Saturday, July 31, 2021

HOW TO STRETCH OUR RETIREMENT SAVINGS


It's been 16+ long months since the MCO lockdown on 18 March 2020. The 'New Normal' is no longer the buzz word. It's the 'New Poor' these days. More folks from the M40 (middle income group) are joining the ranks of the B40 (lower income group). With massive lay-offs, retrenchments and businesses shutting down, many Malaysians are facing an uncertain future, except maybe for civil servants who continue to enjoy job security. 

The pandemic has affected everyone, directly or indirectly. Its ripple effects reach near and far. For many retirees who are dependent on their adult children to support them, their children's financial situation affects them too. The reverse is also true. Parents may have to step in and dip into their savings to help their children if the latter have lost their jobs or are going through difficult times. When money is scarce and savings are depleting fast, it's time to tighten our belts several notches. 

Here are my 10 suggestions, in no particular order:

1. Give luxuries and branded items a miss at least for now
What can we give up without feeling too much pain? Definitely luxuries and branded items. These are wants, not needs, not neccessities. Do we really need that RM1000 bag? Won't a RM150 bag do just fine? This isn't the time to get that RM5,000 diamond-studded watch. Our current watch still does a decent job of telling time. Wait till our bank balance improves. 


2. Are all those expensive health supplements really necessary?
Let's take a good look at our health supplements. Do we really need that many? Seniors spend hundreds of ringgit a month on multi-vitamins, probiotics and tonics. We should consider alternatives for maintaining good health, like exercise, proper eating habits, adequate sleep and a positive mental attitude, all of which are free. Keep supplements to a minimum, and only those that work for us.


3. Downsize, downsize, downsize
Not an easy decision to make, but it may be necessary. With the children all grown and living on their own, our home has become an empty nest. It's time to seriously consider selling the family-size house and moving to a smaller one. Less time and energy spent on maintaining the place. Consider renting a smaller place if we want to keep the house. Look for a tenant to rent it. As for the family car, the sooner we sell off the fuel-guzzling monster for a compact, fuel-saving and reliable Perodua, for example, the better off we will be in terms of savings.


4. No shame in hand-me downs
This applies more to electronic devices like computers, smart phones, and TVs. Our adult children upgrade their mobile phones whenever there is a new model on the market. Let them know we'll be happy to be the new owner of their discards. We know of retirees whose homes are equipped with second-hand items like TVs, karaoke systems, refrigerators and washing machines all handed down from their children, and all still in good working condition.


5. Consider cheaper options
Eat at home, or at food courts when out in the city. With the Covid-19 SOP still in place, we can order meals online. They don't come cheap, so consider it a weekly treat. Take public transport and leave the car for places not served by trains or buses, or for when we need to get somewhere in a hurry. You will be surprised how much we can save on fuel. Planning a vacation when travel restrictions are lifted? Book with budget airlines, and stay at no-frills budget hotels or go for home-stay. The difference between a 3-star hotel and a 4-star one is just one star, but it could mean saving a few thousand ringgit for an extended stay. Frankly, as long as the room is clean, there is hot water and the toilet flushes, we should be satisfied. After all, we are only in the room to bathe and sleep. Most of the time we'll be out sight-seeing. 


6. Ask for senior discounts
Nothing to be ashamed of in asking about senior discounts. Many restaurants and retail outlets do offer special rates for seniors aged 60 and above. Apply for a warga emas RapidKL card to get 50% off on train and bus services. Better still, make use of the free Go-KL buses and city shuttle bus services. If you shop regularly at certain establishments, get a member's privilege card to enjoy discounts or special rates.


7. Less is more
So true when it comes to food, clothes, credit cards, indeed, almost everything. Over-eating can lead to obesity and ill health, over-buying can lead to clutter and hoarding, and over-possession of credit cards can lead to debt and financial ruin. Two credit cards should suffice to cover our purchases. The same goes for holiday trips. Set a ceiling that is within our means. A local weekend staycation with the family is just as enjoyable. It's the company that counts. By the way, ladies, less is also more when it comes to wearing make-up, perfume or jewellery. One plus point about this stay-home-stay-safe period is that we can look our simple natural self. No need to shop for new clothes, do our hair or go for a manicure as there are hardly any social functions to attend with social distancing still being enforced! To look good and feel good, all we need is a smile and a positive attitude. And they cost nothing!


8. Look out for sales and bargains
Patience is a money-saver when it comes to shopping. Spend some time comparing prices online. Unless it's an item we need urgently, wait for festive or annual sales. These are getting more frequent as many stores are having a tough time disposing of their stock. They are offering massive discounts on books, clothes, electronics, furniture - practically anything and everything including online courses. Shop at discount stores like Mr DIY or convenience stores like 99-Speedmart where prices are kept low and affordable. 


9. Don't try and keep up with the Datuks and Tan Sris
If we don't have a healthy bank balance, we should refrain from living an ostentatious lifestyle just to keep up appearances, like letting our friends and neighbours think everything is hunky dory when in reality, we are falling behind in servicing our loans, and in paying off our debts. We don't have to celebrate our birthday in grand style if we can't afford it. If our adult children want to throw a big party for us, insist that they save their money till times are better. And we don't need to have a lavish wedding for our daughter or son if it puts us in the red.


10. Let our savings grow in EPF
The safest way to grow our savings, in my opinion, is to leave it in EPF to accummulate compound interest. Many newly retired seniors withdraw their entire savings to start their own business, invest or splurge on whatever they fancy only to see all that money go 'POOF' - all gone. According to EPF, 70% of members who withdraw their funds at age 55 use up their savings less than a decade after retiring. Often this is due to poor money management and a lack of investment literacy. Also, avoid 'Buy now, Pay later' schemes. That is one sure way of getting into debt if we can't resist the temptation to buy, buy and buy. 

Some advice

Beware of Scams and Get-Rich Schemes
There are numerous cases of seniors falling prey to scams and various get-rich schemes. They end up losing a huge chunk of their retirement savings. Yet there are people who don't seem to learn. We want to stretch our savings, not shrink them. If we want to invest, get advice from trusted financial planners or established investment companies. And do some research /due diligence ourselves. If we are thinking of shares and other investments e.g. cryptocurrency, as a quick way to make money. Please think twice, indeed, think many times. If we don't have a clue about the stock market, bonds, forex, etc STAY AWAY. Don't confuse herd mentality with herd immunity. Just because there is a rush to buy gold as a solid investment, it doesn't mean we should withdraw from our retirement savings to do so. 


Keep track of our daily expenses. 
Make sure it's within our budget. We won't go wrong if we adopt a practical and sensible approach towards managing our finances. Spend only when necessary, and do the math before we part with our money. Go for value. Ask ourselves if we can afford it, if we really need it, and if there's a cheaper option that's almost as good as the one we have in mind.


Better to be called a cheapskate than to be declared a bankrupt. Better to sleep soundly with peace of mind, than to be hounded by creditors and re-possessors, or worse by Ah Longs. Remember, any debts we incur will fall on our children eventually. Surely we don't want to leave them with this burden of an inheritance. The best and safest way to ensure our savings will see us through our retirement years is to LIVE A SIMPLE LIFE.


Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest men in the world, has the last word on why we must learn to spend wisely:


Monday, June 28, 2021

SENIORS DISCOVER HIDDEN TALENTS THROUGH ONLINE CLASSES


Chan (left) with her brush painting. Next to her is U3A vice-president Lily Fu. (Photo: Julia Chan)

Retiree Rahmah Abdul Aziz, 79, says that joining the University of the Third Age (U3A) – a programme under the Lifelong Learning for Older Malaysians project by Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology – has given her a new lease on life.

“I was moping around the house, didn’t go out much, and had lost interest in life after retiring and illness prevented me from doing volunteer social work for certain associations I was a member of,” says the former English teacher who joined U3A in 2010.

“So I decided to give U3A a try after a friend told me about it, and it changed me,” she says, adding with a laugh that all her aches and pains and penyakit orang tua (old people’s sickness) went away.

“You know... when elderly people don’t do anything – they don’t move around or mix with people – they get into a rut, and the mind and the body deteriorates. So being active again and learning something new, ensures you don’t become nyanyuk (senile),” she adds.

Rahmah has taken many classes at U3A including art (acrylic, watercolour and batik), language (Mandarin, French and Japanese), choir singing, and photography. She also takes some of the classes together with her husband, such as Agama Islam, car maintenance, air-con repair and plumbing.

“Initially, I took about nine subjects (most students take a maximum of three at any one time) each semester for the first six years. It was crazy but it gave me a new lease on life and made me active again because I had to wake up early just to go out for classes,” she adds.

Rahmah reveals that even though she uses a walking stick, she made the effort to go all the way to the campus (in Serdang) to attend her classes before the pandemic. There are also some wheelchair-bound seniors who attend the classes, as most of the facilities are disabled-friendly, she says, adding that although she isn’t the oldest student at U3A, she is eldest in most of her classes.

Part of a Lifelong Learning for Older Malaysians project by Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology, (now renamed Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing or MyAgeing) U3A enables senior citizens to go back to university without worrying about taking exams or tests.

The emphasis is on “learning for leisure”, to provide opportunities for retired and semi-retired people to get together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment.

Siti Safura Mohamad Sarif, 53, from Seremban, Negri Sembilan, started taking classes at U3A in 2019. Some of the classes that she has taken are baking, traditional dance, art (watercolour) and floral arrangement.

“I’m happy because at my age, I can still discover my hidden talents in painting and flower arrangement. And, I’m happy with the results,” says Siti Safura who lives in Kajang, Selangor.


“We get to mix around with people from different backgrounds and make new friends. It makes me recall my school days too,” she says.

“It’s important for people to continue learning even as they grow older. Learning never stops no matter how old one is. It’s good to increase our knowledge and it’s good for health too, ” she adds.

During the pandemic, Siti Safura has taken several classes online, namely art (watercolours) and floral arrangement.


U3A vice president Lily Fu says: “After a year-long hiatus for many of U3A’s classes since the first movement control order in 2020, we decided to conduct last year’s classes virtually during the first six months of 2021.”

“Furthermore, Zoom allows us to go nationwide so it’s just not limited to the Klang Valley, ” she says.

“It was tough getting seniors to accept online classes initially but they eventually did. We held Zoom workshops and shared YouTube tutorials to assist them,” says Fu.

Blooming success

One of their success stories in online classes was Floral Arrangement.

“We thought it would be challenging for both the instructor and her students. But it turned out to be a wonderful showcase of how a practical hands-on course can be taught 100% online, ” says Fu.


Julia Chan from Petaling Jaya, joined U3A in 2019 and has taken several classes including Chinese brush painting, gamelan, traditional (Malay) dance, choir singing and ukulele.

“I believe in life-long learning and now – during senior years – is the best time to master and experience what I’ve always wanted to,” says Chan who is in her 60s. “U3A has given us a chance to graduate from these courses stress-free, at our own pace.”

Learning new things helps us to grow old gracefully, keeps us alert and updated on the latest technologies, says Chan who completed her ukulele classes virtually.


New intake for 2021

Registration for the new semester starts from July1, 2021 onwards and there will be over 50 short courses offered.

“I’m sure seniors will welcome this online learning and making of new friends during the extended stay-home period,” says Fu.

“It's been more than a year now since the MCO started. Seniors have repeatedly been told they’re in the vulnerable group and should stay home as far as possible. But then, seniors thrive on going out for morning walks, kopitiam chats and visiting friends.

So, it's really a challenge to remain at home most of the time,” she says.

“U3A offers 53 (mostly online) courses in total, covering categories from music and art, to languages and living skills, to keep them happily occupied from July to December,” she adds.

There are 10 brand new courses this new semester, including DIY Repair, Declutter with Joy, Grooming and Etiquette, Charcoal Sketching and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

“Based on the philosophy of “learning for leisure”, there aren’t any exams but many courses do have assignments to complete. No academic degrees are conferred, but the members are very serious about the learning that takes place, ” says Fu.

At the end of each year, there is a graduation ceremony where certificates of completion are awarded. There is also a concert where the seniors perform and an exhibition where they can display their finished projects.


U3A is open to all Malaysians aged 50 and above. Seniors have to register to become a member before signing up for classes. There are three categories of membership: associate members (50-54 years old), ordinary members (55 and above), and life members (those who have been an ordinary member for two years or more may upgrade to LM.).

More about U3A at our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/U3AMalaysia/ 

Our website is at https://u3aklsel.wixsite.com/malaysia

(The above was originally published online in The Star 28 June 2021 at this link. However, as many seniors do not have access to the online article, we are sharing it here for their benefit and information. Our aim is to encourage our warga emas to enrol for the courses as they will enjoy the benefits of lifelong learning. Not only will they remain mentally and physically active during the extended months of stay-home, but also make new social connections through learning together with their peers in a safe and friendly environment.)

If you are a first-timer, you must sign up for membership first and pay the fees. Annual membership is Rm25 plus a registration fee of Rm15. Associate members (age 50-54) and ordinary members (55 and above) must renew their annual membership. If you have been an OM for two years, you have the option to opt for life membership at Rm150. The registration link can be accessed at 

https://forms.gle/Z3Y3VKtFNBZ23B1D9