Suraya's Monthly Budget Update

My Total Income and Expenses in 2016

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I truly believe that personal finance is beyond just simple, boring money. They show insight of who you are, as a person. They show what you decided were important enough to spend money on, and serves almost like a diary.

Well, this is my 2016 diary. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to show them, so be nice ya 🙂

Income in 2016

Total income in 2016: RM76,151.19 or an average of RM6345.93 per month.

2016 was my first year of self-employment, and it’s been good. Most of my income came from either writing services, advertising/sponsored post services, or affiliate marketing. I’ve written reports, press releases, interviews, online and offline articles, scripts, and also provided rapporteur, editorial and SEO services.

It’s important to note here that during my earlier months of self-employment, I barely made any money. In fact, my income for January 2016 was RM0. Since then, it steadily increased (thank God). My best month was November 2016 at RM17911.27 (close to 24% of yearly income), and that was the result of months of negotiation and pending invoices being processed.

I’m lucky that self-employment turned out to be profitable for me. Before this, my previous job paid RM3500 per month. Here’s my spending breakdown during the time, during October 2014-September 2015.

Related: Here’s how I got started in self-employment.

Expenses in 2016

This is the fun part! Dissecting my spending for the year brings me back to those moments – some I’ve already forgotten. It’s a fun thing to do, almost like reliving 2016 all over again. I remember specific purchases I made when I felt happy, or sad, or annoyed, or bored.

Total expenses in 2016: RM58,154.24 or an average of RM4846,19 per month (rounded up to RM4900 per month).

This covers all expenses, as much as I know, but I might have missed some expenses, so that’s why I rounded it up. I track my spending via my expense-tracking app Money Lover (review).

Breakdown of expenses, in a pretty chart:


I used to have 16 categories, but as I cleaned it up, it turned out that they can fit into 14. Here are the top eight, from highest to lowest:

Breakdown and comments on each expense category

1) Donations and Gifts

Once again, my biggest expense was Donations and Gifts. At RM13,423.89, I average about RM1118.66 per month. This surprises me, a little bit, in a very surreal way. I thought I didn’t give away enough, actually.

Looking at my expense report, I see how I got this amount: I paid zakat, helped my dad out, and paid for my parents’ multiple bills (mostly electric and water bills).

Please someone tell my parents to switch off the aircon when not in use TT_TT

2) Misc Needs

RM10213.13?? RM851.10 per month?? How????????????????

This category, made for unavoidable life expenses, is for expenses that don’t really belong anywhere else. For 2016, this included:

  • Furniture, home items and electrical appliances for new home in Klang Valley
  • Self-care items like dental floss and shampoo and stuff
  • Phone
  • A new mattress
  • Dentist bill
  • Rental stamping fee
  • Laundry (back when I don’t have washing machine)
  • Non-optional clothing, including my outfits for my sister’s wedding 
  • Paying off my blacklisted number
  • Spaying my cat
  • Some fines and bank fees

Gosh, unavoidable life expenses do add up, don’t they? Maybe I should make different categories, but most of the above are not recurring enough to warrant its own category :/ If you have suggestions, I’m all ears.

To be fair, many of the expenses above is my own fault. I moved to Ipoh then moved back to Klang Valley. Moving is expensive. Thank goodness for friends who help you move, if not this would’ve been higher.

3) Dates/Travel

RM5952.95 or roughly RM496.08 per month for dates and travels. I went to Krabi and Osaka+Kyoto. Worth every cent <3

I plan to travel in 2017, too, so let’s see how this category will be affected.

4) Utilities & Rent

RM394.66 per month, on average. Ipoh was cheap to live in!

Now I’m paying a lot more than that for my accommodation in Klang Valley. But I figure, hey, it’s worth shelling out more for a comfortable place, now that I work from home (this is my excuse :P).

For a comparison between my KL and Ipoh living cost, read here.

5) Groceries

RM344.51 per month on groceries. I’m happy with this amount!

I’m pretty frugal when it comes to groceries (see my guide to groceries here). I like the cheap+healthy+keto combo, so I’m glad I got to eat relatively well in 2016 for just this amount. There were a lot of eggs lol

(This doesn’t include food I bought for myself while going out or during social activities, though).

6) Loan Repayment

ASB loan repayments. Sigh, ~20 more years of this.

7) Business

RM3500.28 for the year. Includes membership fees, website, software, business cards, VA services, and other things. I thought this category would be higher, actually.

I expect this amount will increase in 2017. I’m starting to get more Malaysian clients and attending more events.

8) Social

Going out with friends and families. RM256.32 per month. I think this is alright, and it is a big jump from RM151.43 previously. I still feel a lot of FOMO though (fear of missing out). I wonder if it’ll ever go away…

Here are the next six categories:

9) Misc Wants

Misc wants is a category for ‘I want but I can’t fully justify it’ purchases. At RM252.71 per month, this is a bit on the higher side. I have to reduce my expenses in this category!

I spent on:

  • Tobacco (money waster, I know)
  • My abandoned aquaponics project
  • A garment steamer (because I decided that I’m ‘over’ ironing. Sigh)
  • Clothes and bags that are not strictly ‘needed’
  • Facials and cosmetics (also not strictly ‘needed’)
  • App purchases

Note to self: please, please quit smoking, you junkie.

10) Insurance and Medical

Medical card and PA insurance. I wrote about my insurances here. These are grown-up expenses, I can live with this.

11) Parking, Petrol & Toll

RM147.33 per month for this category. It’s funny because I don’t actually have a car. Mostly I spend for parking, petrol and toll when I borrow my friend’s car and fill up the petrol and Touch N Go in exchange.

It’s kinda high, but I’ll be damned if I don’t contribute. An ex-friend of mine, back in college, used to take advantage of me and request free rides all the time without helping to pay for anything (and I’m not the type to ask). I never want to be that person.

12) Public Transport

On average, I spent RM117.32 per month for public transport. Mostly Ipoh-Shah Alam bus trips, but now in 2017 this is mainly Uber, Grab and LRTs.

Sometimes I feel pressured to have a car, but I don’t think it’s a good financial option for me now. I still dream about my dream car (Suzuki Vitara) a lot, though.

13) Mobile

RM86.41 per month. This is OK, right? Right??

I used to have prepaid (how to get cheaper prepaid), but now I’m on a postpaid plan. I pay the same amount monthly, more or less, but get more data.

I’d love to switch to cheaper mobile plan but unfortunately that’s not possible now. My place, as awesome as it is, charges commercial rates, which means all internet packages are the more expensive business ones. I’m not going to pay RM180 per month for mediocre internet, so phone internet it is.

14) Food

RM53.75 per month for snacks (like Chatime. I’m legit sad they’re closing), all of them going to my waistline *cries*

To be fair, it used to be RM61.91 per month, so it’s a small victory I guess.

Conclusion and self-reflection

As I write these out, and compare them to my old budget just 2-3 years ago, it shows how much lifestyle inflation can creep up on you. I used to spend RM2888.03 on average, per month. Now it’s RM4900. That’s almost 1.7x more! In 3 years!

Here’s my old budget:

  • Salary: RM3500
  • Minus: Spending (RM2,888) + EPF (RM385) + SOCSO (RM14.75) + tax deductions (RM33.60)
  • Total left from salary: RM178.65

And this is the new budget:

  • Salary: RM6345.93
  • Minus: RM4900 (not including EPF or SOCSO!)
  • Total left from salary: RM1445.93  

…I now spend more than I made in my old budget. As a self-identified frugal person, I’m not particularly proud of this fact.

But on the flipside,

  • I have more disposable income per month
  • I no longer have housemates
  • I can afford to support my friends’ businesses
  • I can afford to donate more
  • I can afford to go travelling
  • I should stay put in one location, at least for a few years (until I’m bored and feel like living somewhere else), so I’ll save on moving costs
  • I don’t think I have to make any big purchases for a while (mattress, fridge, couch etc)
  • Some business expenses can be deducted (I think)
  • I don’t have to get much ‘business’ clothes
  • I contribute more to investments
  • Generally, I’m happier and more stress-free

I apologise if this post seems like bragging in any way, but I’m genuinely fascinated by the insights that my spending habits gave me. I’m glad that, at the end of the day, my biggest expense is still donations to people I love.

Like I mentioned in my 11 things I learned about self-employment in Malaysia post, I’m now in ‘earning money’ mode rather than ‘saving money’ mode. Now I’d rather earn more than save more. I think I can probably cut down 20-30% of my expenses if I really try, but I’d rather not live miserably and miserly.

Truthfully, I still have trouble digesting my sudden increase in disposable income. So far I’ve chucked most of them in various investments, because I don’t know what to do with them and I feel uncomfortable seeing them not doing anything. I wonder how other people deal with their disposable incomes, after life expenses? Do they actively look for things to buy? Do they save up for properties? Do they party it all away? It’s fascinating how money amplifies a person’s personality.

With that thought, I’m signing off for now. I would love to hear how you decide – consciously or unconsciously – to spend your money and disposable income. If you feel comfortable sharing, do comment.


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  1. I know people who must buy something if they got a few thousand extra in the bank. Like jewelary and they call that investment. ? As for me, it gets harder to save without a pressing life commitments.

    What I learnt later – when the going gets tough, aim higher.

      1. Yeah, that’s what she’s thinking..investment in gold jewelry. haha.

        Chears to that – I aim for 30k this year. Should be ok if I keep my job and don’t go lepak around.

  2. Hi Suraya, that’s a very detailed breakdown, thanks for sharing! I currently live abroad and have been thinking of freelancing (I’m in software development) for a change. Definitely sheds lights on how the market is like for a freelancer back home. You mentioned that the start of the year was tough in terms of income. What would you say helped you the most with getting more jobs and exposure over competitors?

    1. Hi Basha!

      I’d say working on personal branding and picking a specific niche early on were great decisions. The former is via this blog and my image in general, while the latter (for me) is deciding on financial topics.

      That and casting a big net. I sent a lot of applications to work offers. A lot.

  3. A nice financial post-mortem write up.
    Reminds me that I need to start tracking my expenses as not tracking expenses is as bad as not having a budget.

  4. Good sharing Suraya.

    As for disposable income, ambitious me would prefer to put it in ASB/TH/other low risk investment in Bursa, for early retirement or financial freedom. I might also want to spend more on adventure travels. I consider that as ‘investment’ as well 🙂

    Other than that, lifestyle upgrade is most probably happen unconsciously. Its like inflation I guess. It’s OK to some extend. Just keep it minimal.

    1. I like how you put travel as investment. You’re absolutely right.

      *patiently waits for AirAsia X flights to Europe*

  5. Hello Suraya…I read you (frequently haha) on Twitter…this is Padman btw.

    Thanks for the very candid revelation…it’s really hard for ordinary people to open up their actual income and expenses for everyone to read and digest – salute you for that…and hats off for being so successful by going solo and working on your own – I for one cannot imagine striking on my own due to many commitments.

    Keep posting, and we, your followers will keep reading…

  6. Dear Suraya,

    Great great post as usual…candid but honest to goodness revelation.

    Keep on writing, and we’ll keep on reading.

  7. Great sharing Suraya!

    I personally think that it takes great courage to show everyone your finances, naked.
    I too, took the leap of faith from a 9-5 to self-employed last year. My journey was not smooth, I spent the first few months surviving on bare minimal, and a big project finally came in end of last year. I still couldn’t believe how my income doubled compared to my “9-5 + part time jobs here and there” days and still have more time to myself. Truly blessed.

    When I used to be an OL, my salary is fixed and I divided my monthly makan allowance into weekly allowance. In that way, I find myself a peace of mind that I don’t overspend at the beginning of the month and left nothing at the end of it. Also, I treat payday like a usual day since it won’t affect my weekly allowance. Also, I pay myself first by transferring a fixed amount to a different bank account.

    Now, I am struggling with my budget. I have no idea how to arrange an unfixed income. What I do now is to treat my income this month as income for the following month so I know how much do I have to play with. I am not sure if this is the right way and I hope you will publish some posts on handling budget as a self-employed person.

    I used to be extremely frugal, I can save min 2k with my 3k salary (after deduction) and after home allowance I give my mom. Seeing my savings percentage was one of the things that make me happy. But now, I prefer to balance my life and have “treat myself better” category in my budget, be it travel, personal care, movie, or social.

    p.s.: your 23% savings rate for last year alone is not bad! 😉

    1. Hey, Cheryl! Thanks for the nice words, they made my day 🙂 🙂

      I’m always super impressed by people who can pay themselves first. I tried and tried but always cave. I think you have a great foundation when it comes to PF, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the transition from employed to self-employed. It’s just something everyone who go through the journey will go through, and I have faith that you’ll do well. That said, if I could advice myself when I was transitioning, I’d say “Try to estimate business costs for next month, add 10-20% for ‘in case’, then transfer/invest the rest away”. (coincidentally, this advice also applies to travel). This works for me, because my business costs seldom vary that much from month to month.

      p/s- sure, 23% isn’t bad, but it’s nothing compared to your 66%!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this Suraya. I am an avid reader of your blog and I must say that it inspires me to do better with my personal finance. Thank you for being transparent.

  9. Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps? It is geared more towards getting out of debt (which you dont have, unless you consider ASB loan a debt) but there are ideas about where to put your disposable money: emergency fund, 3 to 6 months expenses in savings, or into retirement. I am now in Step 3 but not very strict about it because nowadays most of my disposable income goes to travelling, which is one thing that I never regret spending on.

    Have you considered accumulating tangible assets? A kebun lol if houses doesnt interest you.

    1. I have deep respect for Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method. I think he’s great!

      Aside from kebun what other assets are my options lol

  10. Hi, thanks for sharing your budget.

    From late 2014-2016, monthly I earn around 8000 which goes to car loan 1000, car maintainance 150, parents 1500(as I’m living with my parents), mobile 100, broadband 80, insurance 300 and everything else 700 (category for smaller not fixed expenses like petrol around 150, eat out, movie etc) . Leaving me around rm4000/month. Some money I forgot to key in so not sure how much spend for travelling.

    I save it for around 2 year and not sure what to do with it till one day someone asked me whether i wanted to buy a second hand house which is a good deal. Semi D with 999lease price at 440k. Loan took almost 1 year to settle and need around 50k fee+reno+furniture. Then paying extra for my car loan to finish it off. My saving was almost 0 at middle of 2016.

    This year without the 1000 car loan but will be adding 2200 salary deduction for house. Manage to rent it out as I’m staying with parents and getting 1300/month(negative flow which become liabilities)… Total saving/month is 4000.

    Now almost 5 months into 2017 and manage to save some and I’m still not sure what to do with my monthly saving. At 29 and still have no idea what to do with the money besides putting in bank.

    Will read thru your investment tips and start investing it I guess. Don’t want it to be use to buy things which end up as liabilities.

    1. Hi Sching,

      You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing back. Yes, do look up investing – I have a couple of articles on that. Saving in just bank account will put you at a disadvantage due to inflation. The good thing is you can save 50% of your salary, that’s really impressive! Plenty of investment options for you

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