Suraya Zainudin is one of Malaysia’s pioneering personal finance bloggers. We sat down with her last week to talk fan mail, finance, and everything in between.
‘My money is finite and there’s no such thing as having it all. ‘– Suraya Zainudin, founder of personal finance blog “Ringgit oh Ringgit”.
How it started
Before being known as the founder of Ringgit oh Ringgit, Suraya initially started “back in the day” anonymously sharing small snippets of her budget and expenses on the microblogging site, Tumblr. Anonymously at first, because of the unspoken stigma of barring your finances online for all and sundry to see. It was only when she veered into freelance writing did she take the plunge- founding Ringgit oh Ringgit as a way to name and share her experiences in personal finance and to serve as a portfolio of her writings. As she amassed a following of readers, Suraya found that people were extremely receptive towards her writings, which in turn motivated her to write even more- a sort of positive feedback loop, if you will. “I started because I liked the topic, but continued because people liked them.”, Suraya says of her writings, which to date, stands at 296 posts on her website.
Suraya then ventured into curating stories that were compiled into a book, Money Stories for Malaysians; 10 personal finance themed short stories from 10 Malaysian authors. “The decision to publish a book was one that checked a lot of boxes for me. Not only did I get to bring new and unpublished writers into the bookstore, it was a nice way for me to engage with my audience and it made me feel good.”, Suraya says adding that she had always emphasised a rule of thumb to “ don’t buy s**t that you don’t need” and this way, she wouldn’t feel like she was taking advantage of her audience by pushing something that was not in line with her values. She stressed that above all, she wouldn’t want people to be paying for financial advice that should have been free and therefore, the book was curated as a form of edutainment that people could purchase in supplement to the website.
As the former vice president of ACCESS Blockchain Malaysia, Suraya is no stranger to the cryptocurrency scene. “I saw crypto as a form of investment. There was something about it, it’s underlying values -of being open and transparent- and the way that crypto, as an investment vehicle, just suited my personality.”.
When asked about the difficulty in understanding how cryptocurrencies work, Suraya asserts that “There’s a notion that cryptocurrency and blockchain are hard concepts to adopt, but once you strip away the technological jargon it [cryptocurrencies] is basically just money in your e-wallet.” To help, Suraya’s go-to resources for crypto are CoinGecko and Reddit. “I also follow several personalities and public speakers on Twitter like Andreas Antonopoulos. There is so much tech in crypto that not many speakers are able to strip away the tech portion to make it beginner friendly but he, [Andreas] does that.”
Speaking about the crypto scene in Malaysia, Suraya shares that though she -and other like-minded enthusiasts- want crypto to be increasingly adopted in Malaysia, the industry is still new and mercurial in state, which could be dissuading to those who are unfamiliar with how cryptocurrencies work. “There are a large number of miners here in Malaysia,” Suraya says, of crypto mining, “and of course they [miners] would also have a vested interest in the expansion of cryptocurrencies.”
When asked about her experience as a woman in a large male dominated field like crypto, Suraya shares that there are certain, but rare, occasions where she has noticed instances of sexual shaming. For example, the usage of showgirls at a few crypto events sometimes illicit very sexist comments. “In those instances, I do try to speak out against it. I would say though, these instances are less common now and most of the people I meet and interact with would not be that disrespectful.”.
On the future and taking risks
‘Always invest within your ability. If you only have a small amount of money, choose an investment platform that allows you to invest slowly.’
When asked about her realistic opinion on the investment environment in Malaysia 10 years into the future, Suraya believes that if the stagnation of wages for fresh graduates continue, people might not have enough to invest much, leading to a rise in investment platforms that are geared towards smaller amounts. “I’m talking about platforms that would get users to invest their spare change as opposed to ones that get you to put away, say, 500 Ringgit a month.”. An example of such a platform, Suraya says, is Acorns in the United States which rounds up the purchasings of their users and uses those micro amounts to slowly build into an investment fund of the user’s choice. “Due to the popularity of e-wallets, maybe in the future there might be investment opportunities linked with E-wallets.” Suraya says. “I would also like to think that fintech startups like Funding Societies, other P2P platforms and E-gold might be on par [with traditional investments] in the future.
Responding to a question about the tendency for youths to “play safe” due to lower optimism, Suraya asserts that “It is completely fine to play safe in investment and be a reluctant risk-taker, because we tend to only see the victory of active risk-takers, but ignore those who fail miserably.”. That being said, she does encourage youths to be open to fintech investment opportunities because these platforms have great onboarding experiences and come up with accessible, original content that users can learn from.
Where your money goes
“A common mistake people make is that they don’t track their expenses. More often than not, I’ve seen people who are completely unaware that a majority of their expenses go to say, entertainment. And the error of not knowing where your money goes is also the error of not knowing your priorities.”
To not only be aware of what we spend on but also where we spend is another pearl of wisdom that Suraya offered. “I would’ve liked it if my younger self had spent money in places that truly deserved it. I wished I spent more on the Kakak at the side of the road selling kuih because, and often people don’t realise this, your patronage to these small places could contribute to feeding a family. Try to spend as consciously as you can, and never take anything you have for granted.”.
Find Suraya’s chronicles of her personal finance journey here.
Authors: Teo Tien Yi, Ayena Shaneez