So much drama
Last night I had a long phone conversation with my life partner which ran from midnight to 3.30 am. What started out as a small talk about our days spiraled into this long discussion (or to some point, argument) which started with his remarks after I told him about my parents and our neighbor.
“Your family have so much drama“.
Hold on your thought – this is not some TV3 makcik bawang benci-benci jiran drama. I was just sharing with him my mom’s story that she told in our routine phone call that day. Oh man, I am so tempted to share with you right now but I can’t because I want to remain anonymous. It’s just so funny that I’ve eagerly shared this story with my friends, it got the sitcom cerita jiran-jiran vibes haha. Sorry, I really can’t share it with you at the risk of them finding out that this is my story. So let’s skip that part, shall we?
Not in verbatim
Okay back to my boyfriend and me. And after I told him the story, he made that remarks. I replied (not in verbatim),
“Well, of course we have drama with neighbors because we live in a terrace neighborhood with houses that are literally glued to each other, while you live in a neighborhood with your own space outside the house and everyone is just inside their home.“
To which he said (also not in verbatim),
“That’s because most of them here are old now. I used to play outside with my friends. But now we, the kids, are all grown up and many moved out of their parents’ house. So it’s just their old parents at home. While your place got many kids. This got nothing to do with the type of neighborhood”.
And to which I said (again not in verbatim) (okay to make it easier, none of the quotes is in verbatim),
“It has everything to do with the type of neighborhood. Our terrace neighborhood is fairly cheap compared to your all big-houses-neighborhood. We have more drama here because most families here are young families with school kids and they’re not really well off, most are just renting before they finally move up the ladder and got more money to settle down at better residences. That’s why you can see the fancy neighborhood or the more expensive ones, are filled with old people and less young kids playing outside. Because people settle down at places like that. Like your neighborhood.“
And he said,
“You’re assuming everyone is going to move up the ladder. That’s not how it is, not everyone finally settles down in a better neighborhood.“
To which I said,
“Exactly. You’re correct. I can give you an example. My family.“
If I were to share here every detail of our conversation in the not-in-verbatim-quotes form, it would be a 30 mins read so let me shorten it up with the gist of it. Just a little disclaimer before we start (yes after all those quotes, we haven’t actually started), this is my point of view. My boyfriend didn’t agree with me at the end of the night and I still don’t agree with him so if he’s reading this, I know so well that he would like to defend his view but sorry love, get your own blog.
The argume… no, discussion
So continue. Then, off we went into a full-blown
argument discussion of why some people are able to move up in life (financially speaking) while others remain where they are – living paycheck to paycheck; cukup-cukup makan; hujung bulan meminjam dan ikat perut. We’re focusing on the latter. To be clear, it does not refer to those that have to live kais pagi, makan pagi. That one requires a whole different discussion. We now are referring to those who have jobs, low to middle income but are trapped in the same cycle of dapat gaji, makan gaji.
Apart from their life background and living situation, I attributed dapat gaji, makan gaji situation to bad money management skill and low financial literacy. He, on the other hand, said it has nothing to do with money management skill or financial literacy because everyone is born with it, they know it well but they choose not to live accordingly. He gave an example of how he as a kid knew that he needed to save his lunch money if he wanted to get some new toys, his parents didn’t teach him how, he just knew that’s what to do. So other people should be the same.
And I was like,
“Uh-huh, hold on there. You’re speaking from a place of privilege. Let me tell you the reality of it. I was born into that kind of family. I grew up watching people around me, my parents’ friends, our neighbours and our relatives live like that. Dapat gaji, makan gaji. Hujung bulan tak cukup. It’s not because they don’t want to change. But it’s because they don’t know they can and they don’t know how. Hold your horses young man.“(Totally sure I didn’t say the last sentence, but that sounds cool.)
My point of view
So here’s my part of the argume.. no, discussion.
I told him that not everyone’s the same. Everyone comes from different social backgrounds, everyone is exposed to different people and situations that shape their mindsets differently.
Yes, he is correct that everyone should know that saving money is how you get what you want. He as a child did the right thing, putting some of his lunch money into his piggy bank to buy the toys that he wanted. What he doesn’t know is, not all child is able to do that. I, as a child, couldn’t do what he did. Most of the time, I would only be able to keep the coins or duit seringgit in my piggy bank halfway through my target (which was based on the price of the things that I wanted). Duit raya? Nuh-uh, never last more than a week. You know why? Because my mom would ‘borrow’ from me to get some groceries or for my own lunch money because we didn’t have enough for the month.
And that’s how the cycle repeats itself and stuck with me through my childhood, teenagehood, and early adulthood. Whenever I have money, I would spend it right away on whatever I want because if I don’t, I won’t be able to enjoy the money later. If I don’t buy whatever fun things now, I won’t be able to buy anything later. Because along the way, my mom would ‘borrow’ from me, or it would get used up in some way or another. So I would enjoy whatever little money I have while it lasted. To save it for what?
And as I reflected on it yesterday, it hit me. That’s how my parents and their circle have been living their life. My mom has also once mentioned similar thing when she tried to justify her unnecessary purchase, “kalau tak beli sekarang, sampai bila tak dapat beli asyik bayar hutang je. baik beli sekarang.”
The reality of the cycle
Let me share with you briefly the reality of our lives back then when I was still in school based on my observations and experience:
- My dad is always the sole breadwinner of the family, my mom is a housewife.
- I don’t know how much he earned back then but I guess it’s good enough because we never live without food or shelter. The necessities are always covered.
- Every month after my dad got his salary, he would take all of us out for grocery shopping (back when RM150 was enough to fill up a whole cart). I loved that day because we’re allowed to take our favorite junk foods, chocolates, ice-creams, and new toys.
- That salary day would end with us having dinner at KFC or kedai tomyam ordering big fish or whatever we wanted. Fun day.
- Then, my mom would pay bills. I usually accompanied her to pejabat pos or passed the rent cash to the landlord when he came by.
- For a week or two after that, I would see my mom’s new clothes or my dad’s new jeans or just anything new for themselves or for us. Nothing fancy or expensive, but there’s always new things in the house.
- Then, they would start not having enough money. I knew because they would start whispering (thank God, never arguing) to each other about it or we would be reminded that there’s not enough money when we wanted something.
- Oh, our meals would become much simpler too as the month went by.
- Not a good month if anything that required money happened in the middle of the month. Car broke down or someone’s sick. That’s when I accompanied my mom to kedai pajak gadai.
- We lived financially enough but cautiously till salary day.
- And the cycle repeats.
That’s my friends, living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. I know we’re not alone because back then I could see sometimes my parents’ friends or neighbors would come by to borrow money or to give back the money that they borrowed. It’s not even a big amount mind you, just RM50 or RM100 or so. I don’t know exactly if my parents have ever borrowed from others (pretty sure they have along the way but I think quite rarely) because they’re very strict about not borrowing other people’s money, it’s better to gadai emas sendiri (my mom’s words). So I’ve seen her constant cycle of gadai emas dan tebus emas.
One thing I know for sure, my parents back then didn’t have savings. So did their circle. I know because they talked about money, mostly about the lack of money, openly with each other. To have a 4-figure saving, even RM1,000, felt quite out of reach for them. But their houses are filled with furniture and appliances that I knew they paid in installment. Whenever bangla naik motor jual karpet came by, all of them would get new karpet and the bangla would come by every month after that chasing for payments.
I’ve heard them sighed though, “sampai bilalah nak macam ni“.
Money management skills & financial literacy
So I know exactly what I’m talking when I said – what people dapat gaji, makan gaji need is money management skills and financial literacy. They just need to be shown that there’s an alternative to the way they’re living their lives, that it’s possible to end the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck, that having savings in the bank is not out of reach, that there’s this thing called delayed gratification, that you don’t have to buy what you want if you don’t need it although it’s cheap, that things got accumulated, and that these money stress and financial worries are not a healthy way to live a long life.
All of these may be common sense for most of you but not for this circle. Not everyone’s privileged enough to be born in money, and not everyone’s privileged enough to be born with the right mindset about money.
Breaking the cycle
Over the past few years, my parents have been slowly breaking the cycle. I can see the way they talk about money and the way they live their lives have changed. They’re talking about the possibility of settling down in a better neighborhood soon. Oh, they’re saving for it!
I think their financial awareness comes when their circle widens. They see that other people are living their lives in a different way and they want that. And over the years, we’ve faced difficulties having sick family members requiring frequent hospital visits and whatnot, and perhaps they realized how important money is at times like that.
I want to take a little bit of credit too, lol allow me please. Although I don’t personally apply what I know/read when it comes to my own financial life, I always share with them what I know/learn. Now that I’m in a no-buy year, my mom got impacted too because I no longer encourage her to buy anything that I know she doesn’t need. Well, during the lockdown months, we went deep cleaning the whole house, keeping and giving away so many things and I reminded her how many unnecessary items that she keeps or forget having and that we don’t need more of that.
So yes, financial literacy and money management skills are important to break the “makan gaji, habis gaji, repeat” cycle. And it can be taught and shared with others.
What a ride
I grew up through the cycle via my parents’ experience. I’ve seen them living in the same cycle month in month out, and now I’m seeing them breaking the cycle. I’m living and breaking the same cycle in my own figuringgitout journey too. My awareness came early compared to them but that’s the beauty of it, everyone’s at their own phase and pace.
So I’m glad to have that midnight conversation with my life partner. A great reminder of where we were and where we are. Just to highlight some takeaways:
- A positive money mindset is a thing that not everyone has.
- You can get out of the poor money mindset and break the viscious cycle of living dapat gaji, makan gaji.
- You can help enlighten and share with anyone, be it your family or your friends or just anyone, the alternative way of living other than through the cycle of dapat gaji, makan gaji.
Fuh, how did we get from my mom and our neighbor’s drama, to me and my boyfriend’s argum… ehm discussion, to social reasons behind the demography of any neighborhood, to my childhood life, to my parents and their circle’s lifestyle, and to big life lessons? What. A. Ride.