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Saturday, 24 January 2009

My CNY Resolution

It is that time of the year: Chinese New Year! The season where decor everywhere turns red, and angpows become a common topic of conversation. The time when uncles and aunties look at you with a fond look reserved for children half your age and go: "So, married yet?" In the mood for frugality, bearing in mind the economic outlook for this year hasn't been all that good by economist and feng shui masters alike, I wonder when people will start asking, "So, how are you working at your savings?"

Savings, earnings, and various other connected topics such as investments would be big no-no topics at this time. Especially those fellows amongst our friends who have been burnt by the big economic meltdown which recently exploded with the Bernie Madoff ponzi scam revelation, and various other structured investments (whose structures are quite mysterious to most of us), finances are a big touchy subject. Which is why, finances as a subject must be touched.

Recently, in the crawl of events leading up to the new year, I have been wondering how to spend money fruitfully and in a way that would multiply the money (by a multiplier more than 1.0) every year. One idea which came up was decorating certain properties which had been left vacant, renting them out, and collecting the rent. The whole agenda started out innocently enough: I looked around for paint supplies, at most of the hypermarkets. Soon I found myself buying pliers and wires and bulb holders. Most ideas can balloon to become bloat, especially when you are enamoured by the sample application of home decor ideas in backdated issues of Dwell and Azure (all purchased for a fraction of their original price, no doubt, at certain magazine vendors).

Then one day recently I came across the tile shop and decided that tiles can look fabulous. And wonderful. And give a gleam to a tired old home that sleeps unattended and uninhibited in the heart of Batu Caves. Heaven knows that I tried to touch up the place earlier but as always, securing the right amount of money for the right amount of glam in the changes I wanted, was a problem. I wanted posh fittings and wooden panels when what I could afford was plastic doors (for the bathroom) and lanolin (instead of tiles). I wanted curtain rods and gauze like curtains to billow in the wind while the breathtaking spectacle of a Batu Caves sunset, framed by azure hills in the yonder, came streaming through the window. And naturally, I wanted wall decor to funk up the place, possibly a beautiful wall mural wallpaper depicting the lovely sandy shore of Brazil, or Sabah, or somewhere just as green and unspoilt. Wall decals would give a clever surprise to my visitors, with fake furniture and fake handles lining the walls, adding just the right touch of character to an otherwise nameless, faceless phenomenon. And finally I wanted to install lights that would make the entire place glow with life, instead of the long fluorescent kalimantang that would make a flat in Batu Caves look like the typical offering that it was.

Then I found out from the lady at the tile shop that laying tiles could cost a lot. RM3 per square foot, to be exact. Considering that most of the tiles within my (imaginary) budget at the time was about RM3 per square foot, RM3 per square foot for laying tiles was a bit unexpected. But that was the way it is, she said, because most people who employed these tile contractors would utilize good tiles -- tiles which cost about RM20 per square feet. They were more than willing to pay for good service. So I brought a friend there, and he had a look at the tiles, and came away impressed. He told me that his mom had a contractor friend who charged about RM150 per day for laying tiles, or alternatively RM80 per day if they used a foreign worker. This was more to my liking. I asked, if charging by the square foot meant that I could do up my parents' place in Batu Caves room by room, according to my means? And he said yes. Would it be better? And again he said yes.

So, here I am. Mr Miser by my personal definition. But I have one weakness, I must admit. I tend to set aside any budgeting I have avowed earlier when it comes to personal relationships. I tend to place my personal relationships on a high place on that scale of things I value. Friendships, too. I would spend time and money to meet a friend and reminisce over a cup of tea if it meant keeping the friendship strong. I have personally lent money to close friends but waited in vain for that money to come back. I have personally been softened (and my resolve defeated) by the sweet smile of a loved one, who wanted me to buy expensive dresses for her.

But one thing I hope to accomplish this year, is the habit of remaining committed to the idea of frugality. Frugality shouldn't just be an idea. It is an attitude. It shapes our responses to little things in daily lives. In life, we learn that to have more in the bank, we either earn more (quite tough these days) or spend less. My approach will be a combination of both. I hope to influence my friends and family to be more frugal too. I know that if I surround myself with like-minded fellows, it is likely that I will feel more comfortable talking to them about frugality, and perhaps feel accountable to them, because they are after all people on the same journey. I hope this year will prove a good year to become frugal. And I hope that becoming frugal will be easier than I think.