Transition To Endemicity: Aidilfitri Preparation Not A Ticket For Overspending

by BERNAMA / pic by TMR FILE

KUALA LUMPUR – It’s slightly more than two weeks to go until Hari Raya Aidilfitri, a joyous occasion for Muslims as it marks the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.

What’s special about this year’s Raya is Muslims will finally get to celebrate with utmost festivity and enjoyment without restrictions after two years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Hari Raya Aidilfitri falls on May 3 and May 4.

With the transition to endemicity from April 1, most of the restrictions pertaining to standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been eased, including limitations on business operating hours previously imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, hence allowing Malaysians to shop freely.

Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman or better known as Jalan TAR in Kuala Lumpur is a popular shopping haven especially during the fasting month ahead of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration.

Other Raya shopping hotspots in Selangor include Bandar Baru Bangi and Shah Alam, with the road leading to Bangi Sentral and Pusat Komersial Seksyen 7 Shah Alam packed with visitors on weekends.

“After two years in lockdown, I would certainly want to make this year’s Raya a joyous one. I have given myself a treat by buying three pairs of baju raya,” said Nursyafiqa Zakaria, 26, when met at a boutique in Bandar Baru Bangi recently.

Online shopping which has been the “new normal” during the Movement Control Order (MCO), continues to thrive this year, with many goods and clothes of certain sizes running out of stock.

HIGHER PRICES OF GOODS

However, amid the Raya shopping frenzy, the high cost of living brought on by escalating prices of goods may have curbed spending among spendthrifts.

For eligible recipients, both the government’s Bantuan Keluarga Malaysia (BKM) and the special withdrawal facility of RM10,000 under the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) scheme received by the B40 group, come in  handy for their Raya preparations this year.

A random Bernama survey at shopping centres in Klang Valley found that on average, Malaysians interviewed said the pricey goods have not dampened their Raya mood and in fact, they expect this year’s celebration to be more festive than before given that they are now allowed to hold open houses.

For sales executive Rosmizi Rahimi, 34, there is ‘hikmah’ (wisdom) in the high prices, especially baju Raya and essential goods as it helps him exercise prudent spending, given that he is categorised under the B40 group.

“Before this, the celebration was muted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ahead of Hari Raya this year, prices of food such as chicken and other essential items, have been on the rise. Clothes have also become more expensive.

“As such, there is ‘hikmah’ for our family who were previously unable to meet our financial obligations during the MCO. With the EPF withdrawal and BKM at our disposal, we managed to list down the essential items and made a price comparison at supermarkets to minimise our expenditure,” he told Bernama.

A security guard, Siti Shafini Mohd Tarmizi Saad, 29, said she will use her one-off EPF withdrawal of RM10,000 on April 1 to reduce her financial burden for Aidilfitri preparations.

“I initially made EPF withdrawals for schooling expenses for my two children who are still in primary school, but there’s still some balance left, and as such we took the opportunity to use the funds for Raya.

“The higher prices of goods have somewhat affected our spending mood. However, this year, we will still be going back for Raya with the family, and as such, we don’t really mind spending a little as long as it does not exceed our planned budget,” said the Hulu Terengganu-born mother of three.

BRISK SALES

The founder of Malay fashion brand Bayu Somerset, Diana Kamalul said, the traditional Malay apparels at her boutique are enjoying brisk sales this year with increased number of customers compared to those who buy online.

“We actually started our apparel online business in 2021 with encouraging response from customers given that online shopping trend was inevitable as bricks-and-mortal stores closed during the lockdown. Now that the SOPs have been relaxed, more customers prefer to come to my boutique.

“My customers prefer to use the senses as part of the shopping experience at the boutique by feeling and touching the fabric and trying out their new clothes before buying. Through my observation, shopping trend at the boutique shows more vibrancy than the online platform. In fact, this year’s celebration is very extraordinary,” she said when met at The Fashion Journal, Setia City Mall, Shah Alam, Selangor.

Despite the slight rise in prices of clothes over last year, response from her customers has been encouraging as they are sold at affordable and reasonable prices.

Sungei Wang Plaza Property Management Centre Manager Joseph Teo expects 2022 to be an interesting year for the outlet, with the retail sector poised to shake off the challenges of the last two years, following the government’s move to ease on SOPs under the transition to endemic phase on April 1.

“Many shopping centres, including Sungei Wang Plaza, are launching Hari Raya promotions not only to increase the number of visitors but also to encourage them to spend here, thus boosting the domestic and international tourism industry.

“However, while we encourage shoppers to spend, they are still required to wear face masks as well as practising physical distancing as part of the SOP,” he added.

AVOID EPF WITHDRAWALS, PERSONAL LOANS

While this year’s Aidilfitri is expected to be livelier, those whose livelihood were badly hit during the pandemic are advised to refrain from withdrawing money from their EPF account merely for Raya expenses.

According to Dean of the Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Prof Dr Mohamad Fazli Sabri, EPF contributions or savings should be kept for future use (retirement).

“Why must you use the money to fulfil your desire and emotional needs, arguing that Raya is only celebrated once a year,” he said.

Mohamad Fazli, who is also a lecturer at the Department of Resource Management and Consumer Studies also urged consumers to practise prudence in expenditure during the festive season, especially with current soaring prices.

He said consumers can assess their own financial position in terms of income and expenditure by preparing a special budget for Raya preparation based on priority and affordable allocation.

“Additionally, they can make a price comparison by carrying out an online survey through websites and the social media, as well as avoid using the credit card for frivolous expenses to keep themselves out of debt.

“Make sure to buy in reasonable quantity or amount based on your list without being driven by the desire to buy,” he said.

At the same time, the public are reminded not to fall into the personal loan trap which normally offers attractive promotions during festive seasons.

Meanwhile, a senior lecturer at the UPM School of Business and Economics, Assoc Prof Ts Dr Anuar Shah Bali Mahomed said, personal loans including those from any ‘Along’ or loan sharks for Raya expenses will trap borrowers with larger debts after the festive season.

“Many personal loan agents take advantage of the festive season by offering high interest rates and many vulnerable borrowers thought that borrowing from these illegal moneylenders will immediately solve their expenditure problem.

“However, personal loans will be a heavy toll for borrowers, including deferring payment for existing housing, car or education loans as higher penalties or interests will be imposed if payments are not settled during the specified period,” he added.