A Week In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, On A $12,000 Salary

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Today: a copywriter working in consulting who makes $12,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Muji essential oil.
Occupation: Copywriter
Industry: Consulting
Age: 28
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Salary: $12,000
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $870.30
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $150 (I live with my mother in the home we own — this is "rent" for my portion of groceries and other miscellaneous stuff.)
Student Loan Payment: $0 (My parents paid for my education, for which I am eternally grateful.)
Employee Provident Fund: $110 (This is the mandatory government retirement plan. My company matches 13% of my salary.)
Social Security: $5 (My company matches 1.75% of my salary.)
Employment Insurance: $2 (My company matches my contribution.)
Health & Life Insurance: $65
Phone: $47.50 (I pay for my mother's phone plan as well.)
Internet: $35
Utilities: $60-70 (I pay for all house-related bills, such as land tax, etc.)
Netflix: $10.50
Train Card: $50
Savings: $100 (I put $100 in a separate savings account each time I get my paycheck.)

Day One

7 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I get up. Unfortunately, it's all in my head. 15 minutes later I'm surprised to find myself still in bed.
7:15 a.m. — I am actually up and on my treadmill, which is my weekday morning ritual. To pass the time, I talk on the phone with one of my best friends in Australia while he's driving to work. It's good to catch up!
8:30 a.m. — Breakfast is a plate of steamed fish balls from a frozen packet, made all the more delicious with a healthy dosage of garlic chili sauce. I have eight bottles of chili at home in preparation for the apocalypse. At least my food will not be bland.
10 a.m. — I start work at 11 a.m. today, as I am using up all my flexible days before my last day on Friday. I wander around the mall near my office block before heading up. My shoulders and arms have been aching recently (perks of hunching over a desk all the time), so I get two packets of Salonpas, which are pain relief patches. $6.90
1:30 p.m. — My achy shoulders are in love with the Salonpas. The relief is real. I go to the shops to get lunch, which is a packet of nasi lemak (fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves) and three kuih lapis (steamed layered cakes). I eat at my desk. $2
7 p.m. — I am out the door and on the train straight home to a piping hot bowl of soup 30 minutes later. Thanks, mum! I love that my commute takes up so little time, especially in a city where two-hour traffic jams are the norm during peak hours.
7:30 p.m. — I am back on the treadmill in an attempt to hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Once I'm done, I spread kaya (coconut jam) on some crackers, which I have with a hot cup of Milo (chocolate malt drink). When I don't have dinner plans, I believe in the adage of "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper."
9:30 p.m. — I am hunched over yet another desk, this time with books instead of a laptop in front of me. I want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at the end of the year, and I *try* to study the language for an hour each day. I decide it's time to go to bed when the words start swimming in my head. Don't think I retained anything tonight!
Daily Total: $8.90

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up from an intense dream, this time involving being attacked by a dragon. I'm just glad there were no insomniac episodes or sad dreams last night, both of which I've had a lot lately. I've realized that if I thoroughly tire myself out physically during the day, I tend to sleep better at night. I hop on the treadmill again and read online articles while I walk.
8:30 a.m. — Mum got me a hearty breakfast of stir-fry noodles with fried bean curd after her morning walk and breakfast with friends. (It's good to live within walking distance of so many food places.) It comes with chili sauce.
9:45 a.m. — I arrive at the office early today and set about drafting and sending goodbye emails to colleagues in other countries and various people I've worked with.
1 p.m. — I am feeling peckish, and after discussing what to have for lunch for a good 15 minutes with a colleague, we decide to head downstairs to buy the first thing that catches our eyes AND costs under $2.50. Much to my delight, there's a new Ramly burger stall, so I get a Ramly chicken burger special with cheese and a fried egg. $1.40
4 p.m. — I get reminded that a prepaid phone number I own will be terminated if I don't top up the credit. I hesitate slightly before I add money into the account again. The phone number belonged to my late father, who passed away a few months ago. I don't use it, but I can't bear to part with the number just yet, so I pay this amount bimonthly to keep it "alive." Maybe someday I'll be able to let it go, but that day is not today. $2.50
5 p.m. — I am starting to feel melancholic and burdened with heavy memories, so I search for the best thing to cheer myself up, which is a Magnum ice cream from the shops. If you're thinking it's dangerous to be working near a mall, yes, yes it is. $1.10
7 p.m. — Take me home, to the place I belong, a.k.a. my bedroom, but first...dinner! Mum made ground pork and salted egg congee, which I eat with relish.
9 p.m. — It's time to study again, but instead of hitting the books, I watch Aggretsuko on Netflix instead. Watching Japanese animation with Japanese subtitles is a fun way to immerse myself in the language, and I write down the words I don't understand so that I can look them up later.
10:30 p.m. — I briefly research places to visit in Bangkok, as I'll be going for a short getaway there with a good friend next week. I can't wait to catch up — we haven't seen each other in six months. I fall asleep soon after.
Daily Total: $5

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm, so I hop on my treadmill early as well. I manage to hit 8,000 steps while playing a mobile game. Distraction is the best way to get me to physically move.
8:30 a.m. — Breakfast today is a bowl of fish paste noodle soup and chopped chili with soy sauce.
10 a.m. — I'm a minute late to work because the train leaves just as I get to the station, and I have to wait another seven minutes for the next one. Why, train gods, why?!
12:30 p.m. — I head out to an Indian vegetarian cafe for lunch with my colleagues. I get two rotis and one mango lassi. The drink costs 2.5 times more than the roti. Sigh. Over lunch, we discuss my next role, and how I got my new job. Basically, greener pastures suddenly beckoned last month, and I'm low-key excited about my new role. I'm even more thrilled about my long break between jobs that starts this Friday, though. I've been feeling like I need a break from real life for a while now. $4.50
5 p.m. — I have a meeting with the head of my department to brief him on the handover checklist. He jokingly asks me to not leave, and wishes me well. I am not the sort to get attached to jobs (I'm like one of the kids in the Pied Piper story, except in my case the Pied Piper used words like "exciting career opportunity" to lure me), but I'll definitely miss some of the people I've worked with here.
7:30 p.m. — I've been sneezing all day, and I am alarmed. I've already gotten a severe cold twice in the last three months. I guess this is proof that mental health does affect your physical health? As soon as I get home I heat up a container of frozen chicken stock, soak vermicelli noodles, get the lettuce and egg out, and make myself noodle soup. Yes, nutrients, come to me!
9 p.m. — Tonight, I decide to listen to Disney Japanese. There's a treasure trove of them on YouTube, complete with lyrics. I would sing along too, but the slight sore throat (NO!) prevents me from doing anything more than dancing around my room to the Japanese version of "I Won't Say I'm in Love." I'm pretty sure this isn't "studying" the Japanese language, but oh well.
Daily Total: $4.50

Day Four

7 a.m. — It's treadmill time! Actually, I'm pretty impressed with myself this week, considering that I often oversleep at least once a week. Today, I read a manga online, and become so engrossed in the story that I walk for a good 80 minutes before realizing the time.
8:45 a.m. — I gulp down today's breakfast, which is minced pork noodle soup. I add an egg while heating it up.
10 a.m. — I have minimal work today, as I've completed most of my major tasks as well as handover procedures. I spend the morning editing all the writing I've done so far, and go over what I've planned for the upcoming month.
12:30 p.m. — Today's lunch is decadent by my standards! A group of colleagues invites me to have another farewell lunch. We go to one of those Instagram-worthy cafes that are all over the city now. My eggs Benedict makes me happy — and yes, it's uploaded on my food-dedicated Instagram account now. Judge me. My colleagues offer to pay for my lunch, which adds to my happiness level. I only pay my part for the Grab ride (our version of Uber). $1.20
7:30 p.m. — I arrive home feeling hungry, so I make a plate of noodles with blanched lettuce and a soft-boiled egg in a dark soy sauce mixture. I also take out a ketchup bottle from one of the two fridges, and wonder why it feels warm, but am too hungry to further investigate, until...
8:30 p.m. — I investigate the ketchup fridge, and of course, it has basically broken down. This is truly the Year of Things Breaking Down. My laptop early this year (to be fair, it was almost a decade old), the fridge, my spirit. I spend the next hour and a half removing questionable food ingredients (fish maw?) from the fridge to our other one, and throwing out expired/rotten food. Most of the stuff in both fridges belongs to my mother. Why does a small household with no small children or pets require two fridges? I don't know, and if you dare to question a middle-aged Asian woman on why she hoards so much food stuff, you're a braver woman than I am. Me, I'm just the help that moves stuff around for her as she makes decisions on how to organize the fridge.
11 p.m. — Fridge-cleaning took longer than I expected, and I stay in the shower longer as well. Feeling sluggish, I call it a night and plop into bed.
Daily Total: $1.20

Day Five

7 a.m. — Congratulations are in order for me, myself, and I, for I have successfully woken up all five weekdays to hop on the treadmill! This doesn't happen often, and Fitbit lets me know on a Friday that my five-day exercise goal is reached (at least 60 minutes of walking exercise per day, basically). Yes! As I walk, I take pleasure in the fact that today is my last day at work. My break starts today! Due to utilizing all my paid time off, it will be a half-day. I make sure to use up the last of my flexible days, too, and will be at work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
8:15 a.m. — I eat two hard-boiled eggs with soy sauce for breakfast. For some reason, I'm not hungry.
9 a.m. — I arrive at the office and see a bag on my desk. I already know what it contains — an aroma diffuser. This was what I asked for when my colleagues asked me what I wanted for a leaving gift. The design is Muji-inspired, as my love for Muji is well-known.
12 p.m. — I was honestly ready to just sit around and wait for 1 p.m., but the marketing head finds me to do some last minute writing ("just get started on whatever you can and I'll finish the rest"), so I do that until I am out the door like an arrow after 1 p.m. strikes.
2 p.m. — My hunger has well and truly kicked in since this morning. I was going to treat myself to ramen, but seeing the line outside the store makes me take a detour to Din Tai Fung instead, where I have xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) and a bowl of minced pork noodles by myself. No farewell lunches today, because I really don't do well with socializing too many times in a row. I wanted to enjoy time alone by myself. At the restaurant, I am seated just a few inches away next to a table of Japanese speakers. Though I try not to eavesdrop, I can't help but try to process the sentences that I do inadvertently hear. Okay, okay, I will study Japanese during my period of unemployment. Sheesh. $8.60
4 p.m. — I loiter around aimlessly as I window shop, and get ready to go back before the mad exodus of employees retreating for the weekend starts. I buy a cup of Gong Cha tea before I head back. $2.10
8:30 p.m. — I accidentally take an evening nap while I'm scrolling through my phone. I wake up and make a tuna sandwich for dinner, then read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for the rest of the night, not putting the book down until I finish it. What an amazing writer.
Daily Total: $10.70

Day Six

4 a.m. — Some inconsiderate motorcyclist thought it'd be great fun to zoom down my street loudly, waking me up in the process. I drift into several unsettling dreams, which wake me up several times. Okay subconscious, you can stop torturing me now.
10 a.m. — I wake up tired and feeling sad again. This time I roll out of bed, and decide to make a breakfast of noodle soup for comfort. Time to start the day and all that.
12 p.m. — It's a slow day. After rereading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo again, I decide to donate or throw out any items I have that don't spark joy anymore. (I do this about twice a year.) I'll start with my wardrobe.
4 p.m. — I spend a full four hours trying on clothes, getting distracted by mixing and matching them, and pondering too long over whether they spark joy. I fill two small bags, mostly with work clothes that are washed-out and clothes from my early 20s that I don't really want to wear at my current age. After resting, I decide to get a bit of exercise done by getting on the treadmill again while starting Hyori's Bed & Breakfast on Netflix. I wish Netflix had more East Asian material!
7 p.m. — My mum brings back a packet of Hokkien noodles for my dinner. It's another Netflix Saturday. I go to bed at 1 a.m., dreaming of azure blue oceans, island life, and actually being able to see the stars at night. I'd like to live like this when I retire. That is, if I ever get to retire, looking at the state of the economy...
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

10 a.m. — I have a pretty good night's sleep, but I still end up rushing anyway because I watched too many videos that popped up on my social media. I don't even have time for a proper breakfast, so I quickly eat two biscuits and make a cup of Milo before I dash to the train station.
1 p.m. — I make it on time to meet a friend who just moved to KL from Japan. A lot of Japanese people move to Malaysia for two reasons, a) summer all year long, and b) how cheap everything generally is in Malaysia... if you earn a Japanese salary, that is. After a year and a half of not dyeing my hair, I've decided to treat myself this month at a fancy hair salon to dye and a hair treatment. While waiting for the dye to set in, I decide to answer JLPT questions on an app. My hair is so soft afterwards, I can't stop patting myself on the head, literally. $100
3:30 p.m. — I part ways with my friend and make my way straight to a restaurant. The hunger has truly kicked in! I get a roast duck/roast pork combo with noodles and a refreshing watermelon juice to offset the heat and humidity. My bouncy curls soon have become limp and lifeless only 30 minutes after leaving the salon. Sigh. It was nice while it lasted. $7.70
4 p.m. — I make a pitstop at Muji for my essential oil, and learn that Muji is having a 10% off promotion for most products. I am absolutely certain everything I buy will spark joy. $41.40
6 p.m. — The scent of lavender fills the air, sparking joy already. I couldn't find the oil blend I wanted, but lavender will do. My rational self is already thinking of the financial damage I did today, and placing limits on myself for the remainder of the month. The lavender calms me while I record my spending.
7 p.m. — Dinner is another sandwich. I spend the night talking to my mother, texting my friends, and doing research for an unexpected freelance writing gig I got from the United States. So much more willing than companies here, which usually balk when they hear my writing rates.
11 p.m. — Research for freelance writing turns into research for more Bangkok eateries. At this rate I need to spend a month there in order to eat at every place on my list. I can't wait to go.
Daily Total: $149.10
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