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Sunday July 26, 2009

 

By JOYCE CHUAH

 

An experienced financial planner dishes out some vital knowledge.

SUZIE, a 37-year-old divorcee with an eight-year-old son, says her problems started about 10 years ago. She admits that she was proud then and naive, and wanted to show off, especially to her family, that she made a good living.

 

“I spent my money on almost anything, clothing, shoes, I enjoyed good and expensive food and lived like I was earning a good income. Of course, part of this was caused by my unhappy marriage.

 

In 2005, with her marriage breaking down, Suzie resigned from her job as a personal assistant to a managing director of a public listed company to engage full time in multi-level marketing, thinking that she would fulfil her dream of achieving great wealth. But she was still spending like there was no tomorrow.

 

“I just spent without any control until I started receiving legal letters from the banks that had offered me credit cards.

 

“At that time I was holding credit cards from five different banks with a credit limit of over RM70,000 – I was 70k in debt!”

 

Finding herself trapped in a financial crisis, Suzie tried to take the easy way out.

 

“I did not want to face the problem and tried to run away from all the issues. In fact, I tried to kill myself once, and ended up in hospital.”

 

She didn’t want to burden her family, so she resolved to solve the issue by herself, though she did accept help from a cousin whose loan she is hoping to repay soon.

 

“I didn’t know about the AKPK (Agensi Kaunseling dan Pengurusan Kredit, or Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency), until my younger sister told me to check them out, but at that time I had almost given up my life.

 

“But my ‘special someone’ didn’t give up on me, and he was the one that kept asking me to think about my son.

 

“He also encouraged me to face the problem and solve it, so because of that I went to the AKPK.

 

“With the AKPK’s help, I have been paying my monthly repayments for almost two years now. I’ve learnt to budget my spending, and have even begun to save some money,” Suzie says.

 

It has not been an easy journey – Suzie’s self-esteem was the most hard-hit by her debt issues.

 

She admits that she has struggled to build back her confidence and just keep going.

 

Emotional support from her partner helps a lot, she says, adding that, “I am surviving, and rebuilding my confidence. It has been two years and I am still struggling to believe in myself”.

 

Suzie says she is also lucky to have an understanding boss in her present job, who helped her get through particularly tough periods by giving her additional allowances that enabled her to survive.

 

Suzie’s advice for those who find themselves sinking under the weight of their debts: Face up to the problem and seek help from the AKPK instead of going to loan sharks.

 

“Don’t think that with a credit card in hand, you’ll look classy or can spend freely. I only spend what I can afford, I simply do not buy unnecessary things any more. I also practise saving.

 

“Currently, I am in the sales and marketing line, so I try to save my commissions for rainy days. Though it’s not a lot, at least I have some savings, and I also invest part of my EPF in unit trusts.”

 

How does one curb the impulse to buy? Suzie says that is up to the individual.

 

“I can only say, try to balance your life: exercise every day, eat right, and get yourself into a job that takes up most of your time so you do not have any chance to hang out and spend money needlessly.

 

“I also believe that if you’re happy, it’s easier to control your spending, so try not to feel unhappy!”

 

Finally, she says she hopes that Bank Negara Malaysia will look into tightening the regulations on credit cards and perhaps set a limit on the number of cards an individual can hold.