LIFE at university is a change from living at home and undergraduates have to learn to live within their means.
Public university undergraduate Muhammad Zakwan Egar, 25, makes sure that his expenses do not exceed RM20 per day to make his allowance last a month.
His allowance is spent on accommodation, transport, meals, and entertainment and leisure. “I’m financing my studies with my own funds and the help of my parents. They remit RM800 to RM900 as pocket money monthly.
”I spend an average of RM300 per month on food. I fork out RM105 for hostel fees, RM28 for transport and RM200 for leisure and shopping every month,” said Muhammad Zakwan, a first-year Bachelor of Mass Communication student at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
Mohammed Faizal Mohd Nor Al Kamaruddin, 22, likes good food, and instant noodles are his last option.
“Nourishing food is important to stay healthy. I travel on public transport such as the LRT and KTM, but have to resort to GrabCar and Uber sometimes. I spend about RM10 to RM40 every day,” said the undergraduate from UKM.
”I use my savings and get RM200 to RM300 every month from my parents. I rarely go shopping unless I have extra cash to splurge on myself.”
Third-year Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (Unirazak) student Auni Zulfaka’s Bachelor of Business Administration (Islamic Financial Planning) studies are sponsored by MARA.
She lives in an apartment chosen for its security and pays RM305 rent monthly.
“Daily meals cost more than RM10 and are the bulk of my expenditure. I also spend quite a bit on transport, commuting between the apartment and the university.
“I set aside 20 per cent for savings in Tabung Haji and sukuk investment monthly. I live as simple a life as I can,” said the 22-year-old.
With the increase in cost of living, she tries to reduce expenses, especially entertainment.
Living in a university hostel helps Siti Zulaikha Zaherman, 23, to cut down on cost of accommodation. Food and transportation make up most of her expenses.
”I spend RM8 to RM20 per day on meals at a cafe near the university which serves delicious food at affordable prices. Transportation can come up to RM50 per week due to project work and if I go back to my home in Kuala Lumpur,” said the first-year Media and Communication Studies student, who saves loose change in a piggy bank and sells second-hand books and hijab to her friends.
Muhammad Danial Afiq Mohamed Meera’s studies are funded by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation.
”Going out on assignments can put a dent in finances,” said the 24-year-old who is pursuing Islamic financial planning at Unirazak.
Since he stays with his parents, most of his expenses go towards paying for his daily commute to the university.
”I stopped receiving pocket money since I was 16 so I run my own business. The bulk of my spending is on clothes as I need to be properly attired as the newly elected Youth Parliament Member of Malaysia,” said Muhammad Danial Afiq.
Joseph Yong Kher Wee, 19, said one must learn to be financially independent.
“Plan how much you spend every day and try not to indulge. And don’t spend too much on entertainment,” said Yong, who has a scholarship and RM200 monthly allowance.
“I spend mostly on food as it is pricey near my college. I manage my expenses to stay within the budget.”
While Muhammad Zakwan felt that one should be equipped with financial literacy upon entering university, HELP University Foundation in Arts student Danny Goh Meng Huat, 19, said it is important to nurture the habit of spending money wisely from young.
Mohammed Faizal admitted that he has sometimes strayed beyond his budget so he does part-time jobs such as conducting surveys or working at photoshoots to cover unexpected expenses like repairing his handphone.
Auni said undergraduates must have financial literacy to survive as students. “Financial literacy is important to prevent being burdened with education debt after graduation.”
Civil engineer Sheikh Azmir Sheikh Mokhtar, 51, finds it challenging to fund his children’s studies with the increase in cost of living. His children, Sheikh Mohamed Naim and Nur Izzah who study at University Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and Universiti Teknologi MARA respectively, get a monthly allowance each.
”In his foundation year, he received RM1,000 per month to pay for food, phone bills, petrol and car maintenance. Now that he has a MARA loan to fund his undergraduate studies for four years, I give him RM500 a month. My daughter gets RM600 per month,” said Sheikh Azmir.
”While I provide enough for my children to have a slightly more comfortable life, I make them aware of the importance of managing money wisely and saving up for rainy days,” he added.
School teacher Aunillah Hilmi and her architect husband Mohd Khalil Abd Jabar, both 48, give their daughter Aisyah a monthly allowance of RM450 while she is pursuing a degree in petroleum engineering at UTP.
”She spends her money wisely, mindful of how much we are paying for her education,” said Aunillah.
Tech website writer Ramli Ibrahim, 49, said that while he provides a monthly allowance for his daughter, he encourages her to spend within her means.
”I advise her to stay within her phone credit limit, use public transport and do not spend too much on shopping and entertainment. And if she can spare the time on weekends, find a part-time job.
“She is doing all right so far, except for the occasional overspending on outings with friends such as going to the movies and the latest gadgets,” said Ramli, whose daughter is a first-year communications degree student at International University Malaya-Wales.
INTI International University Counselling Centre manager Lim Siow Yen said those who lack knowledge in financial planning tend to overspend.
“Students with low self-control are easily influenced by their wants rather than their needs. However, it also depends on how well their parents educate them on financial management.
”Some parents teach their children from young to budget their pocket money but there are also those who meet their children’s demand for money every time.
”So, it also stems from family upbringing to understand the value of money from a young age and know how to manage it well,” added Lim.
She said people tend to gender stereotype when it comes to spending habits. This perception is also drawn from movies and advertisements due to the fact that there is more visible merchandise for women such as beauty products, clothes and handbags.
“However, men have their share of products associated with them like drinks and electronic gadgets. I feel that both genders have similar spending habits.”
Head of University of Malaya Marketing and Recruitment Centre Fatimah Nuntasinee Muadmanee said the challenges of “not having enough” arise if students overspend.
”The location of UM is an opportunity as well as a challenge. With easy access to malls via public transport, it can be a challenge for students to control expenses.
”The university provides as many student facilities and amenities as possible such as a bookstore, cafes, sports centre and feeder buses on campus. It monitors the prices of goods and food so they are affordable for students.
“Students at the residential colleges get three meals a day, the cost of which are included in the accommodation fees,” said Fatimah.
The UM Entrepreneurship Centre offers a programme on financial management, which is a compulsory unit for all courses.
The Students Affairs’ Career Counselling Centre also gives advice on financial issues. “Students should focus on completing their studies and not worry about not having enough money,” added Fatimah.
Sunway Education Group and Sunway University senior executive director Dr Elizabeth Lee said spending habits vary from student to student. “There are those who spend lavishly while most students prefer a simpler lifestyle. We encourage our cafeteria caterers to sell food and drinks at affordable prices.”