Surviving on RM2,500 a Month?

IF you were like my dad, you were probably one of those people queueing up at petrol stations last week when the government suddenly announced a 20sen increase in RON95 fuel effective Wednesday midnight, to get in a last minute full tank before the prices increased. Apparently this was ‘in line with the government’s plans for subsidy rationalisation’… whatever that means.

Hey, I’m a layman. I only know that I now have to pay a few bucks more every time I fill my tank, and that’s gonna add up to my travel expenses over the months. I’m sure most people think the same way.

IF you were like me, you wouldn’t have been surprised that another damn thing has come by it’s way to increase living costs. While it would be unfair to compare with countries where people scrape by for a living, if we don’t put a stop to this way of handling our finances, we will be headed there. Soon. Malaysia’s budget deficit has already been in hot water for a couple of years, and with slow growth compared to other up and coming South East Asian economies like Indonesia and the Philippines, we will soon lose the edge factor that has kept our currency value higher than those countries for many years now.

I know I’ve blogged about this like a year before, but here I am again, because things haven’t changed and have actually gotten worse.

Image from

A recent report  by ‘economist and financial management experts’ was released today (Oct 7), claiming that RM2,500 (about 767 USD) is sufficient for fresh graduates to cover their living costs, such as house rental, transport fees, food, etc.

I call bullshittery. 

The report stemmed from a survey on a local job portal, where 77% of 2,062 respondents on a local job portal felt that RM2,500 is insufficient as most could barely save after spending on basic necessities. Most put the cap on RM3,500 while 30 percent asked for RM6,500. – source: The Star Online

While 6k is too much for a starting salary (wtf kind of jobs ru applying for?), 2.5k is definitely slim pickings, especially if ur living in a large city, like me.

I wouldn’t have written this blog post if it weren’t for the ridiculous statements given by these so-called experts. I quote:

“The key here is patience. If during your practical training you could take a bus, why not do the same now? Don’t think that as soon as you start work you could just forget how you lived as a student”. –  economic lecturer with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Professor Dr Shazali Abu Mansor

Yes, I took the bus when I was a student during my practical training. The Keyword here is practical training. Most employers would be understanding if you are a student and you can’t afford to drive. For myself, as a journalist, I travel a lot. I could still get to places as an intern by relying on my photographers, the bus, the taxi, etc. However, all of that changes when you’re already an employee. My colleagues are all busy people and they would expect me to handle my own shit and not give them trouble. Because I’m constantly running around doing ‘heavier’ assignments as compared to the easy ones I had as a student, I can’t afford to be late and everyone knows our public transport is unreliable Many employees travel around these days, like those in sales, marketing, events, etc. Your argument would therefore only apply to a select group of individuals, say, people who have a 9-to-5 job who don’t have to travel anywhere but from home to work and vice versa.

source: wikipedia commons

“Apart from that, he advised that those who have just started work should not rush into buying luxuries like a car. They should stabilise their financial position beforehand. “Owning a car at a very young age is definitely ‘cool’ but one should not forget of the additional ownership costs involved – fuel, toll, parking charges, maintenance and insurance coverage when lumped up could prove to be hefty”, – head of the education division of the Credit Counseling and Debt Management Agency(AKPK), Mohd Adnan Anan Abdullah

A car is not a luxury these days. It is a necessity. Have you ever tried taking the bus, my dear Mr Mohd Adnan? I did. For close to five years, from my house in Puchong to my college in Kuala Lumpur. A trip by car takes around 40mins without the jam, and a trip by ‘public transport’? Close to two hours. No buses run into my area, so I still have to rely on someone (I was car-less then) to fetch me to the bus stop 10 mins away, wait for a bus (which would never depart on time) to KL Sentral, where I would have to catch the train, and then another bus to my college. As a student, that time could have been spent finishing up my assignments and studying for tests, and I’m sure for many working people, they wouldn’t have the time NOR energy to take public transport that way. I’d rather invest in a car than go through that sort of nightmare again. They did say ‘time is money’, ja?

Why not stay outside, you ask? That comes to my next point. Why do people rent/buy places far away from the city centre when they have to bloody travel hours to get there? And While I stay at home to save costs, many fresh grads out there don’t have that option because they travelled from other states to Selangor to work. The rent for a room close to commercial areas, say PJ (Kampung Tunku) is RM600 (small room, basic) and RM800 (with air conditioning. If you’re a Malaysian, you’d know that the weather here can easily reach 30 degrees or more. U’d die without at least a high powered fan). Utility bills amount to about RM100-200 a month (if shared with housemates), and most people would need Internet (People use it for work now. I use FB regularly for contacts and stories), costing another RM150 a month. That’s almost half of the ‘sufficient’ RM2.5k gone. (Tentative damage: RM850-900)

And since most people wouldn’t have been able to buy the car outright, they would have taken bank loans repaid over five, seven or nine years. For myself, my monthly car loan repayment is RM470, minus insurance that I have to pay at the end of each year (RM1,000). My petrol (since I travel frequently) comes to RM300 a month. People who park regularly in certain places would have to pay a monthly season pass for their cars. (RM100) (Tentative damage: RM800)

Then food. I guess this is the part where grads can save the most by cooking their own meals, ja? I guess our ‘experts’ would say that. Say an average meal is RM10 per meal (a cheap one, mind you! Unless you wanna eat roti canai and teh tarik for every meal) and you cook for breakfast and dinner… you’d still be paying RM300 for lunch alone. If you’re super thrifty with your groceries… I guess it would come up toRM250 per month? (Tentative damage: RM550)

That pretty much covers it. But because I also give a small sum to my parents, I’m gonna include another RM400 here. So let’s start doing the math – if I’m an out of towner who rents a room, has to have a car to get to work and eats moderately priced meals while sending parents a small amount of money back home. 

Total: RM2,600. That’s definitely over the budget. If I gave absolutely zero to my parents, then I’d have saved RM300 per month. x12 and that’s RM3,600 per year (minus car insurance -1000). Good luck on your home purchase, because a basic condo in the city costs at least RM400k these days.

And we’re only looking at singles. What about young fresh grads who are about 24-25 years old and already have families or commitments? Next the experts are gonna tell us that we should all be single until we’re 35.

The point is it’s easier said than done. Of course there are many youngsters out there who spend their credit first without thinking about the consequences, who never save for a rainy day or who demand for unreasonably high salaries without the experience to match. But for every one of those people out there, there are dozens who are trying really hard to earn a living. Having ‘experts’ spew this kind of nonsense and put it down to ‘unwise’ spending is a real large load of bullcrap and shows how they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. These statements are hurting the prospects of job seekers, as employers see it as a way to further pull down our salaries. I have lots of friends who are fresh grads from uni, and they’re not even paid RM2.5k, but a meagre RM1.5k.

When I first started out last year, my first employer offered me 1.5k and I had to take it because I didn’t have an option. I ended up with no money left over at the end of each month, and I wasn’t even renting a room. I had to get a car because there was no public transport to my workplace, and most of my money went to repaying my car loan and the petrol.

To the ‘experts’. I’d like to see you survive on RM2.5k a month in the big city. THEN, come back and tell us if you really think it’s ‘sufficient’.

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