Malaysians talk money

DOES the DDB report truly reflect the opinions of Malaysians about money? Has our view about money really shifted towards a more caring, humanitarian stance or is it merely the wishful thinking of several working professionals? Are people really beginning to realise that there is indeed more to life than just the acquisition and spending of cash, as suggested by DDB International Malaysia’s report?

While the importance of money to everybody’s lives is undeniable, the general consensus seems to be that it would be a shallow existence indeed if money were to be the end all and be all of our lives.

Relaxing pursuit: Managing director Selinna Tan (left) and her friend, Yong Yuet Ching, during an art lesson.
While people are still prepared to work hard for their money, they also appear to be more selective about how they spend it. An increasing number chose to reject conventional choices in favour of investments that reflect their individuality.

Striking a balance

For Malaysians like Selinna Chin, a woman in her late thirties who works in the pressurised environment of the corporate world as a managing director, it’s not about how much money you have but rather what you do with it and, more importantly, how you manage it.

Away from work, Chin points to her Christian faith and her passion for oil painting as the two things that keep her energised and ready to face the daily pressures of work. While expensive five-star holidays or shopping for branded goods are great fun, Chin prefers to use her money to enrich herself in different ways, like going on DIY timeshare holidays abroad, “just to get the experience of staying as a resident in a foreign country” or helping the less fortunate through charity work.

While she recognises the importance of money, she is also aware of the fact that there are other, more important, things in life.

Lawyer turned thespian: Chacko Vadaketh planning his next theatre performance while enjoying dessert at one of his favourite hangouts, the Royal Selangor Club.
”You have to have a balance in your life. Work and money are important but not as important as your health and family. I’ve got a strong faith, so that’s my centre, the thing that keeps me grounded. You can’t live without money but there should be a limit as to how much it controls your life. Personally, health, family and my faith definitely come before money.”

Call of the stage

Others, like Chacko Vadaketh, have made the decision to forsake potentially lucrative careers in so-called respectable jobs in order to follow their passion. In Chacko’s case, he studied and practised law before he left it all to pursue a career in the theatre.

“I guess I followed my heart to find some joy and fulfilment,” mused the affable 40-something who has made his name in the local theatre scene as an actor, writer and director. “The joy of being on stage I couldn’t really find anywhere so the choice was quite easy in that respect.”

Like Chin, Chacko believes that it’s all about finding a balance between doing something purely for money and doing something that you are passionate about.

TV host: Nazrudin Habibur Rahman defines luxury as having a quality of life that he enjoys, and having enough time to spend with family and friends.
“Even in the arts, people have to do things, which may not be the most interesting or the most creatively fulfilling, in order to earn money to survive, a lot of the time.

“Everyone needs money to live and I guess people tend to work out what the minimum requirement (that they need to live on) is and make do with that,” said Chacko. “Over the years, I’ve learnt to live with the same car for 15 years or something. (Laughs) I also choose very carefully the type of holidays I take and stuff like that. I tend to go for something with character rather than something expensive.

“It’s easy to find out which is the most expensive hotel and stay there but it’s also nice to be creative about your holidays as well.”

To generate extra income, Chacko does a lot of voice-overs for commercials but it’s not something that’s he’s passionate about. It’s his work in the theatre that is the most important thing.

“I tend to follow what gives me the most joy and fulfilment in life,” explained Chacko. “Being creative; being part of a show that works; entertaining people and moving people either to laughter or tears is something that I really enjoy. Creating something beautiful is something I really love to do and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

“That passion is what keeps me doing what I do.”

Beyond material possessions

Freelance writer/ photographer Summer Tan, 31, has an equally free-spirited attitude towards money. She believes that living the good life is not merely about having lots of cash but, rather, being able to do something that one enjoys on a regular basis instead.

The way she tells it, money is merely a means to afford a better quality of life, something that enables her to “get by and afford luxuries like travelling and going out to eat in restaurants without having to worry about the bill.”

“Money buys you a certain quality of life,” said Tan who recently left a secure job as a staff writer with a national daily in order to pursue her interest in photography. “But to me, that’s not defined by a diamond ring or a big car. To me, there are many more important things in life than expensive possessions.”

Tan also feels that time is far more precious than money. “I’m more keen on having more time to indulge my passions. One of my main motivating factors in earning more money is so that I can spend my own time more constructively.

“Money has never been the most important factor in my life. I’d much rather earn less and really enjoy my job rather than to make a lot of money but dread going to work each day. I’ve always been one to follow my passion.”

Shutterbug: Summer Tan left her fulltime job as a staff writer with a newspaper in order to concentrate on her interest – photography.

Job satisfaction and recognition

Nazrudin Habibur Rahman, 29, who currently hosts The Breakfast Show for ntv7, believes that although a lot of Malaysians enjoy spending their cash these days, a large percentage of them do not feel that money is the be-all and end-all of life.

Certainly for Naz, a freelancer who’s currently “collecting money to get married”, job satisfaction is just as important as having lots of money. “I came from the corporate sector where I had a regular monthly paycheque but now that I’m working for myself, I get more fulfilment and satisfaction out of my work. When you freelance, you get recognised for your work when you deliver a certain amount of quality. It’s easier to be noticed for your effort.”

However, that does not mean that Naz would rather have more time off than extra money each month.

“I’d rather work harder and earn more money. You’ve got to give your best every time because that’s what you are paid for. It all comes down to having a passion for your work. If you are satisfied with your work, I don’t see anything wrong with working hard, as long as you are expanding your knowledge and learning all the time. You can never learn enough.”

Naz’s definition of luxury is simple: “Luxury for me is having a quality of life that I enjoy, to have enough time to spend with family and friends. If you are a slave to material things, you are going to end up missing out on so many things in life.”

And would he take a pay cut to do something that he loved? “Definitely. That’s a position I was craving for (for a long time): to expand my knowledge and get better at doing what I love to do.”

  • For more information on DDB International Malaysia SignBank’s report Future Currency: Malaysians’ Money Stories, contact

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