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 can’t claim I’ve ‘tried it all’. Regardless I think it’s a good start 🙂
I’ve sorted these money-saving tips in the following categories:
- Health & Beauty
- Small leaks
- Optimising spending
- Reduce temptation
- Being organised
How to Save Money on Accommodation in Malaysia
1. Make rent as cheap as possible
Why: When I lived in KL, I managed to reduce my monthly rent to RM150 a month. In Ipoh, I lived in a low-cost flat. For most of my life, 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%, either by drammatically reduce my accommodation cost or by earning more.
2. Live with family
Why: I know its common to live with family, but I love my independence too much. I also believe in learning to be self-sufficient.
For y’all out there who always dream of moving out, I will be blunt here. Living by yourself is significantly more expensive.
How to Save Money on Transportation in Malaysia
1. Not having a car
Why: It’s hard to have a car, it’s hard to NOT have a car.
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.
Yet when I didn’t have a car, I had to plan my schedules very carefully. Was fully dependent on ehailing and public transportation.
Update: Now, between e-hailing and husband’s car, it’s not so hard anymore, so maybe 1 car + WFH is the sweet spot? I can also book a rental car for the day if I need it. Read: SOCAR Review: 7 Tips to Get Cheap Car Rental in KL, Penang and Johor
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.
How to Save Money on Food 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. 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!
- HappyFresh Review: 10 Tips to Save Money and Time!
- Online Shopping for Groceries: 5 Places to Get What You Need
3. 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.
4. Know how much common staples cost
Why: Having a rough idea of how much things cost is handy. If you go grocery shopping often enough, you would know more or less how much things usually cost.
However, I admit to only keeping track of a few items, not a lot. It takes a lot of mental space.
5. Bring water bottle everywhere
Why: Already become habit. This is one of the best things you can do for your wallet, skin, health and the environment.
6. Don’t order drinks/ Order cheap drinks
Why: Water bottle tip (above) saved me hundreds of ringgit when dining out.
Not immune to peer-pressure, though. I relax this rule when going out with friends or on dates. I also try not to be cheap when dining at small businesses.
7. Have a manual water filter at home
Why: I love the idea of hot/cold dispensers, but why do they cost a hundred every month? 0_0
My drinking water system, 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.
8. 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 Jaya Grocer 😀
9. ‘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 (above) has helped me to eat some of the weirdest shit.
10. Eat out pantry
Why: 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.
How to Save Money on Clothes in Malaysia
1. 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.
2. Thrifted clothing
Why: Thrift-shopping is enjoyable for me.
3. Repairing clothes
Why: Don’t particularly enjoy sewing.. but if I have to, I have to.
4. Get free stuff from Buy Nothing Group
Why: I have both given and received free items from Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. To join one, type in the name + your area, see what comes up. If none exists, you can create your own.
The reason why I put the level as hard is a lot of luck is needed into getting what you want. Not only the gifter must choose to gift to you (they can have their own requirements), you also have to sort out delivery/collection.
Note: You can give/receive more items beyond clothes in Buy Nothing Groups
How to Save Money on Health & Beauty in Malaysia
1. 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.
How much do you spend on fitness per month? I wonder if I’m the only one who picks fitness activities based on how cheap they are.
2. 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 every couple of year, just for ‘in case’ situations.
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.
Assuming you spend RM15 a month for pads/tampons, and the menstrual cups lasting 10 years, you’ll save at least RM5000. My menstrual cup paid for itself a long time ago.
3. Cut own hair
Why: After 5 or so tries, I have to finally admit that I am not talented at this.
4. Buy generic medicine
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.
5. 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.
6. Quit smoking
Level: Damn hard
Why: Nicotine dependence. But I have to quit smoking, it’s making my teeth ugly!
UPDATE: Quit for 1 year. Unsure where savings went
UPDATE: Smoke-free for a few years already!
How to Save Money on Entertainment in Malaysia
1. 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. Combined, they cost around RM20 per month, which is low for entertainment. Hard to even get movie tix at that price nowadays
2. Buy Steam games only on sale
Why: Just add the games you want in cart and eventually they will go on sale 🙂
By the way, did you know you can use Playstation controller to play (select) Steam games? Yes, you can!
3. No magazine subscriptions
Why: Most content I want to read is free anyway.
Hack: If you do need to subscribe (cheap subscription promo for the first month/year, etc), then use BigPay card. Reason: you can ‘freeze’ your card, so you’re not charged for the next payment.
4. 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.
Note: This has tons of downside (i.e. being a killjoy), but this is my natural state.
How to Save Money on Mobile in Malaysia
1. Only use prepaid phone plans
Why: I love Yoodo. You can adjust how much data, call minutes and SMS you want to get. My 150GB data with 50 call minutes plan is just RM93 per month, much more value for money than 40GB plan with unlimited calls and SMS for RM128 that I got 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.
It’s hard to decide which telco is ‘the best’ because coverage depends on location. Here’s how to pick telco with the best upload/download speed in your area:
2. Use free methods of communication whenever possible
Why: Thank you, Whatsapp and Skype.
How to Save Money in Malaysia – Small leaks
(Small leaks = reducing/stopping addiitonal costs for things I pay for anyway)
1. 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.
2. Switch off unused devices when I don’t use them
Why: Bad habit. Thank goodness I married someone who is diligent about switching things off.
3. 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.
How to Save Money in Malaysia – Optimising spending
1. Use cashback products
Why: Sometimes a bit hard to keep track of them, but here’s all cashback products that I have:
It’s hard to calculate exactly how much money I saved with cashback products, but I’ve earned at least RM6000 via Shopback and ~RM20-50 per month via cashback credit cards.
2. Use e-wallets for discounts
Why: I love e-wallets! Saved a fair bit of money from them. EDIT: Since original post, e-wallets discounts are not as great anymore.
3. Sell stuff I no longer use BEFORE I buy ‘unnecessary’ stuff
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.
Hack: how I sell a lot of stuff without spending too much time:
4. Limit monthly recurring payments
Why: As much as possible, I look for free options and products offering one-off payments so I can limit the amount of subscriptions I have.
5. Check every receipt and change received, and scan the register
Why: Highly recommended you to make this a habit. Sometimes people will try to stiff you or they entered the data wrongly. Just check your change and the receipt before you leave the store.
How to Save Money in Malaysia – Reduce Temptation
1. 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.
2. 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 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 or even years.
3. Unsubscribe/Uninstall shopping platforms
Why: I have a junk email address so all the shop promos go there. Barely open those emails. I also turn off all notifications for shopping apps. If you tend to make purchases after these ‘reminders’, unsubscribe and uninstall them today.
….is what I want to say, but I still keep them in my phone for convenience.
4. Learn unethical advertising
Why: I have natural interest in psychology, specifically consumer psychology. What have they implemented so that they can get more money out of us? It’s fascinating. The more aware I am of their tactics, the less interested I am to buy their products.
5. Avoid the mall
Why: Part of not spending is to avoid temptation in the first place. However, I admit I enjoy window-shopping too much to quit. I rarely make impulse purchases though, so all good.
6. 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 to using digital payments (ie credit cards and ewallets)
7. Don’t shop when hungry
Why: Being hungry makes you shop more, and not just on food.
8. 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*
How to Save Money in Malaysia – Being organised
1. 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 it’s time to renew whatever needs to be renewed, like passport or diving license.
2. 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
3. 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! 49 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 🙂