When I was much younger, I recall my mother’s sudden request for me to accompany her on an evening stroll. It was a puzzling invitation, but I readily obliged. After all, I was eager to mention the new mobile phone that had just been released. It was the perfect chance for me to remind her that her beloved son would greatly appreciate being one of the first few people to snap photos with a phone! Mind-blowing technology, I know.
We came to a stop at a bench, and as she took her seat, she wore a tired expression. The fatigue, I would learn shortly, stemmed from the issues and problems weighing heavily on her mind rather than the physical exertion of our walk.
“Son, do you know that our situation… has changed?”
This information was quite overwhelming for teenager Seth to process, but the message was still very clear. Between the medical event in the family that happened back then and the change in our financial circumstances, not having the latest mobile phone was not the only thing I had to worry about.
It’s a strange incident to suddenly talk about, but I was reminded of this incident that happened decades ago only because my boss Christopher Tan was trying to uncover how my money habits came to be. Between facing my family’s financial downturn when I was a boy to surviving on a $1,000 per month income as a young adult, we discussed why I developed this mindset of scarcity.
I found the process interesting; never have I ever sat down to ponder why I manage my money in a certain way, nor have I questioned whether my past is dictating my present financial choices.
Months on, it has slowly but surely dawned upon me why digging deeper into one’s money habits is more than just a wistful, nostalgic endeavor, but something that can truly guide and shape one’s relationship with money for the better.
It Can Provide Clarity
A benefit of analysing one’s money habits is that it can help to contexualise things. As my friends would readily attest, I am someone who performs cost-benefit analyses on nearly every financial transaction I make, often taking inordinately lengthy amounts of time to come to a decision. Instead of wondering why I’m agonising over seemingly trivial expenditures (again), I now understand a little more clearly why I behave the way I do.
This newfound awareness allows me to better connect the dots between my financial choices, priorities, and past experiences. Rather than being frustrated with myself as overly cautious, I now see this behaviour as a proactive measure rooted in a genuine concern for my own financial well-being.
Knowing some of the reasons behind my own decision-making process has also made me more forgiving towards myself, which in turn, makes my financial life less aggravating.
It Can Provide Confidence
With more clarity about why and how I make certain money decisions comes the conviction to identify and overrule irrational fears and aversions. While the younger, more resource-starved version of me needed to be more careful with money to the point of being miserly, my present self can approach my financial choices with a more balanced perspective.
Instead of indiscriminately putting savings as the number one priority, I can more confidently opt for utilising money as a tool to make life more comfortable for my loved ones and myself. I now know rationally that I am in a better position to start prioritising money as a means to an end rather than money becoming the sole goal itself. Such confidence could only come from a conscious and introspective look at how my relatively complex relationship with money started.
It Can Provide Comfort
Above all, I think that looking back on the origin of my money habits has brought about a strange but welcomed sense of comfort. While I try to change and improve on things that I find problematic, I continue to embrace much of the frugality that served me well through periods of low income in my life. Some habits and behaviours I accept may never change, and with acceptance, I find peace.
Looking back has also reminded me how far I’ve come from the days of not earning enough as a young salaryman, or the periods when money issues loomed within the family. It puts things into perspective – what’s truly important, and what are temporary desires.
I have and probably will never own a Nokia 7650 in this lifetime. And I’m glad to tell you, dear reader, that has turned out… entirely okay.
This is an original article written by Seth Wee, Client Adviser at Providend, the first fee-only wealth advisory firm in Southeast Asia and a leading wealth advisory firm in Asia.
For more related resources, check out:
1. Are You Financially Prepared for Life’s “Oh’s”?
2. S2E26: Developing a Mindset of Scarcity at 18 Years Old Ft. Seth Wee from Sethisfy
3. Starting Your 2023 Well with Ctrl-Alt-Del
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