financial future?

Enter the story of how I saved (almost) $17k as an NSF.

Before I start, I guess everyone would want to know the breakdown:

Rank Months Pay Total Pay
Officer Cadet
2nd Lieutenant
Additional & Expenses Sum
Net Savings

* Note that this was before the recent pay increase for NSFs in 2020

Now let’s get into the juicy parts, how I did it:

Avoid Temptations and Spending Like There’s No Tomorrow

NSF temptations
Photo by Q.U.I on Unsplash

I will not lie, I was not particularly financially savvy back in the day, but I was, fortunately, raised to be frugal. And being frugal goes a long way in NS.

For many NSFs, being cooped up in camp for 5 days before being let free to do as their hearts pleased on weekends meant that they would splurge and let loose on bookout days.

These expenditures included drinking, clubbing and smoking (which many NSFs do pick up during their NS days). It’s easy to succumb to peer pressure and follow the crowd to just let yourself go.

Not just that, with money coming in every month, many NSFs end up buying things they don’t need as well. Online shopping is an addictive activity after all. One PS5 and one set of Airpods later, your allowance for the month is gone.

Expenses definitely rack up fast. If you don’t consciously consider what your money is being spent on, you’ll realise your bank account balance is back to square one before your next payday.

That being said, I’m not saying to just pangseh (read: abandon) your friends every time. I do understand the need for entertainment and enjoyment as well. But if you really want to make the most out of NS, then you gotta ration out your expenses accordingly.

On average, I would spend about $150 – $200 per month while I was in NS. This included eating out, transport costs and shopping expenditure. I’ll admit, I did not consciously track my expenses back then, but I could gauge how much I spent from my bank balance before the next payday.

Another tip I have would be to avoid eating at the canteen or mess. It’s very tempting to avoid the cookhouse food (which admittedly isn’t the best), and just get food from the canteen or mess. It’s definitely good food, but eating there everyday adds up, especially since food in the cookhouse is completely free of charge.

In NS, staying frugal and watching your expenses is really the key to saving most of your NS allowance.

Capitalise on Earning Opportunities

IPPT earning opportunities
Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

I think this is a small point, but for many people, NS is the fittest point in their lives. Capitalise on this fact to push for a little bit more out of NS through benefits from IPPT.

For NSFs, IPPT cash benefits are as follows:

Award Points Incentive
Pass w/ Incentive

I was able to maintain a Gold for IPPT for my 2 years in NS, and this helped to net an extra $600 in my NS journey. It adds to your savings, plus you get to keep fit!

If you’re posted to a unit, you will also have the chance to earn another cash benefit from the Advanced Trainfire Package (ATP) which is also known as the Marksman Award. This will pay out another $200 if you are successful in your shoot. Personally, I did not have the opportunity to take my ATP because I wasn’t posted to a combat unit, but you might get the chance to. Don’t let it slip by!

Earning Power

NSF rank
Photo by

In NS, your pay is determined by your rank. In other words, if you really want to save the most in NS, it’s better to strive for a leadership role, be it as a Specialist or an Officer. This greatly increases your ability to earn more during your time in NS.

Rank Pay Per Month
Corporal (CPL)
Corporal First Class (CFC)
Third Sergeant (3SG)
2nd Lieutenant (2LT)

That being said however, don’t do it just for the money. If you’re in it just for the money, you’ll likely not be a good leader to the men you lead. Moreover, you’ll probably make yourself more miserable with the additional responsibilities that you’ll likely face anyways. 

But of course if you feel you’re up for it and you want to lead, by all means take up the opportunity!

For the Non-Combat NSFs

For those of you who are not combat fit, fret not, your journey is not doomed from the beginning. Granted, for non-combat NSFs, only a select few are able to make it to Specialist positions, there are still ways to save significant amounts of money during your NS days.

Rank Months Pay Total Pay
Lance Corporal
Expenses Sum
Net Savings

Wow, that’s almost $10K! 

I’ve also met non-combat personnel during my NSF days who have made it to Corporal (CPL), Corporal First Class (CFC) and even to Third Sergeant (3SG). This would push their Net Savings even higher.

What I’m trying to say is that while, yes, starting out as a non-combat personnel does affect your earning power in NS, with the hand that we are dealt, we can still make the most of it by playing it right.

Wrapping it up...

At the end of this article, I’m sure that there are readers who dismiss this article simply because I was an officer. It is true, I was able to save up much more because of my rank, but even as a specialist or even a non-combat NSF, you are still in a position to set yourself up for a healthy financial future during these 22 months. You don’t need to be an officer to save 5-digits before leaving NS. Make the right choices today and you won’t regret it in the future.

All salary amounts are sourced from CMPB.

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