Budget and the balance

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In a day or two, the Prime Minister, who is also the Finance Minister of Malaysia, would be presenting the national budget for 2018. Now, I am not qualified in any way as an economist. The closest I came to studying economy in recent times, was back during my days studying at the university. Even then, I think I studied it because it was one of the compulsory subjects that I had to take. So, I may not be qualified in that sense, to say a word or two, about the budget once it is presented.

However, I am pretty sure that I will have a thought or more about the budget, just like my fellow Malaysians, once the budget is presented. It would be hard not to do so, when the budget would impact us in one way or the other, especially financially. The mainstream media and most blogs that focuses on finance or Malaysian current affairs, will provide us with colourful graphics, summaries and simplified explanation of the complex budget. All that is left to be done for us mere mortals, is to pour through all this information to digest what benefits are in store for us and how the budget affects us, if any.

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While thinking about the upcoming national budget, I reflected back on my own attempts to create and then maintain a healthy well-balanced budget. I can assure you, it was no easy feat. It was one that was built on observing how my parents balanced their budget and then making adjustments to the current economic situation and needs. Though I had the benefit of my parents’ experience, balancing my budget was mostly trial and error, with some really hard lessons learned early on, such as accumulating debts is not a good idea, especially unwanted debts.

Of course, coming up with a budget for one person or a family, is simple enough, although it may look daunting and complicated in the beginning. Considering the initial complexity, it made me wonder how much more complex it would be to come up with the budget for an organisation, let alone an entire nation. I then put some thought into what I would do, if I had to come up with the budget for an organisation as the person responsible for its finance. Three simple but interesting things came to my mind immediately, based on my experience in balancing my own budget.

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Firstly, I will only spend on what is needed for the organisation and more importantly, can afford to spend on. I will have to avoid the urge to spend on something that is needed but can be ill afforded at the moment. Better still, I will have to avoid the urge to spend on something that I would like to have but not really need, especially when I can’t afford it. It may be another matter of course, if I had an income the size of infinity but even then, I would have to learn to spend only on what is needed as there may come a day, when the income the size of infinity might shrink to the size of a little pea. In simple terms, this is a case of spending within the limit and prioritising what the money is spent on.

I could further reduce the cost of what I need to purchase by opting for different brands with regards to the item or service that is needed. For instance, when opting for a comfortable car, I may opt for Honda or Volkswagen instead of Rolls Royce or Bentley. Similarly, when opting for ballpoint pens, I may opt for the brands like Stabilo or Faber Castell instead of Parker or Sheaffer. I will definitely not be found buying pens consting in the range of hundereds, each.

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Secondly, I will have to decide where to spend the money at. This sounds simple but can become complicated when matters of the heart or conflict of interests, comes into play. For instance, the decision on where to take folks at the organisation for a nice meal, as a treat for a job well done. If I don’t know of any friends, family members or simply, folks with vested interest, who happen to own a restaurant or chain of restaurants, then the decision on where to go will be quite simple. It would be made based on a place that provides a good meal, the right environment, meets the budget and fits all the other criteria of where to go.

However, if I do know of friends, family members or simply, folks with vested interest, who happen to own a restaurant or chain of restaurants, then the decision on where to go, could become complicated. Instead of deciding based on the agreed criteria of where to go, the decision might end up being made based on the relationship with the owner of the restaurant. Now, this may not be a bad thing, if it happens to fit all the other criteria on where to go, is it not? Then again, the easiest and also the right thing to do, would simply be to stay out of the decision-making process and allow others to make the decision based on the agreed criteria, on this occassion. I can’t have my organisation eating at my best friend’s restaurant every time, if I end up draining the coffers of the organisation to do it. I would most likely run out of money to pay for the next meal.

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Then, while preparing the budget, I would look into areas where I can reduce and if possible, eliminate any wastage and leakage. There are many ways this could happen. For instance, I may literally look into reducing and removing leakages. Getting someone knowledgeable, equipped with the right skill, to look into leaking pipes, taps and faucets would help reduce wastage, both in terms of water and money. There will likely be an initial cost involved, to get the right person to do the job. However, this money would likely be well spent in the long run, since it will reduce and eventually remove leakages altogether.

In terms of wastage, I may look into eliminating the need for printing out physical forms, bills or receipts, if there is no real need to do so. Most often, soft copies of these documents are more than sufficient and serves the purpose that the documents are required for, such as managing claims or submission of requests. Reducing the paper trail not only saves the organisation money but also goes some way to help save the environment.

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So, as much as coming up with a budget may be complex affair, I think balancing the budget could be easier, especially if we put in the effort to pull it off and bear in mind some simple facts or rules. Yes, it takes discipline, loads of it by the way, to maintain a balanced budget but in theory it is possible. Having struggled initially in coming up and then maintaining a balanced budget for my family, I do have a lot of respect and appreciation for the effort and thoughts that would have been put in by those responsible in coming up with the national budget. I am pretty sure, they would have thought about different and cheaper alternatives, made unbiased decisions and looked into reducing or eliminating wastage or leakages, among others, would they not?

People and memories

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a bunch of old friends from my days of living at the 8th Residential College (better know as Kolej Kinabalu), during my student days at the University of Malaya. I first met this group, consisting of young energetic boys and charismatic girls during an interesting week in May, almost 19 years ago. This was the Orientation Week in campus where all the first year students got our first taste of life in campus.

It was indeed an interesting mix of people who stepped into campus that week. There were those from the cities and towns all around the country. Then there were those from the outskirts, villages and rural parts of the country. There were those who looked very much their age as a teenager crossing into young adulthood. Then there were those who looked very matured and experienced. There were those who looked confident and sure about where they were and what they were going to do. Then there were those who looked a little concerned about what the next couple of weeks held for them and what they were going to do about it.

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Regardless of those differences, we slowly but surely got together, an odd group of mismatched people. We started off together, as we would be staying at the 8th Residential College, at least for the first year of our life on campus. Staying together, we slowly became each other’s family in abscence, in campus. As the week progressed we begun to be each other’s source of support and that is how it stayed throughout life in campus.

In the first week, we faced a number of questions as we settled into life in campus. There were questions that were considered as  very complex at that time, such as details on getting registered for courses and classes at the various faculties, getting the student matrix cards, obtaining study loans and scholarships, navigating carefully through the myriad of forms and processes, and so much more. Then there were the silliest of questions, such as where and which public phones worked efficiently, how and where to get good food, fastest way to move between different places, which toilets worked well and other silly stuff. The fact was, we were each other’s immediate support group. Someone had information that someone else required. Someone always knew someone else from somewhere who may have the answer to the question that someone had. Someone was always around or a call away in the event help was needed.

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During our time in campus, some of us would eat together during meal times at the Residential College or during supper. Some of us would end up queueing together, waiting for the public telephone to become available. Some of us would walk together to our various faculties. Considering where our Residential College was located, most us had long walks to our faculties and back. Some of us would work together during projects or activities organised by the various student bodies. Some of us would study together. All this helped us bond with each other even further.

As the weeks wore on, turning into months and then years, some moved closer to each other while others edged away slowly. Some moved on, as they associated themselves with different groups of people throughout life in campus. Some moved out of the Residential College to live at the various apartments nearby campus. Some spent more time at the faculty or library to work on their assignments or research and to study with their coursemates. Then there were some who spent more time working hard on wooing that special someone. Through it all, we would still get together for some common occasions like key activities that were held at the Residential College or for birthdays.

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Due to the differences in the duration of study for the various courses in campus, some of us ended up graduating earlier than the others. Upon graduation, each of us started off with our respective careers and then worked hard building it. Some stayed on in Klang Valley. Some returned to their hometowns. Some moved to other parts of Malaysia. Some even migrated out of Malaysia. Some continued to further their education before looking for a job.

Through it all, some of us would get together during weddings as people started to get married. As the years rolled on though, we begun to lose touch with each other, keeping in touch with only those that we were very close with throughout life in campus. Of course, technology, especially Facebook, allowed some of us to keep track of each other but only by that much.

Then, someone decided to further the use of technology by creating a Watsapp group. The group grew slowly but surely, as each person added someone else. Eventually almost everybody that could be located were in the group and it seemed like we were back in campus, virtually.

There were days when the group chat would be flooded with so many messages that it took quite a while to read them all. I even recall asking for a summary as there were just so many messages to catch up with, which by the way I did get immediately. Then there were days in a stretch where the group would be silent. Birthdays and special occasions were celebrated within the Watsapp group. Seeing how we were enjoying each others’ companionship via the Watsapp group, someone finally suggested for a simple get together.

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That was how, after almost 19 years, a small motley group of us found ourselves together in a quaint clubhouse-cum-restaurant nestled in a quiet part of Petaling Jaya, just outside University of Malaya. As we trickled into the clubhouse-cum-restaurant one at a time, we greeted and embraced each other. There was indeed a little bit of awkwardness for some of us in the beginning as we reintroduced and acquainted ourselves with one another. As the latecomers walked in, they were warmly welcomed into the fold.

Then, as the conversations warmed up, as the murmurs and laughters became louder, as we regaled each other with the funny, quirky, odd, scary or sad experiences, tales that only some knew but others had no knowledge about, we grew comfortable as a group, just as it was almost 19 years ago. Ahh…. how the young energetic boys and charismatic girls from almost 19 years ago, have morphed into awesome men and amazing women.

P.S.: The featured image was sourced from Pexels.