Ringgit and sense

Illustration courtesy of www.gst.customs.gov.my.

DEPENDING on how you like your breaking news delivered, eyes will be squarely fixed on online portals, television screens and live-streaming social media from 4pm onwards today.

Yes, the Budget 2014 is set to be tabled in Parliament later this evening. As the word on the street goes: “It’s that time of the year again where we find out what the Government plans to do with our money.”

This year, there seems to be visible, online efforts in listening to the vox populi - ministers asking Twitter followers for feedback on their portfolios and projects, a rather elegant 1Malaysia.com.my poll soliciting feedback from the rakyat on everything from housing to healthcare - and it remains to be seen how much of this feedback will influence the budget.

One hopes that similar efforts were made to solicit opinions beyond the plugged in rakyat.

In a recent interview, Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT) coordinator S. Parames issued a reminder on the needs of our large rural population ... they are clearly less visible in our online spaces, but their opinion is no less important.

The workers rights activist also said there was “no need for things like Menara Warisan”, citing low occupancy rates in existing high-rise buildings.

As numerous articles and wish lists have made clear, affordable housing is of greater importance to the people than more mega projects.

I do not envy those responsible for determining how the rakyat’s money is used. So many communities and causes on the ground, and only so much cash to go around.

But with all this talk of where money should go, I wondered: how many can safely say they are comfortable with handling their own cash?

For reasons of their own, some have no real financial plan in mind. One issue seems to be a lack of interest, with only certain terms pinging our radar.

Despite all the talk surrounding the proposed goods and services tax (GST), Malaysian Association of Tax Accountants (Mata) president Abd Aziz Abu Bakar says the most common question he receives is startlingly basic: “What is the GST?”

Still, he is grateful that it is asked at all: “When it comes to Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M), everyone wants to know everything about it. That’s because it’s money coming in. But when it’s money going out, like the GST, there’s considerably less interest in understanding it.”

Reports indicate that this budget will be a tough one, aimed at addressing the country’s fiscal deficit and Government debt to GDP, which at 53.3% is a minor crisis shy of hitting our self-imposed ceiling of 55%.

"How did we get here?" may be a good question, but one we must ask now is: "What do we do now?"

While we can and should urge the Government to act on the severe leakages pointed out in the Auditor General’s yearly reports, is there any wastefulness that we can cut out of our own lives?

An easy example is our regular cup of joe. 

If you can’t do without nice coffee, make other adjustments to accommodate this necessity. No one has the right to guilt you into giving up your favourite beans or brew.

And during a recent scroll through my Twitter timeline, one @etp_roadmap tweet caught my eye: “Bank Negara provides financial education on the proper use of credit and basic money management, such as budgeting.”

How useful! My financial management extends to the use of Toshl (a personal expense tracker app), and the deliberate disabling of peripheral vision in malls when it’s not the sale season.

Just as there are many ways to break the bank, there are just as many steps you can take to not blow your budget.

A disciplined friend tracks his monthly expenditure with a detailed Excel sheet, while another divides her monthly salary into different duit raya packets with labels such as rent, food and entertainment.

The steps you take don’t even have to make sense to anyone else. Someone I know likes the look and feel of RM5 notes enough to set them aside every time she receives one.

While we strive towards better financial habits and keep ourselves accountable, let’s also train our eyes on those who should be.

For instance, if the worst comes to pass and unscrupulous businesses hijack the GST to jack up prices, take your money elsewhere and buy from fair-price establishments.

At times, you can’t (really) control what happens to you, but what you can do is determine how you react to said stimuli.

And right now, there is no greater impetus to act than the budget.

The writer is tightening her purse strings. For those already mindful of their money, well done! What’s your favourite money tip? Share some financial savvy in the comments below.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own

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Opinion , Budget , Made in Malaysia


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