Saturday, March 12, 2016

Little by little, a little becomes a lot


NOW that Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year are over, many of us have started to reconcile the amount spent for these celebrations.

Not surprisingly, many have underestimated the current cost of living and have therefore overspent.

Hence, it did not come as a surprise to me when I overheard one of my relatives saying that the price of an eight-course Chinese New Year package at the restaurant that she often frequents has increased by 15% from RM898++ to RM1,028++ within a year. Not only has the price increased, she also noticed the serving portions were smaller than the previous year.

The rising cost of living caused by the depreciating ringgit, hike in transportation costs, the goods and services tax implementation, etc, was the hottest topic of discussion during these festive gatherings. Among the various counter-measures, some young ones welcomed the option to reduce the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions, citing that it would help relieve their burden.

The reduction in EPF contribution came about early this year when the Government announced that employees had the option to reduce their EPF contribution by 3% from March 2016 until December 2017 to spur economic growth and at the same time, put more money into the rakyat’s pockets. According to our Prime Minister who is also the Finance Minister, this move is expected to increase consumer spending by RM8bil a year.

It sounds good as we now have the option to have more disposable income. Yet, should we encourage spending or saving during this challenging time.

Before answering this question, let’s ask ourselves what we should do with the extra disposable income. Repay credit card instalments, go after items such as expensive household goods, electronic gadgets or gourmet food?

If we are not careful, we will end up spending based on our desire instead of necessity. Hence, having more money to spend is not necessarily good. It depends on how we plan our future finances, and whether we spend the money on “good debt” or “bad debt” as explained in my previous articles.

If we unnecessarily spend the additional income on luxury goods such as a new car which depreciates over time, we are practically paying for “bad debt”, as these items are liabilities instead of assets.

In contrast, if we convert the additional income into “good debt” such as investing in commodities/ shares or to fund our housing loan, we can enjoy the long-term benefits as the value of these assets will likely appreciate over time.

At a glance, 3% taken out from the EPF per month may not be seen as a lot. However, it will become a significant amount in the long term.

For an individual earning RM5,000 a month, 3% equals to RM150. As such, the total amount is RM3,300 for the duration of 22 months (March 2016 to December 2017). Assuming the average EPF interest rate at 6.5% per year (based on the dividend declared this year), the compounding rate for RM3,300 could potentially become RM23,190.64 after 30 years!

Therefore, unless there are really good reasons to use this additional disposable income, it is better to retain this seemingly small amount as retirement funds, giving its potential to grow significantly in the longer term. Besides, the savings in the EPF can also be withdrawn during rainy days to fund the payment for children’s education, purchase a new home and payment of medical expenses for treatment of critical illnesses.

At this testing time when many are faced with the burden of rising costs and economic slowdown, it is important to resist the temptation of instant gratification, be prudent in spending, and be able to differentiate between “good debt” and “bad debt” in making financial decisions.

For those who have yet to opt out from reducing the EPF contribution from 11% to 8%, it is important to use the additional money wisely so as to ensure that your retirement fund is not affected. Every ringgit saved or invested is essential in making a difference in our future financial position.

When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me and my siblings to save. Each of us would have our own piggy banks and they would continue to remind us about the beauty of saving. Until today, I still like this Malay proverb – ‘Sedikit, sedikit, lama-lama jadi bukit’ (little by little, a little becomes a lot).

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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