I am the youngest of four children, and both of my parents married late for their generation of Nigerians (generally speaking, I think). How late is late? Well, my mother married in her late twenties while my father was in his early thirties. This is in sharp contrast to those women who married under twenty and the men who married them (a few years older, typically). My parents’ ages affect my finances in a number of ways; one of them is in their lifestyle. My parents’ lifestyle (and therefore their spending) is very different from mine, and rightly so because they are older and have more money (relatively speaking) than I do. Please read on and I will explain this perspective on financial priorities.
There are certain things that each person is just not able or willing to do for him/herself. My father is not a “handyman”; if something broke, we would pay someone to fix it. My parents are incredibly frugal, so we have never ever had anything that we couldn’t afford to pay to fix. My father’s relative aversion to whipping out a toolbox is due to his own upbringing, but it is facilitated by his more than significant ability to earn, which means that fixing odds and ends around the house is a low pay-off activity for him. The concept of a low-pay-off activity is the verbalization of something most of us already know; we would rather do (A) because it is a more productive use of our time than (B). Sometimes an activity is low-pay-off although we know how to do it because we don’t think it wise to spend the time (e.g. a lawyer not representing himself in court). Other times it is because learning the activity is inefficient, considering how often the knowledge will be used (e.g. most people/businesses and preparing their tax returns).
I was born when my father was about the age of forty, and by the time I was nine years old he was a tenured professor*. In addition to this, my mother is a high school Home Economics teacher, so we lived well. Although my parents’ professional roles didn’t manifest in grand financial results, I felt frugality (rather than scarcity) until it was time for me to go to college. I wasn’t spoiled, but my ideas of “needs” and “wants” was based solely on my parents’ lives so they were due for revision.
As I prepared for beginning my professional career with a mortgage-sized student loan debt portfolio, one of the tricks I had to learn was to independently define my own low-pay-off activities. I found that most of the time I made new conclusions from analyzing my life; here are some quick examples:
- I pay for dry-cleaning, but my parents never have: Unlike my parents, I don’t have four children (or each other) to wash all my clothes and iron them reliably every week. There are many more productive things for me to do instead…maybe including this blog?
- My apartment is not a “nice “one: Unlike my parents who are very experienced professionals at the peak/mature stages of their careers, I am starting out and don’t make much money.
- I drive a new (not “brand new”) car: Unlike my parents who don’t drive much and have great autonomy at work, I drive 50-60 miles a day and require a car that is young, else I annoy my bosses by not adhering to my work schedule.
- I constantly miss my peers’ weddings: Unlike my parents who can afford to travel for such events (typically weddings of their peers’ children) and get plenty of vacation time as teachers, I would go broke if I tried.
So what’s my point? My circumstances such as income, city of residence, age, career status, goals, family status etc provide me a unique mix of opportunities to save, and requirements to spend. I have to tweak both sets to fit my budget, but cannot assume that I have to have anything in particular. I also cannot assume that I have to cut any specific items to save money.
My memory of how my parents applied financial principles like frugality is of little use to me because I never saw them when they were my age . . . therefore, I have to think through my priorities from top to bottom. So far my practice is to budget everything I need and everything I want, and then make trade-offs until my budget is well below my earnings. I then stick to the budget of course, and accept the financial and non-financial consequences of my choices.
I love my parents, but I don’t live or spend like they do – and I probably never will. I believe that most young people would benefit from creating their own financial priorities from scratch because our memories of our parents in their most successful years can lead us down the wrong path (financially).
What are the luxury items your parents did without which you “need” today? What are the “needs” your parents had which you refuse to pay for today? Is your current lifestyle the result of an analysis you conducted yourself or is it simply inherited from your parents – how is that working for you so far? If your thought process is different from mine, please share it with me!
*A shameless nod to my father Professor Richard Nnamdi Okagbue: He earned his PhD in Applied Microbiology from the University of California-Davis. His most popular work (per the internet) is “Microbiology and Traditional Methods of Food Processing”, which he contributed to a large book called “The Historical Development of Science and Technology in Nigeria”, by Gloria Thomas-Emeagwali (Edwin Mellen, 1992).