The Australian government is so worried about our financial capability that it set up a website, financialcapability.gov.au and has a National Financial Capability Strategy. Its stated vision is for all Australians to be in control of their financial lives. It identified three areas to focus on – where behaviour can be empowered:
- Managing money day to day
- Making informed money decisions and
- Planning for the future
It prompted me to think about my own money story and how I stack up in these three areas. To be honest, until now, I never really paid much attention to money, always taking money for granted. However, since starting on my FIRE journey, I have been reflecting more on my attitudes and relationship with money in particular to wealth creation.
How my parents handle money influenced my own relationship with money
I was very fortunate that I grew up in a comfortable middle class family. I am very grateful that I never went hungry and always, always had enough food. Housing was never an issue either – in fact, I haven’t shared a bedroom since primary school. My family later emigrated to Australia enabling me to attain a tertiary education at a vastly reduced cost compared to that of an overseas student.
Both my parents were the first in their families to attend college and worked in professional fields. Both came from poor families but responded to money in slightly different ways. My mum is more frugal – turn off all lights when no one is in the room; eat all leftovers etc. Whereas dad is more free with money – as long as we can afford it, it’s ok. Both parents are good savers – mum told me we lived on her smaller salary and saved dad’s income for the bigger things in life.
I have only just realised how much of my parents’ attitude to money and how they manage money has influenced me. And how their parents influenced them.
Mum’s money story
Mum often spoke to us about growing up in a rented room which was all her family of four could afford. My grandmother took in sewing & ironing to supplement my grandfather’s income as a bus driver. Grandma was the money manager in the family, often having to make do with money left over from Grandpa having a few drinks with mates on payday. Mum remembers being sent to Grandpa’s haunts to get his wages on payday before he drank it away. Over the years, Grandma saved enough money to purchase a shophouse – which was their retirement plan. They lived upstairs while the shop downstairs was rented to a car mechanic business.
As a result of her upbringing, Mum is very risk averse & values owning a property. And not marrying a man who drinks! She values education too – working for a few years after high school to save enough to fund her nursing education in the UK. Mum manages the day to day expenses of our family – making sure our food & groceries are under budget, checking prices of the same items from various shops before buying.
Dad’s money story
My dad’s story is not dissimilar- growing up in post second world war Malaysia. His family is larger with five siblings. Unfortunately, my grandma became ill and lost the use of her legs. Which necessitated my aunt to give up her studies & be my grandma’s carer. She had only just finished primary school at that stage. Food was scarce with such a big family – chicken was limited to special festival days. Grandpa saved enough money to buy a piece of land & built a house. He managed to leave a legacy for his five children despite earning so little.
As a result of my dad’s upbringing, he values education and good health – he too worked for a few years after finishing high school & funded his own tertiary education in neighbouring Singapore. He is more liberal with money, in that he will buy nice consumables if he can afford it. HIs philosophy is that one generation must do better than the previous one.
My money story
Due to my parents’ influence & example, I too valued education. I saw how they used education to get out of poverty, get a better job and earn more to create a better life for their family. I eventually graduated from university with a HECS debt – I can’t remember how much the debt was. In Australia at that time, HECS debt is automatically repaid via a tax taken out of your salary, once your salary reaches a certain level. I have long since repaid this debt.
It was difficult to find full time work at the time I graduated. So I worked weekends & locum shifts until a full time job opportunity came up. As a result of this early uncertainty in my career, I value certainty & consistency – I have worked for the same employer for more than 20 years & counting.
I lived with my parents while I saved to buy my own home. Here again, I value stability and security – no one can kick me out of my own house as opposed to renting. By the time I finally bought my townhouse, I had saved a hefty deposit, part of which was funded from shares bought when Australia was privatising state run institutions, for example Telstra & Qantas. I bought these shares at the behest of my dad and sold them for a nice profit several years later. Thanks for the advice, Dad! (Lesson learnt: shares are good – they make money in the long run)
But this is where I stopped in my money journey …
I stopped investing. I stopped salary sacrificing into superannuation. In other words, I stopped planning for my future. This is my financial mistake #1
I had achieved two of my goals, that is, I had an education which led me to a good job AND I bought a house. I was content with my life now. All I had to do was maintain my standard of living. I made sure I had enough money to pay my bills and my mortgage which was super important.
Because of my home loan structure, I could redraw any excess repayments if repayments were ahead by $2000. Which it always was, as my weekly salary was deposited directly into my loan account. This amounted to thousands of dollars – my loan account would literally state $$blah blah can be redrawn. I used this equity to buy nice things for my house and to travel. Financial mistake #2, right there. I could have paid my loan off YEARS earlier! But my philosophy then was if I could afford it, it was ok. After all, I still have to LIVE!!
I am thankful though that I must have unconsciously absorbed my parents’ financial lessons over the years. My mum drummed this into me – never spend more than you earn and always pay off your credit card in full every month; never borrow money for things that depreciate in value e.g. a car; always save for a rainy day. At the very least, I did not compound those financial mistakes by adding on more consumer debt.
So while I was good at managing my day to day living expenses and saved for the near future, I never consciously thought about the future that is far away in the horizon.
Then I deviated from my path …
I never questioned the availability of money until I decided to go part time in my work in order to start my own cafe business … financial mistake #3. Suddenly money was tight. I had to pay others before I paid myself. After three years, I walked away from the venture & returned to full time work in my original profession.
As shown above, I come from a non entrepreneurial background – another lesson learnt. My parents worked hard for others. Growing up, I did not have any examples of people owning their own businesses. Breaking out of that mould was difficult and my finances suffered for a few years. But I learned lots of invaluable life lessons – it taught me resilience and that I could live with a lot less money. Despite my bank balance taking a hit, I don’t regret my decision to try a new venture.
Attitude to wealth creation
My relationship with money is a funny one, not as in haha but as in uncomfortable. It’s like a slightly embarrassing relative – you acknowledge its existence but really, no one talks about it openly. I am grateful it’s there when I need it but generally, I don’t dwell on it. I don’t think about how I can increase it. It feels crass to talk about money openly, that it makes you look like all you care about is money.
I feel I am being ungrateful if I constantly seek to create wealth. The word wealth is uncomfortable for me. I most certainly do not picture myself in the wealthy category. I have no idea where this comes from. I just know that it is something quite ingrained in me.
But I now acknowledge that in order for me to have a comfortable retirement, I have no choice but to create wealth. And to create wealth, I have to invest. Which is where I have a lot to learn and catch up on!
It is interesting that as I look at my parents’ and grandparents’ financial journeys, they all had retirement plans. It is now my turn … planning for my future is now an absolute priority.
Is your money story influenced by your family? Who has shaped your money story?