Saturday, May 10, 2014

Living Within Your Means

           This is a really simple saying that is just filled with common sense – but somehow, most people can’t seem to abide by it. By most people, I’m including myself.

            Before I begin, I’m not in any kind of debt at all, but that’s because I have been lucky enough to have been supported by my parents and not taken any loans. My current commitment that I have is my monthly rent, and maybe a little bit of insurance, but that’s about it.

            See, I used to think if I earned more money, I would be set. I would maintain the same lifestyle I’d always had, and put all the excess money in a savings account.

            In theory, it works, in practice, it really doesn’t. A lot of people have also told me that when your salary increases, so does your lifestyle. I didn’t believe them.
            Silly me.

            I’ve discovered it really is true, your lifestyle increases when your salary does. It’s a very gradual process too, one that you don’t realize is happening. At first, it’s a rush you get, that you can finally afford certain things you used to want, but could never afford. You get used to owning nicer stuff. You start going for nicer dinners, more often. Going to a fancy place isn’t a reserved only for special nights out like birthdays or celebrations, but now it’s just a weekend sort of activity.

            I’m going to be cutting down on my lifestyle, and I came to this realization when I came back to my hometown this weekend.
            I’m from a small town in Malaysia called Taiping – famous for being the wettest spot in Malaysia (cue the downpours), the Zoo and the Lake Gardens. It’s a quiet, sleepy little town, also known as the Pensioner’s Paradise (you can imagine why most of the youngsters scuttle off to Kuala Lumpur as soon as they can).

            For some reason, this trip home was a little bit of a culture shock. Maybe it’s the stark contrast of Singapore and Taiping – one is a bustling, busy, organized city with amaaaazing Internet speed, and the other is a really simple, quiet place with amazingly slow Internet. I think it could have been the change in route, normally when I come home from Singapore, I make a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, then only to Taiping so it’s a bit more of a gradual transition, but this time, I didn’t, because I found an airport nearer my hometown. (Yes, I only found it last month.)

            What’s great about Taiping is that a lot of it has remained unchanged. It’s developing slowly, but the main heart of the town is the same. I remember going to school as a kid, looking outside the window of my father’s car, and as I sat in the car again, I looked at all those same buildings, and it’s a little bit of a strange feeling, knowing that you’ve changed so much, but when you come home, things are the same.

            The nicest hotel in Taiping is called Flemington. I wanted to take my mother for a buffet dinner, so I googled it to get its phone number, and I was a bit amused to find that it was called a ‘budget hotel’ in TripAdvisor. There are no fancy hotels in Taiping. No Shangrila, no JW Mariott. People here move at a slower pace. The air is cleaner, the vibe of things are much slower and calmer. It’s a typical small town, with the typical charm that comes along with it.

            Coming home, and doing the things I loved the best – eating at my favourite food stalls, hanging out with my dog, sleeping, made me realize I really don’t need any of the fancy things in life. I guess none of us do, but we get very caught up in it, especially when we’re in an environment that thrives on material goods.

            Fancy dinners are so unnecessary. As clichéd as this sounds, money buys a lot of things but it really doesn’t buy affection. Case in point – my mom has this neighbor and today we were summoned over. She’s a really pretty Indian lady, and she has two sons, around the ages of maybe 10 and 14. I don’t know, I’m bad with ages, and boys all tend to be very short before hitting puberty so they can really be of any age! She takes care of two Chinese kids, one aged about 3 and one about 6.

            We went over, and she had baked a cake for my mom for Mother’s Day. It was really sweet, and all the kids gathered around to watch, giggling as they watched my mother’s reaction. It was quite cute too, they sang ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ in the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’.

            That made me realize a couple of things.

            It’s not about the money. It’s not about getting an expensive, extravagant, rich looking cake.

            Maybe I’ve forgotten a little bit about this in life, but it’s really about family, at the end of the day. It’s about being surrounded by your loved ones, and being rich in relationships and matters of the heart. It’s not about my new Furla handbag. It’s not about wearing Jimmy Choo shoes.

            It’s nice to come home, and remember my roots. To be honest, sometimes I forget my origins, but when I come home, I am so strongly reminded that I really am at heart a small town girl, and I’m proud to be one. I’m proud of my upbringing, of the house I grew up in, of the people who are so nice and caring in my town, and of everything that has made me who I am.

            I think I’m living the life of a typical, corporate climber in her twenties. I live in a studio apartment in a nice condo that has a gym, a Jacuzzi and three swimming pools. I blow a huge chunk of my salary on my rent. I blow another chunk of it on dinners, drinks and birthdays. I go for holidays, and treat myself to massages. I recently bought a new shoe cupboard because I have just too many damn shoes.

            It’s time to stop, and re-evaluate things. I think I could save a lot more money if I didn’t spend so much on unnecessary dinners and clothes and shoes. It’s time to invest more on people, and relationships, rather than on materials.

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