Not too long ago, I chanced upon a post on social media about a medical doctor, who passed away when he was 40. To many who read his story, he had it all: career, fast cars, bungalow, women. But near the end of his life, he shared that none of what he owned matters. A line that he quoted from Tuesdays with Morris touched me:
“Everyone knows that they are going to die; everyone of us know that. The truth is, none of us believes it, because if we did, we will do things differently.”
Truly, for many of us, it is when we face death, when we are forced to strip of all stuff totally, and only focus on what is essential; it is then that we learn how to live.
This post writes about the reasons (sense) behind the management of my money (cents). It will be separated into 2 parts: the first part talks about how I started my journey, and the next, discusses how I manage my income and expenses.
The start of my journey
Just like the doctor, I grew up in a family where money was always tight. I was told by everyone around me: my parents, teachers and even the media, that if I study hard, I will be successful. Then I will be rich, and with lots of money, I will be happy.
Maybe that is why I did well in school. I had always dream of being a doctor as Mum was not well. Doctors seemed to be respected and earn lots of money. So I worked hard at my studies. But sadly, I did not do well enough to enter medical school in Singapore.
So I enrolled in another course. Money was still tight and I had to work to support myself through school. When I finally graduated, I thought that this was it. I have finally earned my degree, and now I can work, earn money and be successful!
But life never works out as planned. I got my jobs, credit cards and slowly accumulated other trappings of a seemingly successful young person. It was always cool to drive the ladies around, or to dine at expensive restaurants. After all, I am earning a salary now and being starved of consumption since young, I have all the rights to enjoy life to the fullest, or so I thought.
It was only when I suffered credit debts and a big pay cut that I woke up to reality. The final straw came when Mum passed away. She had always been frugal. But she left before she could enjoy her savings, and before I can be more filial. This remains till now, a regret in my life.
So I did face death. Not of my own, but of my Mum, who dedicated her life to the family. Faced with her passing, I finally woke up from my spendthrift ways.
I decided to learn how to live better.
Why I walk this journey
I am now an employee. While I will like to start something of my own someday, working for others does have its perks too. I enjoy a stable income, do not worry about work when I am out of office, and can mind my own business. And my business, is to be financially free.
Everyday I go to work, I see many faces on the trains; in the buses; at the workplace, that tells me that they will rather be somewhere else. I hear from colleagues who tell me that they are waiting for the next payday, of the next bonus, or when they reach CPF withdrawal age, before they can enjoy their life.
And I was just like that before as well. I worked hard at my job and looked forward to my next salary, cos I needed the money to pay the bills. I dream of the end of my work years so that I can have money and time to pursue my passions, like traveling and exploring new places.
But life can be so much more. The world is vast and Singapore is really a tiny dot. At the end of my work years at say, 65 years old, I am probably too old to travel with a backpack, and maybe hindered by illnesses. In my travels, I have met many older folks who can’t climb steps and have to rely on tour guides. I wonder how I will be like when I am old, but I do know that I prefer the freedom of planning my own life itinerary, and not depend on others to be sufficient.
And that is why I am doing what I am doing. It is to be independent, not having to report to unreasonable bosses, and leading life my own way. I do not want reliance on money to rule the way I live.
Or to put it simply, the reason for my journey for financial freedom, is to have choices in life.
The journey continues…
Life can be a great adventure filled with new discoveries and joy. Or it can be difficult and tough, living month to month, or even day to day. I believe that my destination can be within my control. How can I start a journey if I do not know where I want to go? It is essential to know where I want to be at the end, even before I begin.
Unlike those favored by fortune, whether it is winning a great lottery or born into money, I have to work hard, be disciplined, and focus on reaching my destination. I strive to increase my income, cut down on my expenses, and invest my savings.
In an investment talk I attended recently, the presenter said that investing can be very fun. When she sees the money grow, the results affirm her. She said that every investment that she enters requires guts and intelligence. And when she wins, it rewards her both financially and mentally.
I am also enjoying my journey. At the start, it was tougher. The learning curve was steep and mistakes cost me. Because I had little, it was harder to take losses, and I was more uptight with money. But slowly, I have learned to relax and appreciate the process more. With age and making enough mistakes, it seems that I may have grown more experienced.
But please don’t get me wrong. I do not worship financial wealth. It is not about having lots of money before deciding how to live. I have seen how some people become obsessed with chasing money. The more they have, the more they want. It is a human instinct and is just so difficult to escape from. I do not want to live life like that.
In the end, the doctor found that having all the possessions didn’t give him comfort. What bought him happiness were his loved ones who laughed, cried and stayed with him till the end.
So what I really want to, is to have the choice to spend more time on what truly matters to me, be it with my loved ones, on my passions, or in my hobbies. I also want to give back, and make a difference to other people’s lives.
The path will not be smooth or easy. It will not be without sacrifices or delayed gratifications. But like all worthwhile things in life, the reward at the end of the journey, of having choices in my life, will be all the sweeter.