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Stretching Your RM When You're an SAHM

by on 31/07/2014 10830

I used to be an assistant manager in a bank who earned about RM4000 per month. Between my husband and I, who is also an assistant manager, we earned close to RM8500++ per month. And we only had one son then.

Fast-forward to 4 years later, we now have 3 kids.

And I’m no longer the career-driven woman I used to be. Things have been very difficult for my husband to sustain everything on his own. I know he doesn’t say it, but I can tell from the look on his face on most days. It’s not easy to raise a family of 3 toddlers with just RM4000 per month. Minus our rent, bills, car payment and groceries, we’re lucky if we have enough to last until the next pay.

I often wondered if my decision to resign few years ago was a mistake.

I was working 10-14 hours a day, seeing my son only every other day because sometimes when I reached my mom’s house late at night (for she was looking after my son then), she told me to leave him with her because she didn’t want to wake him up. On one hand, this relieved me because I know he wouldn’t want to sleep once we reach home. I’m already beaten up and dead tired; there’s no way I could handle a refreshed 2-year-old toddler jumping on my bed, asking me to play with him. But on the other hand, there was this guilt that kept gnawing at me, making me feel like a lousy mother who shouldn’t be a mother at all.

This was the reason I resigned.

I don’t think I could live with myself if I were to let my son grow up not knowing me as his mother. And I sure hate to think of all the times I missed seeing him grow up. I was at the peak of my career, where I knew that if I had stayed on, I would definitely be promoted and stood a chance of earning more for my son.

But it wasn’t worth it. I knew it wasn’t worth it.

I may earn double of what I used to earn, but I knew there was no way I was going to give up my son’s growing up any more than I already have.

Things were not that hard the first few months after I resigned. I was still comfortable knowing that we could still afford to buy things and go out every weekend with our son. I savored each day being at home with my son. We got to talk and laugh and play silly games and I brought him for a swim every day at the swimming pool of our previous condominium.

Then cracks were starting to show.

My husband started to turn cold and curt whenever I ask about how we were doing with our payments. I’m very particular when it comes to due dates of paying my bills, so when I know that we now have less money, it worries me more. He would brush me off and said he got it covered.

But I knew he didn’t.

We went out less and we’re starting to argue more often. Now that I think about it, he walked out of the house more times than he did walking in. I started to become a different person too. I became this short-tempered, yelling mother towards my son, causing him to scurry away from me whenever I started screaming at him.

I felt disgustingly horrible.

Once again I felt like a lousy mother. I can’t tell you how many times I cried myself to sleep over everything that was happening then. I felt responsible for everything. I felt I drove my husband away because I’ve resigned, I felt I disappointed my son for not being the mother I wanted to be and above all, I hated myself for thinking that if I hadn’t resigned, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Then one day, I woke up and I realized I had to do something.

I knew I have to help my husband because as much as he hated to admit it, he couldn’t do it on his own. I knew that I wasn’t going to go back to work because despite me being a bad mother when I argued with my husband, I saw significant improvement in the relationship between me and my son. So, no, going back to work was never going to be an option.

I started to ask around if anyone needed any help with baby-sitting. Turned out, there were a lot of mothers who were looking for someone to look after their children while they’re at work. This was great for my son because during the day, he had few other kids his age over at our place and they became friends. This was also when I started looking for jobs online or anything that I could make money from. Few good opportunities came and I become a freelance writer, even until today.

But most importantly, I changed.

I no longer cared about buying things for myself. Other than I no longer need 3 pairs of new heels every month, I stopped wanting to buy things for myself. Even simple things like getting my usual facial range, or a new cute top I saw at the mall or my favorite ice cream tub – I let go all of that. I didn’t think about myself at all. I also stopped mentioning it to my husband whenever I felt like we haven’t went out for quite a while. I didn’t want him to make him feel guilty for not being able to take us out. I know that he would if he could.

From that point onwards, it was about knowing where each cent went. I was no longer this careless mom who bought a RM180 toy for her son not because he liked it, but because I thought it would be look good in his room.

started to calculate every single thing we buy.

I swapped from shopping at Cold Storage to wholesale hypermarkets. I switched from buying branded items to generic ones. While I didn’t compensate on buying healthy food for my son, I still made it a point not to fall into the trap of buying expensive baby food thinking it’s the best for him. I no longer let electrical appliances turned on without any purpose, I minimized our air conditioning usage, I made sure we only use water heater on really cold days and I made the bold decision to tell my husband that we need to move to a cheaper house. We were paying RM1800/month for rent then. It was a huge blow to my husband when I resigned because that rent was like 45% of his monthly salary. There was no way I was going to let him do that.

After we moved to a new place that only cost half of our previous rent and I kept my habit of calculating where our money went, things improved tremendously. My husband and I no longer argue, my son was still the happy little toddler he was and amazingly, we were doing okay.

It was a tremendous shift from our previous lifestyle.

But I remembered the words of my mother, “Do not spend money you don’t have.”

While it was fun and glamorous to be able to bring our son to fancy restaurants every weekend and buy him expensive toys, I realized we couldn’t do that anymore. Sure it makes me feel bad sometimes that now I don’t get to bring my kids out as often, but deep inside, I’m happy.

I truly am.

I no longer felt suffocated, I no longer felt like a lousy mother, and most importantly, I know that I can raise my kids even though I don’t have a lot of money like I used to.

It was an extremely tough 3 years after I resigned. I felt like I was going to give up. I thought my marriage was over because of all the arguments about money that I’ve had with my husband.

But then I realized, it only took one move to make all the difference.

I just had to see that I shouldn’t make money the problem.

People say money can’t buy happiness, but I’m also sure people would agree that you couldn’t exactly pay your bills with a smile.

I found a way to make sure we only spend money on the things we really need. If we happen to have extra, then the kids will get ice creams or pizza as treats, but they now understand, as young as they are, that people have to work for money and that we shouldn’t be so careless with money just because we have it.

Now when people ask me how do I manage to raise 3 kids when only my husband working, I answer with all honesty,

I spend less, I complain less.


Jaja Shah-Mohen is an SAHM to 3 beautiful kids. She is also a freelance writer and a passionate blogger. Currently working on a book for young mothers, she hopes to help and inspire as many people as possible with her words.

Read more about her work on her blog, Second Phase.