Will it be possible for someone working and living in Klang Valley to stick to RM500 budget for a month? Follow my #30DaysBudgetHero challenge here.
It’s back to the daily grind for most of us after the recent extended break. Post Ramadhan, with Hari Raya celebration, and the long weekend for others, we may have stretched both our waistlines and our budget. How do I plan to get my finances back into shape? By going through a financial detox and embarking on a RM500 budget.
When I started college at 18, my parents gave me a monthly RM500 allowance. The money was to cover expenses when I eat out, entertainment expenses and my car petrol. All other expenses such as phone bill, car maintenance, and other utilities bills was paid for by my parents.
I decided to embark on a RM500 #30daysBudgetHero challenge to see if it is still possible for me to do so for my variable expenses. OK, you may think it’s absurd for me to set that budget for myself, especially since I work and live in Klang Valley. Will it be possible for me to stick to the budget? Only one way to find out. Follow me on my #30daysBudgetHero challenge, and stay tuned as I’ll be posting updates on a weekly basis.
My Game Plan
The RM500 budget challenge will be for my variable expenses. This means, similar as to how my expenses was limited to RM500 when I was 18, I’ll be adhering to the same amount for a month. RM500 will be to cover for my petrol, eating out (including daily lunch at work) and entertainment expenses. It will exclude my monthly commitments like bills, student loan repayment, and all other fixed expenses.
Week 1: 1st July – 8th July
Challenges and Lessons of the Week
Failing to plan is planning to fail -Benjamin Franklin
1. It Pays To Plan Ahead
The biggest challenge I encountered was my food expenses. I set myself a maximum lunch budget of RM6 for weekdays, which will be food only without drinks. I quickly realised that I will get better value for money if I prepare my own food. I was charged RM5 for nasi campur which only consisted of rice, vegetables and potatoes. It will take more effort to bring my own food, but I’ll give up some form of convenience instead of being ripped off by KL’s food stalls. I was also not fully prepared for the first week, and I ended up eating instant noodles and other junk food most days for my lunch to stay within my budget. I am hoping that planning my meals next week can help me to stick to my budget better, and at the same time eat healthy, wholesome food.
2. Maintenance Helps You Save Money
I learned that paying attention to my car is important if I want to ensure safer rides and to potentially avoid from having to pay more than I need to. At the end of the week, I noticed that I was driving around with an under-inflated tyre. RM60 worth of petrol usually lasts me 1 and a half week. But this time around, it only lasted me a week, and I suspect this could be due to my under-inflated tyre. I was told that properly inflated tyres will last longer and helps with fuel efficiency. This is because when a tyre pressure is too low, too much of the tyre’s surface area touches the ground. It will then increase friction between the road and tyre, and as a result, causes more fuel usage and tyres to wear out faster.
3. Free Food Always Taste Better
I managed to save money on food expenses during the weekend by honoring invitations I received, and free meals. My food during the weekend was mostly kenduri food and being treated for lunch and dinner. However, I know this won’t be feasible for the rest of the month, as I don’t think I’ll get free meals every weekend. But, in Malaysia, we celebrate Raya for a month which means I’ll still have a few more open houses invitations. So my plan is to make the most of the free food while it lasts!
Entertainment wise, I did not spend any as my entertainment of the week consisted of functions and invitations. I have RM372 to last me until the end of the month. I’m feeling the pressure, but I’m still optimistic that I can get through the month within the RM500 budget. We’ll see how I do next week.
Week 2: 9th July – 15th July
“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.” — Benjamin Franklin
Challenges and Lessons of the Week
1. Financial Discipline is Hard
I’m not going to sugar coat it, being financially disciplined is hard, more so as I have set quite a strict limit to myself for this budget challenge. I noticed that there are small habits that is costing me money, which I may have been taking too lightly before. For example, during the weekend I was spending small amounts here and there (stopping by the news agent to buy drinks, buying kuih and snacks) whilst telling myself it’s just a few ringgit. But when I sat down to tally my spending, it can really add up!
Last week, I spent RM78 on food, while this week I spent RM75 on food even though I was bringing food from home everyday to work. Certain habits such taking small purchases lightly is costing me, even if I only do it on the weekends. What I should have done is be more conscious with my spending even if in my head I think it’s a small amount, and be more economical by bringing my own water.
2. Spread Out the Spending
Another lesson I learnt this week, is that I cannot be spending recklessly on the little things, and at the same time reward myself whilst I am on a budget. I have to be smarter at spreading out my purchases and spending. If I want to go for a movie this week, I should have been more careful with my other spending. I believe that I can have it all, just not at the same time. I think the key for me is to keep a steady pace with my spending so I can get through this challenge.
As a quick recap, I spent RM180 this week, and I only have RM192 left to last me for 2 more weeks. I’ll have to make some sacrifices to make sure I can survive with less than RM200 until the end of this month. Keep a lookout for my update next week.
Week 3: 16th July – 22nd July
Week 4: 23RD July – 30TH July
Challenges and Lessons of the Week
1. Curb My Enthusiasm
I was only left with RM192 after 2 weeks of my RM500 #30daybudgetchallangehero. To make sure I can make it to the finish line without having to cheat or spend more than the budget I have set myself, some sacrifices needed to be made. This meant I could not have my usual weekend indulgences (cafe catch up sessions, going to the cinemas). Doing so would throw me off my limited budget. But that didn’t mean I had to stay home and rot. Instead, I went hiking during the weekend, which was inexpensive. The entrance fee into the forest reserve was only RM1. I packed lunch, so I didn’t have to spend too much money on eating out, and I carpooled so I didn’t pay for petrol or toll.
2. I Learn To Share
Part of being able to get this far on such a small budget is due to my support system. I shared my budget challenge with my friends and family. It made it easier so that others, especially my friends would understand why I “cannot” hang out at cafes or go out for dinner with them as often this month. Sharing my challenge with others also helped to hold me accountable, because everyone kept asking, “so how is your budget challenge coming along?” But the BEST part of sharing my challenge is that people would offer to belanja me, which has been helping me to survive this month.
1 more week to go, with RM101 budget left. Check back to see if I manage to get through this, and my key takeaway from this challenge.
Challenges and Lessons of the Week
Choosing Between Need vs Wants
For the final week of my challenge, I was left with only RM101. When it came down to it, I could really only afford my essentials which were food and petrol. I had to choose between my need vs wants. This meant if I wanted to succeed, I had to forego my entertainment expenses, which wasn’t a necessity. I couldn’t even afford to do any of the cheap entertainment. If you remember, in week 2 I mentioned I’ll have to make some sacrifices, this is the sacrifice I’ve had to make.
At the start of the final week, I took out RM100 in cash. I filled up my car’s petrol and this meant I only had RM50 left on me. The remaining RM50 was for food, and I lived off that amount. How did I get through it? Weekdays was still packed lunch from home, and I was also treated to lunch on one occasion. Weekends meant home-cooked food, no eating out. It wasn’t fun as I felt restricted with my limited budget. So this meant my weekend activity consisted of spring cleaning my home, and catching up on my reading and TV series. Albeit a quieter weekend, but truthfully it wasn’t too bad.
No doubt, I had to be disciplined, I could have cheated (it was tempting, trust me) because it’s a self-imposed budget limitation, not an actual limitation. But I really wanted to see if I could get through this challenge.
What I Learned From This Challenge
I have always been quite careful with my spending, but I don’t like to track my spending. I just gauge my spending, and I don’t measure or write it down. With such a limited budget, I HAD to write down all of my spending everyday for a month. This meant even when I went to the kedai runcit (sundry shop) to buy a snack, I wrote it down. It’s a pain to have to jot down all my expenses, but it really did help to keep my spending in check this month. Apparently, it takes 21 days to form a new habit. But after a month of doing so, it has now become a habit for me to jot down my expenses, and moving forward this is my main takeaway from this challenge.
Will I do the RM500 Budget Challenge Again?
No. Why? Because of two reasons: opportunity cost and quality of life.
Doing the challenge felt like a financial detox, like fasting. It was difficult, but I did it. But honestly, the amount is not practical for a month, I would consider spending this amount for 2 weeks though. I will however continue to practice spending within a budget (although not RM500) and I will continue to put in place the key lessons I learnt. There was this book I wanted, and of course as fate would have it, it was on sale for a limited time while I was on the budget challenge. I couldn’t afford to buy the book as my resources was limited. I lost out on enjoying the discount, which was an opportunity cost.
As for quality of life, I had to make many sacrifices which meant I couldn’t do many activities and enjoy the weekend or after work dinner with friends, and in the long run I would have been a very unhappy person. The amount was also too rigid, and did not leave much room for any emergencies or unexpected spending like when an item you wanted goes on sale.
But I’m glad I did the challenge as I am now more aware of my spending and have become more cautious.