Which conversation? Well, the one that starts out with:
“How much ang pao money did you get this year?”
My friends, who had enough relatives to form their own small country, always bragged about their ang pao stash that amounted to several hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Me, I’d be too ashamed to talk about my measly ang pao collection (I have wonderfully generous relatives, but a small family). So instead, I’d awkwardly change the subject to “Hey, so who wants to play Pepsi-Cola?”
For many of us, money has always been a painful topic. It starts out when we’re kids, and it doesn’t go away even when we grow up.
As Asians, we don’t like talking about money. It makes us feel uncomfortable and inadequate. And even though we try to put on the appearance of being successful, we have this insane fear that someone’s going to find out that we’re actually struggling inside.
And so we let these deep-seated feelings about money seethe inside us. That’s probably not a good thing!
So today, I’m gonna pull away the curtain.
We’ll identify these feelings and call them out. As you’ll see later, this makes them lose their power and then we can figure out how to deal with them.
So, why is money such a burning pain for us?
It Makes Us Jealous
- Legacy students whose parents donated millions to the school
- Sons and daughters of rich tycoons from Indonesia and Hong Kong
- Children from families who were the cream of Singapore’s elite
Most of them were down-to-earth and pretty cool about it. They weren’t a-holes about their wealth, and I formed many great friendships with them.
But I was also secretly envious about how “lucky” they were. After graduation, many of them would take investment banking and consulting jobs in Manhattan. I’d imagine them living the “high life” – their own apartment, the best restaurants, the most exclusive parties – sort of like an episode of Suits without the unrealistically neat offices.
Me? I knew that I would be returning to Singapore to live with my parents, work at a “regular job” and earn a fraction of my friends’ salaries.
Don’t get me wrong – I was grateful for my scholarship which gave me the opportunity to study overseas and guaranteed me a job after college.
Yet, I couldn’t stop the Jealous Monster in me from comparing my situation with theirs, and wishing that “if I just had enough money, I could be living the high life too.”
(On hindsight, this was a dumb way of thinking – we’ll talk more about it in the coming weeks)
It Hurts Our Pride
Last weekend, I attended a fantastic talk where the CEO of a financial services firm shared about the concept of contentment, or “the state of no longer craving or desiring anything you don’t already have”.
Here’s what really struck me: Even for someone who feels contented with his life, he still had moments when his pride was hurt by money.
He recounted a story where he drove his Toyota to pick up his mother from the house of a rich relative. As he pulled up to the driveway, he silently imagined his relatives saying things like “Wah, I can’t believe he’s a CEO but he’s driving such a cheap car” or “I’m glad that my car is much nicer than his.”
He had to stop to remind himself that money and status were NOT his priorities. His relatives probably weren’t even looking at his car, yet he still couldn’t stop those thoughts from playing up in his head.
It’s interesting that even for someone who’s so self-aware, he still wasn’t immune to the stings of pride. After all, it’s human nature.
We males are especially susceptible to pride:
- We get sensitive when someone thinks we don’t earn enough
- We feel insulted when girls imply we can’t afford to take them on nice dates
- We’re uncomfortable when someone talks about money – something that we feel we “should” know, but don’t
It Scares Us
A friend shared how she suddenly realised that her dad was approaching retirement really soon. Her mum is a homemaker and her brother is still in college, which will make her the sole breadwinner of the family after her dad retires.
This realisation put her in a state of mild panic. Imagine the thoughts going on in her head: “Oh no. I’m gonna have to support them by myself. What if they have medical expenses? What if I lose my job? What if…?”
Unless you’re a privileged “white horse” with a trust fund, ALL of us – even personal finance bloggers – experience these moments!
Sometimes, I worry about whether I’ll be able to support my autistic sister and my parents in their old age. Will I be able to afford my sister’s special needs daycare? Or a helper to take care of my parents’ chores?
These are scary thoughts, and I know that I’m not the only one who has them. There are plenty of other people out there who:
- Dread being forced to work after their 67th birthday
- Look at their bank account and realise that they can’t afford a house
- Worry about how to feed their kids if something were to happen to their family’s breadwinner
Share How Money Makes You Feel
All this sounds very depressing, but there’s hope.
I’ve personally found it extremely helpful to verbalise these feelings. At first, they might be nebulous, uncertain and overwhelming. But when we call them out, we turn them into something concrete. And then, we can understand and systematically deal with them.
Over the next few weeks, I’m gonna share about how I’ve personally dealt with these feelings, and then took action to address them directly.
For now, I want to challenge you. Today, I want you to let me know money makes you jealous, hurts your pride, or scares you.
It might be scary to talk about it, but it definitely helps. When was the last time we could really talk to someone about money?
To help you out, I’ve created a form (below) where you can tell me how you feel anonymously. It’s anonymous because I don’t want you to be afraid of opening up your fears, frustrations and pains on how money has affected your life.
Edit: The survey has ended and the form has been removed. Thanks for your answers!