Feeling the pinch, join the club

A CONVERSATION with an Uber driver comes to mind. He has what we call a "decently" paying job where he spends eight to nine hours a day for five to six days a week, before hitting the road to earn extra money.

While off days are spent on the road, his work hours are also extended by a few more hours due to his stint as an Uber driver.

I asked him if he gets enough time to rest since he spends much of his time "working". He answered he had to do this.

Based on conversations with e-hailing drivers on several occasions, the common theme I noticed was that they chose to drive for networking purposes and to "meet new people" and it was less about the money.

But this driver was an exception; his rationale was that the money he was making wasn't enough to foot his expenses. He needed to make extra money to "survive".

Then came a question that rung a bell … not so much as a journalist but as an ordinary Malaysian.

"The media harps about economic growth we have been enjoying, but how does this reflect in our lives as ordinary Malaysians?" he asked. "For me, times are indeed harder ... everything is more expensive … but my salary is still the same."

"As you can see, I am working this so-called extra hours just to manage my expenses. Don't you feel the pinch too?"

He was right. I did feel the pinch as well and this often crops up in conversations with friends and family. Many of them lament the hike in prices of necessities.

Having to pay only for room rental, phone, utilities, a credit card, and everyday expenses including food and transport, I still feel the pinch.

In 2015, when I first started work to earn a fresh graduates salary, I spent more freely than I do today.

Back then, I felt I had a little more freedom to spend on non-essential items and to shop without being too calculative.

Almost three years down the road, while the figures on the payslip might have changed, the sentiments too have.

I find myself being more prudent and comparing prices even for basic items such as groceries and going that extra mile to compare prices at different stores or websites.

Call it prudence, making smart choices or just feeling the weight of the cost of living. And yet, not much is saved by the end of the month.

While the adage "live within your means" is sensible; living within your means can become a challenge, if earnings do not match the cost of living.

And going back to our economy, it is understood that consumer sentiments are recovering and private consumption is expected to be resilient.

The question is how much is this reflected in our day to day lives?

I am becoming more prudent and calculative with the constant worry of spending more than I should.

And based on what I have heard from peers, they too have become more cautious.

So, does this impressive growth in gross domestic product mean anything to the man on the street?

Day in and day out, we report on the country's impressive growth figures, which have even surpassed the expectations of economists.

Then, come the expectations on improved consumption and spending.

Are Malaysians comfortable opening their wallets as they used to or do they think thrice before doing so?

My take as a consumer is that these growth story may not be what the man on the street is looking at. Consumers have been tightening their belts the past few years to make ends meet.

Ragananthini reports on business with theSun. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com