I don’t come from a wealthy family, I’ve already established that. My parents are first generation immigrants and have done manual work their entire lives. We live in a comfortable double storey unit in the outer suburbs of the CBD, and drive an average but reliable car. We don’t have any fancy investments, shares or assets. Money has always been something we’ve never been without, but spend with frugality and much deliberation.
However, my parents always made sure I had everything I needed. Dad always took pride in making sure everything I possessed was branded and of high quality. In our family album there’s a photo of me laughing as I sit in my highchair on my first birthday, and he once proudly remarked, “See, even the shoes are Oshkosh! I never let you wear unbranded clothes, even when you were a baby.” And whilst we cannot afford many luxury brands, I have my fair share of high-end leather goods and jewellery, even more so than some of my friends. It may sound superficial and materialistic to some, but it has remained for me a sweet reminder of the thoughtfulness and care my parents have put into every aspect of my life. They never wanted me to feel ashamed about my background and family.
I never thought much about money as a child, nor throughout high school. I distinctly remember it wasn’t until university that I realised just how large a discrepancy can exist between people. Almost every single person I met came from much more affluent backgrounds. I felt small. I must emphasise that this was purely self-inflicted, none of my friends ever made a point of highlighting the socioeconomic barrier that existed between us. But I am a highly sensitive soul, and upon hearing about what everyone’s parents did for a living and all fancy private schools they came from made me realise I was in the minority. Suddenly, there was a twinge of shame and embarrassment. I can’t compare to that. My parents have barely earned above the minimum wage for most of their lives.
For quite a while I let it affect me. If people asked what my parents did, I initially kept my answers very vague, so as to not lie but still somewhat conceal the truth. To lessen the blow of exposing myself. Then, I went through a phase of very candidly and openly revealing dad’s years of manual labour, using an overly nonchalant demeanour to overcompensate for my own shame. All the while thinking, please don’t see me differently.
The other thing I did was to be very sensitive about anything money related. If a friend shouted food, I had to make sure I sent back the money as soon as possible, or fight to pay for something else immediately. I wanted to be generous, I wanted to prove that my background did not speak for me. Whenever I bought gifts I had to make sure it couldn’t be perceived as cheap, and I often fretted over how my present would be compared to others. I wrote a log of how much I earned and spent every week, pedantically making sure I was constantly saving money. To prove to myself that I could be financially responsible. In short, I was an idiot. The only person who saw me differently was myself. Well, I am sure there are arrogant pricks out there who would have judged me, but the people who meant something to me could not have cared less.
Over the years I have become smarter, wiser and more comfortable in my own skin. I think the initial surprise of being in an environment where everyone seemed to be better and richer led me down a dark and tortuous path. Being a self-conscious perfectionist did not help either. Whilst I still possess some of the aforementioned tics, these days I am much happier and less worried about how others perceive me for my background. It is not something I ever had control over, so why should I let it define me? I’ve had comforting conversations with friends who share similar experiences, and have openly shared these insecurities with those I am close to. For the most part I do not let it affect me anymore, however, that is not to say I am completely free from it. Whenever any of these thoughts rear their ugly heads again I feel extremely guilty, because my parents have worked so hard to give me everything I’ve ever wanted and yet here I am being an ungrateful little shit. I should be proud, proud of my parents who have built such a life from nothing. Proud that I earned my way into a CSP supported postgraduate degree (because I would have never been able to afford a full-fee offer and may have had to forfeit my medical degree). Proud that my future career will allow me to support my family and hopefully continue to improve our lives.
And I am. I have this wonderful opportunity of showing my parents what their hard work has led to and I do not want it to go to waste. I would not be where I am today without them, and I hope to one day give them everything they deserve. Perhaps a controversial statement, but I don’t see enjoying materialistic things as evil as society suggests, because we should be allowed to find happiness in treating ourselves with the money we have rightfully earned. I can still be kind, compassionate and generous whilst enjoying my little luxuries, as long as I don’t prioritise it over everything else. I adore my parents and certainly don’t need to use money as a way of expressing it, but it shouldn’t be deemed wrong for me to want to use it as a tangible and symbolic way of showing my love.
Having said that, I am not going to let my future change who I am. What do I mean by that? I am certainly never going to become a millionaire, but I do plan on earning enough to live comfortably (and perhaps even a little better than that, fingers crossed). I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to have a disposable income that allows you to buy things without checking the price tag, to go on shopping sprees on a spontaneous whim or to never worry about bills. But it is a completely foreign practise to me and certainly not what I aspire to come. I was not born into such a life, and regardless of what my future circumstances may be, I never want to take money for granted. I am thankful that my parents taught me how to be frugal, and am quietly smug of my abilities to be pedantically responsible with my finances. I will always be the bargain hunter, walking past full-price items in a shop to bee-line to the sale section. I am not satisfied until it’s an “extra 20% off” because unless it is a necessity, that’s not a good enough deal. I’ll save up to treat myself to something special, and would never live above my means. If money wasn’t an issue, I would still continue to live exactly the way I am.