'What goes up but never comes down?"
In Malaysia, if you ask the students or a person on the streets, you'd probably get the answer:
"Prices of food, things and services!"
Oh, I'm still surviving. Barely though. With only half of my normal salary and no increment for three years due to my decision to further my studies (and divorce, revert to Islam, change my lifestyle etc) I'm still surviving.
But like everyone else, I do feel the pinch sometimes especially when an unexpected event happens and I have to fork out extra from my pocket.
I guess folks like me who live in the cities are worse-off than the villagers who can harvest fruits and vegetables from their farms, catch fish in the rivers and rear chicken and goats beside their homes. City-dwellers have no choice but to go to the wet market or hypermarket for our food, or to enter the nearest mamak shops, Malay restaurants or gerai makan to fill our hungry stomachs. We may be fine without new clothes or a new car but we need to eat.
"Here's RM20 for next month."
Mom gave me the month's allowance on the 30th of each month. Just RM20 a month to spend on food, transportation and stationery. She didn't teach me about book-keeping or how to balance an account. I had to learn on my own. RM20 was stretched to the limit by being extra smart.
I'd hitch a ride home with my teacher after co-curricular activities, thus saving 20 sen per trip. I'd survey the shops for the best pens and writing materials before purchasing them with a discount at my favourite bookshop. I'd choose the banana fritters and noodles instead of the more expensive rice dishes and western food sold at the school canteen. I'd only get to buy two pairs of new clothes each year for Chinese New Year - the rest of the 364 days, I'd be wearing old recycled clothes. When there's any need to buy books, I'd get the money from Mom but at the bookshop, I'd try to ask for a higher discount, thus keeping the extra money for a rainy day. Life was tough because we depended on Mom's meagre salary as a nurse to survive.
Of course, it was difficult to balance the RM20 for a month but in those days, a plate of char koay teow or fried noodles cost only RM1.20, an iced tea cost only RM0.40 and a bottled drink was RM0.60. Sometimes I'd have just enough, sometimes I'd even managed to save some money.
A small plate of the same char koay teow or fried noodles costs at least RM3.00.
A glass of iced tea is at least RM1.00.
A plate of plain rice is at RM1.30 or more.
A single meal of plain rice, a drumstick, some spinach and an egg will make you RM6.00 poorer.
Walk into a grocery shop with RM100 and it might not be enough for you to buy all the groceries you need for the week.
I used to spend only RM20 a month when I was fourteen but today, RM20 might be a fourteen year old's pocket-money for only two or three days.