How do you save money in Malaysia? What works? What doesn’t?
I thought it would be fun to show you what I personally did to save money. Some were successful, some were not – I’ve listed what I’ve I tried, and gave them a rank: easy, medium, hard, and impossible.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of all the ways to save money in Malaysia. I don’t know much about how to save money on home ownership, for example, or how to save money for families. Regardless I think it can be a good start 🙂
Ways to Save Money in Malaysia
1. Pack lunch to work
Why: Back when I still had my office job, I’d bring packed lunch to work almost every day. This saved me tons of money – assuming lunch is a modest RM6 every day, I saved RM132 per month (22 days x RM6) or RM1584 per year.
Packing lunch is simple. When cooking (usually dinner), make more than what you need, then turn leftovers as lunch for the next day.
For those of you peer-pressured into going out for lunch, can you do me a favour and share how you say no to invitations? I always feel a bit awkward.
2. Avoid bank fees
Why: I check my online banking accounts at least weekly for transactions made during the week (to make sure I wasn’t charged anything that I’m not supposed to pay for) and pay off my credit card balance.
ATM fees sometimes I pay though. If the line is too long. I figure RM1.06 is worth the 10 minutes mindless queue, unless I can multitask during the wait.
3. Switch off unused devices when I don’t use them
Why: Bad habit. To be fair I don’t have too many electrical appliances. Thank goodness I don’t have a TV, but if I do it’ll probably be on all the time.
4. Use cashback products
Why: Sometimes a bit hard to keep track of them, but here’s all cashback products that I have: Shopback (note: referral; for Lazada and travel purchases mostly), credit card (5% off online purchases), loyalty cards (AEON, Tesco), and points card (BCARD). It’s hard to calculate exactly how much money I saved with cashback products, but I’ve earned at least RM2000 via Shopback alone.
5. Use menstrual cup
Why: People with uteruses, hear me out. You can save so much money if you switch to a menstrual cup. I buy maybe one pack of 10 pads every year, just for ‘in case’, but otherwise my menstrual cup paid for itself a long time ago.
Mine was about RM80 (please get the quality one not the China one), made of medical-grade silicone and pretty comfortable once used to it. In Lazada, you can find OrganiCup and MeLuna brands.
Assuming you spend RM15 a month for pads/tampons, and the menstrual cups lasting 10 years, you’ll save at least RM5000.
6. Delay purchases
Why: My impulse purchases are quite rare, unless its food and groceries. For non-food items, if I really like something, I allow myself to buy them if I still remember it months later (usually I forget though).
I can credit to the 30-day rule, which I heard about some time ago. According to this rule, if you want something bad enough, you’ll remember it 30 days later. If it’s a big purchase, you can extend this to a few months. So far, it works.
7. Small wardrobe
Why: When you grew up fat, you tend to not like looking for clothes so much. I also don’t care much for fashion tbh :/ If you’re a fashionista, you can still have this hobby – just make sure that you make extra effort in other money-saving areas.
8. Thrifted clothing
Why: I love Mr Musashi <3 I wrote about my hauls here and here. Mr Musashi is a franchise thrift shop, mostly available in Perak. The addresses are in the first link. They have the rare winning combo: clean+cheap+dressing room to try stuff.
Now that I’m back in Klang Valley, I love Jalan Jalan Japan.
9. Repairing clothes
Why: Don’t particularly enjoy sewing..
10. Bring water bottle everywhere
Why: Already become habit. This is one of the best things you can do for your wallet, skin, health and environment.
11. Quit smoking
Level: Damn hard
Why: Nicotine dependence. But I have to, because it made my teeth ugly! UPDATE: Clean for 1 year now baby
12. Low-cost entertainment
Why: I like free/almost free entertainment. Being online is fun and cheap. Free content is amazing.
UPDATE: I subscribe to both Spotify and Netflix now. Combined, they cost me less than RM15 per MONTH.
13. Sell stuff I no longer use
Why: I had a lot of success selling unused stuff. Once, I bought a secondhand Wii, played it to my heart’s content, then managed to sell it for more than what I bought it for.
14. Not having a car
Why: When I had a car, there were so many things to pay for: maintenance, petrol, tolls, parking. It also broke down a couple of times (once, on the way to Genting, I had to pay RM500 for towing!), screen shattered due to stray brick on the highway, flat tires… I don’t miss those times.
Now I mainly depend on public transport like LRT and Grab. If I use LRT more often I’d get MyRapid’s MY100 pass for unlimited monthly rail and bus – so worth it!
Update: Now, between e-hailing and car-sharing services, it’s not so hard anymore. I just book a car whenever I need it. Read: SOCAR Review: 7 Tips to Get Cheap Car Rental in KL, Penang and Johor
15. Plan meals around sales
Why: I love using HappyFresh, the grocery delivery service for this. After you pick a hypermarket you want to buy from (Tesco, Mydin, Cold Storage etc), you can go to ‘Best Deals’ section and look at all the items currently on discount easily! Go to HappyFresh and use my code ‘suraya63’ to get RM25 off your first order.
16. Have a herb/vegetable garden
Why: Not lucky enough to have green thumb, and not motivated enough to learn at the moment.
I like the idea of aquaponics, though. It’s a garden on top of an aquarium – the waste produced by the fishes becomes the nutrients that the plants need.
17. Extremely picky about annual memberships
Why: The only memberships I pay for is AEON card and Malaysian Writers Society membership fee. The former is for the free points and sales (not sure if worth it tbh) while the latter is for my writing business.
Edit: I have more subscriptions now, reflecting my current lifestyle. See: What Subscriptions I Pay For And Why
18. Limit automatic monthly recurring payments
Why: Current monthly recurring payments: ASB loan (RM300+), Medical card (RM120+), PA insurance (RM30+). Used to donate to UNICEF but I got turned off by their aggressive requests for more donations so I cancelled it.
This is something that I’d love to hear from you. What’s your monthly recurring payments? You can read my updated list here: What Subscriptions I Pay For And Why
19. Only use prepaid phone plans
Why: I get tempted to upgrade to postpaid all the time. It can be worth the money, I agree. However I love the idea of only paying for what I use, and my usage is not consistent enough to warrant this commitment. Some months I barely use my data quota, so it’s just RM30 or less. Other months I use more. It balances out.
Edit: I switched to postpaid because using more data. Using Yoodo now, that choose-your-own-plan under Celcom. You can adjust how much data, call minutes and SMS you want to get. My 40GB data with 50 call minutes plan is just RM85 per month, much lower than 40GB plan with unlimited calls and SMS for RM128 under Maxis last time.
It’s easy to switch – just download Yoodo app and you can order SIM card and do porting (to keep old number) from there. Use my code ‘zwbai7716’ to get RM20 in your wallet.
20. Not really into festivities or holidays
Why: I’ve never really been a Valentine’s Day person, or Hari Raya person, or any other special day really. Not being in celebratory mood saves me money on decoration costs, clothes, single-use props, and other stuff that makes the day special. This has tons of downside (i.e. being a killjoy), but this is my natural state.
21. Buy generic brands
Why: For some reason, generic brands in Malaysia is both expensive and disappointing. In my experience the Giant ones are just sad. The Tesco ones are a bit better, but not by much. It’s much more satisfying for me to get the good quality stuff and use it sparingly.
For example, my small bottle of eco-friendly clothes detergent ended up lasting much longer than the huge bottles of generic ones. The only acceptable generic product that I buy is Tesco’s canned tuna.
22. The more advertisements they have, the less likely I purchase it
Why: It’s a simple way of determining which brands have ridiculous jacked-up prices. I don’t buy Dove, Milo, Calpis and the majority of food and beauty products advertised on TV/YouTube.
23. Avoid the mall
Why: Enjoy window-shopping too much to quit. This is easier with delay gratification habit (See No 6).
When I was younger – like primary school younger – I remember feeling dissatisfied if I ever go to the mall without getting anything. I was a brat.
24. Check every receipt and change received, and scan the register
Why: Habit – highly recommended. Once this ice cream guy stiffed RM10 from my change and only gave it back after I confronted him. Made me realise that people and machines can make mistakes or be downright unethical.
25. No magazine subscriptions
Why: Most content I want to read is free anyway
26. Make rent cheap/affordable
Why: When I lived in KL, I used this strategy to strategically reduce my monthly rent. In Ipoh, I live in a flat. I have housemates/ people to share bills with. Rent shouldn’t take more than 30% of your income. For me I try to make it less than 10%.
I’m terrified of mortgages. 30 years is a long, looooong time. Plus you end up paying more interest payments than the actual price; what’s up with that?
27. Live with family
Why: Love my independence too much. But if push comes to shove, I will. For you guys out there who always dream of moving out, I will be blunt here. Living by yourself is significantly more expensive.
28. Use free methods of communication whenever possible
Why: Thank you, Whatsapp and Skype.
29. Eat out pantry
Why: This is a great tip I hope you’ll find useful. More often than not, ‘there’s no food in the house’ is a myth. If you’re open to experimenting, you can be creative with odds and ends and try new combinations of flavours.
I am a big fan of SuperCook – enter your ingredients, and it’ll churn out recipes that you can make with those leftover ingredients. I wrote about how I use this tip to keep my healthy-ish meals costing RM2.86 per person. Much less kitchen waste this way.
30. Choose low-cost investments
Why: Investments with high fees, in my opinion, are an unnecessary waste of money. Feel free to provide data to disprove this if you don’t agree. Check your investments – how much do they take out for fund manager fees, maintenance fees and admin fees? Aim for 1% fee.
31. Buy from bargain bins
Why: I’d argue this is my favourite way to save money, even if I sometimes buy stuff I shouldn’t! My favourite bargain bins are from Ben’s Grocers, Cold Storage and Tesco 😀
32. Exercise on the cheap
Why: Can’t lie – I want to be the kind of girl who has gym memberships and personal trainers. I think their guidance can be worth the money, but it’s hard for me to shell out more than RM100/month for them :/ My Crossfit classes were RM120 per month, but I quit because I’m a cheapo.
Now I go to the RM5/entry gym instead. On average, I visit them 5 times a month, so that’s like RM25 per month. I have good workouts there… but I still dream about those Crossfit classes.
How much do you spend on fitness per month? I wonder if I’m the only one who picked fitness activities based on how cheap they are.
33. Use cash
Why: If you have problem with controlling your spending, then using cash is recommended. A crisp RM50 is more painful to hand over than a credit card. When money is abstract and you can’t see it, you will spend more… 56% more. It’s psychology.
I use cash when I can, unless there are obvious financial benefits in using digital payments (see #43).
34. Use generic medicines where possible
Why: I am lucky enough to be healthy, but when I need the odd paracetamol, I take the no-brand ones instead of overpriced Panadol. Find it in Giant or Watson. Big price difference.
35. ‘Shop the perimeters’
Why: In grocery stores, I try to shop around the edges and not in the middle. The middle is where they put most of the processed foods. Delicious, expensive marked-up processed food.
I’m not a saint. I like bad-food-for-me too. Thankfully bargain bins (Tip 31) has helped me to eat some of the weirdest shit.
36. Don’t shop when hungry
Why: It’s harder to impulse-shop food when you work from home and have a fridge full of food lol
37. Don’t be brand loyal
Why: I say impossible because I do prefer some brands over the other. Kicap Kipas Udang > other kicap. Ayam brand sardines > other canned sardines. Kewpie mayonnaise > every other mayo. Do not argue with me on this. My mind is set.
Thankfully the majority of items in the produce section – where I spend most of my time – is not branded haha. Aside from a select few, the rest I just pick whatever’s cheaper and on sale. I like to think it balances out.
38. Periodically list out all annual expenses subscriptions
Why: It’s just 30 mins of journaling, but so worth it because it helps me plan out my budget for the year, and not be ‘surprised’ when its time to renew whatever needs to be renewed, like passport or diving license.
39. Calculate prices at the store
Why: Ok, this is slightly embarrassing. I like to make mental calculations at the store. Sometimes I even take out my phone calculator and go, ‘Hmm, Item A is RMx.xx per 300grams, but Item B is RMx.xx per kilo. Which is more worth it?’ *calculates*
40. Know how much common staples cost
Why: I won’t buy broccoli if it’s more than RM2.50 per piece. Or cauliflower if it’s more than RM6 per kilo.
Having a rough idea of how much things cost takes a lot of mental space. You must also go grocery shopping often enough to know more or less how much things usually cost.
Some people have notebooks and jot down prices there. I think that’s an excellent idea. Must get to that.
Edit: Download Hargapedia app. They list cost of grocery items from major hypermarkets in Malaysia. Makes checking grocery prices so much easier!
41. Bring notebook everywhere
Why: I’m forgetful. For my similarly-forgetful friends, keep a notebook in your bag. It’s a pretty big difference. ‘Shit I forgot to get X’ happens so much less nowadays.
I also write down reminders to:
- Pay off credit cards
- Check if I’m paid by clients or not
- Reply back to potential buyers when I sell stuff online
- Reply back clients
- Update budget
- Stop spending on some categories, if I go overboard that month
- Transfer money to investment accounts
42. Unsubscribe/Uninstall shopping platforms
Why: I have a junk email address so all the Lazada and Zalora promos go there. Barely open those emails.
Uninstalled Shopee for the annoying ‘reminders’.
If you tend to make purchases after these ‘reminders’, unsubscribe and uninstall them today.
43. Use e-wallets for discounts
Why: I love e-wallets! Saved a fair bit of money from them. See: Reviews of All The Ewallets in Malaysia I’ve Tried
44. Use Pasar Percuma to get free stuff
Why: Never got around to actually going. See upcoming Pasar Percuma events in this FB group.
Why: Look, I like cycling and everything, but it’s not realistic to depend on them. I used cycle when I lived in Ipoh and I used it to go to the gym, but stray dogs and road bullies scare the crap out of me.
Please, if you see cyclists on the road, can you be extra nice to them? Don’t drive too near to them, and let them go first.
46. Don’t order drinks/ Order cheap drinks
Why: Water bottle (Tip 10) saved me hundreds of ringgit when dining out. If you must, get Ais Kosong, Teh O, Teh Cina, and similar. Well whatever’s under RM2.
Not immune to peer-pressure, though. I relax this rule when going out with friends.
Some people order multiple drinks. I don’t get it. Can you like, sip slower? So it lasts the whole meal?
47. Have a manual water filter at home
Why: I love the idea of hot/cold dispensers, but why do they cost hundreds of ringgit every month? 0_0
My drinking water system for 4 years and counting, ladies and gentlemen.
They need replacing and occasional maintenance, but at least I don’t have to get water delivered or buy water filters every month.
48. Quit using shampoo
Why: A couple of years back I read about the no-poo movement. People were swearing by it – healthier hair and scalp, they say. Just wash your hair with water, and use baking soda as ‘shampoo’ and apple cider vinegar as ‘conditioner’.
I tried it and didn’t even last a week. It was so greasy and smells like vinegar (not nice, FYI). My hair even fell out wtf.
No, I’m happy with my current shampoo. It makes me check out myself in the mirror, instead of recoiling in horror.
49. Cut own hair
Why: After 5 or so tries, I have to finally admit that I am not talented in this.
50. Use company benefits
Why: Check your company manual for hidden goodies. For my previous employment, I got reimbursed for dental work, transportation and internet subsidies, and more.
There you go! 50 ways to save money in Malaysia. Again, not comprehensive, so I invite you to list your own ways to save money in the comments section below.
If you tried any of the above, I want to hear from you – do you agree with my ranking? Do you find them easier or more difficult?
As you can see, you don’t have to be good at all of them. But you can try some of them, for sure 🙂