tight with money
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Guide: What To Do When You’re Tight With Money

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While I have never been truly broke, I’ve had moments when money was tight. It became necessary to save money. It became necessary to allocate where each ringgit should go.

Therefore this guide. Here I’ve compiled all the strategies you can use to get through moments when you’re tight with money. To make things clear and actionable, I have divided the strategies into categories.

Remember that:

  • Cut down expenses = Awesome (this post focuses on this)
  • Earn money = Awesome
  • Investing money = Awesome
  • Cut down expenses + Earn money + Investing at the same time = HOLY GRAIL TO FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE YEAH

Some notes before we begin:

  •  You might want to add on extra categories. For example: ‘Children’, ‘Pets’ and ‘Medical’. I don’t know much about saving money here, but please comment and share if you do so the rest of us can learn.
  • There are varying levels of brokeness. Some people say ‘I’m broke’ when what they mean is ‘I have no disposable income to spend on this item/experience, but I won’t die if I don’t spend on it’. For others, it’s literally ‘I don’t have enough money for my next meal/ to pay next month’s rent’. I’m making this article as comprehensive as I can for both types.
  • To get started with investing, see What can you invest with RM1000?; A quick guide

Alright, let’s start.

The ‘Necessary’

Aka things you absolutely have to pay for to live.

ElasticComputeFarm / Pixabay

#1 – Expense Category: Groceries

What is it: Things you buy from Tesco and Giant to cook at home

What to do when you’re tight with money:

  • See my The Comprehensive Guide to Save Money on Groceries in Malaysia article
  • Pack lunch to bring to work, obviously. See: Save Money on Food: Intro to Meal-Prepping
  • Personally, I’ve done mini-challenges like healthy cooking under RM3 per meal. If you stick to that, the monthly cost for your food is 4 meals per day (breakfast + lunch + dinner + 1 snack) x 30 days x RM3 per meal = RM360 per month per person for groceries. Related: Hack: How I cook (for RM2.86 a meal)
  • ProTip: Cooking for 2 or more people will bring the costs down. I don’t know why or how, it’s like magic.
  • If you don’t have that amount to spend on groceries, you might have to sacrifice quality and/or quantity of food. RM1 per meal is tough, but doable. Don’t expect too much variety, but you’ll be fed.
  • If home cooking is not possible due to whatever reason, then a common way to save money is to buy nasi campur during lunch. Ask for extra rice, then divide that into two. Eat the other half for dinner. RM3 or less per meal is doable, depending on where you buy.
  • If you want to start cooking from home but have no equipment whatsoever, save up money to buy these kitchen appliances. In order: electric kettle, rice cooker (+steamer attachment), stove/induction cooker (+pans). You can make so much food with just these.

#2 – Expense Category: Mobile phone

What is it: Your mobile phone plan

What to do when you’re tight with money: 

  • If your monthly plan is expensive, switch to a cheaper provider and/or get on the cheaper plan.
  • “BUT I NEED ALL THAT DATA”, you said. Okay, fair enough, I’m not going to tell you what social media or entertainment to cut down. You big already. Decide yourself.
  • If you use prepaid, get top-ups for cheaper with Hack: Get cheaper prepaid in Malaysia
DanielReche / Pixabay

#3 – Expense Category: Car / Parking & Toll / Petrol

What is it: All your car-related expenses, if you have one

What to do when you’re tight with money:

  • I’d tell you to use public transportation more if it makes sense, but you already know that.
  • Generate income with your car via the following ways: Uber/Grab, or get paid to use your car as advertisement (please comment if you’ve tried this)
  • Use cashback credit cards to earn back some petrol money. For example, the Amex card from Maybank 2 Cards gives you 5% cashback for selected weekend spending, including petrol.
  • If you have an expensive car with ridiculous monthly payments, consider downgrading it to a Myvi or something. That’s better than having your car repossessed.
  • If you don’t use your car that much, sell it. Car ownership costs more than you think.

#4 – Expense Category: Public transportation

What is it: All your non-car transportation-related expenses

What to do when you’re tight with money:

  • If you can’t walk, cycle. If you can’t cycle, LRT. If you can’t LRT, Uber/Grab.
  • I’d say carpool but Idk this is not our culture. Anyone successfully do this? How?
  • Uber vs Grab – compare both prices before you order one. If the price is equal/similar, use Grab. You can collect Grab reward points and claim free rides.
  • Worth noting: sometimes, it also makes sense to move nearer to your workplace so you can walk to work and save money on transportation.
  • Or start transitioning to work-from-home. No more transportation cost to go to work. This is not a quick fix, but it’s worth planning for. See: The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Online in Malaysia
Sephelonor / Pixabay

#5 – Expense Category: Utilities & Rent

What is it: The costs to having a roof on your head. This expense category only applies for those not living rent-free

What to do when you’re tight with money: 

  • Pick one: Move to a cheaper place OR get roommates/housemates. Notice that I didn’t say move back to your parents (if that applies). 
  • Don’t use aircon. In my experience, this is the biggest energy sucker.
  • Check if any other electrical equipment in your house are energy suckers. Make plans to replace/get rid of them.
  • Hack: How I rent a master bedroom in Kuala Lumpur for RM150 a month (not including bills)

#6 – Expense Category: Bills & Loan Repayments

What is it: Monthly recurring payments – think insurances, credit cards and mortgages

What to do when you’re tight with money: 

vainodesositis / Pixabay

#7 – Expense Category: Misc Need / Money Emergencies

What is it: Random but important payments you have to make – medical, repairs etc

What to do when you’re tight with money: 

  • Not much unfortunately. Here it’s all about ‘prevention is better than cure’. Keep your health and stress level a priority, and take good care of your items so they last longer.
  • Pray that you don’t get into any accidents or be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Whatever items you can request from friends/family, do it. Asking for help is something we need to do more anyway. It’s humbling. Note: strictly items, not money. I personally don’t believe in borrowing money from friends/family unless they were the ones who offered.
  • It’s worth asking from the Buy Nothing Project people, too – who knows someone is trying to get rid of the exact same thing you needed.
  • The last time I calculated, I spend around RM1k per month on Misc Needs. I can definitely do better. Here’s the breakdown of my money emergencies.

For money-saving tips that I’ve personally implemented, see 50 Ways to Save Money in Malaysia, From Easy to Impossible

Now let’s go on to things that are…

‘Not Technically Necessary’

Say hello to your new mantra:

If you don’t buy these, you won’t technically die. Here you have to stop actively looking for new things ( damaging hobby tbh) and be content with what you have. Use up what you have, and if you don’t have it, oh well. Life goes on, it doesn’t matter.

#1 – Expense Category: Social / Dates

What is it: Costs related to meeting people, because humans are social animals

What to do when you’re tight with money: 

  • If you’re an introvert, you can ruthlessly say no to social engagements you don’t really want to go in the first place anyway. Say you’re trying to save money, everyone understands that. If they’re judgmental, then definitely don’t go.
  • If you’re an extrovert, actively choose to hang out with friends who don’t use expensive items and experiences as a status symbol. You’ll die broke trying to keep up with them.
  • Make friends with people who are business-minded. Make friends with people who prefer to make things instead of consuming things. It’ll rub off on you. That’s a good thing.
  • Reminder: If you’re having sex, you can’t afford not to buy condoms.
Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

 #2 – Expense Category: Food

What is it: Food, snacks and drinks consumed because you’re bored, stressed and/or lonely. Not to be confused with Groceries. Deserves a special category because we’re all foodies here in Malaysia.

What to do when you’re tight with money:

  • Recognise that food is a ‘mini luxury‘. We buy Chatime, Starbucks etc to feel better about ourselves, to reward ourselves when we’ve been good with expense-cutting measures.
  • Knowing that, it’s a good idea to not be at places where food is easily available when you’re bored, stressed and/or lonely. That means: no roaming around aimlessly in malls and no going out for the sake of going out.
  • What to do with all that time? Find ways to earn money. See: Side Income Malaysia: 15 Business & Part-Time Ideas to Try Now

#3 – Expense Category: Donations & Gifts

What is it: Money given to others

What to do when you’re tight with money:

  • If you’re truly broke, halt all donations. If you’re ‘broke’ and something is important to you and you want to donate, go ahead, but limit yourself.
  • If you need to give gifts, re-gift what you already own, make something or create an experience.
Kasman / Pixabay

#4 – Expense Category: Random shit

What is it: Thing you KNOW you shouldn’t buy or get until your finances get in better shape. They tend to become junk soon enough.

What to do when you’re tight with money:

I think we’re done with all the major categories!

Which ones from the above would you do when you’re tight with money?

And what else do you do? Comment below!

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  1. One of the things my girlfriends and I do is swap clothes! We still wear ‘new stuff’ without the need to spend money.
    I have also started using mobile payment apps that have special discounts when I buy food. It helps me see and record what I have spent on and sometimes we get extra cash and cashback added. Some hawker stalls use it as well.
    Never buy drinks outside. Always opt for water boiled at home and brought in a bottle. No sugar, keeps you filled when hungry and keeps you hydrated.
    Don’t sign up or stop gym membership. I realise working out using YouTube videos and running out in the taman is a better and cheaper way to keep fit.

    Thanks for the new tips Suraya, keep practice the ones you stated. 🙂

  2. Loved this piece of advice lol.
    So thorough of you. > Reminder: If you’re having sex, you can’t afford not to buy condoms.

  3. Money management is good! I like reading your take on how to save money. Some of it I’m already practicing, but you give more insights and ideas to upgrade the ways

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