Most of us would agree that life in university can be very challenging. But unlike other undergraduates, who can spend their time out of class on activities to de-stress, final-year linguistics student Muhammad ‘Arif Bin Muhammad Khairul Tan has other responsibilities.
This is because unlike most undergraduates, ‘Arif is already a father of one. He first met his wife, Nurul Raihana, in January 2016 through the NTU Muslim Society when he was leading a group of undergraduates for an Overseas Community Involvement Project.
His wife, now a final-year engineering student, caught his attention. He proposed to her 11 months after they met, and the couple got married in January 2017. In July last year, the couple welcomed a baby girl into the family.
We sat down with ‘Arif to understand some of the challenges that he faced as a new father and how he managed his finances as a student to still provide for his family.
DollarsAndSense (DNS): Why did you decide to marry early, and were you worried about the effort and costs required to raise a family?
‘Arif (A): “Surely, I was a little worried about the costs, but I strongly believed my plan would work.
I’ve found my life partner and we wanted a proper relationship and direction, a wholesome life with each other, not just the “dating” notion of a couple. We wanted to build a healthy family. So, I just made sure I had to hustle sufficiently to try to keep us well-survived.
What helped me to see marriage in perspective was knowing that life must be approached step by step. I know that I’ll have to overcome each challenge that comes our way, as no one is expected to be equipped with everything at once. This mentality made me a realistic and mature partner.”
DNS: We all know that University school fees are very expensive. What steps have you taken to ensure that you’ll be able to pay your school fees while allocating funds for your baby’s needs?
A: “I started giving tuition in 2010, right after I graduated from secondary school. I tutored Arabic for primary and secondary school students as well as adults. It has not only been a source of income and savings for me but has also been a wealth of experience, having tutored more than 20 students over almost a decade. I also saved up from NS as I stayed in camp, so that helped cut down on my expenditure.
As I made it a point not to use my parents’ money for university fees, I had to work a little harder in my early years to sustain myself. School bursaries also helped cover parts of my school fees.
Over the last two years since I got married, with more financial responsibility on me, I took the initiative to review my phone and TV plans. I changed my phone plan to a SIM-only ($50-60/month depending on data usage to $30 or even less). I also cancelled my English Premier League package, and subsequently the entire Mio TV, because it was too expensive, and I did not watch as much TV anymore anyway.
My wife and I currently live with my parents. Contrary to the popular view that living with parents and in-laws is a recipe for disaster, I think we treat this early stage of our marriage as a phase for us to spend more time with our parents and help manage the household as they age. Ultimately, we love our parents and our parents-in-law.
This current arrangement also teaches us to manage our expectations. We can’t expect everything to be perfect or the way we want it to be. That’s what life is about.
Also, we eat moderately. Moreover, sometimes our parents cook food and there’s always enough for everyone. Above all, I am thankful to God for what He has eased us through.”
DNS: How has the experience been so far with your baby, Hasanah?
A: “It has been exciting and challenging at the same time. Hasanah has made us smile and laugh a lot, but there are also times she keeps us awake a little longer than we expect. When she’s unwell, it worries us, but all’s well with patience and perseverance. The experience of attending to my baby’s needs, from changing diapers to showering her, is quite eye-opening.
Parenting a newborn is quite a demanding phase. So, it’s important to cooperate and be there for each other physically and emotionally.”
DNS: What are your plans after you and your wife graduate?
A: “When we have full-time jobs, we can consider getting our own house. Currently, we are staying at my parents’ place where there is enough space for all, as I am the only child.
We currently have no plans on which bank accounts to use, as I believe in just using whatever we have wisely and prudently. We have reserved the Baby Bonus for our daughter’s education and healthcare, which are of priority. This is an important point for all parents, which our parents remind my wife and me too.”
DNS: Do you have any financial advice for young parents out there who might be students themselves?
A: “Nothing complicated. Most importantly, needs over wants, necessity over luxury, and children over self. This means fulfilling my responsibilities as a husband, father, and son, on top of being a good student and giving my best in the work I submit. Think more of what’s important for the family in the long run, not what makes the self momentarily satiated.
My wife and I have a shared bank account, but we do not use our savings from there, as it is meant for emergency situations. We spend from our own personal accounts. Other young parents can also consider having an emergency fund for unforeseen circumstances.
Most importantly, don’t forget your parents. We can never repay our parents’ sacrifices with money, but we can keep them in our hearts and prayers, look after them, be kind to them, and talk to them. I don’t think money is what our parents truly want from us.”
Starting A Family Is More Than Just About Saving Money
Starting a family of our own can be a very joyous yet trying process, having to deal with more financial responsibilities. For a couple that might not be financially stable yet, this can be even harder.
‘Arif’s story is a timely reminder that in creating a family, monetary and material sacrifices must be made. As students, ‘Arif and his wife must also juggle their time between schoolwork and caring for Hasanah.
But beyond monetary support, ‘Arif’s story tells us that raising a family also requires the right support from the people around us, including our spouse and our parents. When the situation gets tough, the emotional support received from loved ones can make the crucial difference.
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