Higher prices call for prudent measures

Fried mee hoon, mee and kuey teow selling at RM4 per pack at a Ramadan bazaar in Bandar Perda, Bukit Mertajam last year. — Filepic

THE prices of food and other necessities have risen yet again.

Taken individually, the increases seem small but taken together, they really eat up a big chunk of our income.

The fasting month is back, Covid-19 is no longer a major threat but what casts a pall on the fasting month is the rise in cost of food.

An extra RM1 here, an extra RM3 there, and my wallet becomes thinner than usual.

We avoid the “good stuff” and “big-ticket items”. We stay frugal and modest, and yet we see our money being whittled away more aggressively than before.

With Ramadan, our family resolved to abstain from eating out and we cook at home.

Yet we still see our money flowing out faster than before.

This has to stop. I want my family to use a phone app to record all our expenses in the next few months, every ringgit and sen.

There are hundreds of such apps. Search for them in your phone using keywords like “money manager”, “budget planner” or “spending tracker”, and you will find them.

Many of these apps even let your whole family input their expenditures into one book.

We can organise our spendings into categories like food, entertainment, education, clothing, medicine and so on.

I am not a bean counter. I was never trained in accountancy. But my wallet is getting thinner, and I don’t even know where my money went.

So, however tedious and boring it will be, I resolve to use such an app, with the cooperation of my family, to see what is happening with our finances. And I think all families must do this.

A few days before Ramadan, I visited Chowrasta market in Penang to survey the prices of essential items.

Many traders lamented that prices of most of the basic food items like vegetables, chicken, beef and fish were on the rise, and they could not sell cheap because that would mean losses.

Officially, Malaysia’s inflation rate in January eased to 3.7% from December’s 3.8%, yet the price of fresh foods is still soaring.

A kilogramme of ladies’ fingers was about RM7 two years ago and is now RM15 per kg.

A sack of onions, about 7kg to 8kg, now costs between RM15 and RM19. It used to be RM10 or RM11.

“The price for local beef is now between RM38 and RM40 per kg, and my supplier hinted to me that the price could go up soon for Hari Raya Puasa,” said a beef seller who wanted to be known only as Ali.

Ali said he had no choice but to pay whatever suppliers charged him.

A vegetable seller claimed that retailers were at the mercy of middlemen.

“We cannot sell high. There are days when we only break even,” he said.

Economist Assoc Prof Dr Saidatulakmal Mohd agreed that the cost of living made an impact on everyone’s lives, not only to Muslims during Ramadan.

“The purchasing power of individuals has now decreased due to inflation. Hence, Ramadan and Hari Raya spending will definitely be affected.

“It is the economic uncertainty of the world economy that affects us,” she said.

The University Sains Malaysia lecturer said this was the time when businesses should not only focus on profit but also on improving well-being of consumers as their target markets, and they must engage with society through various social programmes and embrace the Ramadan spirit.

She said economic theories proved that household consumption highly influenced the GDP (gross domestic product) figures.

That was the purpose of the government’s stimulus packages during Covid-19: to stimulate spending and consumption for a better GDP.

“But does this mean we stop spending? No, we just need to spend prudently.

“The choice of spending is in our hands. We decide what to purchase and what not to purchase. Importantly, think before we spend,” she said.

I consider myself lucky because I can still afford satisfying buka puasa meals for my family.

But not everyone is so lucky. Many are reeling in the face of the rising cost of living.

A recent government survey showed that 96% of Malaysians owned smartphones.

So download those money apps. Record every sen you spend to see where it goes.

I wish everyone a blessed Ramadan and a Hari Raya with less inflation, I hope.

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