PETALING JAYA: With the cost of living rising faster than Malaysians’ income, eating out and getting takeaway food is not always pocket-friendly.
However, economists say it has become the hidden cost of working, as eating out or ordering takeout is the most viable option for many working Malaysians, especially in urban areas.
This is due to challenges such as lacking time and energy to cook after a gruelling day of work and hours spent travelling to and from the workplace.
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To help people reduce their reliance on eating out, experts say the government could give employers better incentives to embrace flexible work arrangements (FWAs) to enable workers to prepare meals at home, improve public transport so that they spend less time commuting, and roll out more initiatives to help them raise their incomes.
Economist Prof Dr Geoffrey Williams of the Malaysia University of Science Technology (MUST) said eating out has become less of a luxury or recreational activity and more of a cost of working due to the high demands of a work life.
“The insistence on long working days and the demands of commuting, for example, mean that many people rely on eating out because they have fewer opportunities to shop, prepare food and eat at home. Therefore, they eat out more often.
“As eating out has become more expensive, it takes up more of their disposable income, and so the cost of living becomes more of a burden.
“It affects everyone who works because it increases the cost of working for individuals,” he said when contacted yesterday.
On Monday, Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli said that Malaysians have become “addicted” to eating out, and on average, local households spend about one-third of their disposable income on takeaway food, according to his interview with news portal Malaysiakini.
Compared to other economies such as South Korea, Rafizi said Malaysian households spent a higher proportion of their income on takeout and eating out, thus shrinking their already tight disposable income.
He said issues such as public transport also played a part in Malaysians’ reliance on eating out and delivery.
People, he said, especially those in the Klang Valley, spend a lot of time commuting to and from work, leaving them with little time to prepare food after returning home.
Prof Geoffrey said to improve the situation, the government must introduce better incentives to encourage FWAs to work from home (WFH) and even reduce the working week to help people manage time better and give them the opportunity to prepare meals at home.
Socio-Economic Research Centre (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie said people are feeling the pinch as food prices have gone up while wages have not caught up with the rising cost of living.
He said that while prices of food ingredients are also rising, it is still cheaper than eating out or getting takeout at restaurants, as there is the service tax, parking fees, transportation or delivery charges to consider.
He added that the savings that the government gets from rolling back subsidies should be used to improve infrastructure such as public transport, healthcare and other initiatives that can help people improve their income.
Economist Prof Dr Chung Tin Fah of HELP University said there are ways for Malaysians to save the income spent on takeaways
They include meal-prepping for the week and putting away a portion of their monthly income.
He also suggested that the government should give sufficient incentives for savings, such as reasonable interest rates.
“If interest rates are high enough, people will save,” he said.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the government must improve public transport and carry out a campaign to encourage home cooking.
“One way of overcoming the problem is to cook some dishes during the weekend, freeze them, take them out, and warm the required amount as you need it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) chief executive officer Dr Saravanan Thambirajah said for Rafizi to come to a conclusion, saying that it is an “addiction”, is unfair.
He said the actual reality is that people are juggling the cost of living pressures and work stress while trying to live within their means and stretching their ringgit as far as it can go.
“We can’t compare other countries to Malaysia’s scenario. It’s not apple to apple.
“We hope, rather than pointing to previous policies, that it’s best if the government can improve and build up our economy.
“Look into how to improve our minimum wages and our country’s productivity,” he said.