By Louise Sim & See Foon Chan-Koppen
Ipoh, the city which tin built, has lost its lustre as a town with low cost of living. The price of everything, ranging from edibles to non-edibles, has gone up and appears to be on the increase. Gone are the days where one could get a decent meal at a low price here. Some even complain prices in Ipoh are on par with cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang. So how do people cope?
Eating out is oftentimes more economical than cooking at home
Retiree K.S. Lim, 70, said he spends about RM50 daily to buy meat and vegetables for his small family of seven. “Sometimes the RM50 is not enough for our lunch and dinner,” said the grandfather of two. Lim said that due to supply and demand of foodstuff, some foods tend to be more expensive than other types of edibles during certain times.
Citing fish as an example, Lim said river fish will be highly sought after when fishermen don’t go to sea due to bad weather. “Consumers can expect to pay a high price for river fish if they insist on eating fish during monsoon seasons,” he explained. When such situations arise, Lim said he would change to other types of meat like poultry or pork. “But if on days all meats are expensive, we will have vegetarian meals,” he quipped.
Ipoh Not Cheaper than Penang
Private sector employee, who wished to be known as M. Kaur, 36, said she used to think cost of living was lower in Ipoh prior to her transfer from Penang. “So you can imagine my shock when I found out it was the opposite after I relocated here,” she said. The mother of one said food formed a major part of her budget. “Due to my work schedule and having a toddler to take care of, I seldom cook and my husband and I normally eat out,” she said.
“I can attest to you it is not cheap to eat out in Ipoh, contrary to claims by people otherwise,” she added. Besides food, Madam Kaur also complained about the high cost of public transport within the city. “Recently my mother, who came to visit me from Penang, had to take a taxi from town to my house in Meru,” she said. “Can you believe the taxi driver charged her RM18 for the journey?” she exclaimed. “And I thought it is more expensive to take taxis in cities like Kuala Lumpur,” she smirked.
High Cost of Taxis
Echoing Madam Kaur, her friend Reena Raj, 28, said a taxi ride from the railway station to her home at Taman Tinggi, which is next to First Garden, cost her RM13. “It is a mere 6 km drive but it cost me RM13 for the ride,” she said. “I vowed never to take taxis after that expensive experience,” she added.
Reena also noted that food costs are high in Ipoh. “I normally spend between RM20 and RM30 daily for my breakfast and lunch,” said the Kuala Lumpur lass. “And mind you, those places where I eat are not high class places,” she added.
Besides transport, Reena also complained about the high price of houses in Ipoh. “Prior to moving to Ipoh, I thought I could get a double storey house for RM200,000,” she said. “Imagine my shock when a 20’ by 75’ double storey house at First Garden is sold at RM330,000,” she said.
For Ipoh Echo’s correspondent Jeyaraj, he says that home-cooked meals are his preference. “It must be noted that in home cooking, good grade rice is used, fresh and expensive vegetables are bought, expensive fish, good quality oil is used, ingredients are clean, masala may be homemade or bought from people making it at home, no colouring or preservatives are used and there is less salt. We can remove chicken skin and excessive fat from mutton and the food is cooked hygienically. Food is freshly cooked and stored properly. This for me is a healthy diet.” With his wife making her own masalas and hand grinding some of the ingredients, Jeyaraj reckons that he spends an average of RM990 a month for his family of two.
Other Family Food Expenditures
For Marketing Manager Ramesh Kumar, he and his family of four rely on eating out and takeaways. Spending an average of RM16 on breakfast, lunch and dinner, his very conservative estimate is RM1,440 per month which allows for very little in the way of treats for his two children.
Leong feeds his family of four for about RM1,650, with no frills. This would include what he classifies as a normal breakfast for RM20 or RM5 per person; a normal lunch of economy rice at RM4 per person (without beverage) averaging
about RM600 per month and the same for dinner. Special breakfasts of dim sum would bring it up to about RM15 per head. Lunch and dinner at a restaurant consisting of 2 meats, 2 vegetables and 1 soup would average about RM17 per person whereas a homecooked meal of 1 meat, 1 fish, 1 vegetable and 1 soup with meat works out to the same amount. By the time one factors in the time, labour and costs of gas or electricity, this means that it is oftentimes cheaper to eat out than to cook at home.
For newly-married couple Rosli Mansor and his wife, eating out is the main option which costs the couple about RM1,200 a month while single Ed Shahir, spends about RM500 for his meals.
Perak Consumers Association
Perak Consumers Association president Abdul Rahman Said Alli when contacted, blamed the high cost of living in Ipoh on the Government’s plans of wanting to turn Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020.
“Why must we be so obsessed with becoming a high-income nation?” he questioned. He claimed that by pushing the country towards high-income, traders also push to have higher income by increasing their prices.
He said the problem is more evident during festive seasons when the price of everything skyrockets. “And I am not talking about the controlled price items,” he said.
He said the association had been receiving calls from the concerned public daily, over difficulties in making ends meet. “Our advice to them is to try to look for alternatives,” he said, adding that many people are working two jobs nowadays just to ensure there is enough income for the family.