I spent 2 years during secondary school in Petaling Jaya (PJ) in West Malaysia. I wasn't there on a scholarship or a special arrangement arising from doing very well in school before that. It was just an idea of dad. You see, as a little boy I was a timid kidthe nerdy type, if you like, and dad thought it would do me good to be away from home on my own; sort of to learn to do things on my own. I ended up renting a room with a relative.
Dad allocated a more or less fixed amount of pocket money each month, but he wasn't very good in keeping up with the timing of the remittances. I had to plan my expenses carefully, as I could be in big trouble when dad failed to send my pocket money on time.
The first few months in PJ, I walked about 4km to school each morning, and then walked home the same distance after school. Then I learned to take the bus. About half a year later, I had saved enough money to buy a secondhand bicycle for the price of RM90, which became my main transport for the rest of the two years of my life in PJ. I used to envy my classmates, many of whom were mostly riding motorbikes to school. I eventually sold that bike for RM40 to an Indian grass cutter about 2 weeks before I came home to Sabah for good.
After I left school, I got a job as a teacher in a private school. The first year working, I took the bus to and from school. Then an uncle helped me out with the down payment for a motorbike, and I paid the RM175 installment every month. That bike was a big asset to me, as I was able to move around to give tuition after school, and was therefore able to earn a small side income that way. The extra RM200 that I earned from giving tuition was a big deal considering that I was only earning RM490 per month from my teaching job.
Years later, a few weeks after I got married, Mia relocated to Brunei to live with me. I was renting a self-contained outbuilding accommodating a bedroom, a tiny kitchen which was also the dining and living room, and a bathroom. That building was actually intended for a maid's unit, but the detached house that occupied the main portion of the land was big enough to accommodate the maid, and the owner reckoned that it's a good idea to let out the outbuilding to me at BND500 per month.
I can still remember that I had some savings, but spent a long time thinking whether or not we would buy a washing machine. After much considerations and discussion with Mia, we decided to wait for a few more months before we buy one. Back then a BND380 washing machine was a luxury item for us.
I had a humble beginning and had no formal training in financial management, but managing my resources is a common sense thing to me. The simple formula of living within one's means is made up of simple mathematics. From the amount that I earn, I set aside whatever fixed obligations such as electricity and phone bills, housing loans, savings etc, and then spend whatever's left of that amount. There is actually nothing too complicated about it, really.
Seeing some of my family members and so many people out there, I fail to understand why is it so impossible for them to figure out the simple mathematics on how to manage their resources. It doesn't really matter how much they're earningwhether they have RM100 or RM100,000, they always end up spending more than what they have. It's like their appetites are growing way too fast than their earning powers. They're in fact constantly in deficit. A family member had a windfall when she inherited about RM1.5 million, but she burnt it all within 3 years, and now has practically nothing to her name.
I read about this widow who blew about RM2.5 million in just a year. It's really beyond me how that can happen. I don't claim to be an expert in financial management, but although RM2.5 million can be intoxicating, I'm thinking that even if I'm gonna burn that money, it'd take me much longer than just a year.
Financial mismanagement is almost a disease suffered by so many people. It makes me think that although it is basically a common sense thing, financial management is actually a skill that very few possess. It's one of those strange mysteries of the world.