Needs, wants, & happiness: Spend on happy!

In this post, I link a few articles featured on Rockstar Finance, a site that curates and posts three quick and easy articles every day from different blogs. I highly recommend it for when you’re bored and want some light leisure reading!

*bonus non-clipart, personal pix at the bottom of this post, as a reward if you make it that far


Picking up where we left off, teaching myself to be fully aware, conscious, and awake when I’m spending has allowed me to focus properly on my needs and wants – and ignore the NoisE.

It may seem painfully obvious and trite to even mention: we’re bombarded with advertisements that convince us to part with our money every single day. Traditionally, this stuff is known to flash onto our TV screens, bounce out of magazines, and decorate the billboards we drive past on our way to work. However, the social media age has made this psychological warfare even more subtle, unrelenting, and dangerous.

Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest – so many extra avenues and platforms for us to be made to feel inadequate and insecure. Our envy is no longer restricted to celebrity movie-stars and their unattainable, exclusive red carpet wardrobes anymore; the reaches of our envy have spread and multiplied indefinitely to include the “normal lives” of girl-next-door social media personalities. Regular folk – people like me and you who don’t act, sing, or dance – they have enviable beauty rooms and walk-in-wardrobes lined with shelves upon shelves of Louboutins and Jimmy Choos; they’re buying all the new Tarte Cosmetics, Urban Decay make-up palettes, all the new hijabs, limited edition build-your-own charm bracelets, up-and-coming local and regional designer wear. And look at how pretty/happy/successful all these normal people are! How can I be more like that?


Unfortunately, social media platforms have blurred the lines between reality and fiction so much more, and in so many ways. For one, it’s harder than ever to be able to identify between what a person truly believes and what a person is paid to say. Beauty vloggers on YouTube review the latest must-have make-up and lifestyle items every month (that they’ve perhaps been sent or paid sponsorship fees for), fanning the flames of temptation within your weak consumerist heart. Old products are repackaged, rebranded, and renamed so they’re “new” again. Highlighting your face? No, no, it’s called ~strobing~ now. Your old lip liners are redundant and obsolete, you need lip contours; they’re better and cooler even if they’re essentially the same product.

How many beverage containers and bottles does a person need in their life? Hydroflasks, Starbucks tumblers, KeepCups, bottles with built-in diffusers for natural fruit-flavoured water, time-stamp markings to ensure you’re drinking enough throughout the day. And oh man, don’t get me started on personalized items. One way to get a sucker to buy something is if you tell them you can put their name on it. Keychains, phone casings, passport covers, notebooks – One foolproof way to get someone to buy a notebook they’ll never, ever use is to make it out of something unique like organic recycled paper, and then emboss their name onto the cover. I’ve been known to be that sucker myself so I know what I’m talking about.

if it has my name on it, i guess it’s mine and i have to buy it

Now, I’m not being a hater. Just like everyone else, I’ve also fallen victim to these temptations. (I have my name carved out of wood, embossed on a laptop bag, and forged into a necklace… In case I forget what my name is, you know.) This just brings us back to the conversation about exercising spending awareness and prioritizing our needs above wants, and doing away with the “stupid little accidental purchases” that we don’t consciously think about, and simply sucker ourselves into buying because Parkinson’s Law rightfully predicts that we’ll just use up our money because it’s there.

I highly, highly recommend reading this piece by Mark Manson about how your insecurity is bought and sold, here’s an extract:

Oftentimes, the marketing in our economy pushes insecurity onto us that is not helpful and that intentionally triggers inadequacies or addictions within ourselves to make more profit.

… it also becomes economical to feed into everyone’s insecurities, their vices and vulnerabilities, to promote their worst fears and constantly remind them of their shortcomings and failures. It becomes profitable to set new and unrealistic standards, to generate a culture of comparison and inferiority. Because people who constantly feel inferior make the best customers.


We essentially share the same conclusion to all of this too; he says:

Some may argue that this sort of stuff should be regulated and controlled by government. Maybe that can help a little bit. But it doesn’t strike me as a good long-term solution.

The only real long-term solution is for people to develop enough self-awareness to understand when mass media is prodding at their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and to make conscious decisions in the face of those fears.

Okay now go read it yourself, it’s good I promise 🙂 Here’s the link again.

Our needs are (or should be) quite straight-forward, and must be stripped down to the bare minimum. The obvious things like food (the necessary building blocks of mealtimes: rice, eggs, cooking oil, meat, veggie), toiletries, a decent set of clothing, basic car, school funds, etc. In Brunei, I’d estimate that these basic, fundamental needs would be easily fulfilled with a few hundred dollars a month, if you’re a single person.

The minimum wage or poverty line is usually a good indicator of how much a person or family requires to meet basic necessities. Stay-at-home Mom Economics (Bruneian!) estimates that the minimum living wage for a family of four is BND 1,180. Roughly dividing this value would indicate that a single person could potentially fulfill their basic needs with about $300 per month. (This is just a crude indicative estimate.)

But essentially, beyond your basic needs – worth that few hundred bucks a month – most of the things we spend on are our “lifestyle choices” or wants. And as we talked about earlier, the cacophony (bombastic word of the day) can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to disentangle your actual wants from:

  1. the crap you accidentally buy because it’s convenient, like the candy bars by the supermarket cashier
  2. the crap you buy because everyone’s got one and you have FOMO (fear of missing out)
  3. the crap the Clever Businessmen convince you that you need and want even if you really didn’t need or want something like that until you’d heard about it. Wake up sweetie, stuff isn’t simply created just to satisfy existing needs; needs are also created so people can sell more stuff. A Hydroflask is a good example: did you really need a drink to stay boiling hot for 24 hours? Do you even want a drink to stay that hot for 24 hours?! Or is it just a “cool thing to have” that’s so revolutionary and fantastical that you suddenly can’t not have one. Like a laptop tray for your lap with built-in cup holder. Or Siri.

Capitalism, consumerism, and the insecurities associated with keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians) will make you want things you didn’t really want before; or at least they’ll temporarily fool you into thinking you want things that you truly don’t… And then regret shortly after buying.

So how do you prioritize and really, truly know what your wants are; there’s so much to spend on, it’s so easy to think I want everything it’s impossible to trim down my list!

I suppose I could tell you to just set a budget and buy whatever wants fit into that budget and nothing more. But personally, I think that’s a rubbish, unrealistic organizing principle which would never really work. And it’s not helpful, because even if you did set a budget (which is important) once your needs are taken care of, how do you know which specific stuff to prioritize and spend on?

Spend on happy. Put your money where your happy is.

This post on how to save money without hating your life sums it up really well, so go take a break from my monologue and read it quickly. I swear it’s a short and sweet read (not like my rambling which goes on forever, amairait.) 

The NoisE leads us to spend on things that we think we should, or we think people our age, our income-level, our social class should. You know what I’m talking about. In Brunei, buying (on a seven-year loan) a brand new, preferable European, car is a MUST(!) once you’ve secured a stable job. As a working professional, you sort of need at least one great designer bag or an expensive watch to fit in with the corporate crowd. Refined ladies get a professional mani-pedi once a month, and get their hair treated and steamed on a regular basis. God forbid buying Nivea now that you can afford L’Occitane.

But if you really think about it and exercise that awareness we’ve been talking about, do you really get a kick out of these deluxe expenditures or do you just spend on them because you think you should? Do these things make you happy, truly?

I’ve been working for a few years now and I realized pretty early on that I didn’t need or want a new car.

*SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH* How is dis pusible

I don’t need a new car because there’s a spare car lying around at home which nobody uses. And I knew I didn’t want a new car because, well frankly, cars aren’t my thing. I’ve never had a dream car, and I don’t particularly enjoy the full experience of owning my own car: sending it for servicing and getting the road tax renewed is a big pain in my bumhole; I don’t understand things like fancy tyres and rims and getting the car waxed and polished. To me, a car is a vehicle that will get me from Point A to Point B and that’s enough to keep me content.

this is an actual picture of me and my little car

Sure, loads of people have raised their eyebrows at this apparently controversial lifestyle choice and probably think I’m a total cheapskate. But well… I’m not going to lose half my paycheck to peer pressure, sorry not sorry. I don’t need a car, I don’t want a car, and cars don’t make me happy, it’s as simple as that. And the bills and payments associated with a new car definitely wouldn’t make me any happier. This is general motivational-Tumblr advice: don’t sacrifice your own self-worth or hard-earned money trying to impress people or fit in! Especially if you don’t gain any discernible amount of happiness from it. You can’t ever gain happiness from trying to impress people, and people never stay impressed for very long. Just think about it, six years ago the iPad was incredibly awe-inspiring but now it’s just a piece of meh.

If you have a nice car and you love it and it makes you happy and you can actually afford it (i.e. you’re not financially screwing yourself over by owning it) – then good for you, yay! But the same can’t be said for myself.

A nice new car wouldn’t make me happy. Manicures don’t make me happy. Expensive soap and shampoo don’t make me happy. Getting my hair done doesn’t make me happy. Designer bags and clothing, surprise surprise, also don’t make me very happy.

Am I a cheapskate?





Well… I don’t think so.

Pictures are literally just screenshots of my Instagram feed. Yes, this is my personal collection which I photographed myself (on an iPhone). Hover or click for details on where and when 🙂 This is just a little snapshot of some of the places I’ve been in the last few years so you get an idea of… Well, what do I spend on? What makes me happy enough to make me want to part with my money?

Travel makes me very happy 🙂

Sure, sure, everyone says they’re a wanderlust, nomad, globe-trotter; spend on experiences, not things; the world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page, etc. etc. These inspirational quotes mean well – and I do personally think travel can be one of the most enriching experiences the world has to offer – but be careful, be wary and really think about what does make you actually happy.

Travel can so easily be one of those things that people do because “everyone else does it”. It’s a shame when people may not truly enjoy the full experience of travelling (maybe it’s tiring, they have young children and it’s expensive or it’s a hassle, or they’re more comfortable staying at home; there are a variety of reasons), and perhaps only do it so they can take nice pictures for their Instagram feeds and fit in with the other global citizens who take it upon themselves to backpack across Asia and Europe in search for enlightenment. And there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with any of that, if it makes you happy then great!

But if it doesn’t make you genuinely happy, or you’re only doing it for the selfies and Instagram-worthy posts, then is it really something you want to spend your money on? Turn on your spidey-sense, exercise spending awareness, and consciously ask yourself – does travel excite you, make you happy, fulfill you, make your life better? Is the money spent on it money well-spent? Or do you not get that big a kick out of it and find yourself repeatedly underwhelmed and disappointed but, hey, at least you’ve got pictures and souvenirs to bring home.

Have a good think, especially when your spending decisions come with a big price tag attached. This is certainly not limited to travel, that’s just an example I’ve used. I’m talking about anything and everything. Do you need it? Do you want it? Are you sure you want it? Does it or would it make you happy? Are you suree? What makes you happy?

does this make me look happy?

Travel has always been a big part of my life. I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege to travel a bit as a child, and once I left for Uni as a teenager, I saved up my allowances and used literally every free reading week and semester break to (budget) travel with my friends. And at the risk of sounding like a huge hipster, this was way before Instagram okay hahaha. Now that I’ve started work and have a limited number of leave days, I try to have at least one big holiday a year.

Travel makes me happy, and I put my money where my happy is.

On a day-to-day basis, I spend quite a bit on eating out (half my expenses), and that’s because food makes me happy and socializing with friends over mealtimes makes me happy. Coffee makes me happy, and quite an extravagant amount goes into sustaining that type of happy (a little too much tbh, I’m trying to cut down and manage that habit better.) A full-body massage at least once a month makes me happy. My pets make me happy. And like most people, occasionally shopping for new clothing and shoes does make me happy too – but it’s not the highest on my list of happy-makers.

how cute is this omg

I don’t do any of the things I mentioned above because I think it’s socially expected of me; I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t give a rats ass what material goods and lifestyle services I’m expected to spend on. I spend on things I need, things I want, and things that make me genuinely happy, and improve my state of mind and quality of life. 

What specific things these are differ from person to person, and it’s worth remembering that. If you’re really into photography and that makes you truly happy and at ease with yourself, then perhaps you’d want to spend money on cameras and tripods and lenses and general photography gear. If your passion lies in make-up, then spend your money on your beauty kit. If you’re a gamer, an expensive gaming console may make you happy.

No matter what it is, it’s paramount to still keep to the basic principles of smart personal finance: have a budget, don’t spend more than you make, avoid debt as much as possible, and ensure you consistently build your savings. Plan your budgets wisely, take care of your needs first and then leave some room to spend on your wants, but because humans are insatiable creatures with unlimited nafsu… Filter your list according to what makes you happiest, and weed out the “crap stuff” the Clever Businessmen are trying to make you think you want.

Remember, you can afford anything but you can’t afford everything.



Parkinson’s Law: Are you just spending for the sake of it?

HI FRIENDS, how’ve ya been! My weekdays and weekends have been unexpectedly jam-packed recently and we’re fast approaching the end of April so I’m finding myself rushing about tying up loose ends in an attempt to cross off the pending items on my to-do list before the end of the month.

And this got me thinking.

Remember what uni (college) was like? You start off every semester with the best intentions – no last minute work this time, nu-uh –but somehow end up repeatedly playing yourself; how did this happen again?! you whisper to yourself as you pull yet another desperate all-nighter: eyelids taped open, red bull coursing through your veins, fingers flying furiously across the keyboard racing against the sunrise in a pathetic attempt to slap together your final assignments before the deadline.

And this. kept. happening. You knew about your deadlines weeks, months, sometimes even an entire year in advance but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and on the very last day, at the very last hour, you’ll still find yourself schizophrenically rearranging commas and full-stops, questioning every single word you’ve written up to that point. (Nevertheless? Meanwhile? Have I used “therefore” too many times?!?!”)

I’ve thankfully hopped off the school bus since then and started work, so my procrastination isn’t nearly as dramatic nowadays. Some people might disagree with me but school (and uni, specifically) was wayy harder than work; it was far more intensive, you had classes to go to, constant deadlines to meet – and these aren’t petty “shoot out a couple of e-mails” type deadlines – every so often I had to give birth to volumes of tedious academic writing. The gestation period of a human baby is nine months; in that same time-frame I had to spit out over 25,000 words (coherently strung together into solid pieces of writing) and that took FAR more than two days of labour, lemme tell you that.

Not that I can claim to know what actual childbirth is like. But at least with deadlines you give away the pain, not carry it home wailing in a basket. (*I’m kidding, you can laugh at me if/when I ever go through it myself.)

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if you’re given three days, two weeks, six months, or six months plus a two-day extension… You know you’re not going to be done until the very last second.

You’re even trained to think this way in high school: if you finish your test early, flip to the front, take it from the top and check everything. And once you’re done, do it again. Careless mistakes are your mortal enemy and every extra second must be spent trying to weed them all out. Don’t even think about handing it in before the set deadline; if you’ve finished early maybe you’ve just done it all wrong.

Welcome to Parkinson’s Law.

to be more accurate, work will fit into whatever time you give it

Hate to burst your bubble, but that two day extension to your deadline just means it’ll take you two days longer to finish it. In other words, the amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete it; how long you are given is how long you’ll take. 

You know what I’m talking about.

Stuck at work for eight hours and only have a single-page memo to complete for the day? You’ll either take eight whole hours to finish it – by starting first thing in the morning and then dragging it over the rest of the day – or you’ll put it off until “later”, 9gag until your brain is numb and then spit something out in the final half-hour before clock-out by riding the last-minute adrenaline rash rush.

You know what they say, “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do”.

Parkinson’s Law is conventionally used to describe a productivity problem – specifically, the management of time and tasks.

But if you think a little creatively, this principle can be applied to pretty much everything and once you realize this, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.

“Data expands to fill the space available for storage.”

If you had a million tetrabyte hard drive, you’d just bulk-torrent every TV show and movie in the history of film-making and never have to delete again. Until you ran out of space, which we both know you eventually would.

“Clothing will expand to fill all the available wardrobe space”.

The only wardrobe in existence that might’ve ever been “too big” was the one that lead to Narnia.

The opposite is also true though: work, data, clothing will also contract to fit if you’re given a limited time/space. If you’re taking a budget flight to Bali and need to squeeze a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on bag, you’ll make it work somehow. And if you run out of storage space on your phone, you’ll find a way to delete enough selfies and food pics that never made it onto Instagram just to avoid backing up your photos.

So it’s probably more accurate to say that Parkinson’s Law dictates that you’ll always make stuff FIT exactly into whatever space you give it, big or small.

Anddd… (you know it’s coming)… This totally applies to your money too, y’know.

Financially Careless Mamat kept up with the Joneses and fell victim to Parkinson’s Law by making his expenses fit exactly into his income, and in doing so, spent all the money he made every month and lived paycheck-to-paycheck. By allowing his lifestyle to inflate, it didn’t matter if his paycheck ever got bigger; he just stretched his spending to match.


remember these guys?

If Parkinson says that work expands to fill the time you get given, your spending can (and will) expand to fill the income you’re given, if you allow it to. If you upgrade to a bigger wardrobe, the empty hangers are just an excuse to buy more clothes. Similarly, a bigger paycheck is the perfect excuse to get new stuff, go on a lavish holiday, or upgrade to a better car. But the converse is also true: if you suddenly find that money is tight you’ll definitely start pinching pennies and making every cent count until your next paycheck comes in.

In Brunei there’s a whole phenomenon based on this tide which is so deeply ingrained in local culture that people plan their weekly grocery trips and errands according to it. AVOID (!!) trips to the supermarkets, the petrol stations, and any of the busiest shopping areas in the week of terima (payday)! Unless you want to deal with insane traffic situations that make rush hour look like a joke or fight your way through the snaking queues in front of every ATM and cashier. Restaurants are ringing up order after order of lobster teppanyaki, family snack platters, surf and turf specials – business is booming, everyone’s won a mini-lottery!


The week before payday though? Bulan tua is the ~perfect~ time to go out because the country’s turned into a ghost town of broke folk who are sitting around at home eating leftovers.

does your spending pattern look like a trigonometric function? #mathnerd
as 9gag would say – “the struggle is real”

No matter how much you earn – little or lots – succumbing to Parkinson’s Law (which btw isn’t a law in the strict sense, it’s just an adage/phrase) means that you’ll just wind up spending everything you’ll ever make anyway. And falling into that trap means you’ll never make “enough money”, never be able to build a decent savings, and basically never be able to unchain yourself from your office desk cos you’ve sold your soul to the work devil.

guess the monthly lobster is worth it

Considering humans are the most sophisticated and evolved species on earth, we can be so stoopid, despite our best intentions. The temptation to just use up all your money is practically irresistible, it’s there right and a little voice inside your head is telling you that money is meant to be spent and enjoyed – so what’s the point of keeping it? So even if you don’t need or necessarily want to spend it, you’ll find things to spend on. A few extra hundred rattling about in my bank account this month? Great! I guess I could get a hoverboard.

so smart.

Sometimes we’re guilty of simply spending money because “we can” (like buying fancy frou-frou $6.90 drinks with every meal that we don’t really want, let alone finish) or because “everyone else does it” (girls get monthly manipedis so I guess I have to too?) or because of conveniently placed temptations that you don’t really think about (why do you think supermarkets keep the candy bars next to the cashiers?).

And Bruneians – man, we’re a funny bunch – we have this nonsensical (and usually wasteful) purchasing philosophy that truly boggles the mind… “alang-alang. Only one chocolate bar? Alang-alang jua eh, buy three! Shopping for a new work blouse, or getting an outfit tailored? Alang-alang bah sebuting atu, better get two or three done in one go!

 (Alang-alang is difficult to translate; kind of “not here, not there.” For instance, if you were to eat seven slices of pizza and leave the last slice in the fridge, that’s alang-alang – you might as well just finish the whole thing. Or don’t ever just buy one of something, you might as well “stock up” and buy a few.)

Sometimes the alang-alang thing makes sense, especially if there’s a bulk offer on something you definitely use quite regularly (like toothpaste, toiletries, snacks you frequently enjoy.) But if you’re going to buy multiples of something “just because” and have the extras sitting around on a shelf collecting dust – c’mon now that’s just wasteful, pointless, and needlessly adding to your clutter.

An important way to break free of Parkinson’s Law is to exercise your spending awareness. Open your third eye and really, consciously think about the purchases you make.

don’t give in to the Illuminati

Are you spending just for the sake of spending? Do you really need that coffee everyday or do you just get one because all your colleagues do and you “might as well” join in? Do you really need or even want to potong baju and tailor new work clothes or did you just happen to walk past a fabric store and pick out some kain because it caught your eye? Do you actually want to eat steak or are you just ordering it because it’s the most popular (and conveniently most expensive) thing on the menu?

Your needs and wants are one thing, and it’s important to list them out, define them, and prioritize them. But blindly spending for the sake of using up all your money (because it’s thereis another beast entirely.

With a storage-full hard-drive or a wardrobe that’s bursting at the seams, the solution isn’t too difficult. Just delete the movies you’ve already watched and weed out some of your old clothing, right? Well unfortunately unspending your money isn’t that easy. Far too many people take on expensive purchases and prolonged commitments – especially cars – by comforting themselves with the false security of “well I could always sell it“.

In theory, that makes perfect sense. In practice, however, it’s not quite that simple. Even if you did go through the hassle of selling your stuff, you’ll almost definitely sell at a huge loss compared to the price you’d originally paid so I’d say that’s a pretty crap investment.

If you’re already tracking your expenses – that’s fantastic! Let’s take it up a notch – while you’re doing that, consciously try to be more aware of what you’re spending on. Are they needs? Are they wants? Are they silly little purchases you’re making just because?

Don’t ignore the big hole that mindless spending is making in your pocket!




How are the other oil producing countries doing? [News Reel]

Who has the most to lose? Credit: OilPro

Happy hump day! We’re halfway through the month of April and the sensationalized panic about the oil price has subsided into a quieter, somber acceptance of a new reality (somewhat). I haven’t been as diligent with my morning newspaper routine; I used to flip through the papers first thing at work with a hot drink in hand but werk got bizzier and news got boringer, especially after LegCo.

Since LegCo already announced the official 2016/2017 government budget and forecasted revenue (and expected spending deficit), I need to eventually update the chart I drew up in the Q&A here to include that… Clearly my assumptions were on the optimistic side, huh? I’ll eventually do a proper check on the numbers but we’re expecting a deficit of roughly 4 billion (how much spending exceeds income) based on a government budget (planned spending) of 5.6 billion and an expected revenue (income) of a depressfest 1.5ish billion, if I recall correctly. My “conservative prediction” for the deficit was a billion dollars less, at 3 billion. Guess we’re in for a pretty rough ride.

Anyhoot – In the last couple of weeks, BBC has published a few news articles regarding a number of other major oil producing countries so I’ve curated a batch for your reading pleasure. They’re not explicitly linked into a series on BBC or anything, but these articles all – in some way or another – describe the various ways the plunge in oil price has affected the economies and governments of oil-dependent states:

Petroleum and LNG are the cornerstones of Qatar’s economy and account for more than 70% of total government revenue, more than 60% of gross domestic product, and roughly 85% of export earnings.

Kuwait has the sixth largest oil reserves in the world are accustomed to lavish benefits, such as interest-free housing loans, free education and healthcare, and food and fuel subsidies. (Sound familiar?)

Angola’s economy is heavily dependent on oil. It accounts for more than 95% of export earnings and more than two-thirds of government revenue.

Venezuela has the world’s biggest known oil reserves (even larger than Saudi Arabia). Oil exports account for as much as 95% of Venezuela’s revenue.

The petroleum industry in Nigeria is the largest on the African continent.
(As of 2014, Nigeria’s petroleum industry contributes about 14% to its economy. Therefore, though the petroleum sector is important, it remains in fact a small part of the country’s overall diversified economy.)

Have a good read!