My grandmother raised me while my (single, immigrant) mother was the breadwinner for our family of 4. For many years, we lived paycheck-to-paycheck just above the US poverty line. In those financially-insecure years, I had to be frugal (it wasn’t a choice). There were times when my mother took on side gigs. And times when I had to skip meals or bum food off my friends.
I knew that going to university was a way to break free from the poverty cycle, but getting there meant I had to start working early (at age 16) and throughout my university years. When I graduated (with a masters in engineering), got married, and started earning “real” money, I came to a startling realisation:
Living paycheck-to-paycheck wasn’t just something poor people did. Many high-earners are also trapped in this cycle. The only difference is that their paycheck is larger. And unlike poor people, whether consciously or not, they’re in it by choice. This is why the savings rate, particularly in the US, is so low.
For these high-earners, their additional spending and material things didn’t seem to make them feel any more fulfilled in their life. And the big houses that they buy seem to “own” them instead. Their life choices become dictated by their mortgage, possessions, and their paycheck.
When I moved to Singapore from the US in 2011, I knew I was moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world (ranked #1 by the Economist Intelligence Unit). Singapore is a place often described as a conformist culture of one-upmanship. In Singapore, displays and the trappings of wealth are everywhere. And they are in your face.
But I was determined to not conform – to save even more, live an even better life (with a focus on sustainability and well-being), and evade any unnecessary lifestyle inflation from societal or cultural pressures.
Through frugality and life circumstances, my husband (a former Cambodian refugee) and I were able to achieve a level of security, happiness, and peace of mind that we never thought was possible. We did this all in our 30s.
That was when (in 2014) I decided to renew my certified financial planner credentials (from 2006) and start this blog. I wanted to write about financial education and the merits of frugality. What many financial advisors don’t tell you is that saving money is just as important as making money. And one is much easier to control than the other. It’s these small changes and habits that over time can really compound and make a huge difference.
– Spring, MSc, CFP®