• What my Asian parents taught me about money

    WHAT MY ASIAN PARENTS TAUGHT ME ABOUT MONEY

    Like all true Asian parents, mine drilled the work first, play later mentality into me.

    (Though in fairness they were nowhere near Amy Chua tiger mother levels.)

    And along with modelling delayed gratification, my Asian family also taught me a few things about money over the years that I’ve never forgotten.

    Shop the sales

    Apparently I once asked Mum, “why don’t you ever buy anything that’s not on special?”

    She is the most frugal person I know. Never overpays for anything, and knows how to get the best price on everything.

    Back when we were in primary school, I once went to the supermarket with my best friend in primary school to get snacks. We were so proud to find and buy bottles of Coke on special for 99c. Even my friend’s dad praised us for our bargain hunting ways!

    Not my mum. At their lowest price, she informed us, you could get those bottles on special for even less than that.

    She is the queen of thrift shopping and I didn’t really appreciate it until adulthood. Now I’m like, tell me all your secrets.

    Always negotiate

    We spent a lot of time at garage sales when I was a kid and I watched the master bargainers in action. Whether it was a $2 doll or a $600 TV, they would always ask for a better deal (as it turns out, basically everything is negotiable).

    Despite all that, I could barely bring myself to haggle at markets while travelling through Asia. And I think back on the times I didn’t negotiate salary and mentally kick myself.

    I get the theory, but actually doing it is a different kettle of fish.

    Needs vs wants

    Wants never masqueraded as needs in our household, not even for a second. People bleat on about how extravagant parents are with presents for their kids, but we literally didn’t get gifts. I feel like we could have done with more wants, growing up.

    (For years we didn’t have a TV – before broadband, before streaming, and so I never got to participate in conversations about last night’s TV shows at school. #firstworldproblems)

    OTOH, sometimes needs can be disguised as wants…

    Props to them for trying to pass off buying me a sleeping bag (you know, for school camp) as an early birthday present. (Spoiler: didn’t fall for it.) Even 10-year-old me knew better.

    I’ve always stood by the belief that gifts are for things you want, not things you need. That will never change.

    What did you learn from your family about money?

    Disease Called Debt
  • The 2 things I learned this year that changed my life

    2 things I learned this year that changed my lifeThe past 18 months have been a lesson in patience.

    Waiting for things to fall into place, to resolve themselves.

    Waiting on the outcomes of other people’s decisions or actions that affect me and my plans.

    Waiting and working towards building savings, investments and paying off debt.

    Waiting to see how our two adolescent rescue dogs settle in, respond to training and mature.

    Patience has never been my strong suit. As usual I find myself vacillating between extremes: am I expecting too much of the dogs, other people, the universe? Or should they really be further along by now and is this a reflection of my own suckiness? What is simply a work in progress, what will always be in flux, what is yet to come and what is just never meant to be?

    Perhaps the best question is in fact: can I ever just sit back, stop thinking and enjoy the ride? Time has shown this just isn’t in my nature, so while I can try to keep it in check, I’m always going to be a worrier.

    Especially when it comes to the living things in my care. Do those wilting herbs need more or less water? Why did that egg have a dent in it? What’s up with that paw?

    Focusing on my locus of control

    I can recite that old saying a million times:

    Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Actually letting go of the things I cannot control is not something I’ve really nailed. However, I’m getting closer and closer.

    On the one hand, letting go of things is frustrating; it feels like admitting defeat. On the other, it is just about the most freeing feeling on earth.

    Setting boundaries

    As I said above, letting go can feel like giving up. But it doesn’t double as an excuse for sitting back and simply throwing up your hands. Nor does it mean letting others take advantage of you along the way and dictate your path.

    That’s where boundaries come in. They are so crucial. For me, learning to let go goes hand in hand with knowing and setting limits for yourself. Otherwise it’s easy to drift, be swept away, get lost and wonder how you ended up nowhere. Sticking to healthy boundaries is vital to my self care.

    It’s been so long since I kept a journal. I switched to writing songs, and then this blog. Next year I want to return to paper. Record small wins, track bigger projects, scribble down ideas and goals and dreams and the things I’m grateful for on a regular basis.

  • 5 things I’ve learned from surviving a marriage crisis

    The best relationship advice I can give

    After more than 10 years in a generally happy union, I recently realised that – like Jon Snow – I knew nothing.

    Nothing at all.

    I once read that good marriages begin after the first gigantic crisis. When you begin again, in spite of everything, and work to make it through the anger and fear and sadness.

    Separately, the wise and inimitable Alain de Botton has said that pessimism offers a solution to a lot of the pressures around relationships. Romanticism is unhelpful, and makes a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling.

    Depressing as those two paragraphs may sound, I think they ring with truth.

    There are five main things this crisis taught me. Here is what I’ve learned.

    Love is a verb

    Don’t just tell me you love me; show me through your actions.

    So many of our habits and behaviours towards our partners are manipulative

    Whether we realise it or not. Awareness is the first step.

    Do not tolerate sustained unhappiness in a relationship

    Don’t put up with it now, hoping that it will improve eventually, if you have no inkling at all for when that might be. Think about how long you could stick it out if nothing changed – a month? Six months? A year?

    Never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm

    There is no glory in martyrdom. This isn’t a social movement; this is your life. Your happiness is what’s at stake.

    We are flawed

    All of us. So very deeply. This is something we must accept if we are to move forward.

    There it is – the best relationship advice I have to give. Have you been through a relationship crisis, and has it taught you anything new?

  • Money is no substitute for love, but love is no substitute for money either

    Love and money - you need both

    You can’t buy love. Spend your way to affection. Substitute stuff for time and attention. Paper over the cracks with lavish offerings.

    You can’t live on love. All the love in the world won’t keep you out of debt, secure a stable home, put food on the table.

    You need both. Love AND money.

    I used to think love was the most important thing ever. The real world has taught me otherwise. Love is not all you need. Love does not conquer all. Love alone, unfortunately, is a poor substitute for the basic necessities in life.

    The partners we choose for ourselves play such an integral role in our financial situation. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am today and the choices that got me here.

    Where I am today has been shaped by a lot of things beyond my control. But I made choices that set these things in motion. I may not have thought about it or realised it back then but now I have a much better understanding of why I made them.

    Even if it’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, these are the facts. My relationship and circumstances now are a strong reflection of the choices that I’ve made to date.  In trying to escape the shortcomings of my childhood, I gravitated towards certain traits, not realising what the trade-off would be or appreciating the value of what I did have.

    I’ve come to terms with my tendencies as an enabler and the impact of this. I’m cognisant of how this has informed my decisions in the past and I know I need to be alert going forward to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes again.

    I now know what I need, what I cannot stand for, and have a clear picture of what the balance between love and money should look like in my life.

    “The goal of a relationship,” writes John Armstrong, in How To Worry Less About Money, “is that both people flourish together. And because money is a crucial ingredient in flourishing, it is a crucial ingredient in marriage.”

  • A mantra for 28 (or any birthday, really)

    6 life lessons I've learned the hard way

    You are (probably) a good person who deserves happiness. Do right by yourself, always.

    It greatly helps to master the art of not giving a fuck. We all have a limited number to give, and you don’t want to waste yours unnecessarily.

    Know your priorities. Stay true to them. Everything falls into place from there.

    When you feel stuck and there is a clear way out, no matter how difficult that path may be, start walking in that direction.

    Listen to your body. It will tell you when enough is enough.

    Life is messy and grey; people are fallible and complicated. So forgive yourself, for the past and for all the screw ups that lie ahead.

  • Thinking about … expanding the family

    I didn’t grow up around animals. I didn’t even like dogs until I spent time volunteering on an Italian farm and fell in love with the five dogs who lived there (two have since passed away, RIP).

    Adopting a dog was literally one of the first things I did as a home owner, and we’ve always envisioned having a couple of dogs around.

    The time isn’t right just yet to add a second dog to the mix, though I’m starting to think about it and plan ahead. We’re working on getting Leila better trained right now – mainly around walking on lead, as she can be a bit of a handful sometimes.

    She loves human attention but she also loves other dogs and I’m sure she’d love a companion. Obviously she’s been an only child here so far (unless you count the chickens) but she shared her space with another dog at the SPCA for a long time.

    My main concerns is around the logistics of walking two dogs (hence wanting to get her more trained) and whether I’ll be able to go running with both at the same time. We have plenty of space so I’m not worried about having enough room for two. Doubling up on some things – bed, bowl, kennel leash etc – will be an initial outlay but then it’ll just be food and maintenance.

    Getting the right dog will be important. Probably a male this time, and of similar size or a little larger (she isn’t a fan of small dogs). One that is a little lazier than her, but can still keep up with her for the most part. I’d like to adopt again – I have a bit of a soft spot for boxers, though they’re rare in shelters here and there don’t seem to be any boxer-specific rescues in NZ.

    Has anyone gone from one dog to two? What was it like?

  • I think I have financial PTSD

    I think I have financial PTSD

    I woke up the other day with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

    There’s still this deep seated fear buried inside that things are going to fall apart.

    Nothing specific, just the thought that this is too good to last – the house, two incomes, the dog. Somehow, I’m going to lose it all and it’s going to be taken away.

    If there is such a thing as financial PTSD, I think I have it.

    From money troubles to money worries

    As I work to rebuild from the past couple years and improve my  financial wellness, I imagine my emotional well-being will too.

    In How To Worry Less About Money, John Armstrong draws a distinction between money troubles (urgent, immediate, pressing) and money worries (emotional, complex).

    Going from worrying about the day-to-day and the immediate future to worrying about the distant future is a nice change. I mean, it’s still a worry, but it’s a hell of a lot less stressful.

    When you know you’re making ends meet you have the ability to actually be future-oriented – and that’s the only way to really get ahead financially. To figure out where to put your money to work the best for you.

    All I can do is wait it out, I imagine. Acknowledge (or ignore) those fears as they rear their heads. Slay them with logic, or contempt. Only time, and money, will heal.

    Have you ever felt this way after coming off the back of a financially stressful time?

    Disease Called Debt
  • How To Worry Less About Money: 3 things I took away

    The most refreshing thing about How to Worry Less About Money is the author’s unflinching observation of how money affects relationships. In this book, John Armstrong relates this back to his own marriage.

    “My own experience is that money worries can cause terrible conflicts in relationships. I fear I have damaged Helen’s life by not making more money. And there are stylistic clashes: I like being lavish; she’s much more restrained. For instance, I like the idea of going to fancy restaurants; she prefers the modest family-run place round the corner, or chicken soup at home. (And this is all the harder to deal with because our earnings point in the opposite directions to these personal tastes).”
    Well, I’m the Helen in my life, and I can vouch for the fact that I have felt resentful many a time. I wish that weren’t true, but I am human, and perhaps not always a very good one. This is us, down to a T, especially the incongruence between tastes and earnings.  I would be curious to hear Helen’s viewpoint.

    Money and marriage

    Armstrong points out that in the world of Jane Austen, having enough money is taken very seriously (and rightly so!) as a necessary condition of happy marriage. Money reduces the fragility of a relationship, and makes people more relaxed. Money buys luxury, privacy and  stimulation. Money is for some people an aphrodisiac.

    All of these things resonate so hard (perhaps not exactly the last one, but financial stress is a huge turn off and therefore lack of money is definitely a turn off).

    Alas, there are no true solutions offered up, despite the practical promise offered in the title. This is a philosophical read about how we think about money, relate to it, the space it occupies in our minds and lives.

    It’s a book about money worries, as opposed to money troubles.

    Money troubles vs money worries

    Money troubles, Armstrong contends, are urgent. They call for direct action and can only be resolved in one of two ways: either you gain access to more money or you go without something else.

    Money worries, conversely, are about imagination and motions, not just what is happening now. Money worries often say more about the worrier than the world. They’re about what’s going on in your head not just in your bank account.

    The meaning of money

    When you strip money right back to the fundamentals, it is just a resource – a means of exchange.

    “In other words money is an instrument … Ultimately the task in life is to translate efforts and activities that are inherently worthwhile into possessions and experiences that are themselves of lasting and true value.

    “That is the ideal money cycle. Our relationship with money becomes unhealthy when we remove it from this cycle. That happens when we stop seeing money as potential possessions and experiences – but rather see possessions and experiences as potential money.”

    We’re all bombarded these days with the reminder to DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Armstrong acknowledges that we need to make enough money to meet our needs and we also need to do things that help us make sense of who we are and contribute to collective good.

    You can escape by not caring about meaning. And you can escape by not caring about having much money.  But a lot of people care about both.”

    * * *

    If you know roughly what to expect going in, this is a great read. I related to so much of it, I was constantly nodding along and found myself bookmarking what seemed like every other page.

    If you’ve read it, what did you think?

    Share the Wealth Sunday

  • Compromise where you can – and where you can’t, don’t

    Compromise where you can - and where you can't, don't

    Who would’ve thought that the latest Captain America movie could spawn such wisdom?

    To live in this world is to compromise. And to be in a relationship is to compromise.

    I kept reaching my limit … or so I thought.

    And then I would push through. Just a little longer, I would think. Surely things will change. This can’t continue indefinitely.

    For better and for worse, right?

    But when something or someone is the sole source of your stress and there is no sign of it changing – it’s time to reevaluate. Be kind to yourself, first and foremost.

    You may not know where your true limits lie. I know I didn’t. And that epiphany may wind up coming from elsewhere.

    In my case, I was physically falling apart – in rather obvious ways. That’s when I knew I had to draw a line. That was something I could not compromise on.

    Listen to your body, because it doesn’t lie.

    I may have had to learn the hard way, but now I know where I can and cannot compromise.

  • Financial privileges I have (and haven’t) had

    FINANCIAL PRIVILEGES I HAVE HAD

    It’s so easy to get caught up in focusing on what we don’t have. (Guilty as charged, on a daily basis!)

    For example:

    • I left home young – no cellphone, no computer, no car, just some clothes, books and my guitar – and became financially independent at 17
    • I don’t work in an industry known for being lucrative and my skills skew more creative, less practical
    • I don’t have an equal financial partner; our relationship has spanned multiple bouts of unemployment/underemployment that add up to probably tens of thousands spent supporting us solely on my income

    But I’ve also had so many financial privileges in my life. I don’t know where I would be without these things today.

    Let’s see:

    I grew up in a financially stable home

    I never wanted for anything. I have financially savvy parents and money was never a taboo topic. I came away with an understanding of the importance of saving, and I  was encouraged to focus on the future and think about career paths.

    I received a full tuition scholarship

    My merit scholarship paid for my university fees. Between the student allowance and paid work, I was able to cover my living costs and graduated basically debt-free. Otherwise, 12 cents out of every dollar I earn today would be going toward student loan repayments.

    I’ve never been unemployed

    Despite entering the workforce during the GFC, I have always been employed. The work I do also aligns well with freelancing/side hustling.

    The stockmarket has been kind to me so far

    It even helped me with my house deposit. I never intended to use that money for a down payment – it was invested for the long term originally – but it worked out well.

    I’ve benefited from family support

    This ties back in to my first point, too. My parents looked after me during my separation, offered help with the purchase of my house and were in a position to lend me money towards it so I could buy something decent.

    What financial privileges have you had?

    *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Frugal in SA