KUALA LUMPUR: The humble ikan kembung has another name – ikan rakyat (the people's fish). For many low-income earners with large families, this fish was their ideal choice as it was fairly cheap.
But it is no longer the case now as the "people's fish" is getting more expensive, along with other essential goods and services.
Come next month, "double expenditure" awaits many Muslim families. With the 2023/2024 school session beginning on March 19 and the first day of Ramadan likely falling on March 23, parents from the B40 and M40 groups who are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living will somehow have to make ends meet as they have their children's schooling expenses to take care of as well as make preparations for Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Commenting on next month's expenses, mother-of-three Hasliza Nusi, 40, said she will prioritise her school-going children's needs, adding that any money left will be utilised for Hari Raya shopping.
"I've to give priority to things like paying school fees and buying new books, uniforms and shoes.
"But owing to the current economic conditions, I'll tell my children to make do with their old uniforms and shoes… as long as the uniforms and shoes still fit, they can continue wearing them," the private-sector employee told Bernama, adding that she plans to buy her three sons just one set of baju Melayu each this Hari Raya.
She said in view of the economic downturn, people should manage their finances wisely and spend only on necessities, as well as avoid spending more than they earn.
Pointing out that M40 households like hers are also impacted by the escalating cost of living, Hasliza hoped the government will consider extending aid to people in this group as some of them have slipped into the B40's B2 and B3 categories.
"So far, the B40 group has been receiving assistance from the Social Welfare department, zakat centres and the government. Now the time has come to channel aid to the M40 group," she said.
She also expressed her gratitude to the government for extending the Early Schooling Aid (BAP) of RM150 to all pupils regardless of the income level of their parents.
Mother-of-four Siti Azielah Wahi, 37, who also works in the private sector, said she is facing a dilemma over how her household income should be spent next month.
"My children's schooling and Hari Raya are both important to me. Fortunately, the school expenses will be quite low for me as the government is giving some money (BAP) to all students this year," she said.
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia Faculty of Economics and Muamalat lecturer Associate Prof Dr Nuradli Ridzwan Shah Mohd Dali said it is up to each family to decide what should be given priority – school or Hari Raya.
"But I suggest that each family draw up a budget to list their expenditure for this year.
"From there they will know if it is going to be a deficit budget this year due to the two major 'events' (opening of the new school session and Hari Raya). If there's going to be a deficit, the family must plan to enhance their income by, for example, doing away with unnecessary spending or working overtime."
Noting that Hari Raya is an important celebration for Muslims, Nuradli Ridzwan Shah hoped that people will refrain from spending extravagantly.
"To reduce their spending, they should take advantage of the sales and discounts many shops will be offering as well as change their lifestyle by choosing goods that are cheaper but still of good quality," he added.
AVOID TAKING MORE LOANS
His colleague from the same faculty, Dr Muhammad Iqmal Hisham Kamaruddin, agreed, saying that these days it is important for consumers, particularly those with low incomes and large families, to control their spending.
"A global recession is expected to set in this year and this will increase unemployment due to businesses closing down. With this, household incomes and the purchasing power of families are bound to be affected," he explained.
Stressing that now is not the best time to take loans deemed as unnecessary, he instead encouraged efforts to earn passive incomes, saying that the extra money will help people to meet rising costs.
On complaints by the M40 group that they too are feeling the pinch, Muhammad Iqmal Hisham said if the B40 and M40 groups are impacted by recessionary pressures, the government should roll out more initiatives to help them, including providing targeted aid and reducing income tax so that their purchasing power remains at a level where they can continue spending on essential goods.
"Apart from that, other authorities such as zakat and wakaf centres and non-governmental organisations must also play a part to safeguard the welfare of the people in these groups," he added.
He also advised consumers to have at their disposal cash reserves equivalent to at least six months' salary and encouraged them to invest their excess funds in financial instruments such as gold and low-risk investments like Amanah Saham Bumiputera and Tabung Haji or medium-risk investments like unit trusts. -- BERNAMA