• That money mentality

    that money mentality

    <image via 68751915@N05 on flickr>

    A couple of posts recently about debt, poverty and money management have  spurred me to revisit this post I started some time ago and bring together various threads I’ve been reflecting on of late. I think, especially if you’re from a comfortable background, it’s difficult to understand what vastly different lives some people lead – I know it was for me, but after having observed one of these families up close, I wanted to share my observations.

    It’s weird being 18, and a student, and yet being asked (and able to) lend money to an older grown adult. It’s weird being 22 and ferrying those people around, because they have no access to a car. (True stories).

    What is the difference between a person who lives in overdraft week-to-week and someone with a surplus? Why are some people savvy with finances and some are not? Is it instinct?

    I grew up being taught to always save (not for anything in particular, but for the sake of it), saving all the money from my paper route, and having my parents also pitch in. I had money invested for me. “We can’t afford it” meant “It’s not in the budget” or “I’m not spending that much on ___”, not “We literally do not have the money for it.”

    It was an eye-opener to be introduced to a way of life where:

    – jobs are more common than careers, yet still not as common as welfare

    – you’re always short a few dollars

    – everyone in the family has bad credit

    – nobody knows how to check their credit reports

    – nobody has a savings account

    – you pay the same amount toward their power bill every week because it’s easier than figuring out how to pay it at the end of the month

    – everything is bought on hire purchase

    It’s about the way you’re brought up.  Is it any wonder that when someone from a background like this gets their first job, they go out and spend it all? Maybe give a little to their family to help out with essentials. Buy the things you need to get started in life (but probably not at the best prices), plus the things you may have wanted before but couldn’t afford.

    You know nothing else. Kids don’t talk about money, after all. What do they know about it? And they don’t teach personal finance in school. There are no role models for success. Maybe the first you hear of another way of life is when you get to be 20-something and hear of others taking overseas trips and buying reliable cars – all through the power of savings. Of TVs bought with cash, not on tick. Of daring to have dreams, within reach.

    And it goes hand in hand with values and a general way of life. One where education and reading are not necessarily prized. Where it’s going to be entirely up to you to break the cycle.

    There is a fabulous comment on this One Dollar Diet Project post I wish to quote:

    “I know that it’s ridiculously hard to get out of a situation if no one has ever taught you that it’s important or possible. It’s hard to save any money or advance at all when there are friends and family around you who are not; so you share when you have money or goods, and they share when you can’t, and no one ever gets enough to advance because it’s better for all to have some, rather than one to have all. And if no one is there to teach or set an example, saying “If you’re selfish for a little while, and you keep your successes for yourself and move up, then you can truly share with others.” 

    This is very true. At least from what I’ve observed, it’s about communal spirit, and sharing everything (what little?) they have. Family member needs something? If someone else can help out, then damn straight they will.  Everyone pitches in. But if you’re sharing everyone’s successes subsequently no one ever really does spectacularly well because it gets spread around. (Perhaps another example of tall poppy syndrome, which we so love to trot out in NZ?)

    “Too many times it’s lack of the basic necessities that keep the poor poor. Housing, medical care, food, education, child care, transportation: how do you choose which ones are a priority, or are you even given the choice?”

    And then of course, getting out of that cycle takes incredible individual drive, and it takes education (if you haven’t checked out PlaySpent, you should – I’ve never had to make any of the tough choices posed there, and I can’t imagine being truly faced with them). Though I would like to note here another observation – of the immense importance placed on birthdays and Christmas. No matter what, the kids always get presents, and LOTS of them. Personally, I think that’s commendable, but shouldn’t be a priority if you’re not otherwise stable. I didn’t get presents at birthdays and Christmas – even though my parents could afford them – and I turned out fine, I think…

    It was difficult enough for me to figure out the best way to manage my money at the age of what, 20? And that’s without even having come out of a debt-ridden or shopaholic phase. It was easy enough when it was just me, in high school – while my income was ridiculously low so were my expenses. Then T and I moved in together: cue more income, bigger expenses and a more complex budget. I would venture a comparison to trying to lose weight, or dieting – something countless people have tried and failed at time and time again.

    How do you do it at 25, 30, 40 – and coming from an ingrained background of living hand-to-mouth? And what if you’re not – sorry, this is probably not quite the right word – intellectually inclined? When all you have outside of work is knocking back beers, and you’ve been doing it for as long as you remember – are you really going to start taking an interest in spreadsheets and number crunching?

    I don’t mean to say that it’s hopeless, or inescapable. Far from it. I know some of you know all this already having lived it yourselves, but for the rest of us, I’m just seeking to offer some insight into a different mindset – and why in theory it seems there’s no excuse to be broke, it’s not as easy as we’d like to think. I truly believe it can’t be understood unless seen firsthand.

    Even though my fiance and I are the same age financially I am far better off – and that’s partly due to bad decisions on his part, but also a run of bad luck. (I’d say the number of incidents are about even – but I won’t list them in detail as it’s really not my place).

    You’ve heard me talk about how fundamentally I’m the saver and he’s the spender enough times; well, the only consumer debt he’s ever actually had was a small car loan. The vast majority of his debt was not incurred by him, but he was stuck with it. (Again, probably not my prerogative to explain). He’s never even had a credit card of his own. I can understand why he might feel bitter about money and even life in general, sometimes. To me, there is no better personified example of what upbringing + lack of education/knowhow + a couple of unfortunate setbacks courtesy of fate can yield – and how having a financial role model/coach can help turn things around.

    It’s strange being 22 and better off than all of your folks. It can be a great source of guilt, when they’re essentially good people trapped by a cocktail of bad luck, circumstance and poor choices.

    But guilt is a useless emotion. Good people don’t have to be broke to be good. You only get one life, and if you don’t put yourself first, getting sucked back under will make it that much harder to climb out again.

  • Sim card error

    Sim card error – three words that strike fear into my heart. This usually comes after my phone takes a slide off my lap and into the middle aisle of the bus, landing with a sickening thwack.
    So far it has revived, every time, after being turned off and back on….but one day surely i won’t be so lucky. And I’m not looking forward to that day! i don’t want a new phone! i’m extremely attached to my gx17. it is lacking in many departments such as camera quality, but i hardly ever use that. it has minimal features, compared to the superphones of today. but its sturdy, pretty and easy to use. it’s lasted me three years and im not willing to fork out hundreds for a new one, esp as almost all phones these days are butt ugly. i have to admit i’d love a phone that did everything – and i mean absolutely everything, because i’d use it as an organiser – but imagine how lost i’d be if i ever lost or broke that phone.

    In other things…we have precisely enough this week for groceries. So gas, lunches and any incidentals will send us into the red. Woohooo…..

    OTOH I worked almost 50 hours this week (and may do more tomorrow if I feel up to it) so next paycheck will be nice and fat, comparatively. And man did I work hard for it! I’m hoping IT don’t monitor our usage too closely, beause I must have downloaded over 100mb of stuff today trying to get that java problem fixed. And I did (and it’s cemented why I will never get a mac). I’ve been leaving late this week, 5.30, every day, and it sucks.

    All the staff on level 4 work 8.3 to 5.30; I guess I might be expected to do the same, although it’s never been voiced. I’ve just been coming in 9-5 as I would do on my days downstairs. But this week it just got too much for me…I felt guilty andlazy and slack for taking off at 5 everyday. Hence my staying till 5.30. And yet I’m still the first to leave! God knows how long people actually do stay at work. 9.5 hours? 10? I never want to have to do that, especially on a salary. I see how stressed some of them get too, and I pray I’ll never be like that. I’d rather have a less prestigious, less well paid job and have some balance in my life.

  • New York, New York

    New York’s always held a certain fascination for me. I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that started it for me. Just the bits and pieces you pick up I guess, movies, TV, photos, and of course my favourite books ever (Jessica Darling/Sloppy Firsts series). I can say that SATC is not one of those reasons. So many people cite it as a major reason for first wanting to go there. Although I do enjoy the show the city as depicted in it was never something I took much notice of, oddly enough.

    I no longer want to go there to live, but I definitely want to visit. Lately I’ve been reading lots of NYC blogs (Gen Y NY, Becoming a New Yorker, Escape Brooklyn etc) and live vicariously through them. But you could say I’ve had a reality check recently. Given that we struggle making it here in Auckland (although lately we have spent virtually nothing on the weekends, go us! We used to spend up to $60 eating out over the two days – and not even at fancy restaurants, more like a mix of food court, takeaway, Burger King and milkshakes) I’m sure NYC would suck me in and spit me out. I’m extra worried right now given our employment situations. We’ve just signed our next lease, but apparently it’s not too hard to get out of FTTs for extreme circumstances (ie job losses), so..

  • Work to live, live to work…

    It seems to me there are two distinctly different attitudes toward work. Either you enjoy work and really make a career for yourself, or you’re just working a job – any job, doesn’t make too much difference what. I’ve always been in the first category.

    Musing about what I was going to be when I grew up, being really driven to do something big (oh, idealism).

    The boy doesn’t really know what he wants to do (you know, IN LIFE) and I don’t think he was really pushed to think about a career much when he was younger, just concentrating on his sports. A different kind of culture really (I mean in terms of values, not ethnicity). More of a live for the present thing, rather than looking ahead.

    We both assumed he’d stay in this field but depending on how it does next year we may rethink that. I told him now’s a good time to retrain, maybe in IT or something.

    That was a few weeks ago…now he’s looking at taking another job next year (closer to home, Avondale) – no training/qualification prospects, but actually steady work, and the kind of place you tend to stay all your life and move on up. Old school. I don’t know how I feel about that. Education has always been so important to me, and in this case, getting qualified was really important to him. The plan was we’d pay for it ourselves if needed and take out a student loan for him. But I guess things change. In the end what really matters is if he’d be happy. And if he’d enjoy working there, not just doing it for the money, well then it’s the right choice. I’m just not sure that it is.

  • On becoming a better person

    I was thinking the other day about how odd it is that there are some people I
    just can never be jealous of. Whether it’s getting generous gifts from
    parents/family/significant others, getting paid ridiculous amounts, getting
    straight As, whatever. I might sound like a witch saying this, but when I hear
    about great things happening to some (a few – not very many) I can’t help but
    begrudge them a little. Don’t I work hard enough? Don’t I deserve good luck? AM
    I not a good person? But for most of my friends I really am happy for their good
    fortune; I might wish for a second that I was as lucky or blessed, but in no way
    do I want to detract from their achievements.

    What is it that makes the difference? How close we are? How often we see each
    other? How genuinely nice they are as a person? Whether they’ve worked really
    hard to get to where they are?

    The biggest surprise for me was the last time I saw my family. My brother,
    though he doesn’t have everything he wants (I don’t think) gets a hell of a lot
    from my parents. iPod, camera, special edition Strat which cost over a grand (or
    was it two grand? Does it make a difference when the numbers are that high?) My
    guitar and amp cost less than that combined, and I paid for it all myself
    working two jobs in fifth form. I never got given anything like what he gets
    now.

    And yet I really do not care. I’m glad for him, I’m glad my parents are
    loosening up a little and maybe learning to appreciate what they have. I don’t
    even feel a little pang that I missed out on all that stuff. Everything I have
    now I earned myself.

    Maybe I’m not as selfish as I thought I was.

    Being the oldest and the guinea pig for growing up in a new country, and female,
    and the “smart” one who was pushed to excel was kinda hard. It was never good
    enough – didn’t matter how many people I was beating, I was still supposed to
    look up to the freaky top 1%ers and strive to be just like them. Unfortunately
    what my parents wanted was vastly different from what I wanted. And neither of
    us dealt with that in the best possible way, hence the whole leaving home in
    sixth form thing.

    Since then I think I’ve received more from the folks than in my whole life. We
    never really did Christmas. I never believed in Santa. I probably didn’t even
    hear of him till I was about seven. We went shopping for our presents on
    Boxing Day, occasionally. We didn’t get birthday presents (though granted we
    didn’t really give them either). Sometimes I feel like I missed out on a lot
    but I have to remind myself they’re just material things. Now I get birthday
    and Christmas gifts, which although is nice I find it ironic, and a little sad.

    I see in my brother a lot of what I was like at that age. He lives a little bit
    in his own world, like I did, but in a different way. I lost myself in books,
    where he spends his time on the computer/watching Tv and now playing guitar, I
    guess. He’s gawky, awkward and a little socially inept, a bit defensive, a bit
    aggro, and sometimes the way he talks phases me a bit because that’s exactly
    something I would’ve said when I was 13. I’ve come a long way from there, and I
    can only hope that in time he’ll grow into himself too.