Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 32, Tuesday August 26, 2008




Frugal thoughts

Limited income, rising prices, and an upcoming festival season running straight into the season of parties and weddings does not make a happy wallet. Times may be hard now, but a little planning can help you avert a total disaster.

Budgeting to live within your means
In order to start getting your finances under control, it's a good idea to get the family together and spend an afternoon or so making a budget. Do a master budget about once a year, keying in all of your planned expenditures for the upcoming year. This gives you a truer account of your expenditures versus your income, and helps you figure out whether you have money for optional expenditures like new furniture or a vacation. It is wise to sort the expenses for the upcoming year in descending order. This way you can see where the bulk of the money is going. Also, getting the children involved in the planning helps because besides being a good role model for your children, you can help them learn about managing money by giving them practical experience while they are young.

All the small things
The biggest area where you can cut back on in your home budget is usually food expenditures. While this is especially true of restaurant meals, do not forget the small expenses; a cup of latte at a posh café or buying sugar free gums, or that weekend dinner and outing. All this expenditure must be noted and reconsidered.

If you can successfully sort out your small expenditures from day to day living, then your savings and budgeting immediately takes a winning turn, but be warned that these are the hardest to keep track of. If you don't know how much to budget for minor cash items then try recording your expenses for a week or two in a notebook to get a complete record of how much you are spending on incidental items. You might be surprised at just how much these little expenses can add up.

The art of eating
While you need to eat food to live, the expense of feeding an average family can eat you alive. Since food is a necessary and recurring expense, just saving, for example, Tk.100 a week on your purchases can convert to over Tk.5200 in savings over the course of a year. Try to plan in advance. By knowing what you need, you will be able to buy in larger quantities (almost always less expensive) and cut down on convenience food purchases (always more expensive).

Eat main dish vegetarian meals at least once a week. Meat is often the most expensive part of the grocery budget, so cutting back on meat one or two nights may help to stretch your Takas quite a bit. One night a week, have a baked potato night. Make a baked potato or two for each person in the family and lay out all sorts of goodies for a baked potato with items, such as stir-fry vegetables and instead of pricey sour cream you can make your own raita with yoghurt, hard toasts and butter.

Coping with contingencies
Remember to include emergency and long-term savings as expense items in your budget. Putting money aside for an emergency fund, for inevitable major expenses that crop up in everyone's life such as losing a job or getting the engine fixed on your car, will have an effect on monthly expenditure. Moreover you need to come up with a long term saving plan as well like retirement, college expenses and medical emergency.

Take only the cash you think you'll need at the store and leave your credit cards and chequebook at home. This will reduce the temptation to spend just a little more. Plan your meals ahead of time so you're not grocery shopping every day. The fewer times you visit the store, the less you'll spend. While you're there, buy store brand products rather than brand names. Most store brands taste just as good but at half the price.

Working your wearables
Although many consumer items have actually reduced in price over the last few years the cost of clothing has seen a continuing upward spiral. In addition, a purchase price that not too long ago bought a good quality garment now seems to buy virtually "throw away" clothing.

With some planning, though, it is possible to maintain clothing purchases that are in line with your family budget. Buy separates that coordinate. You can make numerous combinations with a few well-matched items. For women, jackets, slacks, skirts and blouses, kurtas and fotua, simple cotton Tangail sarees or less expensive jamdanis can be mixed and matched to create many different outfits. These can be good work clothes and also right for small gatherings, plus you can change the look of these outfits with accessories. Men's clothing offers a wide variety of separates that can be coordinated: blazers, slacks, shirts and ties can all be interchanged to create a versatile wardrobe with a minimum of expense.

Compare and calculate
Be a comparison shopper by watching the advertisements. Prices can vary day to day on everything from food to fuel. Don't forget to carry your notebook or PDA to record all your purchases. Once you begin to see where your money goes each month, it's much easier to change spending habits.

Comparison shopping was once a long and drawn out process. Driving from one store to another or making numerous phone calls could be a real time waster. Even if you were able to make an adequate comparison, sometimes it wasn't worth the hours you needed to invest to get the comparison.

The Internet has changed much of that. Most of the superstores have their own websites now; you can make quick comparisons on items, usually within a matter of minutes. What would once have taken hours to accomplish now happens at the click of a mouse, a real time and money saver. Don't forget online resources and also word of mouth. If your friends mention any store that offers cheap and good buys, you must try it out. There are instances that your favourite store might be cheating you because they know you are one of their regulars.

A little planning, a little forethought could mean the difference between wallet woes and stress-free spending, so incorporate a little frugality into your budgeting today.

By Raffat Binte Rashid

Budget talks

We rattled our minds, hoping to bring out positive suggestions for a frugal Ramadan. People interviewed showed optimism towards cutting down costs, but the 'Why' seemed more lucid that the 'How?' The selection of a wide spectrum gave assurance of a fruitful conclusion but we ended up encountering more questions than answers that would guide us to a prudent Ramadan. We leave our findings for you to dwell on. For a problem that has no universal solution, it is up to the people concerned to figure out the solution which works best.

Meet Muntasir Ahmed, twenty-six and employee of a corporate giant. For Ahmed, the severe inflation is not a matter of concern. He explains, “My family has not asked for my contribution, possibly because they don't need it. I also never felt the urge to lend a hand. I spend from what I earn and thankfully I earn enough.”

He continued, “Eid has always been special to me because I like to give gifts to family, friends and that special person. I end up spending around takas 20,000 on gifts for Eid. People may say its wastage but that is the way I am. I started earning on my own since grade eight. I guess I have kept my part of the bargain.”

“I have a small savings. It could have been significantly greater if it had not been for my hefty spending. But at least I am not complaining,” says Muntasir with a smile.

Tahmina Tabassum Cecilia, 24 years of age and an aspiring engineer, is a foodie by heart. She is passionate about the culinary delights in Dhaka, and of Dhaka. Ramadan and its gastronomy never fall short of pleasing her palate. She says, “I am passionate about iftar, but my taste buds are more conditioned to healthy diets than the traditional assortment of deep fried, spicy dishes. I simply can not do without soup, noodles and dahi bara for iftar. My family is not too keen on them, but these are staples in our household through out the month, at least for my sake.” Asked if this adds significantly to the Ramadan budget, she opines: Individually no, but collectively it does. Every one in the family has their own favourites and 'mother hen' finds it difficult to please everyone's taste buds. But with the 'no compromise' attitude from everyone, she struggles.

Abdullah Ibne Haque works as a sub editor at a national daily. A significant portion of his meagre income goes to the family fund, while he is left with next to nothing for his personal expenditures. He has no savings despite the fact that he has been working for the last four years.

“I am twenty seven and I do not have a single taka as savings. With prices going up, my family has severely cut down on the monthly allocation for food. But I have an elderly grandmother who deserves special treatment. Times are such that she is being deprived of the smallest pleasures of life in her greying days.

I take the bus to work to cut down on the ever increasing conveyance cost. I am dreading the coming of Ramadan. Expenditure will sky rocket and my family will have to make both ends meet, somehow. People expect gifts on Eid, no matter how old or young they are. And in my financial condition, I can't afford much. I simply can't avoid giving something nice to my grandmother and my youngest sister has been asking for a bicycle. From where I stand, my eid bonus has exhausted even before I had a smell of it.

Anusha Nizam and family present a pragmatic view of Ramadan- “Most of groceries and essentials are brought ahead of Ramadan. This not only help reduce costs but also make life during Ramadan less burdensome.

Iftar is very non-traditional, minimalistic and healthy.

As for eid shopping, it is done way ahead of the arrival of Ramadan. The four of us sit together and make a budget, each contributing according to our means. This way, everyone gets something and the whole affair does not come out to be a burden to the head of the family. We also allocate amounts for Eid tips for the house help, and bonuses for the guard and chauffeur. Gifts for the extended family are usually small tokens which does not tax the wallet.”

“As it stands, I am already using portions of my savings. Even with the festival bonus, the month ahead will be pressing. Certain things I can not avoid like gift for the house help, bonus for the chauffeur. The on going inflation will only worsen during Ramadan, despite the words of comfort and reassurance in the media. A significant part of my family is underprivileged and they look up to me during Eid for help. Although it's taxing, I can not say no. I can't even provide from my zakat fund as they are not eligible, needy but not poor” says Lutfe Tahera, a Training Officer working at a multinational NGO.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif

On The Cover

With the prices peaking in the market, our wallets are pretty much at stake. To get past all that tension of 'how to save up' and 'what to do', there is of course the age-old technique (or rather, the “art”) of smart budgeting. For details, turn to Centre, Page 2 and 3.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


Siblings what-if's…

How much simpler would my life be if I had a sister to share it with instead of a brother? I'm seen asking myself this exact question sometimes. Especially when frustrated over a recent session of bickering that I had just had with my sometimes annoying brat of a brother. Even further infuriating is my mother shaking her head at me in her all-knowing gesture and going...tsk, tsk. “You just don't realise how lucky you are to have him in your life. You'll realise that when you grow older and no longer live together. Then you'll miss each other and all the time you spent together...” to which I try not to listen and simply walk off to find myself a corner where I can sulk without being disturbed. I mean, I don't really need to listen to all that!

To think, how happy I was the first four years of my life. Then, before I could even comprehend what was going on, in comes the younger sibling taking away all the glorious attention that my parents showered on me before he came along! It's just not fair!

Its not fun being the older sibling. If anything, I had always wanted an older brother who would pamper me. But then again, I think to myself, an older brother would be too dominating, especially when I'm old enough to have a boyfriend or something. On the other hand, if I had a sister, I could probably share all the tiny details of my life with her and stay up gossiping all night. Now how much fun would that be! But then, knowing me, there might also be sibling rivalry if she was the better looking or more talented one. Furthermore, since we've both more or less been average Joes in Academia most of our lives, there are no hard feeling in that sector either! In fact, for me, the best option would actually be a younger brother, which I already have. Because no matter how much I kid myself, I would be lonely if I was a single child.

So, what am I complaining about? I seem to have run out of excuses and justifications. I guess the bottom line is, we do have our fair share of fights, but there isn't a single thing we don't share with each other. And brat though he may be sometimes, there's no one I could possibly love more!

By Farina Noireet


Planning Ramadan

One way to make the most of Ramadan is to plan beforehand. Here are few reasons why you should plan for Ramadan:

To be in "Ramadan mode"- By planning for Ramadan before it arrives, you put your mind in "Ramadan mode". If you plan, you will mentally prepare for it, and it will force you to see it as the special month outside of your regular routine the rest of the year.

To adjust your schedule- By planning in advance, you can adjust your work, sleep and meal schedules in such a way as to make time for most of your regular chores. That means, for instance, that if you normally go to bed at midnight, in Ramadan you would sleep earlier in order to get up early for sehri. Or if you usually study late, you can instead sleep earlier and start studying after sehri in the early morning hours. Planning in advance allows you the luxury to make time for the change in schedule that Ramadan brings.

Budgeting for this particular month is a must- Ramadan involves a lot of shopping. Make sure you plan a festival budget before the month begins. This way, you know exactly how much you can get out of your bonus. Plan the parties ahead, menus and all, plan the gift items, and try to reason between need and want. Make sure you plan for meaningful zakat items instead of buying tons of saris and lungis.

You can squeeze in Eid shopping- Eid shopping is an obvious duty this month, while it is fun shopping for everyone, it is a total put off being stuck in traffic jams and wasting valuable time. Planning in advance in this regard helps. Try to seal all-important dealings during the first week of the month, and plan and save for that grand chand raat shopping. This will allow you to do your ibadah as well as allow you more free time.

You can plan Ramadan family time- Iftar is a lovely family time, in fact it is during iftar that the whole family sits together for a special meal. They pray together and have after iftar tea or knick knacks or fruits before heading off to individual errands.

To make the menu- While Ramadan may mean extra Ibadah to some of us, it usually means extra cooking for most of us as well. Making a Ramadan menu for Iftar and meals, and working out when you want to invite relatives, neighbours and friends for Iftar will give you the opportunity to catch Tarawih and various other advantageous Ibadat instead of spending Ramadan's 29 or 30 days stuck in the kitchen. (On a different note to men folks, try helping out with cooking or cleaning at least this time. It's a very hectic month for women specially for working ones. Moreover it was a practice of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him).

You can plan an Iftar at your home- There is blessing in feeding a fasting person other than yourself and your family. Planning in advance gives you the luxury of calling friends over the month before and setting a date, so you can "grab" them before others get an opportunity to.

To try and help others- You can be a good neighbour this year by helping out a fellow Muslim in your neighbourhood who wants to get to the mosque for Tarawih every night but doesn't have a car. Try and feed a person during iftar and don't forget to pack his or her dinner and sehri. Make time at least once a week to sit with your children and read important ayats from the Holy Quran and their translations to them. Help out in local orphanages. Be kind and practice Ramadan in the true sense.

LS Desk




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