Struggling to stretch the ringgit

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 16 Jan 2016

At 9 am, the local unit traded higher against the US dollar at 4.3780/3830 from 4.3870/3930 on Thursday

With the weakening ringgit and price increases, people are forced to tighten their belts. Many are keeping a sharp lookout for great offers so that they can stock up on essential items and stretch their money.

A FRIEND of mine was wearing a big smile as he made his way out of a hypermarket in Paya Terubong on Penang island recently.

He was carrying three reusable bags which were full of instant noodle packets. Although it was a public holiday, Sathia was busy going from one hypermarket to another to buy certain items on offer.

He is among thousands of Penangites who are learning how to cope with price hikes during the current hard times. On weekends and festival days, hypermarkets in Penang and elsewhere in the country compete with one another to woo buyers with offers on items.

In Penang, full page or half page advertisements are placed in The Star and certain dailies. These can run up to five or six pages at times.

Sathia, a company executive who lives in Bandar Baru Air Itam, said he bought the big packets of instant noodles at RM4.39 per packet. The advertisement stated the normal price was RM5.20 per packet and the savings was 81 sen. Better still, if one bought two packets, a porcelain bowl would be given free.

“My wife told me the price was the lowest compared to other hypermarkets. Luckily the items were available when I rushed there,” he said.

He then made his way to another hypermarket about 2km away as the smaller packets of instant noodles were cheaper there. The offer price for 5+1 packets was RM2.99. The normal price was stated as RM3.93 and the savings was 94 sen. He bought six packets.

After that, he made his way to another hypermarket which was about 500m away for oats. The offer price for the 1.2kg packet was RM10.79. An extra 150g was included in the packet. The normal price was RM13.89. He bought 13 packets, his wife joined him there.

Sathia says it was a good buy since the expiry date on the packets was in May next year.

A week later, he noticed that a certain hypermarket was offering a 3kg bottle of cooking oil at RM18.88. It came with a free 300gm pack. Another hypermarket had earlier advertised the same product at RM19.88. It however did not come with the 300gm free pack.“I bought eight such bottles. The shelf life of the product was December 2017. It is good savings,” he quipped.

The items are kept in his prayer room-cum-store room.

“I’m not eligible for the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) as my salary is about RM6,500. The GST has affected me badly. My wife is a homemaker. I have four children to feed,” he said.

When the writer posted about the shopping habits of some Penangites in his WhatsApp group, some friends from Kuantan, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Malacca replied they were also doing the same.

Now, they are waiting for the Chinese New Year sale.

A friend posted that he used to scold his wife for rushing to buy offer items some three years ago. He had told her that it was not worth the hassle of waiting in the long queue.

“Now, I have changed my thinking. I have found out that I can save quite a bit,” he said.

A friend told me that she drops off her son at a famous school on the island which is next to a fast food outlet. At about 6.45am, the carpark was usually full.

When the school re-opened this year, she noticed that three-quarters of the carpark was empty.

Another friend said the woman who operates a stall selling thosai had reduced the quantity of sambar (dhall) gravy. The thosai, sold at RM1 each, had also shrunk.

Still, my friend says he would continue to buy there since there was no GST.

At least two of my Chinese neighbours said they only had a simple lunch on most occasions when their husbands were at work.

It’s usually rice with soup where the chicken, fish ball and vegetables are cooked together.

A couple who are my good friends are taking the challenges in their stride. Their only child has completed her first degree in the United States and is now pursuing a masters degree.

During a casual conversation last week, the husband told me he and his wife had fried noodles with bean sprouts and small prawns for lunch. He took the same food for dinner while his wife had oats.

“We are paying for our daughter’s education. The weakening ringgit has affected us badly. We are leading an austere life,” she said.

Everywhere, food portions at eateries have become smaller or the prices have gone up.

It is not only university students and low-income families who are hard hit by the price hikes, middle-class families are affected too and it is worse since they have to pay income tax too.

A general manager of a hypermarket in Penang told my colleague that sales was down by 30% during the recent Christmas and New Year period compared with the same period last year. The short lines were noticeable to patrons. Previously, customers used to urge the management to open more counters during the sales period.

However, the reply was that it was difficult to hire locals and they didn’t want foreigners to handle cash.

Now, this problem appears to have been resolved.

Two days ago, a friend told me there was no queue when he patronised a fast food counter. But at the night market nearby, the place was overcrowded.

“I have never seen so many people. People were bumping into each other in the cramped space,” she said.

There is much hype over Kedai 1Malaysia which sells items at low prices. In Penang, the three shops are in Butterworth, Bukit Mertajam and Tasek Gelugor. There are none on the island where some 46% of Penang’s 1.6mil population are residing.

With the price of crude oil slipping to a 11-year-low and our ringgit taking a bad hit, we are hearing for the first time about Budget “re-calibration”. Recently, Moody’s Investors Service lowered its credit-rating outlook for Malaysia, citing an external environment that has affected government revenue. Some claimed it was not a downgrade but the ringgit did weaken after that.

More cuts are expected in the Government’s expenditure. It comes at a time when some employers are telling their workers not to mull over bonuses or increments and they should consider themselves lucky to keep their jobs.

For many, the news is getting more depressing by the day. And in the gloom and doom, the common man is finding ways to stretch the ringgit.

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Opinion , hypermarkets , ringgit and gst


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