As a kid, I didn’t really understand why money was necessary. I understood that if you wanted to buy something, you needed money, but other than the occasional toy or McDonald’s happy meal that I wanted, which my parents bought me anyways, I didn’t really understand the point of having more money.
So one day, I asked my parents:
“Why do you and dad always talk about saving money?”
They both smiled, and then looked at me and said,
“Tiffy, when you grow up, you’ll understand. There will be more things you want to buy and there will be more things that you need to buy, and the only way to do so is by saving money so you can afford it.”
By the time I became an adult, I began realizing the importance of money. Everyone, everywhere, was constantly talking about money: how much things cost, how much money they saved, what they bought that was on sale, phone bills, restaurant price increases, gas prices, etc.
My friends would worry about not getting enough allowance, not having enough money to buy the clothes they wanted and being forced to ‘window shop.’ Or not having enough data for their smartphones because they could only afford the cheaper plan.
As I continued to grow older, I became even more aware. It was no longer about the occasional phone bill or gas prices; it was now, on top of that, interest rates for credit cards, mortgages, car loans, compounded credit loans, and 401k plans. My friends, who used to worry about paying their smartphones, now worry about how much rent is. They worry about HOA fees. They worry about income taxes.
Throughout all these different phases of my life where I’ve acknowledged the greater role money plays in our lives, I noticed a pattern. We all start saving up, often sacrificing the quality of our life, because we’re saving for that special car, beautiful home, gorgeous wedding or the trip of our dreams. Everyone I talked to, gave me the same message: save up as much money as you can so that you can get what you really want in life.
And gradually, I grew to accept it. I accepted it because that’s what everyone I knew and everyone else before me had done. So I slaved away, working 9–5, often partaking in overtime all for the sake of making more money that I would never see, stashed away in my savings account somewhere.
The only things I spent my money on were the basic necessities, which minimized my living expenses. And I continued to do this for many years.
But one day, as I checked my bank account, I realized that if I truly, truly wanted to be able to enjoy life with the money I’d saved, I’d be close to 50 by the time I’d be able to finally relax and at that point, pursue my dreams. And in order to make money for the future, I’d have to sacrifice my youth, cut back on the experience of life, and miss out on the ‘prime’ of it while continuing to grind through it all — until my hair starts graying, until my bones become more brittle and until my muscles deteriorate.
Was that what I wanted? Was it worth living life like this? Why should I keep on saving up and neglecting my youth when life is meant to be enjoyed every single day?
We say the purpose of saving money is for a better future. But doesn’t that in a way, imply that our lives in the present, can’t be as great as our future simply because we don’t have the money to spend?
It wasn’t something I wanted to believe in. After dealing with a breakup that left me heartbroken and stranded in China, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I couldn’t enjoy my youth. I refused to believe that I couldn’t find happiness until decades later.
So I decided to take everything I could with me, threw it in a backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. I traveled, explored the world, saw everything I’d ever wanted, and lived the life the way I would if I were 50. And in the midst of losing myself in immersive travel, I discovered myself and my passion for writing. The freedom to cast away the expectations set by all of those around me gave me perspective. I’d finally gotten the freedom to do what I’ve always wanted to do and the opportunity to build my life under my own terms.
I’ve never been happier, and while I realize that this choice isn’t for everyone, it’s worth considering. Even if you don’t have much money, you still have a choice. Oftentimes, the experience you gain in your youth is more precious than the money you’ve saved up. Money when lost, can always be made again. But time? You can never get it back again once it’s passed.
To be honest, I’m not sure how my future will turn out, but I’m glad I made the choice I did. Instead of money in a savings account, I’ve traded it for a life that I’m proud of, that’s worth remembering, and one that I’m passionate about.