When the going gets tough, less is more


Something’s gotta give as the cost of living goes up. You have to make sacrifices to your lifestyle or savings will take a dent.

HIGH electricity bills, rising petrol and food prices could spell disaster for your family’s monthly household budget. More Malaysians are beginning to tighten their belts, thinking that is their only option.

However, by living a more frugal lifestyle and making a few adjustments to your daily routines, you will be surprised at the numbers you could shave off your monthly utility bills. Here’s how:

Unplug

After charging your tablets and smartphones, you are still wasting electricity by leaving your chargers and power adapters plugged into the sockets.

International electric consumer product standard Energy Star calls them “energy vampires” because they still use up electricity even when not in use. It estimates that an average household loses RM329 (US$100) a month on these vampires.

“Use a power strip as a central ‘turn off’ point to completely disconnect the power source, when you are done using the equipment. Also unplug your chargers and adapters when you are not using them,” Enegery Star said on its website.

If you don’t need it, don’t use it

The seemingly harmless act of leaving the light or the air-conditioner on can really rack up your utility bill, said Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia (Wecam) secretary-general Foon Weng Lian.

“The biggest wastages are due to ignorance in our daily life. In order to cut them down, we need to educate ourselves by using our common sense,” he said.

The air-conditioner uses up the most electricity in the household, according to Wecam, with a typical unit using up as much as 950W.

“You can save up to 30% by simply increasing your air-cond temperature by three degrees Celcius.

“If it is too hot, you could install roof-top insulation or open all the windows to promote natural air circulation and paint the walls with brighter colours to cool down the house,” he said.

Next on the list, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry estimate that around 40% of a household’s electrical usage is in the kitchen.

“It’s mainly due to the refrigerator operating 24/7. Change the bad habit of opening the fridge door frequently to save energy. Make sure you clean and make space in the fridge regularly and not put hot items in it.

“Also, leave at least 10cm at the back of the fridge from the wall to promote better heat-dispensing,” Foon said.

Go digital

Restaurant manager Thomas Yap, 27, used to travel back and forth to hypermarkets to buy produce for his business.

The long stretches in traffic jams, finding parking, navigating through aisles and looking for products and waiting in line at the counters took a toll on his petrol bill and more importantly, his time.

Now, Yap gets that all done in just minutes and he doesn’t even have to leave his house.

“A hypermarket started offering online shopping and delivery services last year and it was a heaven-sent! I don’t have to physically go to a mall anymore and be stuck in a jam when I need to buy something,” Yap said, adding that he has now slashed his petrol bill by RM70 a month.

On the hypermarket’s website, Yap simply searches for the products he wants and scrolls through a list of items until he finds what he is looking for.

He can order as many units and in as much quantity, suited to his budget.

A few clicks of the mouse and his items arrive at his front door in less than 24 hours, at the same price he would have paid if he bought them at a hypermarket, plus a minimal flat rate of RM10 for the delivery costs.

“Now I handle most of my payments like bills and bank transactions online. It is just easier and quite safe,” he said.

Communication student Claudia Lye, 19 also uses the Internet to do her shopping. She buys her clothes through Instagram.

“Almost all my friends are doing it. We follow the profile of our favourite blogshops on the app and you can see pictures of their products with the prices and contact details if we want to purchase them.

“I’d message the owners through WatsApp or WeChat and tell them the measurements of the clothes I want. Then, all I have to do is bank in the payment and it comes in a package in about one to two weeks,” she said,

Lye said though most of the clothes were locally produced, most of them matched the quality and look of some famous but more expensive clothing brands, enabling here to save 50% to 80% during her shopping sprees.

Live frugally & plan ahead

“Something’s gotta give as the cost of living goes up. You have to make sacrifices to your lifestyle or your family’s savings will take a dent,” argues Success Concepts Life Planners chief executive officer Joyce Chuah.

In an average Klang Valley household, Chuah said, monthly expenditure has gone up by at least RM3,000 to RM4,000 in the last 10 years based on a family with two working adults and two school-going kids.

“This doesn’t include emergencies, insurance, investments and other miscellaneous expenses etc.

“If someone were to do a retirement gap analysis, ie how much is required to fund their retirement, they might get a fright with their current state of finances.

“With that, one will realise that if they don’t consciously and continuously save, they will need to ‘scramble’ to conserve when they reach that point,” she said.

For Chuah, desperate times call for desperate measures and changes need to be made in a person’s lifestyle to continue saving. This includes instilling and practising frugal habits.

“It could be as simple as consuming less expensive drinks, buy in bulk or buy secondhand, avoid getting new versions of IT gadgets so often, cancel subscriptions which will end up in the trash. You can also find free entertainment on the Internet instead of going out.

“Batching errands and buying in bulk needs pre-planning and organising.

“Decide on a fixed date to do all your grocery shopping and look for bulk discounts.

“How much do we need to save? A simple rule of thumb is to save 1/3 of your salary each month (33%) to meet your living expenses at retirement.

“If you are an EPF contributor, the mandatory deduction already contributes 23%.

“You need to top up an additional 10% of your monthly salary into a personal investment portfolio.

“Children can also be taught to be less susceptible to peer pressure to buy branded items.

“Retirees can keep themselves healthy or ensure they have sufficient and proper insurance coverage since medical costs are huge saving killers,” Chuah said, adding that nine out of 10 people who seek her advice have been found to have insufficient savings for their children’s education and retirement.

Chuah also advised people not to be solely reliant on their EPF savings alone to break the bank and look to investing in other long-term portfolios to cope with inflation rates.

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