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IT has become unfashionable to sacrifice today for future, unencumbered benefits. Perhaps we should rethink that…

Wow! We’ve made it to the start of a New Decade. Happy New Year 2020, dear reader!

As you and I look forward to the best things this latest calendar-flip has in store for us, it would be instructive to cast our minds back not just one or two years but rather three full decades...

Back in 1990, I was just beginning my Malaysian career after stints in the U.K. and US. I returned home in late October 1989 after seven years of living in or near London for studies and work. Once home, it took me more than four months to land a job.

In March 1990, I joined TV3 as a cadet broadcast journalist... briefly. Dissatisfied, I quit after 17 days. It took me a month and a half to then land a great job, as a business journalist with Malaysian Business (MB) magazine, where I worked and learnt and grew from June 1, 1990 to June 30, 1994.

In my very first year with MB, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unveiled Malaysia’s 30-year plan to become a developed nation. I found his then-stratospheric vision casting — at a national level — inspiring. Sadly, as we fast-forward 30 years, we find that we have failed — by a massive margin.

Admittedly the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, over which we had no control, slammed us hard onto the mattresses. Still, as a united people, Malaysians rose up, dusted ourselves off, and restarted our upward journey to economic strength, success and maturity.

Heartbreakingly, though, through the continuance of entrenched, flawed government policies that sidestepped genuine meritocracy and the pursuit of high, globally benchmarked, standards, our GDP growth fell. Then, to add insult to injury, systemic corruption further weakened Malaysia.


Even today, despite the original promises of hope and change by our new government, too much of the cancerous old system remains for Malaysia to rise to the top of global league tables.

Conversations I’ve had with all my financial planning clients in the last year have grown incrementally pessimistic about tomorrow. So, a growing part of my value proposition to those clients has been to try and inject hope, optimism and excitement about the future to those who see themselves as global citizens capable of thriving in both green fields and blue oceans — inside or outside Malaysia — where opportunities abound.

For instance, consider the damage and disruption caused by President Donald Trump to multilateralism and global trade through his hard-hitting trade war against China. Even before the respite from the hoped-for Phase 1 of the US-China trade deal was finalised, Southeast Asia was a net beneficiary of the geographic changes by multinational corporations pushing some operations out of China into ASEAN.

Neighbouring countries like Vietnam and the Philippines have been major beneficiaries of these operational redeployments of talent and capital. Many smart, agile and impatient Malaysians are unearthing incredible career and business opportunities in such emerging countries, which are now lagging behind Malaysia on the development curve, yet are laser-focused on improving their respective domestic education systems instead of introducing wasteful, pointless, archaic distractions that weigh down students and contribute exactly zero to preparing them for the needed high performance requirements of this century.

When I talk to my more prosperous clients who are focused on educating their children stunningly well, I find most want me to crunch their numbers and then help them establish long-term funding programmes fuelled by their personal sacrifice to grant their progeny invaluable international opportunities.


So, if we were to narrow AND sharpen our focus from broad-based national policies to personal strategies for achieving individual life goals, like funding your kids’ tertiary education and your personal eventual retirement, then please note that four liberating words can fuel your ambitious wealth accumulation initiatives:

“I cannot afford it!”

In the 230+ pages of financial guru Dave Ramsey’s book The Total MONEY Makeover, he repeats countless times, like a mantra, a statement savvy adults should heed: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

Thankfully, times are still good in Malaysia even if they aren’t as great as they were in the early 90s when Malaysia’s GDP grew at better than 9 per cent a year. Nowadays we’re at less than half that heady rate.

Yet at the granular levels of individuals and households, we can still opt to work longer, harder and smarter to tap into vast opportunities we still have before the next crushing financial storm inevitably assails us.

I believe our personal plans should include boosting our active income derived from work to pay down (or eliminate) debt and to invest wisely in Malaysian and international assets so our money works hard for us. The best way to free up those needed regular cash flow surpluses is to repeatedly heed those four liberating words:

“I cannot afford it!”

I realise only a tiny fraction of readers will heed my radical advice. But those who do will one day be able to live very well and then, later in life, honestly utter these seven even more satisfying words:

“Thank you, I can indeed afford it!”

© 2019 Rajen Devadason

Rajen Devadason, CFP, is a Licensed Financial Planner, professional speaker and author. Read his free articles at; he may be connected with on LinkedIn at, or via [email protected] You may follow him on Twitter @RajenDevadason.

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