It happens subtly: you notice your friends buy and wear expensive sneakers. Your schoolmates ask you if you’ve ever been to Japan before they tell you how great their trip was. Your family asks if you should really still be wearing that shirt.
Then the self-consciousness sets in and you’re too embarrassed to park your 10-year-old Myvi next to your friends’ Toyota Vios, or wear your favourite t-shirt to a housewarming party, or post your zhapfan lunch photos on Instagram.
Growing up, you tell yourself, means your lifestyle has to grow up too.
And since you’re working and have some disposable income, it’s time to treat yourself, isn’t it?
Yet almost 60% of all bankruptcy cases is filed by young Malaysians within the age of 22 to 45.
The main culprit? Well, life.
Keeping up with all the “default” expectations of adult life is expensive, and in addition to that, young salary-workers have to struggle with a stagnant wage and inflating cost of living.
In fact, financial woes are one of the main causes of divorce in the country.
Another reason for the struggle? According to psychiatrist Dr Hazli Zakaria, society’s shift of values now leaves people open to too much pressure.
“It takes a village to raise a child. That used to be our strength, our asset to defend ourselves against external struggles.
But Malaysia has adopted the concept of individualism from Western countries, so family units are getting smaller. At the same time, our values have changed. Financial status and material goods are now the measurement of success.Dr Hazli Zakaria to TRP
So the extended family structure, which used to provide support and distribute responsibilities, is no longer there. Yet the concept of independence and financial success has progressed faster.
This results in a two-pronged dimension of societal pressure: one from the traditional values of family, and one from the concept of individualism and materialism.”
Tell us something we don’t know, right? How are we supposed to find a life partner and have a successful career and a nice house and a nice car by the age of 30 with no loans or debt?
The good news is that even though we can’t fix society, we can stand our ground and educate ourselves.
Clinical psychologist Azlina Roszy Mohamad Ghaffar explains that the best way to defend against the pressures of society is education.
“We have to teach the people about financial management since young- maybe even at the kindergarten level.”Psychologist Azlina to TRP
The high rate of youth bankruptcy stems from a lack of financial literacy. People are spending a lot more than they should, mostly on wants instead of needs.
According to the Insolvency Department, about 25% of bankruptcy cases were due to personal loans used to sustain a certain lifestyle.
Financial management is key. The people must be educated on the importance of savings, debts, and how to avoid debts.
Azlina also encourages learning about “Needs vs Wants”, media manipulation, and the concept of societal pressure.
Knowing and understanding what’s in store will help us prepare for it: it’s easy to identify a potential danger only when we know what we’re up against.
Everyone should also understand their own mental processing. Everybody perceives and processes information differently. Sometimes the same issue can lead to different solutions and decisions.
Understanding how you react to stimulus such as societal pressures will help to protect yourself against it.
For example, hard-sell advertising has mostly lost its appeal, as millennials tend to ignore ads– unless their favourite stars are in it.
Nowadays, people are more likely to be influenced by their own social circle, online discussions, or their favourite social media influencers.
So even if all your friends are wearing Yeezys, it always helps to think twice: do you really need it or are you just succumbing to societal pressure? And more importantly: can you afford it?
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.