I grew up poor, but my parents never made me feel that way. It’s just small things that I remember now that all add up. Like how my parents almost never gave us money to buy lunch at school, and my friend Rebecca would always buy me something from the tuck shop. Or how when we went to see George of the Jungle, for Joanna’s birthday, and all the other kids handed her mother money for their ticket, and I didn’t know what to do since I didn’t have any, but she just came up to me and said she had a 2-for-1 ticket voucher that I could use. We had consoles and games, because my dad loves them, but most of our toys and clothes were hand-me-downs. Even my primary school uniform – I was forced to join the same house as my cousin so I could wear his old sports uniform.
But as I said, I never felt like there was anything that I really wanted, but couldn’t have – so we can’t have been that poor. I had tennis lessons, swimming lessons, piano lessons, karate lessons, all while living in commission housing. I don’t know how they managed, but I realise now that my parents must have given up a lot to be able to provide all of those things for us. We never went on holidays, and very rarely ate out at restaurants.
I think that growing up like that has meant that I never really learned to appreciate things like fine dining, or high fashion. Give me a place to sleep, food to eat, and something to occupy my mind and that’s all I really want. But things have changed since I was in primary school. Even though my family’s financial situation hasn’t improved that much, mine certainly has. Work at the supermarket saw my income increase from nothing to around $100-200 per week. Work at the casino saw it increase even more. And then the bank even more. I remember Graham telling me that it’s very difficult to keep your spending at the same level as your previous income once your income increases. However, I’ve found that my personal spending as probably gone down compared to how much I spent in my supermarket days. Well, that’s if you don’t count rent.
Looking only at the things I buy for myself (so ignoring joint/household stuff like rent, internet bills), my weekly expenses come to something like: $50 for lunch at work, $18 for gym membership, $15 for my phone bill and $3 for my World of Warcraft subscription (which I’ll probably cancel now that MrMan5.5 and Olek have lost interest). Every now and again, I’ll buy myself a DVD of whichever show happens to catch my fancy.
Given that I definitely have the means to be spending more than I am, why is it that I’ve suddenly become so frugal? A part of it is that I don’t really have the energy or time to do any shopping. Working 40+ hour weeks means that when I’m not working, I just want to relax, and I’ve never understood the appeal of retail therapy – you’re even more tired from all the shopping, and all the more poorer for it.
But the biggest part of it is that every dollar that I spend is one less dollar going towards buying a house. My ultimate goal in life is to be able to buy a house for my parents so that they don’t have to pay rent or live in commission housing anymore. My motivation for that is pretty childish, but it’s something that has taken root in my mind, and being the control freak that I am, it’s one of the few things I feel like I can do to fix things with my parents.
I can’t remember how long ago it was now, but my parents had a huge fight. Bigger than any fight I have ever seen them have. My mum ran out of the house and she was standing in the car park across from our house crying. Over and over again, she kept asking why my dad didn’t go to university (when it was free), why my dad didn’t buy a house, why my dad didn’t get a better job like his other siblings did. My grandfather (my dad’s dad) was actually quite well off for a while, but a few bad business decisions and it all went down the drain. My aunts and uncles took that time to go to university and buy houses, but my dad decided to travel the world instead. So when my dad came back to marry my mum, he had nothing.
I don’t blame my dad for what he did – how could I when I had a happy childhood and never wanted for anything? At times I even wondered if I was a spoiled brat. But I know my mum resents him for it. I can’t make my dad go back to university (and it’s definitely not free anymore), and I doubt I’d be able to get him a high-paying office job before he hits the retirement age, but I feel like if I’m able to buy them a house, then maybe mum won’t resent him as much and they’ll be happier.
I want to do for them, because they won’t accept any other forms of financial aid from me. So I haven’t told them about my goal, because I know they’ll tell me that I shouldn’t worry about them. But it helps me stay fairly frugal since the one thing I’ve learned from my intro to finance course is that compound interest is a very powerful force, and that every cent makes a difference.