If money wasn’t an issue

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.


40 thoughts on “If money wasn’t an issue

  1. Your parents much be so proud of what you’ve achieved. Money is merely a facilitator and no substitute from the loving support you’ve received from your family. Money can buy you lots of things but none of them are important.

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  2. My father was first-generation, then absentee, and my mother was a social work and a single parent, but she never let me know how poor I was. She made up stories for why, for example, we didn’t have the air conditioner on in Florida. “Isn’t it lovely?” She’d say, “We live in Paradise, it’s so cold where we used to live.” She told me we had spaghetti or Hamburger Helper every night because she didn’t know how to cook. (kind of true, haha) Or I thought she was just unusually frugal. When I got free lunch at school, I thought it was because she worked for the state and that made me a super VIP. So I can relate to not ever feeling like I went without, to not really realizing how hard it was for her until I got older and when I went into higher education and it was just a different class of people. It’s strange and uncomfortable at first.

    It seems you’ve kept your head on straight and that you’re pursuing your career for the right reasons.

    And as an aside, as someone with an MA in Medical Sociology and a professional patient — thank you for choosing to be a physician – the profession desperately needs more women and especially more women of color. Health care is better for everyone when it reflects everyone.

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    1. Parents work so hard to protect us, and they will let us have things they often go without. Your mum sounds like an absolutely lovely person and an amazing parents, I wish you guys the very best! Thank you so much for the encouragement, hopefully we can all collectively make healthcare better for everyone!

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  3. Thanks for your honest and heartfelt post Helen. I can relate to many of your feelings about money, comparison, and perfectionism. It seems you are well rooted in common sense and good values. I hope you can enjoy your material success without letting it change you. Or even better, be an example of all the good you can do with money when it is used to uplift yourself and others.

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    1. Thank you so much! I worry about my posts being too preachy or pretentious sometimes, but I always try to remain honest regardless. I hope it doesn’t change me either and that I always remember where my parents and I came from.

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  4. I wish you well in all you do. We all deserve to do well if we put the effort and intelligence in it and it is well we share some of it with those whohave helped us on our way. I love reading your journey and thanks for following mine 🙂

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  5. I can relate to some except branded items haha! My parents also strive hard to be better in life and I myself experienced hardships and lack of money. If money is no problem, then I will do more in my life right now… independently!

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  6. I think classism based on wealth is what divides our world even more than racism. I can relate to growing up seemingly poor compared to the wealth that surrounded me. My immigrant parents saved all their money for the house not on anything else, no brand named clothes, toys, vacations and they worked too hard at blue collar jobs. I felt silently angry at rich people and taught myself to not care about fashion or luxury items. Now I still live modestly, I don’t own a house which is nearly impossible for the middle class in California, the SF Bay Area is obnoxiously divided by the haves and have nots. No one should be allowed to own an island or make millions of dollars for starring in a super hero movie. I think we all want to be comfortable and not suffer but I think excessive greed is destroying our planet. I’m glad you appreciate that your parents did their best, I’m sure they experienced discrimination but they didn’t let it stop them from succeeding. When we die we can’t take our wealth with us, only the love we experienced.❤️

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    1. I completely agree, and I still have moments where I am resentful of people who I don’t think are deserving of the wealth they have. But I try to simply focus on myself and make sure that in whatever way I can I will repay my parents all that they have given. The love and care we receive from others is so much more important and you are right, it will never leave us.

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  7. You have written such a heart touching post straight from your heart – no filters! I love the way in which you have put down your thoughts with honesty.
    Have a great time!

    Liked by 1 person

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