HOW much does it cost to get by in Kuala Lumpur these days? When life was less complicated two-and-a-half decades ago, rooms cost about RM70 a month on the fringe of the city -- unfurnished, except for a table, a chair, and maybe, a thermos flask. No beds -- you just use your own two-inch thick tilam (foam mattress) which you got from the pasar malam for RM15. Furnished rooms, with bed, table and study light cost about three times more back then.
Breakfast was only about 90 sen -- 40 sen for a roti canai kosong and 50 sen for a glass of teh tarik. A budget of RM1.60 will get you a modest two vegetables and one meat chap fun (mixed rice) for lunch. Iced Chinese tea or suet char costs only 10 sen. Some stalls even throw in free tea but usually by the time you got there, the dishes would be all gone.
Dinner cost about the same and if it were the end of the month and the paycheque was nowhere in sight, two roti canai kosong downed with ais kosong (iced tap water) would usually be sufficient to fill a growling belly.
Transport cost about RM1.50 a day then, if you take two buses to work and about RM3 a week on petrol if you go on your Honda cub like the wiser among us did.
For about RM450 a month, you could survive in the city. You spend about RM250 on food monthly, RM70 on board and lodging, and about RM50 for transportation. You could still send home about RM50 every month to your family. Heck, if you know how to save, you could even have a bare-bones treat at the cinema once a fortnight.
Of course, you would have to do your own laundry, join the queue to see the doctor at the Klinik Kerajaan if medical treatment is not included in your job offer, and for entertainment, you would have to depend on your landlady's television set -- if you pay your rent on time, that is.
Today, despite earning three times what you earned two-and-a-half decades ago, it is still not enough to make ends meet. Rooms go for between RM600 and RM800 unfurnished, 50 per cent more if furnished, and more if you choose to live anywhere near upper class suburbs like Bangsar. There are cheaper areas, of course, but only if you don't mind the rowdy neighbourhood or longer travel distance to work.
Food can easily set you back RM20 a day. Nescafe tarik costs RM1.60 and roti canai RM1.20. Even the price of nasi campur has leapt to about RM4 for a two-vegetable, one-meat set. Some places even charge for iced tap water -- 30 sen or more depending on the location. And we have not even factored in transport costs yet or cigarettes, if you smoke.
A salary of a thousand ringgit today will probably take you only a quarter of the distance which it got us in those days, and much less if your expectations are higher than what your pockets permit.
It's tough living in the city, but not impossible. The streets, at a glance, may not be paved with gold but there are precious nuggets if you know where to look.
Being frugal, not trying to keep up with Ali, Ah Kow or Ramasamy, and tailoring your needs to the size of your pockets can stretch your ringgit pretty far. Of course, working hard helps, too.