KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 23 ― Whether it is school supplies or cat food, some families are refusing to sacrifice quality and familiarity by switching to cheaper brands even as the cost of living keeps going up.
Some of the parents that Malay Mail Online spoke to said they were sticking to their budgets which can range anything from RM500 for two children to RM1,000 for three children.
Farah Fadhlida Harun and her husband Mohamad Lokman Hamid spent around RM600 of the RM1,000 they had set aside for their two school-going children last year.
This year they spent around RM900 out of the same budget for their children who will be entering Primary 1 and Primary 4 next year.
The couple based in Terengganu who are in their 30s also noted that longer-lasting goods that cost more were worth paying extra for.
“Like this bag, it is a bit more expensive but it's alright… we won't have to change it for a year. Sometimes if we buy cheap things, but it gets spoilt in less than a year, we have to buy again. Usually we buy the school bag only once for him from Standard 1 to Standard 3, buy the expensive one as it is durable,” Farah Fadhlida told Malay Mail Online when met at a back-to-school promotion sales here, adding that a good quality bag can cost upwards of RM100.
Mohamad Lokman, who works as an IT officer, said household expenses have also gone up by around RM500 to RM600 per month. He has taken up a part-time job printing photos which can just about cover the increased living costs.
Azian Shaari, a 33-year-old clerk from Perak's Kampung Gajah, allocates RM300 for her primary school-going child. She said a good quality schoolbag without wheels costs upwards of RM80 and can last a year.
Azian said the best way to save is to buy during sales but also noted that items in KL were actually cheaper than in Perak.
Her husband Mohamed Aziman, who is a farmer, helps out other padi planters in the village to supplement the family income and keeps the monthly household budget at around RM1,500.
Shabrina Shuria Zakaria, a 34-year-old clerk based in Kuala Lumpur, who has an annual budget of RM1,000 for her two primary school-going children, said schoolbags cost the most and that the number of school shoes bought also depends on the available budget.
“Their bags are RM90 and above. Those with wheels are even more expensive, there are also those priced at RM100 but they last long, can be used for two years… it’s not every year we buy schoolbags,” she said.
Clerk Masayu Abd Manap, 46, also prefers quality goods over cheaper products that do not last long. However this year she has been forced to shop at a retail chain with relatively cheaper school supplies for her two school-going children after having scouted around to compare prices.
“For shoes, we buy one set first.... usually we buy two, now we buy one first. If there's money, we buy one more. (Uniforms) we usually buy three, but now we buy two for this year,” she said.
She also added that the family of five goes for an annual trip locally but said they have yet to do so this year as it depends on the money left after shopping for school supplies.
Zaini Noshat, 42, who works in the military and has three school-going children, stressed the importance of being economical and budgeting, but said it was still possible to get quality goods at a cheap price by carrying out price surveys and hunting for bargains.
“I buy cheap brands too but it must be quality goods; if we buy something cheap but it doesn’t have the quality, cannot. Because if we buy uniforms that are not of good quality, if our children wear it, it will tear very fast… so we have to buy those that have quality and are cheap,” he said, adding that he managed to buy three schoolbags for RM90, instead of paying RM60 for each.
Zaini, who visits wet markets for cheaper produce, also shared that he only visits hypermarkets the middle of the month when they tend to hold promotions ― instead of at the beginning and end of the month where consumers are flush with cash from their salaries.
Malay Mail Online visited several stores along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman selling school supplies; prices for school shoes can range from RM20 to RM50, school bags can run from RM20 to RM112 and trolley bags from RM53 to RM189 especially if it carried popular cartoon characters under licence.
Prices of school uniforms varied depending on brands and sizes, with some prices for a baju kurung top running from RM12.90 to RM40, a baju melayu top from RM31.90 to RM49.90, short-sleeved shirts for primary school from RM9.90 to RM20.90, short-sleeved shirts for secondary school from RM23.90 to RM27.90, pinafores for primary school (RM12.90 to RM36) and secondary school (RM30 to RM43.80), long pants for secondary school from RM29.90 to RM79.80.
The cost of stationery was not a major worry for families; the Federation of Stationers and Booksellers Association of Malaysia president Lau Sie Tee said prices of the mostly-imported stationery next year would only go up by five to 10 per cent depending on the ringgit's strength, with his 700 to 800 members nationwide asked to stick to the old prices when selling the existing stock.
Many of the families that Malay Mail Online spoke to pinpointed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was implemented last April at a rate of six per cent as the cause in the rise of cost of living.
Many of them also said the recent fall in the ringgit was not a problem as they have always been buying locally-made products.
So how do Malaysians cope?
For Saidatul Salwa Abdullah, 27, the monthly expenses for her, her husband and their nine cats is now at around RM600, up from around RM250.
The housewife said she did not change to cheaper brands as she places more emphasis on quality, but said she has started to use public transport more often, while her mechanic husband took on a second job by offering tow truck services at night.
Amutha Rayaretinam, 38, now uses public transport for her daily commute to work as a nurse and tries to hop on the train ― which she said is safe and convenient ― before 7am to enjoy half-price fares for the hour-long journey.
She has also halved the number of times the family of four eats out per month and also cut out unnecessary spending.
Kuching-based teacher Noorhidayah Abdullah, 42, who buys school supplies for her only daughter every year when she returns to her hometown in KL, said there is a larger variety here and a price difference of between RM10 to RM15 for certain items.
On top of being disciplined about spending with no credit cards in the family save for transactions like flight tickets and managing to keep the monthly budget to RM2,500 despite rising living costs, Noorhidayah works seven days a week by giving tuition classes.
“Malaysians... we need to be more hardworking, we need to find extra income, doesn't matter if you are a teacher, doctor or whatever, working with the government, monthly you make about RM3,000 to RM4,000, but if you have a credit card and you are spending so much, you can never save,” she said.
KL-based housewife Nur Aslinda Awang, 31, said the monthly groceries bill for her family of five has doubled from RM200 to RM400 after the GST's implementation, while the school supplies for her only school-going child costs RM300 this year instead of the usual RM200.
“I do online business, just started four months ago, but still have to save. I sell health supplements, vitamins for women,” she said, adding that it will help supplement her husband's income as a civil servant.
Administrative officer Farah Liza, 30, said she has not switched to cheaper brands even as the monthly expenses for her and her IT officer husband has gone up and fluctuates along with the floated price for petrol.
“No, it's still the same, still buying what we have been using before this, because we are used to it,” she said, adding that they buy their monthly supplies at the Mydin hypermarket which she said is cheaper.
Instead Farah Liza has resorted to doing online sales about five months ago which she said can only cover about 60 per cent of the growing expenses, besides cooking at home instead of eating out four times a week previously and making fuel-saving transport arrangements for work.
Ipoh housewife Normah Hashim, 57, said her groceries bills for her six grown-up children and her grandchildren has gone up from RM1,000 to RM2,000 per month even with her surveying of prices in various stores before buying. She plans to look for a stall to start selling fruits.
Civil servant Zarina Mohd Brohanudin, 33, said the bulk of the expenses for her family of four based in Bintulu, Sarawak is on food and petrol, which has increased by more than 50 per cent in recent months, including an additional RM200 just for fuel.
She found the prices of school supplies in Kuala Lumpur to be similar to Sarawak’s, adding that it was hard to switch to cheaper brands in Sarawak as there are no hypermarkets.
Now, she and her husband have cut down expenses and given up shopping for themselves during their KL trip this year to spend only on their two children, and are planning to set up a stall during weekends to sell food such as nasi lemak or curry puffs to supplement the family income.
Malacca-based freelance technician Mohd Nor Hashim, 53, who spends almost RM500 for two school-going children, was frustrated that the GST was imposed even on school supplies. He noted that he has to buy three pairs of school shoes ― despite it being branded ― per year for a child as they do not last more than a few months.
His wife Foziah Hashim, 48, who is a home-based seamstress, said they stick to quality goods that last longer, adding that she buys local and goes around several mini-markets and supermarkets near her house to compare prices before buying.
Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) had in 2014 said the increase in inflation especially due to the GST was expected to be temporary with inflation expected to stabilise in 2016, also saying in January 2016 that a spike in inflation at 4 per cent in the first quarter is expected due to GST and subsidy rationalisation but that it is likely to be around 2.3 to 2.5 per cent throughout this year.
The annual inflation of Malaysia hit a seven-year high of 4.2 per cent this February, but has since gone down, with the consumer price index increasing by 1.4 per cent in October compared to last year. BNM last month said inflation has moderated to 1.3 per cent in the third quarter.