Gaining Fame With Educational Personal Finance Content
Suraya Zainudin Of ‘RinggitOhRinggit’ Personal Finance Fame: “I Was Raised To Be Independent About Money”
Mention Malaysian personal finance bloggers, and the name Suraya Zainudin surely immediately comes to mind. Her blog RinggitOhRinggit made its debut five years ago and has since gone up in rankings, attracting millions of hits.
Her readers enjoy her various “advice” (though she does not like to call it advice though – more on that later!).
Whether the topic is on car loans, buying a house, avoiding scams, which credit card to get and those trending topics these days – yep, Bitcoin and the FIRE movement! – Suraya knows more than a thing or two.
Writing in plain English peppered occasionally with local lingo, Suraya, 33, gives financial counsel to her readers like one would at a friend or a younger sibling.
That does not mean she claims to know everything – in fact, she often seeks the opinion and feedback from her readers via social media (the RinggitOhRinggit Facebook page has more than fifteen thousand likes and her Twitter page has more than thirty-five thousand followers).
People, mostly young Malaysians who are struggling amidst the pandemic, the political turmoil and the low minimum wage, are more than happy to share with her their personal experience with money, and this sets up a warm, healthy discussion about the topic.
What’s even more humbling is that Suraya often digs deep into her own experience, and candidly shares her purchasing habits as well as her financial wins and losses with her blog readers. Yes, that includes her regrets. When it comes to something as precious as money, Suraya is keen to not let her mistakes be your mistakes. It is the kind of sisterly love that people enjoy and find relatable.
When I mentioned this strength of hers, Suraya said she attributes it to her communications background. After all, she has a diploma, an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate degree – all on the subject of communications, and briefly worked in the non-profit sector as a communications person.
Suraya said all of these experiences allow her to “expand and deliver the information in a more engaging way” to her readers.
But don’t call her a guru.
“I’m very conscious about not sounding like a guru. That’s something I’m very particular about. I know I’m giving good information. But I don’t want it to sound like advice,” Suraya said, adamantly.
Aside from relying on personal experience, the self-described “personal blogger, speaker and financial activist” also relies heavily on reading and research.
For example, take her recently-released article “4 Scenarios Where Hibah Takaful Is Useful, As Explained By A Non-Agent”. Suraya admits that for the longest time, she didn’t know much about Takaful (a type of Syariah-compliant insurance system in which money is pooled and invested).
Despite not having a financial background, Suraya said that it is her honest approach towards personal finance that attracts readers. She said people would be reluctant if that article on Takaful was written by an insurance agent.
“I am not an agent. But I think the Takaful product is useful in many, many scenarios. And I write about it because I think that you should know about it. To me, if you’re interested, go and find out because I don’t sell it to you.”
“I’m almost transparent, about spending and expenses, and I have built a name for myself because of that,” she added.
Given the abundant, and sometimes conflicting information about personal finance out there, Suraya, who describes herself as a “natural saver” said what she dishes out to her readers is simple: “Spend less than you make, and make more than you spend, and invest the difference. That’s the basics of it.”
Thriving In A Male-Dominated Field
When most of us think of financial experts, we don’t really think of young women. Suraya said she experiences “extra joy” and gets “the biggest kick” at showing that yes, she is capable of money.
Suraya attributes this capability to the legacy of the strong and independent women in her family and extended family whom she said have always had careers. “I’ve always grown up expecting to work and I was very surprised when I got to college and learnt that some women choose to become housewives. It just never crossed my mind that you don’t earn an income,” Suraya said, though she respects whatever a woman chooses to do.
“Another good part is that my parents have never been stingy with education,” Suraya said. “My parents are very generous people, sometimes to a fault. I remember my dad bought me a thousand Ringgit worth of books. As you grow up, you realise that not all fathers are like this.”
While Suraya said that some remnants of patriarchal thinking – such as the concept of male guardianship – remains in her Malay-Muslim upbringing, she said the girls in her family are all brought up to aim for high-flying careers. “It’s all my sisters and me that have our own businesses. I find it funny but there you go.”
Suraya believes that in order to be more capable and confident with money, women should play to their own strengths. “I have read studies about how women have higher emotional intelligence and that we are better at collaboration and communication.”
“When we talk about the [personality test] The Big Five, for example, one of the measures is agreeableness, which is a measure of how much you value harmony and social classes,” she said.
“Women tend to be more agreeable than men. Yes, this can be bad. Let’s say someone asks you to co-sign for a loan, or someone has to borrow from you or ask you to go to events that you can’t afford. Someone with a high agreeableness score will find it very hard to say no. And that gets you into a lot of problems. But on the flip side, someone who’s very agreeable, or someone who is likeable is very enjoyable to work with, and get more job opportunities.”
Building a healthy relationship with money
On some people’s troubled relationship with money, Suraya again emphasises the importance of family. “When it comes to money, I do think that we inherit a lot of how we view money from our immediate environment, and that includes family members,” she said, pointing out to examples such as parents who treat loans as “free money”, people who ask their family members to take out a loan for them or co-sign something for them.
Suraya is particular about not pointing fingers though. “Parents are also learning from their parents. And people were born in different generations where things were maybe tough. Recognise where your negative money mindset comes from, but don’t put any blame on it. But recognise that ‘I learned this from my mom’, or ‘I learned about that from my dad’. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence can be trained.”
How RinggitOhRinggit Started
Suraya started out her career working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but one day decided to experiment with online work.
“Eventually the income just started coming in,” she said. “I thought ‘I guess this is going to be my life now.” It was then that she became a freelance writer, and her career evolved into various communications work, which now involves – among other things – social media strategy and communications consultancy.
Suraya is humble, and chalks her success to the fact that the personal finance niche happens “to be the right topic at the right time”.
“There was barely anyone inside the personal finance space when I first started out,” she said. “It is now that there are more people coming in with this topic.”
Starting RinggitOhRinggit has reaped her many rewards. After all, she even gives talks, gets roped in focus groups, and is a regular feature in the personal finance scene in the country. The blog also acts as a personal portfolio of her works and attracts her many potential clients, whom she has the luxury of choosing from.
On how she earns her money, Suraya said: “Most of my income comes not from advertising money. Most of my income comes from affiliates. It also comes mostly from doing sponsored posts and from consultancy work.”
So, how does she sustain her career? After all, blogging, especially financial bogging, while becoming more popular, is still considered a non-traditional path for most Malaysians.
“I love making money,” Suraya said, without being shy, “There’s no plan B. If this doesn’t work out, then what am I going to do? And the flexibility and the freedom to set your own schedule is something that you can’t get when you’re employed. So you want to maintain this lifestyle”
“There’s no more turning back.”