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How your family can save moneyThe Star Online - Tapping the 50 Plus Market by Carol Yip

By Brigitte Rozario
September 14, 2009

Saving money sounds like an impossible task to a lot of parents. There's always an unexpected expenditure or bill to settle when you have a family.

Carol Yip, founder and CEO of Abacus for Money, says saving money or spending less is all about the family's personality, belief system and values. It's about how you were brought up, what your priorities are, whether keeping up with the Joneses is important and what you need versus what you want.

And, if you want to start saving now, it's about a lifestyle change.
 

Yip: Saving money is about making a lifestyle change.

“Do we need things to make us happy or do we value relationships more? Then again how do we build relationships – by giving things, by going out or by communicating? These days we have a lot of stress at work - how do we handle it? Do we look for things to make us feel good? Some people will buy things, some go for holidays and some go home and do something to relax which doesn't involve money. How do we spend within our means?

“You need to look at yourself. If you have all that you need, why are you still buying? Can you discipline yourself to not go out and spend money and yet find life meaningful and achieve your life goals?” asks Yip.

Practical ways

According to her, if a family really wants to cut down on expenses and save, they have to sit down and make a list of what they spend on, then decide which items are not important that the family can do without.

“Will everyone in the family be happy if you don't spend? That's where the family members have to sit down and talk about it – how they can save money and not spend, how they can recycle, how they can buy items only when they are on discount,” says Yip.

She highlights a current trend in the United States where families only buy whatever groceries are on discount and cook their meals based on that. This way, they can cook for a family of four for a very minimal amount of money.

To cut down on expenses, families can try buying groceries from shops that offer lower prices.


“You can't fight inflation because it's beyond your control. But you can control your personal inflation which is how much you spend. Instead of shopping at a place where you know the prices are higher, shop at a place that's cheaper. Or, you may come up with a support system where you buy in bulk and share with your friends who want to buy the same item because buying in bulk is cheaper.

“It's always about finding ways not to spend too much based on what you earn.

“I can tell you it's possible to spend no more than RM50 a week if you're comfortable eating simple meals and don't yearn for anything extra,” says Yip.

She believes that there is no standard method or technique for how families can save money. If they want to they have to cut down as and where they can according to their family's needs.

Holidays

Going for holidays doesn't have to be an expensive affair, either. According to Yip, local or regional destinations can be relatively inexpensive. Importantly, you need to do your research to find out which destinations are affordable in terms of transport, accommodation and currency exchange rate.

“I have travelled to destinations where I really enjoyed myself but didn't spend much. AirAsia is free or practically free these days; you can stay in a basic hotel - don't go for five-star hotels, and go to cheap eating places. That's called budget travelling.

“When I travel I only take with me a certain amount of cash and I try not to bring my credit card along. I don't feel insecure at all without it.

“Recently, I went to the Gold Coast in Australia. It was a paid trip. I was there for about three days and I only brought along A$100 (RM300). I used A$50 and brought back A$50,” says Yip.

She suggests that families go to countries where the exchange rate is not so high. Take note though that just because a country is within this region doesn't necessarily mean it's cheap as the accepted currency could be the US dollar.

As Yip says, don't go to a country that you've always dreamt of going to but can't afford to visit.

Priorities

Yip recommends families settle the important bills first every month. This includes items which, if not settled, will result in a fine or late payment fee. This would include utility bills which, if not settled, will result in your phone line or electricity being cut, and credit card bills.

Then come the necessities – things you cannot go without.

“There are many things that we don't need to buy every month or every two months unless they are spoilt or lost. Some people buy new things because they get bored with old items. Why not buy second hand, or go to the library to borrow books or exchange movie DVDs with friends.

“We go for the easy way out but convenience comes at a price,” says Yip.

Conclusion

Saving together helps build family relationships. Yip advocates families having a common savings account with everyone chipping in.

“That is part of building relationships. A lot of times families break down because of money problems. It's good to start when children are young and tell them, 'Now that you have an allowance why don't you contribute some money into this account?'. Then, the whole family can decide how to invest the money. Make it part of daily practice. Chances are you will be able to build the concept that this is what we do together as a family – we save and share money.”

Yip says just because families are cutting expenditure and trying to save more doesn't mean you stinge on everything. There needs to be a balance between spending and saving.

“I'm not saying that they have to cut down everything and their life will be boring and pathetic. We're talking about changing a whole lifestyle and behaviour. It's like getting people to lose weight. It's about sacrifices you have to make to lose the weight,” she says.

Saving money is after all a lifestyle decision, not just about putting money in the savings account.


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