Monday June 18, 2012
Time to go on a financial diet
One Man's Meat by PHILIP GOLINGAI
It’s tough trying to be frugal in this age of conspicuous spending and impulse buying.
MY 40-something businessman best friend told me that RM10,000 was barely enough for him to raise a family of five.
I was not surprised. But just for the sake of drama, I exclaimed: “Huh?”
“Milk formula and diapers are expensive,” said my married friend who is raising a baby and two toddlers in Kota Kinabalu. “I also need to pay for insurance and car and house renovation loans.”
I tweeted about his financial situation and a few Twitterers were shocked that 10k was barely enough.
Others tweeted that it was the bane of the middle class – not too rich and not too poor. Some tweeted that the money was spent on middle class essentials such as piano and ballet lessons and Japanese food dinners.
“How did our parents manage to raise us?” @morpheuse tweeted.
“Sacrifice,” I replied.
The Twitter exchange reminded me of my childhood in the 1970s and early 80s in the Sabah capital.
I come from a middle class family – dad was a senior civil servant and my mother was Home Minister aka housewife. My parents raised four kids (a fifth was born in 1984 when the family had more disposable income).
My parents’ financial priorities were not for “now” but “tomorrow”; saving money for their kids’ education and the mother of all worries – dreaded diseases.
That meant the family lived quite frugally.
My dad would cut my hair. And I was forced into child labour – I had to wash his cars and polish his shoes.
Coca-Cola was a luxury. We only drank it when we went out for dinner which was a treat at once or twice a month.
I also grew up at a time when drinking water was free. There was no such thing as bottled mineral water.
After a football game, we drank from the water pipe. At home we boiled water from the tap.
School holiday travelling was confined to cuti-cuti Sabah – road trips via Land Rover Defender on gravel roads to exotic destinations such as Kota Belud, Tenom, Sandakan, Tawau and Kudat.
Flying to Kuala Lumpur for a holiday was a once-in-10-years luxury.
My poorer schoolmates would probably have to sell their kidneys to afford a trip to the country’s capital which they had only seen in P. Ramlee films.
In the age of smartphones and tablets, it is almost impossible to be frugal (yes, I know there is such a thing as financial discipline).
And our needs have grown in size. Just look at the TV. It has grown from a 14-inch black and white TV in the 1970s to 21-inch colour TVs and 42-inch plasma TVs.
Now I have my head and face shaved once a week (that’s RM15 x 4 = RM60 a month).
My three-year-old daughter Apsara gets her hair cut by a professional hairstylist (that’s RM24 for her bob cut). Why? To misquote L’Oreal’s famous advertising slogan: “Because she’s worth it.”
Tutti Frutti is a once- or twice-a-week treat. If the store existed in the 1970s, I can’t imagine dad forking out his hard earned money on frozen yogurt.
Probably eating there would have been like Christmas – once a year.
When we were growing up, a “dessert” treat would have been several scoops of chocolate and malt powder from the Milo tin when mummy was not watching.
The little food luxuries that my mother stocked up in the fridge were Kraft Singles cheese and Nestlé ice cream.
It is the age of conspicuous spending. Most of the time I can’t resist the impulse that compels me to purchase things like the adorable RM69 Bekvam step stool in Ikea (for the record, I’ve two in my house).
Then there are unavoidable expenses for services that I can’t live without in the age of the Internet – UniFi broadband, Astro direct broadcast satellite, Maxis data plan and call plan, and electricity. That comes to about a cool RM800 a month.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not as if I’ve been spending money like Greece.
I do try to save money. For example, I’ve reduced my SMS charges by using WhatsApp (a cross-platform mobile messaging app for smartphones). And I’ve not gone for a massage or facial for several months.
I might go on a financial diet. I might embrace Chris Farrell’s philosophy which he espouses in his book The New Frugality: Consume Less, Save More, Live Better.
“This New Frugality is not about being cheap; it’s about being smart,” Farrell wrote.
“... it shows how putting core values at the centre of investment and spending decisions means fewer purchases, but more satisfying ones.”
Sounds like my parents’ frugality.