There are lessons to be learnt from the tough times we had, especially when it comes to money management. The change in situation sees the loss of income for many as at least 5.3% of Malaysians were unemployed at the start, businesses were closed and some were hit with salary reduction.
The pandemic had served as a wake-up call and highlighted our weak grasp on financial management. At least 78.6% of Malaysians learnt about the importance of saving up for rainy days and would increase their emergency savings fund in the future .
During the financial adversity, citizens were fortified with moratorium and cash handouts to ease financial burdens. However, as we navigate to an endemic state, there are few financial lessons that experts both locally and globally have conveyed to strengthen our finances in the post-pandemic world:
1. No excuse for financial illiteracy
At the start of the pandemic, the government’s announcement highlighted financial terms that may be new to our ears. Such terms are “loan moratorium” and “reschedule and restructuring (R&R).” You’re not alone, as at least 66% of Malaysians do not know or are uncertain of its meaning.
With the minimal foundation we have on the topic, it is necessary to build on our financial literacy. There are organisations out there that educate commonfolk on finances such as Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK), The Simple Sum Malaysia and Ringgit Plus. Only with more knowledge, we can make better informed financial decisions.
2. Spend within your means. 50:30:20 budget.
The extended Movement Control Order (MCO) sees 69.8% of Malaysians spending less. By staying and working at home, expenses such as travel, toll and parking were omitted. Further, the reduced temptations brought forth by social gatherings have undeniably helped in curbing unnecessary spending such as excessive shopping, splurging on food and entertainment.
As the situation becomes close to normal, many would be persuaded to visit their favourite restaurants and cafes. However, it is also good to remind ourselves to draw a line between overindulgence and treating oneself. One way to ensure that we are spending within our means is to establish a 50:30:20 budget.
With 50% of your income for needs (rent and groceries), 30% for wants (leisure activities) and allocating 20% for savings and investments, as recommended by Aaron of Mr-stingy.
Plus, MCO has also taught us a thing or two about cooking and meal planning. Not only does this reduce our eating out expenses, it also allows us to adopt a healthier lifestyle, says Helmi, the founder of Balkoni Hijau.
3. Trim unnecessary expenditure
With the constant limbo of staying at home and phasing off entertainment establishments such as cinemas, we have relied heavily on monthly subscriptions such as Netflix, Disney+, Spotify and a hefty amount on mobile data subscription. At the same time, our gym subscriptions went to waste over the two years and we have found alternatives to maintain our body ship-shape ranging from the easily accessed Youtube videos to jogging around the neighbourhood.
To be able to save more money, it is crucial to examine expenses for the past 12 months and pinpoint recurring expenses which can be reduced explained KCLAU of KCLau.com. And maybe it’s time to unsubscribe to your Netflix and Spotify accounts along with downgrading your mobile plans suggest Yi Xuan of No Money Lah – perhaps a drastic change for many!
The temptation to experience things that we haven’t been able to for the past year is appealing. However, in the post-pandemic world, “to those who had been severely affected by business closure, lesser disposable income is at hand and paying off debts should be the priority,” says Vadim Verdyan, head of advice at financial app Albert.
How else can we trim our budget? Imani Francies, a personal finance expert in the US suggested that with cash in hand, we would be more frugal and will spend within our means. With credit cards, there is a tendency to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude when spending . In other words, use cash or debit cards.
4. Resist the urge to add to the shopping cart. The 72 hour rule.
Our shopping habits have shifted from simple weekend window shopping to clicking and adding items to our online shopping carts. During MCO, it had been helpful to purchase essential items without walking out of the house. The convenience of online purchasing has increased the chances of impulse buying.
One piece of advice is to ensure your bank accounts are unlinked to any online shopping platform and e-wallets to minimise the likelihood of purchasing a non-essential item, said Suraya, from Ringgit Oh Ringgit.
“Adopting a 72-hour rule before clicking check out is wise,” Marcus Keong, a Malaysian financial blogger said.
The 72-hours grace period is a great time to deliberate whether the item in mind is necessary, no similar items that we have owned and there are no second-hand options thus far .
Most of our spending during MCO was an awful coping mechanism and “it is crucial to find alternatives that wouldn’t break the bank to channel our emotions,” Sivathish of Money Inspirations pitched in .
5. Say no to more debt
Currently, house prices are considerably reducing with the lack of demand. But Nor Akmar Yaakub, head of the financial education department at the Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK), said this isn’t the right time to invest in a house.
Alternative methods of investment such as stock market investment, fixed deposits and newer asset classes such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) gained traction during MCO and reportedly 54.7% of Malaysians are looking into investing more in the future .
As a rule of thumb, an emergency fund should be in place before investing in property or stock markets. At the same time, any investment should be done only when equipped with knowledge and understanding of the assets themselves, Nor Akmar suggested. Our financial goals post-pandemic should be fine-tuned and more focus should be placed on saving up for an emergency fund rather than adding more debt to our plate.
6. Cushioning the next fall. 6 months to 1 year of savings.
A 3-6 months savings was deemed sufficient to face any unforeseen circumstances such as car repair or retrenchment. Now, financial planners are indicating that 6 months to 1-year savings should be the aim, says an American Chartered Financial Analyst, Tara Falcone .
However, in Malaysia, at least 53% of us are unable to survive more than three months with current savings . Many of us are financially strapped, even so, it is still crucial to start small just to ensure there’s funding that we could fall back to during financial emergencies.
“An emergency fund is a safety net and should be the top priority in terms of cash allocation,” said Adam Deady, a financial planner in the States .
One of the reasons behind financial fragility is also having high-interest debt that is chaining you from saving more. If capable, address your debts and prioritise as much to cut down the amount of debt to ease your saving journey .
7. Exploring other ways of making money
The extended amount of time living at home did allow a significant amount of time to think of new ideas to earn money or to build on passion projects that could also generate income such as:
- Becoming a drop shipper
- Run classes for piano or painting (with Patreon/ Ko-fi)
- Utilising your skills such as baking or cooking set meals and start a side hustle
Vincent Kwo, president of the Malaysian Financial Planning Council recommended youth of today to seek alternate ways that could increase their monthly income .
Your main job may take up more of your time as offices are set to re-open yet the passion projects and side-businesses shouldn’t be closed for good as it provides alternate ways to increase monthly income . The improved cash flow would allow more savings for rainy days.
Explore our sources
- Department of Statistics (2020). Key Statistics of Labour Force in Malaysia 2020. Link
- K. A.Noordin and V.Gomes. (2020). The Wall: Survey: Malaysians have spent less and invested more during the MCO. The Edge Markets. Link
- Ringgit Plus Malaysian Financial Literacy Survey. (2020). Link
- S.Dayangku. (2020). 7 finance bloggers’ personal tips to save money now, so you can survive the recession in Malaysia. Vulcan Post. Link
- B.Holzhauer. Financial Spring Cleaning: 9 Post-Pandemic Tips To Spruce Up Your Budget. Forbes. Link
- M.Littman. (2021). How to Keep Your Pandemic Spending Habits Post-Quarantine. Better Homes and Gardens. Link
- J.Lim. (2020). #Adulting: How millennials and Gen Z are coping financially during the outbreak. The Edge Markets. Link
- R.Carson. (2020). 5 Financial Lessons Learned During The Pandemic. Forbes. Link