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How We Survived the Previous Recession

In late 90s, recession hit the world- and Malaysia was badly affected by the economic crisis. During that time, university graduates find themselves without a job- when these students first enrolled in university, Civil Engineering and IT were popular courses. When they graduate, the economy crashed and many construction projects were abandoned. So it meant no jobs.

How did the graduates survive them? Many of them had come from poor families- their parents rely on them for financial support. So, they had to earn a living no matter what or their families will risk dying of starvation.

Jobs were so scarce- everyone was suffering. Prior to 96/97, everyone is so used to luxury lifestyle- just like now- just when people become attached to luxury, they have to give it up. So how did everyone survive?

Floating Market, Thailand

Floating Market, Thailand

Some graduates came out to open food and other roadside stalls. They sell anything from watches to fried koay teow and cut fruits. And a large number of these people were graduates. They find that they make lots of money.

A year or two later, the economy started to pick up- abandoned constructions are now picking up again. Civil engineers are in demand once more. But surprise surprise- a number of these graduates did not want to go back to be a civil engineer. Their reason? They can easily earn between RM5000 to RM10000 by doing their own small business. By the time, some have already earn enough capital to start their distributing or wholesale business and employ workers. So they never went back to the employment market again.

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The cost of living had risen sharply since end of last year. With the repeated petrol fuel hike, the monthly income by an average wage earner is no longer sufficient to support the family. So some also came out to take up part time jobs of petrol kiosk attendant, hawker, waiter, etc. Homemakers are now either taking up a part time job or trying to earn extra income by babysitting, baking cookies for order, giving tuition, etc. I know a home based hair stylist who made so much of money that she could send both her children to overseas to study- and she only charged about RM4 for a haircut and RM20 for a perm.

If there is a will, there is a way.

We have to sit down and list down all our expenses. Then remove expenses that we no longer need. Sure, the luxury sofa and huge plasma TV looks cool in our living rooms- but we could not afford them and the credit repayment is going to strangle us. Now is not the time to show off what we actually cannot afford- for when we run into financial problems, we have to suffer alone.

Things we can do to reduce our cost of living:
1. Take good care of our health– health bills are very expensive. Prevention is cheaper than cure.
2. Eat more home cooked food and less processed food. Give up/ minimize gourmet dining or reserve it only for special occassions. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. If you are not a good cook, try your best to improve- no one is borned to know how to cook.
3. Do you really have to have that big, heavy petrol consumption car?

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4. Buy generic brands– most of the time, we conditioned our minds and look down on these brands. Remember, if we want to think they’re good, they will be good. If we want to think they’re bad, they will be. I actually find generic brands or cheaper alternatives manufacturered under the hypermarket labels to be as functional as the branded items.

5. Explore alternatives to bill payments such as online banking or auto debit to reduce trips and parkings (not to mention summones issued from illegal parking). Many banks have the option of you paying your bills via their online banking. If not, sign up with the biller directly- they normally have this service.

6. Watch your credit card expenses carefully. You will be surprised- you tend to buy less if you are paying by cash compared to paying by credit card. If you have problem with overspending, how about doing away with credit cards altogether?

7. Take public transportation like the train or bus- unless it is a family outing- then it will be cheaper to travel in a car.

8. Getting no. 1 in school is not everything in life. Kids should be able to enjoy their childhood a little and not to spend everyday, including weekends running from one tuition to another. Some kids may not do well in school but they have good EQ to well in life.
In short, learn to give up your indulgences and opt for more simplistic living. It’s really not as hard as you thought it is. The cause of discontent, restlessness and unhappiness is because of our never ending desires and wanting. Too much of things complicates our lives anyway.

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I am not merely saying this from theory. Since I have stopped work a few months ago, I have learned to adopt a more simplistic living. It surprises me that I was spending a lot on unnecessary services or items that I could have easily given up. I will always remember the incident when I was serving my notice (I still have not left the company)- a pair of Snowfly shoes were on sale in Parkson. I picked up the shoes (I buy expensive shoes not because of vanity but for the good support for my knees and legs)- and the realisation struck me that once I am no longer working, I could no longer afford this type of shoes. But immediately, the realisation came, ‘yes, I may not be able to afford a lot of things that I used to, but what I have is genuine happiness and contentment. ‘ And with that thought, I happily put down the shoes. And till today, there is still no regrets.

Zen Habits have tonnes of advise on how to simplify your life. If you have not heard about the site (err, did you just came back from Mars?), please check out the site. With the current recession, a lot of advise from zenhabits.com could really come in handy.

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