Moving from Shah Alam to KL
Back in 2011, I just graduated from university and got my first real big-city job in Kuala Lumpur. I was 23. The salary was RM3,000. When I received the job offer, I felt exhilarated – like I started my career right, or something.
In fact, I remember stopping myself from saying ‘Kuala Lumpur’ like a tourist – it was ‘Key El’ after that all the way.
In glee, and perhaps a bit of youthful enthusiasm, I immediately coordinated my move from my parents’ home in Shah Alam to the heart of KL. Raised with Western sitcoms and dramas that equated ‘adulthood’ with ‘moving out from your parents’, I thought that taking care of myself would prove, once and for all, that my femininity does not need protection, thank you very much.
My parents, with all their unconditional love, allowed. Despite the Malay Asian norm of preferring women-to-stay-home-until-married, they never went beyond dropping hints (which I ignored). Bless you both.
The beginning of my financial struggle in KL
At first, I wanted my own place. That idea was quickly discarded, given the rental prices. I wanted a place that was within walking distance from the office. The reasoning was simple – I wanted to save on transportation costs and I wanted short commute. I found a small room that fit my criteria, in a condomium 10-minutes walk away. This proved to be the smart thing to do, except that I have wholly underestimated how expensive it was, and still is, to survive in KL.
Right off the bat, EPF took 11% of salary. This was a necessary evil. Fine.
The room rental took a massive 22% from my salary. Then, my loans kicked in. That’s another 15%. So far, that’s almost half my salary.
Then, the realities of living on your own sank in. I made so many rookie mistakes. For example, I was hit with high utilities bills. Despite not having an air-con unit in my small room, I signed a lease which agreed to split all bills with my two housemates. Both were massive energy suckers, they had their A/C on all the time. It wasn’t fair for me, but still I paid about RM150-RM200 a month in utilities.
This was also the time that my car (generously loaned from my dad) caused a lot of problems. Once, the alternator quit on the highway to Genting Highlands – I had to pay RM500 (apparently already discounted) for the tow truck to haul it back to the workshop. This did not include the replacement. Another time, the tire blew during heavy traffic. Another time, I accidentally, stupidly locked the car key INSIDE the car. I had to get a mechanic to pry the door open.
Oh, it was painful. Car repairs and mistakes are no joke.
image credit: iproperty.com
How found a decent condo and pay a low rent of RM 150
I knew that I had to change my lifestyle. I knew I had to find somewhere cheaper to live – it was sucking all my income, and furthermore I became hostile to my housemates due to the unfair division of bills. Thankfully, a friend offered to introduce me to a place. Miraculously, it was a beautiful, furnished 2+1 condominium that was a mere 5 minutes away from work.
The only catch is that I had to pay for the whole apartment. It was RM1,400 – below market price, but more than double of what I was paying.
I racked my brain, and remembered Alan Corey.
Alan Corey wrote a book called A Million Dollars by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to become a Millionaire before (or after) turning Thirty.
At least it was straightforward. He gave methods that he personally used in order to reduce his spending and increase his earning. Not all were good (he ate instant noodles almost exclusively!) However, one methodology stuck: get a place, then get roommates to significantly lower the cost of your own share of the rental.
That’s what I did.
I paid a hefty 3 months’ deposit, and found 2 (sometimes 3) housemates to share a 2 + 1 apartmentwith 2 toilets. To lessen my guilt of seemingly ‘using’ my housemates (Alan Corey didn’t seem to have any), I took the role of being the overall house manager. I fix anything that needs to be fixed, and I furnish anything that needs to be furnished.
This led to a comfortable arrangement for all of us. I provided access to clean drinking water, complete kitchen tools, regular housekeeping, provided internet, and paid all the utilities bills, in return for reliable, hand-picked tenants with pleasant personalities. I swear, I have the sweetest housemates turned friends for life (for the most part). My share of the rent was a whopping RM150. Inclusive of internet and utilities, I have to fork out about RM410 which is manageable.
Let’s be clear, this is not a magic solution. Things break down, and when they do, its out of my pocket. Loss of income from empty room – my responsibility as well. Landlord increased the rental – also affected it. Furthermore, there’s actual work in advertising, screening, and selecting suitable tenants. But I like to think that it paid off – I tasted city life on a budget, and my experience is all the richer for it.
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