“Stop playing video games all the time and go study! You’re never gonna get a job at this rate and all your friends are gonna stop hanging out with you.” 😲
This was the routine line I heard growing up from my parents anytime I’d exceed my daily video game time limit. Never mind being a nice person, having a stable job and income was key to having an acceptable social circle.
At the risk of coming across as a money-obsessed freak, this perception of wealth in our society instigated me to go out and talk about this. And while traditionally a taboo, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some people (or groups of people) did not adhere to the somewhat toxic “I earn more, so I’m better than you, hah!” type of thinking.
Here are the stories of a couple of folks that were kind enough to talk to me about this. 📖
Agneesh, 26, is a finance professional and a close friend. He grew up in a typical Indian middle-class household with parents, who had limited-to-average financial acumen and wouldn’t talk about money to their kids. While I always thought of Agneesh as a fairly stingy dude, I quickly realised that there’s a lot more to him. He loves single origin coffee, fancy food, jazz, and travelling to exotic countries, but won’t spend 10 bucks munching on that deliciously spicy Lays packet (Magic Masala, amirite?) and it’s not because he’s health conscious -- he’s not. He’s just mindful of what he wants to spend his money on, the kind of experiences he wants to have, and isn’t afraid to learn from people better than him at the money game.
Having grown up in circles that would eventually be dominated by finance folks and stock market enthusiasts, Agneesh would always talk to them to learn about ways that could maximise the chances of that Eurotrip he always wanted to take. Sadly enough, COVID wrecked his Eurotrip plans but our pal did a Singapore trip last year, catching the Singaporean Grand Prix and a live performance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- an experience he’d been saving up for. Now that doesn’t mean Agneesh’s investment portfolio is doing anything extraordinary -- he’s just doing the basics right; saving before spending, having an investment plan in place, minimizing expenses and taxes (legally), making sure he isn’t breaking the bank on expensive coffee (he comes close, sometimes), and keeping an eye out for any good money tips by talking to folks he trusts and are in the know.
While you could point to Agneesh’s fluency in finance and investing over the layman as the reason for his prudence, his willingness to look at money objectively without the associations of worth and status and to talk about it explain his success more than his financial analysis skills. This has more to do with the mental make-up of an individual than their technical expertise. You do you, Agneesh! (though occasionally buying me some Lays won’t make you go broke).
Shiel, 21, is a musician, who recently quit his first corporate job to pursue a masters in environmental studies. Shiel was raised in a fairly-privileged but fiscally prudent family. His mother ensured that him and his brother were aware of the financial situation of the household. Shiel had his first run-in with managing money in his teens, when he often traveled to represent his school’s football team. He was expected to manage these trips on a shoe-string budget with only the bare essentials covered by the school.
While Shiel is fairly early on in his journey towards financial independence, his naturally minimal lifestyle combined with living at home with his family, enabled him to save a significant amount of money from his first job. Interestingly enough, Shiel finds it easy to talk about money with his closest friends, including borrowing money from each other with a mutual understanding that it will be paid back at the appropriate time and a candour to follow-up if required. Shiel and his friends frequently share with each other their investment plans (however simple they may be), wins / losses, and look to learn from each other, despite lacking professional expertise.
Why am I talking about these people? 🤔
While their behaviours seem normally healthy, I think there’s something to learn here:
Acknowledge that this is awkward.
Society’s conditioned all of us to be participating in the status game, it’s okay to accept that these conversations about money have the potential to be awkward. Agneesh and Shiel did and as a result, only chose to talk about their money with people they gauged to be best positioned to understand and talk about it -- people they trusted, had known for a while and shared similar circumstances in life. While talking to someone fluent in managing money is an added advantage, trust and comfort are likely the first criteria.
Trust and understanding is key.
Healthy and safe conversations about money are likely had when everyone involved feels comfortable talking about it and trusts the intention of the other party. Talk to your partner/best friend/parents about it if you feel confident that the trust exists. If you don’t, perhaps test the trust with a proxy of a difficult conversation around a similarly sensitive topic and gauge the tone of the conversation? See how accepting they are of differing opinions. The healthier and open the discussion, the more likely you’d be comfortable speaking with them about that credit card overdraft interest that’s been killing you.
Approach the conversation as a learning opportunity and a relationship building exercise.
Agneesh always made it a point to talk to people he thought were good at managing their money, irrespective of their actual earning/wealth. He recognised his limitations and reached out for help to others better-positioned than him. Building on the pre-existing trust within their circle, a genuine curiosity to learn about the other person’s life and situation as well as openness to share your own helps Shiel and his friends navigate these conversations with greater ease, transparency and empathy. A genuine sense of curiosity about the issue as well as its impact on the other party is the common underlying theme
By stigmatising an area of our lives which is essential to our survival and well-being, we minimise our chances of tackling these issues head-on, before it's too late and we go broke by making not-so-smart choices. While the learnings above are not exhaustive by any means, I hope you ponder about having these conversations with people you trust, and figure out what works best for you.
Money is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. 🤑
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