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Singaporeans financially 'insecure' as living costs soar

Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

News this week that Singapore is ranked as the world's most expensive city for a second year come as little comfort to its working population, who are becoming increasingly insecure financially and hankering for fatter pay packages, recent surveys show.

Only 38 percent of Singaporeans are satisfied with their current financial situation, a Manulife study which interviewed 500 people above the age of 25 living in Singapore showed. A similar percentage of respondents also believed that the generation following theirs will be worse off financially.

"Singaporeans are a practical bunch so we tend to worry a lot. But with costs in food and housing rising so rapidly, it's hard not to," 33-year old operations manager Kelvin Wong told CNBC. "Apart from my mortgage payments, I have to make sure I have enough to take care of my parents, pay for my child's future expenses and be able to retire."

Earlier this week, the city-state was named the most costly city to live in by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), due to higher grocery, utility and transport prices compared with New York.

Transport costs, for example, are triple those of New York, largely due to the requirement of a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) – the 10-year license that drivers must purchase to use a private vehicle. The nation's property market is also among the world's most expensive, with tight supply leading to a 60 percent spike in residential property prices since 2009, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Pay rise, please!

From 2004 to 2014, wages in Singapore have risen a cumulative 29.2 percent, modestly higher than the 28.5 percent cumulative rise in inflation over the same period, according to government data.

Still, Singaporeans are "relatively more worried" than before about the cost of living, Emmanuel White, regional director at Hudson Singapore told CNBC after 75 percent of respondents polled by the recruitment firm tipped higher wages as their priority in the year ahead.

Local workers aged between 20 to 35 years old face the most financial pressure as they enter marriageable and child-bearing age, White said: "A higher salary is important to this age group who's building a family and buying their first property. They also need a higher-paying job to support their current lifestyle."

Growing anxiety over finances is fuelling a trend of job hopping, particularly among Singaporeans under the age of 35, who switch jobs every 3.4 years on average. Job hoppers are enticed by the potential of a 10-20 percent salary increase, much more than the typical 3-5 percent annual increase if one stays at their current company, Hudson's White noted.

But, some experts sounded a note of caution.

"In Singapore young workers are eager to secure great careers, but workers who change jobs frequently may not gain the same level of financial security as those with more stable careers" says Naveed Irshad, president and CEO of Manulife Singapore.

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Benefits also matter

To be sure, money is not the only factor when Singaporeans explore job opportunities.

A 27-year-old financial controller, who prefers to be known as Miss Goh, recently took a pay cut of "more than $100" per month to join a multi-national beverage company.

"To be honest, I was reluctant at first but the opportunity to do something different was hard to come by. Plus, the benefits were slightly better than my previous company," she said.

According to Hudson's survey, a company's benefit package is the second-most important criteria for Singaporeans considering new job opportunities, ahead of career progression (67 percent), work life balance (64 percent) and a cultural fit within the organization (64 percent).

"Many companies are now offering a better range of benefits in an effort to retain employees and to differentiate themselves from others in attracting the best talent," Hudson's White said. "Better benefits can also reduce the level of inflation that is making it hard to fill roles."

— CNBC's Nyshka Chandran and Katie Holliday contributed to this report