Saturday, April 27, 2024


How to stretch your ringgit? Look for special offers and sales. Don’t be embarrassed to ask about special concessions for senior citizens. - LILY FU

 It costs RM1.60 for an apple? Just a few months ago, it was only 90sen at my neighbourhood supermarket! Looks like retirees can’t afford to have an apple a day to keep the doctor away!

While some retirees won’t be losing sleep over rising prices of practically everything – from food and fuel to utilities and services, the majority of retirees will need to r-think their spending habits.

They will have to look at ways to stretch their retirement savings.

According to EPF figures, only 33% of active members have basic savings of RM240,000 as of last year. What about the other 67%? What about those who are not EPF contributors, who have barely any savings?

We can’t expect our adult children to support us indefinitely. They have their own financial commitments to deal with. The best way to help them is to be able to support ourselves.

So the daily struggle continues. The fortunate ones are those who have planned well ahead for their retirement, have money to invest in shares or have generous children to fall back on.

For the rest of us, it’s a case of no money coming in, but much money going out. Retirees need to spend on food, dietary supplements, medicine, transport, utilities and insurance premiums. The situation is compounded if they have children to see through college or university.

Retirees in their 60s are the new entrants in the sandwich generation. Longer life span means many retirees have elderly parents to support. This is an additional drain on their limited resources.

EPF’s Belanjawanku guide proposes that a retired couple living in the Klang Valley should budget for RM3210 a month and for a single senior, Rm2520. While this is a good guide, the reality is most retirees will spend more than that.

More importantly, how many can afford to continue spending that much monthly before they run out of savings?

The bottom line is this: retirees need to tighten their belts and cut corners. They can’t even afford to get sick, considering the hefty costs of health care and hospitalization. Those on government pension may have access to free or affordable medical and dental benefits, but there are millions more who are left out in the cold to fend for themselves.

What to do

Here’s what we can do. If you are planning to replace your handphone, computer or even your car, don’t do it yet. Wait for hand-me-downs from your adult children. They are always eager to own newer models, and will be happy to pass on their discards to their parents.

Cut down on eating out, especially at restaurants. Switch to eating at food courts.

The temple opposite Corus Hotel in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, offers a wide range of vegetarian dishes for lunch at very affordable prices. But nothing beats home-cooked meals for better nutritional value and savings.

Go for cheaper alternatives. A good RM500 watch serves the same purpose as a RM2,000 one. Forget about losing face. At our age, there’s not much face to lose anyway.

Ladies, this also includes pricey cosmetics, handbags and clothes. Go for more affordable brands. It’s good to remind ourselves that often, less is more. As retirees, we don’t need to impress anyone.

Be smart shoppers. Go for value.

Resist the temptation to keep up with others. Your neighbours just spent RM100,000 on renovating their house. Good for them. Your best friend just bought 200,000 shares in a public-listed company. Congratulate him, but you don’t have to do the same.

Never borrow money. If you can’t afford something, either scale down or just abandon it. Avoid getting into debts.

Be prepared to make small adjustments to your lifestyle.

The key words are Downsize and Economise. Take fewer holiday trips abroad, or travel economy class and stay in budget hotels. After all, you will be spending the whole day out sightseeing. As long as the room is clean, the bed is comfortable and the toilet flushes, that’s all that matters.

If maintaining a car eats into your funds, opt for public transport. Get a MyRapid warga emas Touch n Go card and enjoy 50% off on all RapidKL public transport.

Look for special offers and sales. Don’t be embarrassed to ask about special concessions for senior citizens.

I pay only RM8 to see a movie during off-peak hours. Apply for members’ discount card from supermarkets, pharmacies and book stores.

Also look out for offers at restaurants. The same too for courses.

There are plenty of free online courses. Some universities and colleges offer a 50% off for retirees applying to further their studies.

Keep just two credit/debit cards. This will curb excesses in spending. Practice control when it comes to online shopping. With e-wallets, it has become super easy to pay for almost any small item, but it all adds up to a huge sum each month. Stay away from dubious online super sales.

Protect our nest egg like an eagle.

As for using EPF funds to start a business, conventional wisdom says “Don’t do it!”. Without the essential business know-how and with age against them, retirees are likely to end up losing every single ringgit they have invested in the business venture.

Only a handful will succeed in business after retirement, regardless of what wealth gurus may tell them.

The more fortunate among us may have access to multiple sources of income or rely on generous financial support from their children. But when your only source of funds is your pension or EPF savings, every ringgit counts.

Keep a record of every purchase you make, and total the numbers at the end of the month. You will be amazed at how much you have spent, and where all the money went.

To many new retirees used to drawing a four-figure salary, suddenly having their hands on hundreds of thousands of ringgit in lump sum withdrawal from EPF makes them feel rich and reckless.

Prudence goes out the window. No wonder all their retirement savings are gone long before they themselves are gone! Avoid withdrawing all your EPF savings. Opt for monthly withdrawals. The compound interest will help your savings grow.

Unless we have several golden geese that continue to lay golden eggs, we can’t afford to help our grown children with huge sums of money.

While it’s fine to donate small amounts to charity, it’s not okay to be paying for our adult children’s down payment on their new house, post-graduate studies, car loans, and even weddings. Remember, retirement funds are for our retirement, and not for helping our children with their financial commitments.

As parents, we love our children, but loving them also means letting them learn self-reliance. We have heard too many stories of irresponsible adult children getting their parents involved in their debts.

Some children become so used to parental support they expect their parents to step in whenever they need an injection of funds. The financial aid has to stop once the children start earning.

Remember the keywords

If there is one single item that will swallow up our hard-earned savings at one go, it has got to be medical expenses.

Surgery, rehabilitation, prescription drugs, medical treatment and procedures can cause severe hemorrhage to our retirement piggy bank.

We should opt for public hospitals and clinics if we can’t afford private hospital fees. They are just as good if not better.

Invest in an active and healthy lifestyle. Adopt an exercise regime that is cheap and effective. Brisk walking is free.

You don’t have to spend a cent on taiji or qigong exercises done at home or in the park. Take up hobbies. Join clubs or groups that promote free activities.

There’s no need to make big sacrifices or put a lid on our favorite pastimes. We can still have our cake and eat it – but without the icing, which isn’t good for our health anyway.

For pensioners and retirees with limited savings, and that means most of us, be prepared to make adjustments to ensure our savings will support us for the next 15-20 years. Or face the golden years with less glitter.

(Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.)

The above article was first published in The Star on 10 April 2024, the online edition on 12 April at this link: