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Surviving On Minimum Wage - is it possible?

Posted by Raefah Ab Rahman on Jan 10, 2020 11:00:00 AM

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In this day and age, we are no longer able to survive on the same amount of money that our parents lived with back in the day. Recently, the minimum wage in Malaysia increased to RM 1,200 in major cities, while some major urban areas capped the minimum wage at RM 1,100 per month. This increase for workers in major cities was said to help people tackle the high living costs that come with living in the city. However, our question remains- despite the increase, are we able to sustain ourselves?


The administration of Pakatan Harapan that was voted into power a few years ago had promised to constantly review the minimum wage rate, intending to increase it by an additional RM 300 to cap it off at RM 1,500 in the next five years. While this would be ideal, we have to ask- is this achievable? Bills and living expenses are rising, and as a rakyat we can no longer afford to wait.


According to Bank Negara’s study in 2018, the minimum that was necessary for a young adult to survive in Kuala Lumpur was a staggering RM2,700 per month, RM4,500 for a couple without children and RM6,500 for a couple with two children. In other words, it would be impossible to live on minimum wage and live and support yourself. This could be different for people who are able to rent a room or stay with their families, but not everyone has this luxury.


If you are planning your expenses, let us break it down for you and show you how it can look like:


  • Transportation

Assuming you are living in the big city and have access to public transport, to and fro to work might cost you around RM100-250, which include the cost for trains, buses, and last-mile transportation, which is the transport you need when public transport doesn’t get you directly to your destination.


In certain situations, you might also need to take a cab or use e-hailing services, which can be an easy RM10 per ride even if it’s nearby. 


Realistically, a lot of jobs require that you have your own transport, and having your own means of getting around might be more convenient for your lifestyle. Gas alone can go up to RM300 a month, while toll charges might add up to RM100 or more. If you are still paying for your car or bike, the lowest installment plan for a car would be at RM400-600 at least.


  • Housing

In more affordable, outskirt areas, rent could begin at RM300, but stay in the big city and it can go up to RM800-1000. Simply to take this into account alone would already discredit the minimum wage argument. 


If you’re considering purchasing a house instead, the repayment is about RM2000 onwards for even a small apartment, if you can make it past the exorbitant down payment. 


  • Food

You may be thinking, if I’ve already spent so much money on everything else, I can just cut down on food. However, a diet of instant noodles and bread is not only unhealthy, but also gets boring really fast.


Say you eat two meals a day, RM10 each- that’s already RM140 a week. To keep meals to that price might be doable if you’re near hawker stalls, eat at home or don’t go out much- but the reality is that food is both physical and social, and food in the city is not cheap. RM500 would already be considered modest; some meals are enough to set you back at least RM50.

These estimations are only for the three major things you have to fork out for the month- this is without house bills if you have to pay them, phone bills, medical emergencies and other expenses. It is easy to say that you will cut down on what you do, take public transport and eat less- but that is hardly feasible in the world we live in.


The goal that our government has to raise the minimum wage allows for more people to able to attain their dreams, but until costs come down and wage goes up, it looks like we all might have to be a little more frugal for now.