GUEST LETTER SUBMISSION BY TAKUDAN
Guest Letter is a series of anonymous submissions published by RinggitFreedom.com on behalf of Guest Authors who'd like to share their money stories to the bigger audience of like-minded folks. Submissions are preserved as much as possible in its original format, with touch-ups done to ensure consistent quality and reading experiences, as with other articles on the blog. As the stories are submitted by Guest, any references such as "I", "me" , "we", and so on should be associated in full to the Guest Author throughout the article, and should not be in any way associated to the publisher (Ringgit Freedom / Gracie). Any comments added by the publisher will be quoted explicitly in (brackets) as (Publisher's Note). If you'd like to publish your story, feel free to reach out to Gracie @ringgitfreedom. Also check out the Introduction to Guest Letters Submission with all the guidelines and details you need. All Guest Letters are numbered. This is submission #001.
I grew up with my parents' debts.
I remember the times where my mom asked me to help with balance transfer sheets. Not Excel sheets but literally paper sheets, using actual plastic or wooden rulers to draw the lines and so on. The total amounted to more than RM100k, but being a child I was, it never hit hard to me that it was a huge debt, until a little over teenage.
I also remember the times where my late father used to borrow money from my sister and I, a few hundreds up to a thousand every time. My mom finally divorced him to protect us from his loan shark troubles which he had constantly threw himself back into.
My parents were a great example for me to tell myself I would never end up like them. The only financial advice I heard was to save up... so I did. I hardly ever overspent my allowances. I always kept my angpow money every year, at one point entrusting to my mom to keep for me.
In 2014, I graduated and started working. Got a hand-me-down 20 years old Perodua Kancil from my sister. I used to save everything and held back on everything else. Whenever I eat chap-fan (mixed rice), taking that fried chicken felt like a sin. Ordering the expensive salmon steak felt wrong.
I occasionally splurge when I do go out with friends but that's about it. I lived with family, no commitments, I was probably saving 60%++ per month for 2 years, but honestly I don't know the actual % because I literally left my paychecks in my bank just like that, doing nothing to my money.
(*publisher's note: a random generated gender-neutral name was assigned to ease the reading throughout the article)
Few years ago, one of my family members got caught up in a financial trouble - let's call this person Shay*
Shay got involved in a shady investment, a deal made with an alleged old friend. It was a very clichéd scam: apparently Shay did have an investment deal with the same old friend about 10 years ago, but then this person went off the radar. 10 years later, the old friend resurfaced and told Shay that the money is ready for extraction but requires some processing fees and yada-yada.
The old friend then promised millions of return awaiting for Shay, for only the few hundreds of thousands invested. There was no black and white, and yet Shay faithfully pooled in the money every time.
In late 2015, when Shay approached me for money citing "credit card debts" - I gave my first RM 10k without any doubt. But on the second RM 10k, I felt something was off especially when Shay deflected my question:
"Don't ask so much, just trust me."Shay
As it turned out, Shay also asked for money from my other family member too. However, we didn't pry further. At that time I was quite confident that I had saved for the rainy days.
As Shay maxed out all their credit cards, the old friend eventually convinced Shay to strike a deal with the loan sharks, saying, "I'm also dealing with these loan sharks. We're in this together."
In an attempt to get more monies for the investment, Shay went ahead to strike a deal with the loan sharks as suggested and signed our house as collateral to get RM 320k deal.
However, in reality:
Oh, I must also say that my whole family's monthly gross salary, even when combined, does NOT even reach RM 25k. Gross, right? Sorrymasen, I love puns.
It was only when Shay could no longer handle the loan shark's interest payments, that I was informed of this whole ordeal - and I had to pay the interest due soon. I paid first two months with my hard earned, painfully saved money in the bank, each transaction broke me inside... and my piggy bank.
With further negotiations with the loan shark, they were kind enough to lower the interest to 6%... per month. I could only afford another 1-2 months of interest before my bank dried up. So much for saving for the rainy days, guess I should have saved for the drought!
Meanwhile, we hired a lawyer to our side to assist with the legal terms and negotiations. The whole process took over half year through multiple visits with the lawyer firms and banks, emails and letters writing, all while juggling with my work which was not easy either.
Trivia: the loan shark bro was as stereotypical as he could get... big buff bald guy with multiple dragon/cool-looking tattoos, wearing singlet.
Was it fair for us? Of course not, we ended up actually paying them back at least a year's worth of interest. And this was only my rough estimation as I don't even know when the interest payment started.
That's 3x the amount that Shay received which was RM200k, and I'm not even counting the 10% house downpayment and the lawyer fees!
Just stay away from loan sharks.
I don't know the full details of the scam even today, but I sure know Shay fully trusted their old friend's investment scheme at that time. In one of our confrontations, we were literally kneeling at each other, begging for each other to see the other perspective. Guess who won? *shrug*
I also understand that you, as a reader, are probably finding this very hard to believe. Trust me, we laughed at this so much (with actual tears) this could happen in real life to someone so close to us. One of us even called to 988's Chan Fong, he didn't buy our story too but apologised in good faith nonetheless; he did not know of a way out.
In the midst of the scam and loan shark fiasco, Shay borrowed money from like 10 friends or so. With the remainder of the money disbursed (see chapter 2), we proceeded to settle the friendly debts.
I asked to visit every lender, to personally inform that I was returning the money on Shay's behalf, and warn them never to lend money to Shay again. In one of the visits, Shay's friend was very friendly and talkative and talked about how great of a Shay is, and said that they didn't hesitate to help Shay when Shay pleaded for help, saying to feed to family.
The friend said that I'm lucky to have Shay as my family. Throughout the one sided conversation, Shay wouldn't look me in the eyes at all, as the reason for borrowing was a complete lie. I did not expose the truth, but damn it really hurt.
Y'see, in that period I too, almost wanted to borrow from my close friends because of the sheer amount we were dealing with. After long contemplation about it, I told them early on while I was still sane and sober, "do not lend me money, I won't be able to easily pay off such an amount, so don't break friendships because of this. Your moral support is all I need."
I'm just relieved I stayed true to my principles, and things worked out for us. For me, I believe in friends who would not put the relationship on hostage. Shay, no doubt is a very nice person, but their judgement was clouded; they chose to lie their way for the cash from all these friends who genuinely thought they were helping. Really they weren't.
Shay chose to borrow even more to cover more loan shark interests, instead of negotiating with the loan shark for deferment. Out of that astronomical amount borrowed, who knew how much of the amount went to that scam too huh? I'll never know.
Consider how you will end up putting your friend into a spotlight by forcing them to choose: their livelihood, or your friendship.
If you need money, go to bank or at worst, immediate family.
I was very bitter about everything that happened. My relationship with Shay aside (hey this is a financial blog, after all), my belief was shaken to the core:
What for I saved all that, to lose them all to lies?
Why did I ride that Milo tin to work everyday, that literally shakes whenever a kapchai passes by at the traffic light? When I could literally cash buy a goddamn new car?
[Translation: Milo tin = the old Kancil; kapchai = cheap motorcycle]
With that issue behind us by about 2018, I learned to at least answer to my wants. To take care of myself better, to stop torturing myself by holding back 99% of the time.
I now drive a new local car bought in 2019, with all the needed safety features and, AND, power window and power steering. Very important! I question myself these days, how did I manage to drive at 100 km/h with that flimsy Kancil on the highways for 5 years!
In retrospective, I was financially illiterate until 2019. Pointless saving is, well, pointless.
I also developed a love-hate relationship with money. I hated money because it warped people, but I know how important it is. While I started my financial planning in early 2019, I still could not reconcile how I should think about money. I certainly do not want to become the person my parents were: always chasing after money, ridden with debt.
Eventually, I realised that was a wrong mindset... that I should learn to manage my finance better -- to befriend money by actually caring about it.
Money is not inherently evil; it is our own greed for it that is.
If you are blinded by greed, then no amount of money will save you.
If it is too good to be true, it definitely is. Spoken from personal experience.
Additionally, this is something I'll never tell Shay, but in one way, I'm thankful that Shay gave me this huge life lesson I needed: to learn about responsibilities, perseverance and empathy.
Responsibilities taught me how to deal with so many things myself; I am capable.
I used to be socially awkward and I would score 100% introversion in personality tests. Who knew a shy girl like me could face the lawyers and loan sharks? Okay I shouldn't take all the credit, my other family and our lawyer were with me but hey.
Perseverance: If there is a will, there is a way. Di mana ada kemahuan, di situ ada jalan. 船到桥头自然直。
I actually thought about suicide, in retaliation to Shay's emotional blackmails towards me. We had phone calls which Say mentioned something along the line of: "You just want me to go die by asking me to do it your way!" (we wanted Shay to report to the police and Michael Chong, against Shay's will.)
I know how it feels like to stand near the balcony handrail above 20+ floors up, and think about death while the wind blowing ever so strongly against you. I was sane and sober, so it was easy to chicken out (thankfully):
Empathy towards other people. It took me 4+ years of navigating my strained relationship with Shay to truly understand that I will never be able to control what others feel/do. The best I can do is to understand their motives and stories behind, and then you'll see things in a new light. Oh right this is a financial blog... nevermind me.
Fast forward to my birthday in 2020, I hit 30 and had an epiphany: I'm single, stuck at home with no end to the pandemic lockdown. How about actually taking the first step towards investment? ?
Today, I see the lack of exposure about financial literacy especially in Malaysia. It took me 30 years to figure something out – it could have been better for others. So, here I am, to publish this spreadsheet for all to use, hoping someone out there can join me in this journey to plan our finances better. My annual budget tracker: https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/5152348 I work in IT where we develop enterprise planning solutions. I like to analyse and work with plans, so my budgeting style is to plan and execute every big purchase at a suitable time in which it does not affect your other commitments. Shout out to Gracie for sharing my story and spreadsheet here, even though we have different ways in managing our finance! ?
Interested to publish your story? Feel free to reach out to Gracie @ringgitfreedom