Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Money Lessons from Childhood

I’m very pleased to report that even though I should still be mourning the loss of my old refrigerator, I’m already in possession of a newer fancier one.

This seems rather cold (pun intended), I’m sure. After all, my prior fridge was a good fridge. It chilled things nicely and rarely accidentally froze anything. It was just a bit old. Also, after I had to unplug it because it wasn’t working and instead was making a rather scary death-knoll sound, it smelled. It smelled like stale…fridge. When the men from Lowes wheeled it away and replaced it with my new fridge, I wasn’t really sorry to see it go.

I’m much less harsh when it comes to living things, I promise. It’s just hard to be sad to see something go when something much shinier and newer and actually works is wheeled into its place.

I’m pleased with my new fridge. For all their failures with paint, Lowes have an excellent appliance service. I managed to get 25% off because I chose a rather high-demand fridge and the only one in the immediate radius of my Lowes was ‘damaged’. The ‘damage’ was a tiny dent in the side that would face the wall anyway. The nice Lowes’ man helped me with everything and, voila, I had a new fridge by noon the next day.

I’ll stop talking about my fridge in a minute, I promise. It’s just that a fridge is a large purchase. It’s a ‘grown up’ purchase. It reminds me that even though I should know it by now, I really am a grown up.

It’s interesting to think that my first purchase ever with my very own ‘pocket money’ (what we call an allowance in the UK) was a Woofit toy. It was when I was around age nine, I think. I didn’t think about saving my money. I saw the toy, realized I had enough money in my pocket and the toy was mine. Then when my mum reminded me that since I blew my entire pocket money for the week, I wouldn’t be able to buy any sweets or treats until I got my next pocket money, it sunk in: it’s better to save and spend when you really have to than spend for the sake of spending.

It was a valuable lesson and one I still remember. As the thought of not being able to get my penny sweets or my crisps for the week or splurging and buying a can of Coke sunk in, I realized that by buying the Woofit, I hadn’t spent wisely.

I have to thank my mum for that. I think that’s why, to this day, I’m a cautious spender. I only splurge when I know I can really afford it. I’m not one to go out and spend my money on one pair of shoes and have to eat canned food for a week. I’d rather buy a less expensive pair of shoes and have some money left over. Certainly, it means I’ll never be a trend-setter but I’m really not a trend-setter type, anyway.

I suppose my Woofit incident wasn’t really the first lesson I had with money. That came when I was either four or five. My older brother was old enough to go out and about with his friends and ride his bike places. He’d often come home with a bag of sweets and he regaled me with tales of ‘the petrol station’ where they had all kind of sweets, chewing gum and snacks galore. To a child with a sweet tooth, it sounded like heaven. It’s amazing that something as simple as a gas station can be a destination to a little kid but there you have it…it was.

So, one day, I happened to have a 5 pence piece which is about the same value in the UK as a nickel in the U.S. even though with the exchange rate, it’d come closer in value to a dime. I gave it to my brother to get me some sweets. I waited for ages for him to come home. When he did, I immediately said “where’re my sweets.” My older brother stopped and smiled. Then he reached into his mouth and pulled out the piece of chewing gum he’d been chomping on and said, “here they are.”

This is a true story and ironically, I remember it much more clearly than the things I did yesterday. It’s something I tease my brother about to this day. He, too, taught me a valuable lesson about money that day: Be careful who you trust with your money.

Oh, and I don’t think I took the chewing gum he offered me. I don’t remember that part. I’d like to think my sense of hygiene was prevalent then but I have a horrible feeling I might have taken it. Either way, let’s just pretend I didn’t.

I think those money lessons from both the used chewing gum and the Woofit have helped me in my life. It’s true that the things you learn when you’re young help define you as you grow older. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a cautious mother. My dad is not so cautious. He tends to be more of the Woofit buying type. He’s not dangerous with money but he has a tendency to spend before he really thinks about it. It’s not all bad. My dad’s philosophy is that if you buy cheap, you get cheap. While I think there are some cases where this is a fallacy, I think in many cases, unfortunately, he’s right. It’s hard sometimes to shell out more for something when there’s a much less expensive version next to it but most of the time, there’s a reason why it is so expensive.

I like to think I’ve learned the best from both of my parents. While my mum hesitates and tends to buy the inexpensive version, I go online, research the purchase and figure out if it’s worth paying more. This came in useful with my recent lawnmower and fridge purchases. I could have got a lawnmower for less but I got the cheapest one I could find the last time and it ended up exploding. I could have got a simple, cheap fridge but my research taught me that if I did save money now, I’d be paying more for repairs later.

So, I ended up with a nice, solid fridge. It’s not top-of-the-line by any means but it’s fancier than my old fridge which had the rudimentary shelves in the door and two buckets for fruit and vegetables. My new fridge has a lot more space, a lot more compartments and drawers and, best yet, humidity controls for my vegetables. Given that I tend to centre my meals around my vegetables, this is going to be great for making them last longer. Also, the best thing is the freezer is on the bottom and is a slide out drawer. I never realized that something as simple as not having to stoop down to go into the fridge would make such a huge difference but it’s a treat to open the door and immediately see what’s in my vegetable drawers rather than having to crouch and open them up. Having the freezer below makes more sense because, well, you open the fridge WAY more than the freezer anyway, right?

The moral of the story is that while I still had to buy a fridge when I really didn’t need to be spending a lot on a new appliance is that it turned out happily-ever-after. I’m enamoured with my new fridge. My food is cold. I got a great deal.

It was a grown-up purchase, a far cry from the days of shopping for penny sweets and Woofits. I do miss those days where my toughest decision was would I have enough money for a hot dog AND a milkshake when I went out with my friends or should I save the money for something else instead. But there are days when being a grown-up has its advantages.

Like today when I go home , have a glass of chilled wine from my new fridge and reflect that another minor crisis has been averted.

That’s a nice feeling indeed.

Happy Wednesday!

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