There are a number of reasons for the higher household debt. One of them is that we have lost the art of living within our means even as our wages have been suppressed.

Old Penang Road junction with Chulia Street

Perhaps one reason we have lost the art of the simple lifestyle is that we have been exposed to a barrage of corporate advertisements showcasing the trappings of the good life, which instil in us the desire to acquire them, even if it means living beyond our means. The other reason is that workers’ wages have not kept pace with the prices of these products, even though employees are pressured at work and work longer hours.

Yet another reason is the neoliberal economic policies introduced under the Mahathir administration, which have widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Blog visitor tunglang recalls the simple lifestyle of a bygone era. How did we lose that? Is our quality of life better now? Or have we lost something in the process?

My Papa and Mama’s prudent days of earning and spending in the 1920s–1970s:

- Bought everything with hard cash earned with blood, sweat and tears.

- Wouldn’t buy but defer or ‘forget it’ if they did not have enough cash in rusty Milo tins.

- “Bing Chooi” was a richie concept for the richie neighbours. No need to pretend or save face if one was not rich to show face. ‘Thick face, prudent heart’ was ego-management of the day.

- Extra cash came from pawned jewellery or ‘tontine’ but for short-term, they exercised extra-cash flow discipline.

- Extra income came from odd jobs like home cleaning or tailoring.

- Kept many Milo tins ‘banks’ secured beneath heavy wooden legs of beds (like many mini-saving accounts secured) for rainy days.

- Once in a blue moon, Wan Tan Mee hawker food, but mostly home cooked Nyonya and Hakka food.

- Cheap and free night entertainment – watching black and white TV shows from a neighbour’s window or at ‘chai tiam mah’ (sundry shop), Shaw Brothers movies from outdoor standing arena at Great World Park and roadside kungfu display by blinking Cantonese medicine men at Goh Pha Teng.

- Once a month, family recreation at Gurney Drive beach or Botanic Garden (either one, cannot have both).

- Cheap Rediffusion radio entertainment and anticipated 4-Ekor news.

- Brewed own Kopi-O kau kau dipped with Bengali roti for breakfast.

- Bred own chickens and ducks with discarded prawn shreds (from Hokkien Mee recipe) and cheap feeds.

- Sewed own clothing. Laundry, drying and ironing duties shared among siblings.

- Floor-sweeping tidier than modern day vacuuming at tunglang’s pleasure (foreign maid was an unaffordable alien concept).

- Cold-water bath, even on freezing rainy days. Hot bath luxury only for sick, fever days.

- Cycling was compulsory, either you walk or cycle; motorbikes were ‘luxuries’.

- Bus travel was only for more distant destinations like Sungai Ara or Air Itam; we knew which buses and the schedules at the finger tips.

- Siblings’ personal savings came from daily 10 cents pocket money.

- No expensive toys or else it was the ‘rotan’ on the way if we caused tantrums. Home-made toys from discarded wood or Straits Times newspaper.

- Games were social interactions, face-to-face social-skilled experiences without the ‘delete’ button.

- No overseas or local university/college funds – either you dreamed it for a while after HSC or worked to self finance your own part-time night course.

- Overseas or outstation holidays? Dare-To-Dream-It on 4-Ekor announcement days over evening Reddifusion.

Cheers Kopi-O kau kau without breaking my coin pouch for occasional street hawker food.