The happiness money buys you: Earning and spending your own pay
By Lisa Twang, Sep 17, 2020
I remember the thrill of getting my very first paycheck, and using it to treat my family to dinner. After depending on my parents for my whole life, I could finally give them something with money I’d earned all on my own. I also invested in my first leather handbag, and felt proud to be a working woman who could buy what I liked, and share my money with the people I loved best in the world.
25-year-old entrepreneur Mareenah Abdul Ghani has also found joy in earning her own money for herself and her family. In part two of our “The Happiness Money Buys You” series, she shares how she’s working hard to grow her finances over the years, and why it’s been so satisfying.
Mareenah has been financially independent since she was 18, working two jobs and starting her first accessories business while studying for her degree. Since then, she’s opened her own modest wear fashion label Maqayla, and earned enough to pay for her higher education, indulge in occasional treats like holidays, and provide for her family. Today, she also uses her profits to give back to the Malay Muslim community through charity programmes and hijab styling workshops.
Here, Mareenah tells us how the money she’s made as an entrepreneur has given her the freedom to spend on what’s meaningful to her, so she can enrich her own life and share her blessings with others.
I’d always wanted to be financially independent as early as possible, because I was the youngest child and my three older siblings were all making their own money by the time I was in my late teens. The idea of using my parents’ hard-earned savings for my education never sat well with me: I thought the money could be channeled to other important things, like saving for my parents’ retirement. So after my A levels, I started working during my seven-month break to earn my own university fees and pocket money.
Back then, I made $70 a day as a relief teacher, and $20 per hour as a maths tutor. I also started my online accessories business, Made With Love, to grow my savings. I’d always enjoyed crafting, and made headbands and brooches from unused clothes or old magazines. I had so many that I started selling them on Facebook, and made about $5 profit for each accessory (my costs were low because I used recycled items). Later, as my business expanded, I could afford better quality fabrics, and profited more with the price hike.
To me, it feels really fulfilling to spend your own money, as only you would understand how hard it is to earn it.
I loved working, and it was very satisfying to see my bank balance growing every month. But when I started university, the amount of hard work that went into juggling my business, tutoring, and a maths and economics degree was crazy, and took a toll on me physically.
While making accessories, I remember scalding my fingers several times from the hot glue, and suffering cramps from sitting in one spot for too long.
I almost never took a break, and was stretched to my limits. Sometimes, I cried when it all felt too overwhelming. When the pressure became too much, my mum reminded me to go out and have fun with my friends. Later, I gave up tutoring so I could have more balance in my life.
Working while studying was tough, but I was determined to fund my own education as I didn’t want to burden my parents. I saw how hard they worked to raise me, and support me in my studies and career.
Our family wasn’t wealthy, but we had more than enough and were always comfortable. My dad was a cab driver, and my mum was a full-time housewife and earned extra money running small-scale home businesses by baking and sewing. She managed our household expenses amazingly, and saved money by cooking a lot at home instead of eating out, and rarely spending on herself.
Thanks to them, my siblings and I had enough pocket money for little luxuries like bubble tea after school, or high quality school bags and stationery. We were sent to the best tuition centres for subjects we wished to excel in, and were chauffeured to and from school in the family car by my parents.
I realise now that though we were pampered so much, my parents sometimes struggled to buy everything we kids wanted. At times, my parents would postpone trips to the mall, because finances were tight for them that month and they didn’t want to disappoint us if they couldn’t afford what we asked for. Instead, we’d save money by going to the beach.
Later, my parents also helped me save up for university while I was working and studying. My dad let me keep my transport costs down by driving me to school in his cab every morning, and sending me home whenever he could. My mum also assisted in crafting and packing my items, and refused to share the profits because she knew I was using them to pay for my education.
“No, you keep the money,” she said. “I know you want to pay for your school fees and this is the best I can do for you. I wish as a mother, I can help you more.” Her words always brought tears to my eyes, and it drove me to work hard to pay for university and excel in my studies, so she and my dad would be proud of me.
I also wanted to make my own money independently, because I enjoyed buying my own rewards along the way.
I believe it’s crucial to manage your money and make room for things that are important to you, but you should never deprive yourself too much. Spend to reward yourself, so you won’t dread the hard work.
For example, I really wanted to go on my first plane ride for my umrah trip to Mecca for my 20th birthday, so I saved up about $3,000 for plane tickets, accommodation, and my own travel expenses. Going to the holy land with my parents turned out to be especially meaningful, and it was an experience I’ll always look back fondly on.
I also renovated my entire bedroom once I felt I had enough savings to spend big, and spent about $2,500 to $3,000 on it. Being able to afford these things motivated me to keep working hard on my business, even when the hours were long and I felt tired out at times.
To save more, I learned to spend on things that were necessary, and would bring me more joy in the long run.
I was careful with my spending; if I really wanted or needed something, I would get it right away, but if I had second thoughts, I would pass. I make it a habit not to buy small, useless items; instead, I save more to get a quality item I would actually use and enjoy more.
For instance, it’s better to get a good pair of shoes that costs $80 and will last for more than a year, than a cheap $20 pair that will fall apart in a few months. And I’d rather have one good quality leather bag than many cheap bags.
In my second year of university, I expanded my business with my mum’s help. We rebranded to Maqayla, and opened a small shop to produce trendy modest wear for Muslim women in Singapore, which was hard to find back then.
Since I’ve always been careful with my spending, I made sure our start-up costs and marketing costs were low. This helped us to gradually grow our business over time.
My mum and I emptied our bank accounts to launch our shop, and invested less than $50,000 in it. To save on renovation, we did a lot of DIY for our shop: painting walls, fixing furniture and sewing curtains. We also chose a small unit with low monthly rent in East Village, which we could afford to cover.
We didn’t have a big budget for marketing, so I used Facebook and Instagram for free publicity, and it helped us build a loyal customer base very quickly. Business was good; we covered our initial investment in the first four months, and later expanded the shop to its current size. When I built a sufficient amount in my bank account, I decided to invest in new businesses too: menswear label Mikhael by Maqayla, and Ema & Rae for baby essentials.
As much as we value money, I believe we should never be selfish, but always share our wealth with those in need.
Since our family has been blessed, I want to give back to my Muslim community as well. Over the years, I’ve organised charity events like bake sales and donation drives, using the money to help build schools in Indonesia, and support local students who need financial help.
I also believe in giving back to the Malay Muslim community in non-monetary ways. A few years ago, I conducted a hijab tutorial workshop at the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore, to assist converts in their new Islamic journey. It feels meaningful to give my time in this way, and I believe we’re blessed when we share what we have with others.
At least for me, money helped me buy more quality time with my family. While money isn’t everything, it’s also enabled me to earn more for my future kids to give them a comfortable life, just as my parents did for me. I never want to think twice about sending them for the best tuition I can afford, so they can have a great education.
When it comes to money, I believe in knowing how to earn it, and cherishing what we earn.
I think we should value our money and remember what we’ve sacrificed to earn it, so we can use it wisely. Right now I’m financially comfortable: I make a decent sum for myself monthly, and save about 60 per cent of it. I only splurge on an item like a branded bag after I’ve accomplished something (like celebrating Maqayla’s anniversary), and if I feel my bank account has a safe amount of money to spare. I’m also saving up for my dream of getting my Masters degree, which I want to do part-time in future.
To me, spending and making your own money is satisfying because we can treat ourselves to things: a great latte or cup of bubble tea at the end of a tough day, or saving up for a future holiday. Being able to afford these things ourselves makes us look forward to even happier days ahead!
Photos provided by Mareenah.
This is the second part of our series, “The happiness money buys you”. The first story about money buying a f*** off fund and control can be read here: https://dayre.me/story/06b641b5eb
My name is Lisa, and you can find me at @lisatwang on the Dayre app. I believe I’m good at saving money, but am also happy to invest in things that “spark joy”. On my personal account, I talk about things I think are worth spending on, like renovating my new home, and having afternoon tea with my daughter at cute character cafes.
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