Syed Nadzri: No funny side to this one!

Posted by SM Maulana

Living in the city carries with it peculiar demands which, at the slightest change in spending, could cause untold havoc on the forever tight budget.

By : Syed Nadzri, New Straits Times

SOME people have certainly not lost their sense of humour even when lamenting the rising cost of living.
A bad joke that was making its dizzying rounds so many times through text messaging and emails last week was this one-liner: “After many years of marriage, my wife complained that I never bring her out to an expensive place anymore. So tonight I have decided to take her to the petrol station.”

Another example is the letter published in this paper yesterday about the shrinking breakfast. However, underneath the funny lines was a profound message that relates to many people these days.

The writer said that after the fuel price increases announced recently, his breakfast of roti canai and teh tarik was beginning to look different.

“The roti canai had shrunk from saucer-size to CD-size and the tea an even lighter shade of pale. When I paid the bill I was slapped with a five per cent government tax – or so it says on the receipt.”

The letter from Kuala Lumpur, which also expressed other grievances such as stolen drain covers, was a sad but typical urban lament from the educated middle-class about the hardship arising from the spiralling costs. And in essence, it cannot be that much different from the cries of the poverty-stricken in far flung areas.

Living in the city carries with it peculiar demands which, at the slightest change in spending, could cause untold havoc on the forever tight budget.

A very telling perspective could be derived from yet another email I received on the same subject last week. A real food for thought, this one.

It starts with a question: can a family man in Kuala Lumpur survive with a salary of RM3,000?

The whole premise, according to the writer, is the RM3,000 benchmark, the average Malaysian family income per month. And to give it a more realistic perspective, it is a family of four – father works, mother doesn’t and there are two children, one school-going and the other an infant.

The calculation:

– Electricity and water bills – RM100 (no air-conditioning, home theatre system or water heater);

– Phone bill (Telekom Malaysia Bhd) – RM100;

– Meals – RM775 (based on three meals for the whole family at RM25 per day);

– Father’s refreshments, light lunch and teh tarik during working hours – RM155 (that’s a measly RM5 per day);

– Car instalment – RM400 (a modest Proton Saga Aeroback, seven-year repayment period);

– Petrol – RM300 (driving in the city to go to work and take the son to school with very minimal toll payment);

– Car and life insurance – RM650;

– House mortgage repayment – RM750 (low-cost or low medium-cost housing repayment for 30 years, which can stretch on after retirement);

– Tuition (a norm for every child) – RM80 (if there is one that cheap);

– Pocket money for the child to take to school – RM20 (that’s less than RM1 a day, is that enough?);

– School fees for various activities, books and uniforms – RM130 (there is always something to be paid);

– Milk powder for the younger child – RM50 (the least expensive); and,

– Miscellaneous – RM100 (shampoo, soap, detergent, rice, sauce, toilet paper and other household items).

The total for the above comes up to RM3,610 and that’s a clear deficit.

And notice that the expenditure has not included some of the common things like satellite television subscription, mobile phone bills and Internet fees.

There are also no provisions for other kinds of family leisure. And the RM3,000 monthly wage has not taken into account the deductions for income tax and Employees’ Provident Fund.

The above case is just based on a very conservative estimate of a family’s needs without even considering money put aside for savings.

It has to be remembered that as the children get older, the expenditure will also increase.

“It has reached a stage where the belt has been tightened to the maximum,” the writer says. “So, what change in lifestyle can anyone expect anymore?”

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