Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
“I can’t wait to be an adult, earn my own money and do whatever I want with it!”
That was one of many conversations that 17-year-old me constantly went over with my friends back in high school.
It had never occurred to teenage-me how challenging adulthood could be, but I suppose it takes being 26 now to fully understand all the responsibilities shouldered by adults.
If I had the chance to go back in time and chat with my younger self, there would be loads of things I would discuss with her — especially finances.
The Day I Took Up The Responsibility…
At 23, I had become the sole breadwinner of my family.
My dad had retired when I turned 18. My mom, meanwhile, has been a devoted housewife since the day she tied the knot.
So by the time I graduated, we were very financially constrained.
In January 2017, I had just completed my internship programme with this company, and I was offered a job immediately as an Officer (the title given to the company’s administrative roles).
A week passed, and my family sat down with me after dinner to have an in-depth discussion about our financial predicament.
After everything was laid out by my parents, I was in shock.
I had always believed that we were doing alright. It had only dawned on me in that moment, the amount of pressure my parents had to endure.
“It may be… a lot for us to ask you, but would it be alright if you take up some responsibility in part of our household expenditures, like groceries and our WiFi bill?” My dad said quietly.
I heard the quaver in his voice and noticed, for the first time, the frown lines on his forehead and the worry in his eyes. And suddenly, I realised my dad was treating me like a full-grown adult.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings.
Mostly, I was concerned about whether I was able to sustain myself till month-end after settling my education loans and phone bills.
But after a moment of self-deliberation, I realized that my family needed me more than ever. So I said: “Yes, dad. You can count on me.”
And so, from that night onwards, I took up the responsibility and I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself. I felt like a real adult!
I worked hard at my job, ate at home, and rarely hung out with friends, except for family gatherings.
Even with the responsibility, I was still able to sustain myself till month-end and even saved up some amount of money to treat myself to a vacation at Krabi in December of 2017.
[Source: Jaz. Trip to Krabi, December 2017]
Mind you, I didn’t have any proper savings of my own in case of a rainy day. Whatever cash I had in hand, I would use it to the last drop.
Then, in early January 2018, I experienced one of the most horrendous struggles of my young adult life.
When My Car Broke Down, I Broke Down
My car broke down, and the repairs costs amounted to no less than RM2,200. I broke down and cried.
All I could think of was, “How am I going to pay for the repairs? How was I going to provide for my family? How will I pay off my commitments?”
I met a dead end that day. I didn’t know where to turn for help.
Out of the blue, my brother and a friend came forward and offered to lend me some money. It felt like heaven was giving me a second chance!
I was overcome with gratitude. I promised to repay them the money I owed on a monthly basis.
Subsequently, this added to my monthly expenses. After that incident, I started to struggle to sustain my family and myself.
(For my brother, yes, he is working. But because he is married and had just gotten a child, we haven’t asked him for help with the family expenses. It would be an added burden for him.)
And with the current economic situation, it didn’t help us as well. With economic fluctuation, the price of goods increases, which then increases grocery expenses, and I will need to provide more from my salary.
Our grocery expenses alone did not exceed RM500 per month, but due to the fluctuation, it has increased by triple the amount.
I started looking for a new job.
It wasn’t just because I needed a higher income bracket to cover all my expenditures — I was ready for the next level in my career.
[Source: Jaz. Job Sourcing in 2018]
Luck was on my side, and I was offered a job as an Executive. It not only paid well, but assured me that I will be able to provide more for my family.
You may think that now I would be more responsible in the way I spent my income, especially after that incident with the car repairs.
Well, I wish I could say that you were right. But you’re not.
I started spending more with my more disposable income
Being in my early 20s, there were many things that I wanted for myself. Temptation got the best of me, and I bought a new dress, pair of new shoes, bags, jewelleries, and more. Most of the time it was out of impulse, rather than purchasing it out of need.
Each time I did this, I would be short on cash and regret my ways. And yet without fail, I would repeat the same cycle again and again.
Once, just a couple of days before my salary was out, I had spent way beyond my allowed budget and had a balance of only RM23 in my purse.
I thought to myself confidently, “I should be alright. It’s just another two days till I get my salary anyway.”
If only I had learnt my lesson on the importance of emergency savings.
A day before my salary was due, I was prepping for work when there was a knock on my door. It was my mom.
She was a little short in cash to purchase groceries for the day, and asked if I had extra. I pursed my lips and gulped, because I didn’t see that coming at all.
I looked at my last RM20 and gave it to her without saying a word. Before she took it, she asked, “Do you have enough for yourself?”
I smiled and nodded my head.
I didn’t want her to worry and for me, it was more important to put food on the table for all of us.
I Finally Learnt to Plan Out My Finances
In late 2018, I started struggling even more with my finances. I was hit with an increase in commitments due to loan repayments which made my monthly expenditure higher as compared to the income I was generating.
I went into depression as I wasn’t able to cope with it any longer. I felt like a failure that could not provide for my family, with no savings whatsoever.
Not only that, I was consumed with self-loathing and self-pity. I couldn’t help but feel envious seeing that other people around me were living a better life than me.
But as I reflect back on all my past actions, I came to realize that it was all because of me
If I had paid close attention to managing my finances, I wouldn’t be in such a situation in the first place.
One day, I decided to meet up with a friend of mine and I poured out all my hardships to him. He then comforted me and told me that he would help.
I asked, “How?”
He gave me a piece of paper and a pen, and said, “Here. List down all the commitments you have now. From there we’ll see what we can do.”
And so I did. From the list, he circled the costs that were unnecessary and advised me to reduce them.
He advised me to continue repayment of my loans as per usual, put aside a minimal amount of savings and stick to the monthly expenses that I’ve fixed for myself.
For example, if I allocate RM500 for my meals and for petrol to work, then I should follow it strictly and not go beyond that.
After we were done, he told me to give it 3 months and see how it goes.
By following his guidance, I had enough to sustain till month end. So I continued on with the plan.
[Source: Jaz. Financial Breakdown]
I did a breakdown of my expenditure into 3 basic categories: Allowance & Savings, Bills and Loans/ Debts.
Personal expenses (petrol, meal groceries) are placed into ‘Allowances & Savings’, utility bills are parked into ‘Bills’ and any bank loans and education loans are placed into ‘Loans’.
After I started managing my finances well, I experienced some pros and cons to my quality of life.
My circle of friends grew smaller as I don’t hang out with them as often as I did. I don’t get many invites out too as I would decline them.
But even so, by following through my financial plan, I was able to provide more for my family as compared to before.
How it all worked out…
I never understood the hardship adults went through when I was young. And I certainly never understood the importance of financial management.
Today, I am 26 years old and as I look back, this whole ordeal has groomed me to be a responsible person.
And as cliche as it sounds, this whole experience taught me a great deal about the value of giving to others.
Shouldering this responsibility was a way for me to give back to my parents who had provided everything to me to be where I am today, and I’m proud to say that I can return the favor.
Here are some tips on financial management through my experience…
- Settle all your bills and loans on time. If you let them relapse, your interest will accumulate, which results in you paying more in the long run.
- Try to control your costs. Reduce your electricity or water consumption by remembering to turn off lights and turn the shower off when you soap down. Also, look into other options for your house’s internet plan, online movie stream, etc.
- Overall expenses should not exceed income. If your expenses are more than your income, you will need to either control your costs or increase your income.
- Always have savings. Put aside a certain amount of money for your savings in case of an emergency and for long term benefits.
- Seek out a second source of income. Always have a backup for your primary income. It could be used to cover your commitments or act as your savings.
- Differentiate your wants and needs. Avoid impulse buying and think before purchasing anything.
- Be okay with being frugal. Being frugal doesn’t mean that you’re being cheap. It just means that you are careful with your expenses.
- Spoil yourself once in a while. You owe that to yourself. Treat yourself to something nice and be happy.
- Share what you have with your parents, and the people in need. The more you give the more blessings you shall receive.
For more stories like this, read: Personal Finance: How Easy Is It To Shore Up RM50,000 in Savings In Malaysia? and How I Got Laid Off Twice & How It Influenced My Personal Finance.