Smart Investor Malaysia

More Money, More Happiness?


I used to be a full-time musician a decade ago. I produced and arranged music from a home studio consisting of pre-owned musical gears that I bought mostly through eBay.  I was always doing research and upgrading my audio gears from time to time, ranging from keyboards, microphones, sound modules, audio interface, software, and so on. Even though music is a niche and relatively small market, there is an array of equipment available and I was spoiled by vast choices.

Costly Sound Bites

For example, just in the area of vocal microphones under Neumann Solution DS, you could find one in the price range of RM100 up to RM50k. I would first buy an entry level microphone, then upgrade it after making more money from music gigs. My first studio mic was about RM800. Then I had one that was RM2,000 a few years later. What was the difference? Of course, it was more expensive but records better quality audio. It captured a wider spectrum of sounds. However, when I played the recording clips from these two different mics to friends, most of them could not hear the difference. The improvement was very subtle.

How about those mics that cost more than RM10k? It is true that the sound quality will be better. But what is the degree of improvement? If we put it in a graph representation, let’s say the entry-level mic gives a quality of 80%, while the RM2k-mic will boost it to 90%, and the RM10k-mic will produce 95%. However, when you consider the premium you need to pay, is it worth it? There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on your needs and affordability.


What Price for Prestige?

Another case we can examine is the passenger cars segment. For a sedan, there are many models from many different brands. Consider the most affordable Perodua Bezza, the value-for-money Honda Civic, the flashy BMW 5-series, or even the stately Bentley Flying Spur. All these vehicles have the same functions like air-conditioning, air-bags, automatic transmission and so on but the most important aspect is that you will get to your destination with any of these cars.

Now let’s consider the pricing. The cost of a brand new     

BMW 5 Series 530i M Sport (CKD) (2017) (RM388,888) gives you a budget to buy up to 10 Perodua Bezza. I understand that the feeling and satisfaction you will get out of driving a BMW would be much better than a Perodua. But you will have to pay 10 times the price. Will you be getting 10 times the satisfaction?

Again, it depends on your level of wealth. You can own a luxury car when you are rich and can make good economic use of the money. From these examples, you can see that there is a premium to be paid for all the good stuff. Most of the time, you might need to fork out two times, five times or even 10 times more just to enjoy maybe a 20% boost of value.

Consider the Value of your Money

I would urge you to contemplate whenever you think of paying an extra premium for better stuff or better service. If it is for something within your budget, then go ahead. But when affordability becomes an issue, do consider the value of your money. There are always alternatives that can meet your budget and give you the best stretch for your money.

There was a research done about the level of wealth versus happiness. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman during his TED talk in 2010 made a note of studies that showed that earning less than US$60,000 per annum can have a significant effect on your happiness levels. It means when you are earning less than RM240k a year, every ringgit will contribute proportionately to your happiness. However, when it comes to making more than US$60,000 per annum, there is entirely no correlation between more income and more happiness.

More wealth does not convert to a prorated happiness boost. Similarly, when it comes to material consumption, most of the time, even when you pay 10 times the premium, it does not translate to 10 times better quality.

If this is true, how do you gain more happiness? The simple act of getting a new car, a bigger house, or a more exotic vacation is no longer the solution. I suggest that you look into areas that give you real satisfaction. Would it be a more meaningful job? Is it the freedom to make life choices? Or perhaps it would be spending more quality time with family? Know yourself.

About the author

KCLau is a financial educator, having published seven books including the current bestseller Money Smart, and co-created a dozen online financial courses. He gives away his popular Money Tips e-book volumes free at his website:

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