Turning 30: What Shaped My Values On Personal Finance
Heartland Boy turns 30 next week. Turning 30 in 2018 is also a perfect occasion to reflect. Since this is a personal finance website, the thoughts penned here invariably gravitate towards this topic. It is a timely reminder that he only has 10 years left to achieve his goal of financial freedom. His desire for financial freedom is a direct outcome of his values on personal finance. These values stem from long-lasting beliefs and have become the standards by which Heartland Boy makes monetary decisions. In his pensive mood, he can’t help but realise that several events in the past 30 years massively shaped his values on personal finance.
A Household With Divergent Values On Money Management
Childhood experiences often shape adult life, and this was no different for Heartland Boy. In this reflection blogpost, he identifies the divergent values on money management in his household as the most influential factor. When it comes to financial values, Heartland Boy’s mum and dad could not be more different.
Heartland Mum had the unfortunate luck (Heartland Boy’s opinion) to be borne as the first female amongst her 12 siblings in a kampong located in Muar, Johor. Despite being very academically inclined, she was pulled out of primary school as she had to resume the mantle of being a “mum” to her siblings. That is because Heartland Boy’s grandparents had to toil all day in the plantations. Life was undeniably hard for Heartland Mum. Daily diet was a subsistence of rice, sweet potatoes and vegetables pulled from the back of the house. Undeniably, her upbringing influenced the way she brought up her very own household. For instance, every tube of toothpaste only heaved its last breath after it had gone through the wringer. Turning on the water heater was a privilege to be had. Hand-me-downs such as used textbooks were very common for Heartland Boy even though the age difference between him and his elder sister was 3 years. Therefore, frugality is a value that Heartland Mum holds dearly too.
All that would have been fine and completely acceptable for Heartland Boy except that Heartland Dad was living a very different type of lifestyle. It was a lifestyle consisting of good food, private car and compulsory social comforts such as air-conditioning. However, this lifestyle was completely unsustainable because it was fueled by debt. When money was not enough, Dad would often borrow from family and friends. With such divergent values on money management, almost every quarrel at home between his parents could be traced to money as the root cause.
All these mixed signals were initially very confusing to Heartland Boy when he was growing up. As a primary school-going kid, this was a period when he was still trying to shape his own perception of money. As he started growing up, he began to dread family gatherings. That is because he often walked around with self-inflicted shame thinking that his dad probably owed money to every family member out there. Needless to say, Heartland Boy eventually subscribed towards Heartland Mum’s stance on frugality and being responsible with money. More importantly, he realized that his house could have been a happier home if the quarrels and struggles over money did not occur on such a frequent basis.
A Patriarch Who Is A Gambler
Not only did Heartland Boy grow up in a household with conflicting values on money, he also had a ringside seat to a life of a gambler. Heartland Dad has a chronic gambling addiction. Whether it was the lottery, football, horses or back-alley casinos; there is nothing that his dad would not have dabbled in.
When he was trying to explain the concept of budgeting to Heartland Boy, the first item that was allocated a budget was the lottery. And it was a whopping 30% of his income! It was suicidal financing planning. Somehow, it never dawned on him that he should instead be spending sleepless nights thinking how to stretch that every dollar of his meagre salary to support the family. His rationale was that the lottery was his ticket out of his doldrums. Sadly, it was a very delusional kind of lifestyle. For the same reason, Heartland Boy would never be able to trust his dad with money. It explains why he prefers to give just enough cash to him and top up the rest into his CPF instead.
Yet, Heartland Boy never blames his dad for the financial situation his family is in. Too much time would have been wasted crying over spilt milk anyway. Instead, he chose to look at the positives. Ironically, by showing him all the ills of a debt-fueled lifestyle, Heartland Boy knows that that is a line that he never would like to cross in the future. Another interesting outcome was that Heartland Boy became more streetwise earlier on in his life. Being exposed to gambling at such a young age, he took it upon himself to understand implied pot-odds and statistics. It carved an innate desire in him to understand how “the other side makes money”. As far-fetched as it sounds, Heartland Boy carries this instinct along whenever he is prospecting business opportunities or evaluating listed companies.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that Heartland Boy learnt that there is a stark difference between gambling and investing. Placing bets on a roulette table in a wild Friday night out with friends is gambling. Buying shares in a listed company after many hours spent on due diligence is investing. The two could not be clearer than night and day. For that, he thanks his dad for this “indirect” parenting lesson.
A Lady To Keep Him Grounded
Finally, the next most important event that helped shaped Heartland Boy’s values on personal finance was the chance meeting with Heartland Girl. When they first met in University, Heartland Boy was still trying to come to grips with having loads of money for the first time.
He was awarded a scholarship that came with a very decent annual allowance. The allowance was also dispensed in a lump sum. Unable to deal with this new-found wealth, he went on a self-destructive path like what most lottery winners probably did. In a bid to appear as the cool kid in university, Heartland Boy would splurge on branded apparel and fancy restaurants. Finally able to afford travelling for the first time in his life, Heartland Boy embarked on overseas trips at every major school holiday. It was a period of discovery and he did not feel a pang of guilt spending every single penny to make all that happen. In a blink of an eye, all the savings amassed from teaching tuition and his scholarship allowance were frittered away. His financial situation got so bad that he entered corporate world with only a few hundred dollars in his bank.
Thankfully, Heartland Girl was there to wake him up from his stupor. Raised in a frugal household, Heartland Girl could not understand why Heartland Boy held his designer items in such high regard. As they spent more time together, Heartland Boy gradually became more enlightened to Heartland Girl’s advice on personal finance. He was enjoying a false sense of security from the the “cool kid” image that he had cultivated. Without Heartland Girl, he might not have reverted to the correct path as quickly. And with her around, Heartland Boy knows that there will always be a lady around to keep him firmly planted on the ground.
Turning thirty is quite a significant milestone and he is approaching it with mixed emotions. Despite this heavy heart, his birthday wish has consistently remained the same- good health for his parents.
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