Weak ringgit huge burden on his family

His aunt is the sole breadwinner making RM5,000 a month.

That, in Singapore dollars, is now a mere $1,680, but she is paying for his expenses while he studies in a university in Singapore. Malaysian student Lee Song En comes from a single-parent household and his mother is a housewife.

The sinking ringgit, he said, has "dampened (his) spirits" in the weeks before he started his course at Singapore Management University.

"It made me panic a little," he said of the all-time-low exchange rate.

The straight-As student, who starts his third week of university today, said: "There's immediately a huge impact on my family's financial burden."

While the 19-year-old Business and Economics student is on the Lee Kong Chian scholarship, which covers his annual $11,300 school fees, his other expenses are an ongoing battle for his family.

"I'm now very conscious about my spending," he said.

"Besides cutting back on the daily things, I have to stay out of certain academic or enrichment opportunities like study trips and excursions."

His degree will take him four years to complete.

"It's quite insane. If I spend about $1,100 every month, it will cost me about $52,800 by the time I finish".

"And that is assuming there isn't anything extra I need to pay for. And if I wanted to get involved in anything else, that number would probably increase quite significantly."

Mr Lee first came to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur at the age of 13 on an ASEAN scholarship and attended Xinmin Secondary School before moving on to Anglo-Chinese Junior College.

That scholarship, which ceased after JC, covered school fees and provided an extra $5,800 annually for expenses. Under the university scholarship, his spending is all on him.

He started working as a private tutor in April, teaching a JC student Economics and makes about $400 a month from that.

EXPENSES

He hopes to partly fund his living expenses himself now.

"My total monthly expenditure, including my hostel rent, is about $1,100 a month,"

His rent alone is about $600.

"I'm looking for more students to tutor but even if I have just this one, it is a burden I can help relieve my family of, even if it is just a little bit.

"Every dollar that I can earn counts," he said.

"When I came back in March to prepare for university, my mum had to change RM13,500 to give me about $5,000 to start with so I can cover the cost of books, food and rent," he said.

It is time for him to get the next lump sum and Mr Lee is feeling helpless.

"While I need (the money), I don't want to ask (my family) for it now because the rate is ridiculously high.

"It's not easy to stomach the fact that another lump sum of $5,000 is almost my aunt's entire three months' salary.

"What's worse is this is just the beginning."

crobert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 1, 2015.
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