As we tackle issues like the high cost of living, we may want to look at alternatives that are cheaper, and even free.
GROWING up, I have always marvelled at how my father, who worked as a clerk until his retirement, could be the sole breadwinner in our big family.
We used to wait patiently for the end of the month and could see, from the smile on his face when he cycled home, that he had got his pay.
The sundry shop owner across the road was probably waiting just as anxiously, and would expect us to settle immediately the month’s bill recorded in the 555 notebook.
Although we grew up poor, we were self-sufficient in many ways. We reared chickens and ducks in the backyard so there was always ample supply of eggs and a big treat come the festive period.
It broke my heart when the chickens (reared from day-old chicks) that I called by name, ended up in the cooking pot eventually.
At that young age, I never questioned how we always had food on the table, and were privileged enough to have a set of new clothes for the Chinese New Year.
My father’s gaji was sufficient to cover monthly expenses. Come the end of the year, there were always anxious moments when we were not sure if there would be a bonus, which would allow us to buy materials for a new school year and have some left over for Chinese New Year festivities.
It was only much later that I learnt about the magic of supplementing the household income. The ladies in our household made nyonya kueh to sell in the neighbourhood. And my mother was an intrepid trader in jade jewellery.
I don’t know where she sourced the jewellery from, but each time she managed to sell a bangle or two, she would be happy. And my father’s sister, too, contributed by sewing beautifully stitched nyonya clothes.
There was always some form of activity going on that the younger ones in the family saw as fun, without realising that they were generating income for the household.
We cut bamboo into strips for the nearby joss stick factory. Coconut shells came to us in gunny sacks and we had to break them up into smaller pieces which were eventually used to fuel nearby cottage industries. We even made envelopes, glueing the edges of cut paper.
I didn’t know then that these were some of the ways to supplement the household income so that we could make ends meet.
Fast forward to today – the ongoing debate as holding two jobs to keep up with the rising cost of living has raised quite a storm.
I believe many blue-collar workers already do that. It may be a taxi driver who runs a food stall after hours, or takes on odd DIY jobs to bring in a bit of extra income.
White-collared workers may have other ways of making extra money, like selling insurance or unit trusts. Even writers occasionally moonlight when times are hard.
Whatever one’s opinion on the suggestion by Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan to take on a second job to make ends meet, the fact is it’s already being done by many.
But we need to look at the bigger issue. At a higher level, efforts must to be made to rein inflation in. And on a personal level, we can learn to cut our coat according to our cloth.
Many young couples start out life together highly geared, saddled with multiple loans to repay. The lure of a lifestyle beyond one’s means is strong – a larger house, bigger car, more expensive phone – the list goes on.
It would help to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I really need this?” Often much happiness can be derived from an alternative that’s cheaper, or perhaps even free.
Examples are holidaying locally instead of abroad, repurposing furniture so you needn’t buy a brand new set, or picnicking in the park rather than hanging out at designer coffee joints.
It may take some will power and creativity but there are ways to escape the materialistic trap, by simplifying one’s life.
Soo Ewe Jin The STAR Sunday Starters Sunday, 3 January 2016.