(That Thing I Do)

Being Broke Is Not So Bad

In my growing years, I’ve always envied the stuff the “other kids” had. I never had a video game console. My parents didn’t buy me a bike. We eat out about twice a year. We go on holiday about once every three years, on local day trips.

No, we weren’t poor. But we weren’t rich either. It’s not that my parents were stingy. Contrary, they were very generous, for the amount that they earned. My mother would always cook with the best ingredients, and the fridge was always fully stocked with enough fruits to keep a whole village “regular”. I’d always receive a (relatively) large sum of spending money on my birthday and Christmas.

What, then, was with the living-like-we’re-poor lifestyle? I never really got it. How could we afford the finest stocks for the kitchen, and drop a 5-digits on renovating a room which nobody lives in, yet not afford a hundred-ringgit gaming console?

Needless to say, it’s always left me feeling deprived and frustrated. There were so many things I never had the chance to enjoy. Too many. When I started to work, that’s when I made every effort to (over)compensate. I’d always live to the edge of my means (and beyond) trying to live the life that I never had. I’d eat at proper restaurants and fine cafes far too often. I’d buy more RAOUL shirts than I should. I’d drop large portions of my paycheck on heavily-taxed liquors and beer.

It was indeed the life I never had. But it never was enough. In fact, it retrospect, it was never really fulfilling for more than a few fleeting hours. Sure, it was really nice to be eating well and having nice shirts, but surely, I didn’t need to indulge so heavily so frequently.

Over the last few months, I was struck hard with a barrage of unfortunate incidents that sent my finances into a complete disaster. Not only did I not have any money, but I had also lost certain possessions, including the two items that I use and derive the most pleasure from – my iPhone and my camera. They say shit happens; this was a diarrhea of misfortune. However, I never let my financial issues bring me down. I’d always accepted financial misfortunes as “one of those things” which we just had to suck up, learn from, and move on.

I’d often declare that I’m poor to validate my lack of participation in joining others when they’re going for road trips, makan sessions, drinking sessions, and other fun and expensive activities that I deeply enjoy. But no, I was never poor. I was not born poor and I’ve never been poor at any point in my life. Yes, I use the term loosely, and I will continue to use the term casually. I have been broke though, and I’ve pretty much been broke most of my life. Recently, I’ve taken being broke to a whole new level. Yes, it sucks as much as it sounds. Or at least, that’s how I used to feel.

Being broke has taught me so many things, and opened my eyes to a whole new way of living. I once couldn’t imagine living a life of not spending lots of money, not for an extended period of time anyway. Now, I can pretty much survive without needing to spend a lot. This is how you can do it too:

Just because I’m broke and shouldn’t spend too much money on entertainment, doesn’t mean I don’t get to watch any movies at all. Just keep your eyes and ears open. If you know the right people, you will come across people who have a clashing appointment with their movie and are looking for someone to give them away to. Be there, be thick-skinned, and be the first one to say “Gimme, gimme!”

Or if you’re lucky enough to have people offering your premier passes, even better, though you shouldn’t have to rely on these.

I never decline free food, at the severe expense of my aspirations of a non-obese body. If someone offers me a meal, I graciously accept. If there’s an event or open house, I will attend. If it’s a buffet during the day, I will eat sufficiently large amounts in an attempt to stay full throughout the day. If I’m asked for a favor in exchange for a simple meal, I take it. If I’m not too hungry, it’s crackers and Milo for breakfast at the office.

Any meal that you don’t have to pay for is another few bucks that stays in your pocket. You will most likely pay a premium in calories, and may not always get the food you prefer, but when times are tough, sometimes it’s more prudent to prioritize a full belly.

Let’s not forget the abundance of inexpensive gastronomic joys available out there, either! I used to frequently yearn for “fancy” food like pastas and steaks when I wanna eat “good” food, neglecting that the plethora of options available to me.

For daily meals, there’s the joy that is Chinese mixed rice. A balanced meal, without any amount of anything your heart (or stomach) desires at very affordable prices. Who says you can’t get a proper nutritious meal on the cheap?

Every now and then if I felt like indulging, I’d forgo my usual choice of a fifty-buck meal and have a fifteen-buck meal at a local burger joint, of which there are plenty of options. Burgers are one of my favorite foods, and it’s not beyond the grasp of he who is broke.

There’s pretty much a five-buck-fix for almost all appetites and tastes, if you know where to look. There may be compromises to be made, but beggars can’t be (overly picky) choosers.

For the most part of it, I just don’t drink anymore. Being broke has got me thinking about the exorbitant tax rates applied to alcohol in this country. I feel stupid paying for beer, though every now and then, it’s a stupid thing that I just gotta do. For the other part, I just sit and hope there are open houses and events, and perhaps generous friends who’d keep alcohol in my bloodstream and my (very little) money in my pocket.

Stuff I Need 
I’ve always been one who had high demands and expectations from the products I use. Particularly, clothing and apparel. In my inability to afford expensive clothes, I’ve discovered the new ability that is hunting for good deals. There are plenty of discount stores that sell graphic tees, and some of them are pretty cool. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a single expensive tee in my wardrobe. I always get them on sale, or from discount stores. I’ve also discovered the concept of “using the stuff I already have”. Yes, it’s true. One does not need to always have clothes and shoes that are less than three months old. They are actually quite usable even after that period. Strange, but true!

Luxury is a premium that I’ve always valued, and still do, but at the same time it’s not a premium that I can afford these days. It is this condition that has taught me how to find inexpensive things that really aren’t that bad. Daiso Tesco and Brands Outlet are my hottest spots for shopping. Long has it been seen I’ve seen the inside of a RAOUL or  Macy.

Well, it’s not the life I’ve always dreamed of, but being broke has taught me many lessons.

I learned that coffee is a buck and a half at most, and is served by a Myanmarese wearing imitation Crocs . It does not come in Tall, Venti and Grande; and it most certainly does not come with an option for whipped creamed.

I learned that if you look hard and long enough, every now and then, you can find something better for less.

I learned that fun does not have to mean dropping a hundred bucks on booze, or through the purchase of fancy gadgetry, or the smell of new shoes. It is indeed the people in your life that enrich it. When you’re down on your luck, it becomes easier to identify and appreciate these people, and the moments that you spend sitting on stools, eating by the roadside and talking about all the things that matter in life and all the things that don’t matter at all.

I learned that my stuff is just stuff. Most of it will depreciate in value the moment I own them. The few items that will appreciate, will not appreciate nearly as greatly as the relationships I build and the memories I create. Truth – I most certainly prefer to build relationships and create memories over a table of fancy food, and perhaps over a fine bottle of wine of seven; though lacking these diminishes no real value.

I learned that richness is not that big house, or that fancy car, or those fancy gadgets; but the ability to not feel desire without envy.

I learned that lasting contentedness of knowing I can survive with little money, is better than the fleeting happiness of buying a new Mac. Thought granted, I really wouldn’t mind a new Mac. And a camera. And an iPad .

I learned what I could easily live without; and I’ve learned what I absolutely cannot do without, though some of these things are more expensive than I think they should be.

I learned to embrace the idea that wealth is not how much you can afford to buy now; but how long you can live and be happy with what you have now.

I learned that enduring contentedness is far more fulfilling than fleeting happiness.

I learned that it’s the relationships I forge and the memories I build that really matter more to me than the iPad I wanna buy or the large-screen TV I wish I had.

I learned that “luck” is driven by one’s need for it. The more you need it, the more you keep your eyes open to the subtle opportunities that flutter by every now and then.

I learned that I don’t need so many new stuff. The things I already own have a far longer useful lifespan that I give them credit for. I don’t need a new shirt every six weeks.

I learned how to feel good about myself and my life without having to flaunt symbols of luxury and wealth.

Most importantly, I guess, is that I learned that being broke isn’t so bad. (And now I understand my parents’ spending habits.)