By Hanniz Lam
Growing up, I saw how hard my parents worked to put food on the table. They put in long hours, worked with difficult bosses and clients and when the recession hit, I saw my mom lose her job and take lessons to qualify as a Sign Language teacher while teaching tuition at home to make ends meet.
My dad would be the one buying the family meals, paying the bills, buying the home essentials, taking us out for entertainment once in a blue moon and paid my school fees (I transferred to a private school in Standard 4 when my mom found out I couldn’t do simple math and figured it was because there were too many students in my class and I couldn’t get the attention I needed. After much grilling and one-to-one lessons with her, I took the test to enter the private school and passed).
As a kid, you’ll see your friends having certain things and wanting them too. Eg the Barbie doll house and car, LEGO sets, Tamogotchi, denim bag, Trolls, Sanrio, Game Boy you name it.
I was lucky to have some and a few knock offs.
We never spoke about saving money though but it was understood that we had to be cautious in our spending.
Not all families have a common understanding and sometimes this can result in unwanted situations eg Loan Sharks throwing paint at your door, strange people looking for your parents, your family moving from house to house.
Too often, parents fall prey to good intentions. They put financial security at risk to make their kids happy and to show love.
Families use credit cards to buy things they cannot really afford- the biggest sofa set, the latest TV and sound system, a bigger house in a nicer neighbourhood, expensive toys and meals, holidays away.
Even families who are more financially responsible sometimes find themselves victims of economic headwinds. Being laid off, a stalled career with no raise makes it harder when inflation hits and the standard of living around you has gone up.
Add that to the little savings that you have for your retirement or tragedies that force you take out money from your own EPF, money meant for your future retirement, and you have plenty to worry about.
For many of you, the challenge is to control your family’s spending so you can achieve your long-term financial goals instead of just barely breathing.
For others, it may require an honest reassessment of your immediate needs and a realistic reworking of your priorities in the decades ahead.
The first step is to start talking honestly to your family members about the real financial situation.
When your credit card balance is full of purchases you made because your kids asked for something, you are in fact lying to yourself and your kids about what your family can actually afford.
When you loan your sister money when she quits her job after a week because of a dumb boss (which is a recurring event) and that money depletes your emergency fund, you are lying to yourself and your sister that you can afford to help her- you are in fact encouraging her irresponsible behaviour.
When you tell your kids to focus on getting into the best school or college and not worry about the cost, even though you will have to spend your retirement savings to cover the bills, you are not being honest with them about the sacrifices you are prepared to make.
What you are doing is mortgaging their future. Think about the situation in 40 years time, do you want to depend on your children instead of giving them their own financial freedom when you don’t have your own retirement money to spend?
You give out of love, no questions asked, because that is what family is all about.
What can you do make things better?
OPEN THE LINES OF CONVERSATION
Whenever you’re talking about money with your relatives, the one thing you should absolutely avoid is making judgements about someone’s spending habits or giving anyone unsolicited advice.
By doing so, you’re putting people on the defensive, which can shut people off from having a frank conversation about money.
Try depersonalizing the conversation by talking about news stories you’ve read.
For example, you could start a conversation about student loan debt by bringing up news about the federal student loan forbearance period ending in a few months or a story about someone paying off a significant amount of student loan debt in a short period of time. By bringing up the topic in reference to the news, people may be more likely to engage in a conversation if they don’t feel like it’s being targeted toward them.
Share your financial truths because the impact of financial troubles will in many cases affect your family members.
You don’t want to suddenly have to pull your daughter or son out of college when you find yourself suddenly unable to pay the bill and are too embarrassed to say why.
A lack of communication creates a distance between you and your loved ones. By bringing them onboard on your journey, you’ll be more successful in achieving your goals with their support and encouragement.
TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR HONESTY
Many of us feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses. You want the best for your family and are willing to live a lie in order to keep appearances.
But how long can you be dishonest with yourself and your family?
It takes strength to be honest. When you do away with the lies, the pressure you feel will, in time, feel much less.
Your family will love you more for your ability to embrace change and take the steps to move forward your new realistic goals.
There might be resistance especially when it involves young children having to transition to a more modest lifestyle.
You can’t expect them to jump in joy overnight. You must respect that your family members will need time to absorb and adapt to the shift.
Your words, your body language and your spirit will set the tone for them. Remember you are imparting the invaluable lesson of living life honestly.
THINK BEFORE ACTING
It is not unusual to act spontaneously when it comes to making decisions for your family. You only want the best for them and you say yes without putting in real thought.
For you to build and reach your new financial goals, you need to weigh each and every money decision.
Think of the consequence of spending money in enabling bad habits. You need to learn to distinguish between helping and enabling.
People who honestly need your help and if you can afford to help, should be helped.
People who are looking for your money to solve their temporary problem caused by their own actions, you should guide them with love and encouragement for them to understand personal accountability and financial honesty.
Are you ready to communicate honestly?