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We say white coffee, you say latte

“When I was young, I had to walk to school.”

How many times did our parents grate us with tales of their old “hard times” and how lucky we were to have buses and cars?

Well, guess what? We might just be turning into our parents, singing a similar tune:

“When I was young, I had to take the bus and didn’t have a car until I was married.” Or “Last time, when I wanted to chat with my friend, I had to use the public phone.”

And of course, everyone’s favorite now: “Last time, when I wanted coffee, I ‘tapau’ from home in a Tupperware,” or “I paid only 90 sen (27 cents) at the ‘kopitiam.’”

But before you panic and rush out for that Botox jab, check out the news. Statistics show that perhaps you are not being old, you are just being right.

As reported recently, bankruptcy among youths below the age of 25 is increasing at an alarming rate.

From 2007 until June this year, a total of 1,940 youths under 25 years old had been declared bankrupt, about one-third (579) of whom became bankrupt in the first half of this year.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri, who oversees the Department of Insolvency, believes many others are on the brink of bankruptcy for “spending more than they earn” and drowning in debt.

Echoing her comments, many “experts” raised the same old arguments ― our young cannot differentiate a “necessity” from “luxury,” confusing their “needs” with their “wants.”

Many young people, however, argue that they are not living beyond their means.

Johan, 25, points to the economy as the reason why many young people are accumulating debt.

“Our pay is peanuts, not enough for us to have a comfortable life, especially with the unexpected price hikes. How can we pay our bills like we planned when things keep going up?

“It’s like one morning you wake up and something new is now more expensive. We can only survive if every day we eat Maggi,” Johan, who has been working in sales for a year, complains.

Others say that times have changed and they need to spend a lot to stay ahead of the game.

“I need a car to get to work on time and my smartphone is essential for me to stay connected and relevant.

“And these days, if you don’t look or act the part, you won’t become successful, so sometimes you have to meet clients and friends at that cool coffee shop,” Malek, a 24-year-old entrepreneur, shares.

Is this then yet another case of the older generation simply not getting the Generation Y-ers?

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan thinks the young could live within their means if they wanted to.

“I am perplexed by the attitude and behavior of some young workers ― the current pay for fresh graduates in Malaysia is enough for them to live on.”

On whether our pay is keeping up with inflation, he says we have to understand the situation in the country.

“Sure, there are some increases in the cost of living but we need to look at our purchasing power parity ― a global study said that the value of our wages is close to three times higher than the money we get. This means, if we take home 1,000 ringgit, we can buy close to 3,000 ringgit worth of goods and services.”

A majority of fresh graduates, he says, start working life on the wrong footing.

“They perhaps indulge themselves on things not considered necessity sometimes even before they start work.

“If graduates start on the wrong footing and develop the wrong financial habits, they will find it difficult to make ends meet on any pay they get.”

Whether a young person spends more than they earn depends on their lifestyle, says Shamsuddin.

“I’m from a generation that thinks paying 13 ringgit for a cup of coffee is murder. To me it is a luxury, not a necessity, and I can argue for days on end about this.

“Whether your salary is enough or not to survive on is relative. It depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to adopt. If you buy a coffee that costs you 13 ringgit every day, it will burn many holes in your pocket.”

New graduates need to assess themselves and see what situation they want to be in, he advises.

“They have to realize that as someone entering the workforce, if they indulge themselves, they will get into a situation where they will not be able to pay their credit card debt or loans that they take.

“While a handphone or smartphone is a necessity now, you don’t have to spend 2,000 ringgit or more to get a high-end model or the latest model. But many prefer branded gadgets and keeping up with the latest trends and models. I think that is why at the end of the day, they feel that whatever they are getting cannot support their lifestyle.”

Shamsuddin insists that being thrifty is not an “outdated” or “unfair” value.

“If the young think it’s unfair, they need to remember that many of them have not included their parents in their budget. In my day, we always put aside a portion of our income for our parents. Now it’s the other way round. Today, parents end up supporting their adult children, paying for their housing, food and helping them.”

By Hariati Azizan

(The Star)
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