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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Source: Pexels

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?


As a child growing up in Sentul, I recall vividly the shrill of the whistle from the nearby Sentul railways workshop. The shrill, indicated different times of the day, beginning from start of work, start and end of lunch break as well as the end of the work day, at the workshop. To me, the first shrill of the day meant that it was time for my father to leave for work. Although he did not work for the railways, he left home for work and back around the same time as those who worked at the Sentul railways workshop. I looked forward to the shrill of the whistle in the afternoon, as it meant that my father would be back soon for lunch. I looked forward most, to the last shrill of the day. It meant that my father would be back home and more importantly, to take me out to play in the evening.

At that age, I used to wonder what people did when they say they went to work or to the office like the uncles and aunties who lived in the neighbourhood. For some reason, I had this vision of people working around huge steaming metal cauldrons on top of red-hot fiery pits brimming with charcoal, when thinking of work. In my vision, they would stir whatever it was, that was inside the cauldrons, with long rods that looked like oars and add black coals into the fiery pits as necessary.

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Now, I can’t figure out where this vision came from. I can only guess that it must have originated from some scene in a cartoon or a movie. Nevertheless, it stayed stuck in my mind until a few years later when I begun to attend school. On top of the vision, thanks to the shrill of the whistle and the work pattern of my father, I believed that people worked within set hours, six days a week with Saturdays being a short day.

It was in school that I had the “Aha” moment, that doctors, nurses, teachers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, bus conductors and more, were also other types of work. I can’t recall exactly when this moment hit me. I do think, that the task of filling up one of the many forms in school, which provided three empty spaces to list down the three jobs that I wanted to do when I grew up, contributed to the “Aha” moment.

Of course, this meant that my childhood vision of what work was, took a drastic change. Work did not only mean those that constituted of working around metal cauldrons on fiery pits. Similarly, my understanding of working hours also changed. Work hours and duration of work, were not fixed. The number of work days varied.

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As I grew up, I realised that there were many jobs which were then categorised in a number of ways. There were the office and factory jobs. There were the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled jobs. There were the regular-hour and shift-based jobs. There were the exciting and mundane jobs. There were the permanent and contract jobs. There were those who were employed and those who were self-employed. There were jobs that were considered safe and those that were considered risky. Similarly, there were all types of working hours and work durations.

Irrespective of what we work as or the hours that goes with it, we all work for a reason or a variety of reasons. Most, if not all, we work to put food on the table, be it for ourselves or our family. We work to put money aside for the future of our children and our retirement. Some may work in order to keep themselves busy, occupied and sane.

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The way we work may also differ. We may work hard or work smart. We may pull in long hours or work efficiently. We may work individually or as part of a team. We may do all the work on our own or share tasks accordingly with others. We may bring work home to be completed at night or during the holidays, or just leave work at the office. We may stress ourselves and everyone else around us or be the calming presence, at work.

Regardless of how we work, we value work that brings value to ourselves and the organisation that we work for. We appreciate working in environments that are open, friendly, flexible, fair, warm and rewarding. We treasure working with wonderful bosses and leaders, who challenge us to go further, motivate us to be better and tells us when we did well or can do better. We enjoy working at organisations that value us, giving us the resources needed to grow and get the job done, indirectly allowing us to contribute positively to the organisations’ health.

So, take a break from the labour that is work and enjoy the holiday that is the Labour Day. Happy Labour Day to all those of you who labour at work. Allow yourself the rest that you need before going back to work.

P.S.: The featured image of this article was sourced from Pexels.