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Embracing values in dealing with high cost of living

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Cooking at home could be the answer to adapting to the new normal, not changing our diet to ubi kayu (Alyson Mcphee - Unsplash)

By: Nahrizul Adib Kadri

If you have asked me 20 years ago that I will be earning a living and raising my family in KL, I would not have believed you. Because to me, as a boy from Johor; KL is just too noisy, too crowded, and too fast-paced for my liking.

Ir. Dr. Nahrizul Adib Kadri

And yet, here I am in 2024, proudly calling KL my home and my city. Yes, it’s still noisy and crowded and fast-paced, but this is where I truly believe that I belong. My family is here, my friends are here, and this is where I can contribute the most to society.

But like everyone else in KL, I am also still grappling with the so-called “new normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the soaring living expenses. As we try our best to adapt, there’s been a constant, prevailing notion that the ideal solution lies in cutting back, tightening our belts, and spending less. Some even suggest changing our diet to ubi kayu (tapioca) in the face of rising rice prices!

Sorry, but I beg to differ. Primarily because I believe these “solutions” are missing the point.

Let me illustrate by way of an example. One of the areas that often comes under scrutiny is dining out; be it at the corner mamaks or the high-end cafes. With rising costs and economic uncertainties, it’s tempting to view eating out as an indulgence that we can no longer afford (especially those RM15 coffee from a certain American chain). But to me, it’s not just about the food—it’s about the experience, the connections, and the moments that come with eating out.

Think about it: when we dine out, it’s not simply a matter of satisfying our hunger (of which ubi kayu can address). It’s about the company we keep, the conversations we share, and the memories we create (of which ubi kayu definitely cannot address!). And some might even argue that eating out is actually part of our Malaysian culture.

These intangible elements, be it the ambience of a bustling restaurant, the tranquillity of a cosy cafe, or the friendly smile of that ‘bhaiya’ who took your order at the table, add depth and richness to our lives, nourishing our souls in ways that go beyond the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

So, when faced with the rising cost of eating out, the knee-jerk reaction shouldn’t be to abandon this cherished ritual (or culture?) altogether. Instead, it’s an opportunity to pause, reflect, and rediscover the values that drew us to dining out in the first place. Perhaps it’s the sense of community we find in sharing a meal with loved ones, or the joy of exploring new flavours and cuisines. Whatever it may be, these values are definitely worth preserving.

And the same value-defining effort should go to all of these “solutions” to address the soaring costs of living in the city. We need creativity and resourcefulness to adapt to the challenges of expensive city living post-pandemic, not shortcut responses. Rather than viewing rising costs as insurmountable barriers, we should seek alternative ways to fulfil our actual desires and aspirations. Perhaps it could mean hosting potluck lunches and dinners with friends, where each person brings a dish (or leftovers?) to share. Or perhaps it involves exploring outdoor picnics in the park, or preparing prep-meals for the whole week in the fridge.

Whatever it is, the key is to embrace flexibility and open-mindedness, recognising that our values and priorities can remain intact even as our circumstances change. By shifting our focus from external constraints to internal values, we empower ourselves to live authentically and meaningfully, regardless of the challenges we face.

Let’s challenge ourselves to find creative ways to cultivate the same sense of fulfilment and joy in our everyday lives. After all, true abundance isn’t measured by the size of our bank accounts, but by the richness of our experiences, just as succinctly summarised by Rumi the poet:

“Live life as if it is rigged in your favour.”

Ir. Dr. Nahrizul Adib Kadri is an Associate Professor and former Director of Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at nahrizuladib@um.edu.my

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