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Tools of survival

(Public domain; source: Wikimedia)
I DON’T know about you, but all this talk of global recession and financial meltdown has got me worried. And as if to emphasise just what trouble awaits on the horizon, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently unveiled a second stimulus package worth a whopping RM60 billion.

In a frank admission, Najib painted a grim picture of Malaysia’s prospects for the next two years. As exports plummet to record lows, and unemployment figures steadily rise, the worst fears of economists and financial experts look set to materialise. 

Now is the time for various belt-tightening exercises as every ringgit counts. From claiming as much relief from your income tax returns as legally possible, to cutting down entertainment and food bills, a serious look at your monthly balance sheet is in order.

Some things are easier to pare down than others: eating out at fancy restaurants on a weekly basis can be cut down to once a month; reducing your alcohol or cigarette consumption, if you can’t give it up altogether, can also help.

But one thing you shouldn’t stop doing is buying books or magazines — remember, you get to claim RM1,000 rebate from your tax bill, and that works out to some savings on your final tally. Not to mention, staying in with a good book at least a few nights a week saves you money that you may otherwise end up spending at the coffee bar or bistro with friends.

Sure, you could say it’s a bit antisocial, but hey, why not start a mini-book club to share books and thoughts? That way, you get to socialise and bone up on your knowledge.

You could, of course, make your book buying go further by stocking up during warehouse and stock clearance sales. Check out MPH’s stock clearance sale from 14 to 22 March for bargains. Also, Times Bookstores is having a World Book Day Fair from 13 to 22 March at Level 1, Hartamas Shopping Centre, with discounts of up to 90% for book lovers.

Why DIY?

While you’re on a book-buying binge, it might be worth your while picking up some DIY material so you can handle small emergencies in the home without having to call an electrician or plumber.

(Pic by Alfred T Palmer, source: Wikimedia)

I’ve actually visited homes where half the lights were not working as the owners did not know how to go about fixing them. They wanted to wait until more lights failed before calling in an electrician. Some contractors actually get annoyed when they are called in for minor jobs, and end up charging RM60 for a house call. It’s a sheer waste of money when you can do the job yourself for a fraction of the cost. The same holds true for minor plumbing problems, as well as assembling furniture.

If you’ve ever bought stuff from Ikea, you would know that all the items require some assembly. Sure, for a small payment, you can get them assembled for you, but seriously, it does not take a genius to put the stuff together. All you need to get started on DIY projects are the right tools.

Tool Time

Remember Home Improvement, the show that shot Tim Allen to fame as a macho family man who hosts his own DIY television show? There was a segment in the programme — a show-within-a-show — called Tool Time, which featured Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and his faithful assistant Al Borland, played by Richard Karn.

Every week, Tim and Al showcased a new tool, such as a new turbocharged power drill or chainsaw, and showed viewers how to use them:

(Clip uploaded by iamknown)

There were also plenty of tips on how to change light bulbs safely, and how not to use a nail gun. Of course, being a comedy, there were plenty of accidents, usually involving Tim disregarding safety precautions.  

But the heart of the show, as with the less funny but still entertaining Take Home Handyman with Andrew Dan Jumbo, is to teach viewers how to undertake DIY projects correctly and safely.

People of my father’s generation were generally handy around the home, and were jacks-and-jills-of-all-trades. They knew how to fix things, and were good carpenters and mechanics to boot. Of course, this was the result of necessity, as most people back in the pre-Merdeka days had to be self-reliant.

What you need to get started are some basic tools. The earliest tools date back 2.6 million years. But humankind’s obsession with them has only grown stronger, and tools have kept pace with our evolution. From the humble stone axe, we now have a multitude of hand, machine and power tools.

(Pic by Tasos Antoniou /
For an average home, these are the tools you should have: a test pen, pliers, hammer, nails, screwdrivers — both Phillips and flathead — a power drill set if you can afford one, sandpaper, multimeter, Allen keys, tape measure, and a spirit level, among others. You can buy a basic tool set — without power drill — for under RM50.

A jeweller’s screwdriver set is also a good investment, as it is especially useful for dealing with the tiny screws, such as those on your spectacles and in your computer. You should also keep a can of silicon spray handy to get rid of squeaks and to lubricate door hinges and sliding door rollers.

Energy savings

One of the first things you should do is change all your incandescent light bulbs in your home to energy savings versions such as the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Yes, these new bulbs cost a fair bit more, but they last longer, and save money on your electricity bills.

Several countries, such as Australia and India, have already announced plans to ban incandescent bulbs altogether in favour of CFLs. But there are some environmental concerns over how to dispose or recycle CFLs due to the small mercury content inside the bulbs.

The second thing, if you are a DIY virgin, is to get a good DIY book — the Dummies guide is recommended — that gives step-by-step instruction on how to go about fixing things up.

You can also find lots of free instructions on the internet. Check out the getfreeebooks website, which has tonnes of free material on DIY, gardening, electrical and automotive care that you can download or read online. has a searchable database and forum that are very helpful for beginners.

It’s best to start small — learn to change a light bulb, or replace a starter, for instance — and move on to bigger projects, such as putting up shelves, as your confidence improves. Learn to handle the tools properly, and pretty soon, you will be spending rewarding weekends fixing up your home and saving money in the long run.

N Shashi Kala‘s fascination with handling tools began at age three, when she dropped an 18″ steel pipe wrench on her foot. Her favourite tool is the socket wrench or ratchet.

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2 Responses to “Tools of survival”

  1. Ming says:

    In the US and New Zealand, and even in Singapore, there are places you can rent tools for the day. I wonder if there is such a service here. That way, you don’t have to worry about having to store a bunch of tools you will hardly ever use.

    But the cost of renting the tools may be as much as it costs to hire someone to fix the problem here. So back to step one.

    We are a pampered lot – in the West, hiring workers is very expensive, so that’s why DIY is popular there. Here, labour costs are still quite low, so it makes sense to call the electrician and plumber or call in a contractor.

    But as inflation strikes home, that could change. So learning to fix simple problems yourself is a good idea.

  2. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    Just want to point out that most Malaysian homes have fluorescent tubes, which are a big more complicated to change than light bulbs/CFLs. Sometimes the problem is not with the tubes but with the ballast (small cylinder sticking out at the side). Still, neither is terribly expensive and with a bit of fiddling you can figure it out, just don’t forget to turn off the switch before you touch anything!

    Over here on the other side of the big pond, I have trouble convincing my American friends that fluorescents – either the big tubes or CFLs – are better as many prefer the jaundiced glow of incandescents…!

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