If Money is not an Issue

Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:

“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”

At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.

Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.

We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.

I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.

Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:

  • Personal financial stability
  • Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
  • Local charitable donations
  • Large-scale impact on certain social causes

For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.

Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.

One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.

Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.

There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.

Reasonably Content from being Reasonably Frugal

“You’re a monster! exclaimed a co-worker”, my husband told me, upon revealing to them at the lunch table that he is not buying me any gifts for Christmas. I imagine their jaw would drop even more if we tell them that it has been many years since I received anything from him covered in gift wrap or a card of any kind. Whether it is birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas, we don’t buy items to celebrate that occasion whatsoever.

I had the same chat with a colleague in the kitchen not too long ago, when we were talking about a downtown Christmas Market right in our office building. I told her I haven’t explored the market yet, because the ‘anti-consumerist in me’ has no motivation to browse around different shops while fully aware that there is likely nothing that will catch my fancy and buy. She seemed pleased though, instead of the strong reaction my husband’s co-worker’s have.

My husband and I would share stories like this at night, during our scheduled bedtime that we try to stick to. We go to bed together at the same time, a great opportunity to share to each other how our day went, have some cozy cuddles, and also to have a regular sleep schedule. In addition to random stories of how the day went, we talk a bit about errands we need to do, what volunteer activity will I be working on, and the financial state of our home. He’d tell me which of our roommates had already paid rent, or how far long we are in paying off our mortgage.

Sometimes, he would mention about things that we need such as an apron for when he cooks spaghetti every Sunday, or a couple pairs of jeans or work shirts. He’d tell me about a hole in his shirt or a pair of pants that are too long, and I’d say ‘no problem, I’ll take care of it’. By taking care of it, it would either mean bringing out my sewing kit to repair the clothes or make the clothing item, or going to the thrift store to buy a few items. When a clothing item is too frayed to be worn anymore, they are the first candidates to be turned into a rag, oven mitt, and quilt.

“I broke my budget!” he told me just a few weeks ago, when he decided to buy a VR (Virtual Reality) gaming system, which is fairly expensive. He does have the money for it, but it’s just something he didn’t budget for this year. So according to the budgeting software he uses, for the ‘personal expenses’ category, he is over budget. Over budget from what I would say is a fairly low personal spending allocation. Instead of getting upset, I was quite amused. He now alternates between playing video games with a controller and the VR set, and he is pretty content.

Frugal is defined as economical and not wasteful about money and I think, with great relief, that we are able to incorporate that in our lives. Other positive words that come to mind are “budget-conscious” or “mindful about money”.

I wonder if our drastically different upbringings made it necessary to have upfront discussions about important topics that are taken for granted. There’s no expectations or assumptions that are to be made, the only way to know is discussing it. The fact that he is not Filipino gave me the confidence to frankly talk about women’s health issues and procedures that I experience. I was hopeful, and I was right, that he won’t be too grossed out. In the same token, he we talk about expenses, retirement plans, insurance and inheritances.

It’s fortunate that for many things that are important, we see eye to eye, both in principle and in process. We both like to stick to habits and automating things, which is evident in how we save money, pay bills, and track our spending. We found our happy medium between flexible, easygoing, forgiving and disciplined. This makes us feel okay with eating out with friends, and also meal prepping every week. This makes us consider thrift stores or DIY items as opposed to buying the latest model gadgets and equipment. This resulted to him using a nine-year-old flip phone with a $15 a month with a Pay As You Go set up, while I have a smartphone with 2 GB of data. This helped us feel okay with certain luxuries that were considered deliberately. He bought a TV and the VR gaming system, and the TV is the first one he actually purchased after moving out 9 years ago since his TVs then were both hand-me-downs. I had a professional photoshoot at a studio just for myself which was pretty expensive, but it is something that was carefully considered for a few years. It was both a fancy gift and a therapeutic exercise for myself.

The reasonableness in our approach takes the pressure off, which I think is what makes many people struggle with managing money. In our culture where immediate feedback, gratification, or results are sought after, the subtle peace of mind that comes with a long-term plan is not as appealing. Even the quietness of not having a major current problem can be unsettling for some. Thinking in bigger numbers in terms of dollars and time horizons is a significant thing I learned from my spouse. Now, I look at them with excitement, instead of dread. Given my age, having ‘only about twenty years’ left in our mortgage can be viewed as an optimistic thing.

Realizing that our savings rate does not compromise our way of life is reassuring. His biggest hobby is gaming (both video games and board games). He definitely maximizes the money he does buying these, and through friends and gaming leagues, has access to gaming opportunities where he doesn’t need to buy much. With my hobbies of arts and crafts and volunteering, there were multiple ways I discovered to save money also. Using second-hand and upcycled materials for the items I make, and then as far as volunteering is concerned, I usually get ‘paid’ by having food at the meetings.

This is something I hope that other couples and other households are able to achieve at some point.