In about four months, Muslim parents in the country will face two big-budget events almost simultaneously – the start of the school season for the 2023/2024 academic calendar and Ramadan, followed by Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Next year’s school session will start two days, or one day before Ramadan begins on March 12, 2024.
“The overlap of these two events is a challenging situation for many households, especially considering the current economic condition and increased prices for food and daily household items,” says Wealth Vantage Advisory Corporate Treasury Investment Services director Idham Idris, on behalf of the Financial Planning Association of Malaysia.
Typically, he says, Ramadan occurs about 10-12 days earlier each year and it completes a full cycle every 32 to 33 years. For the record, Ramadan this year began on March 23, four days after school started.
“While it may seem like an overwhelming situation, it’s essential to recognise that this alignment of events is relatively rare. This convergence will likely affect families for only a year or two,” Idham says.
Fortunately, he says, it’s not too early to start preparing for these events.
“Planning ahead can significantly alleviate the financial strain on parents and guardians. The key is to start budgeting and making informed financial decisions as soon as possible,” he adds.
Feeling the heat
With a monthly household income of RM5,000 and four children aged 11 to 19, Rohimah Che Amat and Mohd Sharifuddin Mohd Shaari can barely save.
“We are living from pay cheque to pay cheque, and when something pops up, we are forced to seek help from our siblings. But they too have their own financial constraints,” she says.
The 41-year-old government servant from Ipoh remembers very well the challenges she and her husband faced early this year.
“It was tough and everyone in the family was affected by the two events. And I can already feel the heat,” she says.
To make ends meet, Rohimah says, they both take every opportunity to make extra income, from selling home-cooked food to delivery and repair services.
“Thankfully, I can cook a variety of dishes and desserts and the income I make from my cooking helps a lot,” she says.
For Noor Haslina Adzhar and Mohd Shukri Zazali, their family expenses for the coming months are not too much different than the other months throughout the year.
“Both of us are sticklers when it comes to saving. Every month, we set aside a percentage of our take-home salary of about RM8,000,” says the 37-year-old mother of four children, aged two to 11.
Since she lives with her parents in Kuala Lumpur, where the cost of living is high, Noor Haslina says saving – no matter how small the amount – is important.
“You’ll need to stash some money for emergencies, or for clashing events like this,” says the bank officer.
For lower-income families, Idham says, the convergence of school reopening and Ramadan represents significant financial commitments.
“However, it’s crucial for every family to distinguish between essential expenses and discretionary spending,” he adds.
Parents, Idham says, should carefully budget for essential expenses which include school fees and supplies, and healthy meals for the family during Ramadan.
“For discretionary spending, they should reevaluate expenses on entertainment or non-essential shopping during this period,” he says.
Cutting back on such expenses can help redirect funds towards critical needs, he says.
Charting the plans
For their back-to-school preparation, Noor Haslina will allocate RM150 for each of her three children.
“We usually start buying their school supplies like uniforms, shoes, bags and books a month before school opens,” she says.
Since her expenses on groceries during fasting month are like any other month, Noor Haslina is in a comfortable position. “The only splurge we have is a trip to the nearby Ramadan bazaar which we limit to not more than RM30 a trip,” says Noor Haslina, adding that the bazaar trip is a little treat for her children for fasting.
Rohimah and husband also take their children to shop for their school necessities a month before school starts.
“Even though we’re careful with our spending, like buying only what need to be replaced, we still have to prepare about RM1,000 for this,” she says.
On top of setting aside their income for the children’s school expenses, Rohimah says they will also slowly stock up on dry food that have longer shelf life, one or two months leading to Ramadan.
When it comes to preparing for these events separately, Idham says, the key word is “priority” which parents should identify for each event.
“For school opening, they should prioritise essential educational expenses while for Ramadan, the focus should be on its spiritual and communal aspects like setting a reasonable budget for meals,” he says.
He suggests parents explore cost-effective ways like buying preloved items from other parents and planning meals efficiently.
Getting ready for Hari Raya
The financial strain of school opening and Ramadan can also affect preparations for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Idham says.
“There are ways to prepare for Hari Raya without excessive financial burden. We just need to prioritise, be creative and embrace the communal spirit of Ramadan,” he adds.
While the fasting month adds extra strain on her family’s expenses, Ramadan for Rohimah is a blessing.
“Not only do we get more orders for my dishes and desserts, we also have our hands full on Hari Raya cookies orders. God willing, we will be able to get new baju Raya for the whole family,” she adds.
For Hari Raya, Noor Haslina does not mind allocating extra budget from her family.
“Our family is big. On top of the four kids, we also buy new clothes for their grandparents on both sides of the family,” she adds.
Noor Haslina says she usually surveys the prices both at physical malls and online shopping platforms before deciding on the purchase.
“The key is to approach these events with thoughtful planning, open communication within the family, and a focus on what truly matters most during these special times,” Idham says.