Thrift and Frugality Rule

A FRIEND and I discussed money recently: how we extravagantly spent extra income. We had spent money on gifts for family over Christmas and self-indulgent shopping. “We have no savings from last month,” we guiltily admitted.

About this time last year, I was jobless and nervous about employment: where was I to work to fund the work that I love (unpaid volunteer work) and to find the sort of work that would not suck my soul from its core? Therefore, I am grateful to be worrying over how I spent my salary this year, as opposed to wondering where is my next salary coming from: at least I have an income and a couple of part-time jobs.

At home, it is always obvious when I worry about money. Suze Orman’s financial books (secondhand), women’s memoirs on shopping habits (given by dear friends) and Buddhist essays on mindful spending (also gifts) make a grand appearance. When Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad comes out, you know I have really lost it.

Luckily, my line of work as a social worker puts me into regular contact with persons who have little money and survive on less than half of my pay. This is not going to be a patronising article on how we should use others’ misery in order to feel happy about our lot. However, there is something to be learnt from some of the children and families I am fortunate to work with.

Earlier this month, I was mourning the loss of a lot of savings due to spending over Christmas and New Year. Despite the pact close friends and I made not to buy each other gifts, it was important to treat a few.

I was at work. In walked one of my teenagers, brandishing a stick pierced through a generously-sized potato, sliced thin.

“Grab a piece,” she ordered.

“What is this?”

“I bought it in Masjid India. Grab it, and pull.”

I love street food when it is bought in little lanes, but am less certain when it is sold in the midst of traffic fumes. Still, to please her, I pulled. “Mmph. This is good! What is this?” Whatever the vendor marinated the potatoes in, MSG aside, it was good. Topped with chilli sauce and mayonnaise? Utter street perfection.

She grinned, pleased. “Sedap (tasty), kan?”

The girl and the food made my day. She shared the snack with her friends. “Pull!” she would shout, laughing.

Who needs single malt whisky in a bar full of friends, when you have a group of kids laughing and munching over a potato stick?

Some months back, a friend responded to a little piece I wrote that was never published. He was determined to pursue his dreams, which meant lower income for a while.

“Tomorrow I will save on my beer tab and buy beers and drink in a park with friends instead.”

I am trying to follow his example. This month, I am resurrecting an old practice: instead of shopping in malls, shop thy wardrobe and shop the bookshelves of thy home for clothes and books. Also, go out less.

Thus, so far, unearthed several gems: old loves that were untouched for years, such as the works of Amy Tan, Ben Okri and Louisa May Alcott, some of my favourite action films, as well as wonderful books my sister bought, that I never would have otherwise considered. (It helps to have a sister with near-irreproachable reading taste.)

Shopping my wardrobe, I dug forth pretty dresses and cosmetics friends gifted the past two years to spoil me: an Audrey Hepburn inspired dress (probably from Nichii Fashion City, not Givenchy) and Estee Lauder eyeshadow, both never worn.

It is time.

Tonight, instead of heading out, I shall pretend to be Audrey Hepburn and stay in to read Little Women and watch Ironman.

Thrift, sometimes, has its rewards.