Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Feeling "Lucky"

There's one phrase I hear occasionally that really gets my back up.  I heard it again recently when I had coffee with a friend; we were talking about travel and my year off, and at some point she blurted out that phrase.

"You're so lucky you can afford to travel."

Grrrr.  I wanted to yell and scream and tear my hair out, but I managed to restrain myself and keep the discussion civilized.

Why does this bother me so much?  Because it's not bloody luck, mate, I worked hard for this.  It's not like somebody handed me a big pot of money one day and said, "Here, have fun".

Every dollar I'm spending this year is one I earned, and DIDN'T spend on something else.  I'm not financing this year on credit cards or lines of credit; I hate debt and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I couldn't pay off my credit cards in full every month. 

Okay, I'm lucky that my boss agreed to give me the time off -- but you know what?  I was prepared to quit if I had to, so one way or another I'd still be doing this.  And yes, I had a good income when I was working so it was easier for me to save up a bundle now than it would have been, say, 10 years ago when I was making $40,000 a year.

But it isn't LUCK that I have a good income; it wasn't LUCK that got me the good education, that gave me the choice to take up the career I did.  It wasn't LUCK that got me the job I had.  It wasn't LUCK that I did well at my various jobs over the years, climbed the ladder and was well remunerated as a result.  I worked bloody hard all along the way, let me tell you.

And you know what?  It's not about what money you make, necessarily. I wouldn't have needed to make the six-figure salary I was making to save up for a year off, but it would either have taken me longer, or I'd have had to live more modestly to save up the same amount of money.  I travelled a lot when I made $100K a year, when I made $50K and when I made $30K.  Hell, I travelled a lot when I was a poor starving backpacker making less than $10 an hour in London, England, one of the more expensive places on the planet.  My lifestyle has changed with my income over the years, but I've always lived below my means so that I had money to travel when I wanted.

This key -- which seems so obvious to me, and yet seems to escape so many people -- is simple:  live on less than you make. However much you make, do this and you'll have extra money left to travel (or do whatever your own personal version of nirvana is).  [Case in point:  my youngest sister who (at a guess, although I don't actually know) makes about half of what I was making last year, probably has more money in the bank than anyone else I know, including all those other people with six-figure salaries.]

I'd love to write a personal finance book (since there seem to be so many people out there clueless about money), but I'm not sure I need to say more than a couple of sentences: 

1.  Whatever you make, spend less; AND
2.  Put some money aside for later.  (Including when you're old.)

This will mean making choices -- you can choose any standard of living you like, as long as you can afford it.  If you want to live the high life, do it -- if you can pay the bills, every time -- but recognize that you're making a choice  Every dollar you put into one indulgence is one dollar less you can use towards something else.  (So yes, I get to travel a lot, but the tradeoff is that I don't have some things a lot of other people take for granted.)

And it means being able to tell the difference between wants and needs, and recognizing the choices that you're making.  You need to eat, you need a roof over your head, and you need to get from Point A to Point B, but there are a thousand different ways of providing these things.  For me, it means I cook at home more than I eat out, I walk or take transit instead of owning a car, and I rent a one-bedroom apartment instead of having a huge mortgage.  [Oh, which brings me to another pet peeve:  contrary to popular belief, renting isn't "throwing your money down the drain" and you aren't necessarily going to be worse off financially if you never buy real estate.  You just have to be prudent about making other investments.]

Those some choices don't work for everyone, but most of us do have more choice about these things than we realize.  A 3,000-square-foot house is rarely a "need" (I grew up in a family of 5 in a 1000-square-foot bungalow, and we were just fine); own one if you like (if you can afford it), but recognize that you're making the choice to put your money there instead of towards other things.  And if you live in Toronto, you're probably able to do without a car, if you choose to do so.  You don't NEED designer wardrobes, brand-new furniture, or the most expensive cable package around, if you want to put aside money for other things instead.

I realize there are people who will struggle to make ends meet, no matter how prudent their choices; if you`re making minimum wage as a single parent, I`m sure it`s bloody difficult to survive in Toronto and have any money left over.  But I`m not talking about those people; I`m talking about the other well-educated, middle-class, professional people like me.  It's people like THAT who have told me how "lucky" I am.

In some respects I am lucky.  I am lucky to be healthy, to have the brains to have gotten that good education in the first place, to have supportive family and friends, to live in a country where I have the freedom to make the choices I have.

But having some cash to travel?  Don't ever tell me I'm lucky to have that.

1 comment:

  1. Life is certainly about choices..for me back in the 60's - 70's it was taking on that part time job that gave me the freedom to travel..when my pay got better I knew how to manage well. as my late dad told me.. pay your self first.,.no matter how little!.Any new pay raises were tucked away in savings. For many years I managed by using public transit..brown bagging it for lunch most of the time..! and by renting a basement apartment!
    I chose to take night classes at university to improve my skills ..I worked hard at that..I learned how to type as I could not see paying anyone to type my essays! The really lucky part is the fact that I had parents who taught me the value of money and that a good nitch in life can only be found through hard work and the common sense to truly discern and think out any and all of the choices you make!