Billionaire

My Money Jars
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http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/books.html

I absolutely love the song by Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy ‘Billionaire’. I listen to the song at least twice a week…usually more. I do really wish to be a billionaire…but the content of the song, for me, ends after the first line. The rest of the song promotes consumerism, extravagance, and wastefulness; all of which are things I have no warm and fuzzies for at all.

The last year and a quarter have had me on a very riveting, eye opening, and conscientious journey about how I don’t need more than half the things the world tells me that I need to be happy. I have resisted buying things for the sake of buying things and I am not a favorite of sales people who wish to upsell. I have no patience for sales pitches anymore. Just…just…no…no! NOOO! I don’t want the medium drink for an extra 50 cents! What is the joy of wishing to use the bathroom halfway through the movie? I also don’t want 1,000 Q-tips for $4.99! The ones I bought three years ago are not done yet and when I need more, I will know to buy them. I don’t want the turkey or the box of mangoes for spending $250 on groceries. Out of curiosity, why don’t they offer me the box of mangoes for spending…$10? No. No. Thanks. I don’t want to bundle up to save.

I just don’t need all these things. It actually makes me feel like I didn’t know what I was coming to purchase in the first place…like I somehow just waltzed into the store because I had nothing else to do than hear what offer was up for grabs for me that day. If I sense some underlying scheme to make me part with my money when I had not planned on it, I get despondent very quickly, especially if pushed after rejecting the offer. You are standing between me and my goal of financial independence.

Prior to this journey, my life had various levels of anxiety and worry when it came to my finances. I lived from pay check to pay check. Or if you wish, pay check to credit to paycheck. That was the norm I was used to. Some of the people I surrounded myself with lived the same way so I did not know any better and was not challenged to do any better. We would actually talk about all the bits of money we were expecting and how things would be bad if a source did not materialize. Funny enough, in some circles, you were doing pretty well if you could lend people money. If they didn’t pay you back by the stipulated date, however, you were sunk. I took trips – on credit, of course. I would go shopping when I had a bad day. I did not have a budget and had no financial plan whatsoever. Instant gratification was the way of life, and so was waste and clutter. I threw out food when it got bad because I had no discipline to finish the food I had before making new food. In the same vein, I had a storage room that was so full of things I thought I needed but ended up throwing out when I had to move.

I used to watch some finance shows and I saw a few news clips where they talked about the average college student not having anything saved up. I simply thought that I would start saving when I got a ‘real’ job. I wanted to enjoy my University experience and saving didn’t seem like a priority at the time.

Thankfully, I did not encounter any emergency because truth be told, I am not sure how I would have handled it, especially if it involved money.

A year and three months ago, after graduating and getting a ‘real’ job, I had the first ‘real’ look at my finances with a financial planner. It was mildly traumatizing. I could not comprehend how I got there and the ‘real’ picture was too much for me to handle. It really felt like I would never be able to dig myself out of the pit I had flippantly gotten myself into.

Things do happen in life for a reason. The reason is more meaningful if the intended lesson is learnt or experience appreciated. I met someone who was financially prudent and had just started himself on the path of frugal living and financial mindfulness. I became the sounding board for all the things discovered or read and received recommendations to blogs and books for my reading. Without fully realizing it, I threw myself into absorbing all the information I could regarding finances.

I plunged deep into the world of Gail Vaz-Oxlade[1] and read all her books and re-watched all her shows – I even met her and she helped me set goals and promised to cyber celebrate every met goal with me, something she has done faithfully. I also began reading a blog by Mr Money Mustache[1], a guy who retired at 30 alongside his wife and are raising a 9 year old son. I mention him because many people I have shared my financial aspirations with have said to me, ‘wait until you have kids!’ Mr Money Mustache and family have endeavored to reduce their carbon footprint by living on less and being mindful of the earth.

I switched to a cash only system except for automated payments. I now plan all aspects of my spending and carry cash when I need to buy something. If I have no cash, I am simply not going to spend. Yes, if I have to go out, I look at the menu ahead of time and calculate the amount plus tip before I leave the house. If I don’t, then I have to only spend what I have with me and not more. I know what things generally cost and can spot an overpriced item from a mile away. I always look forward to tallying up my receipts and seeing how much I have saved.

In a society where being cheap or being a tightwad is frowned upon, I have definitely received the odd look or the questioning comment every now and again. In a society where doing well is equated to having things, I am really failing. It can be a bit demoralizing – until I look at my upward trending net worth and I am OK. I always get to the end of the month before getting to the end of the money. I am able to live comfortably on 38 – 40% of my income and my goal is to get to 50%+ savings after my student loans are out of the way.

Wastefulness has significantly dropped and my purchases are more mindful. I have mastered the art of buying just what I need to last without going bad. I have also significantly parred down what I own in clothes, appliances, and furniture. I don’t have things in secret closets and my locker is empty. I figure that if I don’t use it, I don’t need it and therefore shouldn’t own it.

Last week, I had a check-in with my financial planner and he flat out said that I didn’t need him. Having slashed my debt in half and created a good emergency blubber with my savings, I am well on my way to financial independence. My goal is never to worry about money…and this journey has taken away a huge chunk of the anxiety because I can see progress. I do worry about wasting money. Where in the past I would not have been fazed, now, I cringe when I spend money on something I don’t need or a situation arises that makes me spend money that I had not planned on spending.

I seek financial independence because I don’t believe we were meant to punch in and punch out for the rest of our lives in order to make up for it with gifts/things in lieu of time spent with loved ones. I believe we were meant to build and thrive in the relationships that we create. Financial independence for me means being able to freely enjoy time with my partner, my children, my friends, my family, anyone that is in my life at whatever point of my life. I have no desire to miss out on life moments because I have to work. I have no desire to match or exceed the person next to me when it comes to things owned, purses carried, bling shined, cars driven, or places frequented. I want to continue drinking Pepsi-Cola like Warren Buffett even when I can afford $750 caviar with a $5,000 bottle of wine.

I do want to be a billionaire…but for different reasons than Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy. Ultimately, I yearn to continue finding joy in things that do not necessarily cost money.

[1] http://www.gailvazoxlade.com

[2] http://www.mrmoneymustache.com

Stop. Look Around. Be Happy.

 

I have managed to read five books in two months. The library has been my best friend and there still lies a number of unread books by my bedside. There does not seem to be enough time to read, I find. That means that outside of work, when I am not sleeping, I am reading.

My ears are well trained to listen for my destination announcement but I am unable to tell you what goes on between my boarding and my alighting as I am usually holed up in a book hoping to fit in a few more pages…or beat the book return deadline. I get around to most places without any clue as to who is beside me or around me on the bus or the skytrain. My avid reading tides me from one destination to another. It does help to filter out the nauseating lovey-dovey couples and the nose pickers. It doesn’t help so much with the coughers and the sneezers who will not cover their mouths.

A few days ago, I decided not to read and look around me. I decided to listen for every stop announcement and notice the people standing or sitting around me. While waiting for the bus, I noticed a lady poring over the phone of her screen smiling. Her face lit up like there was nobody around. It was a beautiful sight. Clearly, whatever she was reading or whoever she was chatting with was making her smile. That drew a smile out of me and warmed my heart.

One stop later, a mother with a child in a stroller hopped on. The child said hello to the stoic driver until he cracked and said a cheery hello back. Throughout the ride, the child looked around and said a loud ‘hello!’ to whoever would listen. When they got to their destination, the child happily said ‘thank you!’ and ‘bye!’ and drew another smile out of the stoic bus driver’s face. Again, that evoked some joy within me. This child was in the business of eliciting joy out of people!

When I got off the bus and waited for the light to allow me to cross the road, I casually glanced around and smiled to the people around me. They smiled back. I got into the elevator to get to my work place and instead of focusing on my phone, I smiled and said hi to the people in the elevator. They smiled and said hi back.

Happiness is contagious. I started my shift lighthearted and happy and, somehow, that was a force…a strength to get me through the shift.

I still read while in transit, but I try to glance up every once in a while so that I don’t miss a heartwarming moment.

Yappity do!

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The last time I took the Greyhound to Kelowna, I sat beside a lady who talked…and talked…and TALKED all the way from Vancouver to Kelowna. Nonstop. She talked so much that she told me what medications her ex-husband’s father took right down to the dose and how often. I freaked out when I went through the seven rights and three checks of medication administration in my head. That was how much information I was receiving; too much!

I had a book in my hand that I was really keen on reading but I was not sure if not listening would be blatantly rude. Some rules of engagement are a bit vague. I mean, what do you do? Apologize and say that you want to read? Every time I thought she was done talking, she wasn’t. I did not even care that she did not ask me anything about myself…I just wanted her to stop talking. Moreover, the more she talked, the more I thought of Meghan Trainor’s song; Lips are Movin’. Yes, it was that bad.

I was really getting nowhere with my book. Common sense said I should have just shut it and focused on listening to her instead of holding a 1,000+ page book open. I thought that closing the book would further encourage her…although it did not seem like she needed any encouragement at all. There was no right thing to do. I mean, this lady was just piling on intimate detail after intimate detail.

‘I have a boyfriend.’

Hmmm. What should I have said? ‘Me, too!’ ‘Who cares?’ ‘No way!’ ‘Wonderful!!!’ ‘Is he hot?’ ‘You know, a lot of people have those!’ Believe it or not, I could not come up with an intelligible answer. I just nodded. Thirty minutes since meeting her, I doubt that we were THAT close that I could come up with a response that made sense. I did NOT want her to tell me about him. I did NOT want to open that line of conversation, or any other one, for that matter.

‘We see each other fairly often. I mean, we are not gonna get married or anything. My ex-husband and I are really close so I am happy with the arrangement.’

Great! Even with her level of disclosure, I am sure if I had asked her why her ex-husband and her were no longer together, she would have spared me no detail. If I asked her about her boyfriend, she would have told me. And she did! Without my soliciting the information.

‘He does not live too far from me. We like to drink at the end of the day. But I can’t drink too much because I spent last New Year’s Day in the drunk tank.’

Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaaaaaaah!!! Pineapples!!!! Pineapplesssssss!!!!

She never stopped talking. She told me about her children, her grandchildren, where they lived, and their pets (honestly!). She even showed me pictures. At this point, my book was hurting my pinky finger but I was still unwilling to put it down. I thought holding it up was rude but that was not a deterrent to her nonstop talking. Sigh.

I thought that was a one off situation until I ran into a similar situation two weeks ago. I was headed to Hope and the bus was fairly empty. Most people did not have anyone seated beside them. We were about to leave when I heard a voice from behind me:

‘Nice hair! My friend is from Jamaica and he does hair. His name is Pato. Very friendly guy.  He has a client list so long that it can be hard for him to manage. His shop is on Main Street. Main Street and 29th…?’ (looking at me for confirmation)

How am I supposed to know where Pato’s shop is located? I don’t even know who Pato is!

‘I don’t know’  I responded weakly.

‘Yeah! Good guy, though! I don’t let anyone touch my hair except for my godfather. I’ve known him for 47 years. I’m turning 49 in a month but everyone says that I don’t look my age.’

‘Really!’

‘Yeah! I’m going home to celebrate my birthday with my parents. We are going fishing.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. People say I look like I’m in my thirties. You know, I exercise and eat well. I gotta take care of myself. I wanna be around for a while.’

*Nods*

‘I have a son. He’s six. I lived in Mexico and started a family and all that but it didn’t work out so I moved back here.’

‘Alrighty!’

‘I’ve traveled all over…Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, the United States and I still say that Canada is the best place in the world.’

*Nods*

I did not have a book this time. I had EARPHONES! I just wanted to listen to my music…’your lips are movin’.

Now, what is interesting is that this guy was out partying all night prior to his trip and he did reek of alcohol from the day before. Before the bus pulled off, he rushed out of the bus to find out if he had time to smoke, then rushed right back. He got out to puff at every single stop. I was OK with not sitting next to him but being in front of him did not offer me any advantage both with the conversation and odor.

I’m not sure which kind of unwelcome speech is preferable. A few weeks ago, I got on the bus in the city and sat down. The bus was not full so I did not have company. A guy moved a few rows up close to where I was, sat across from me and dove right in!

‘Are you married?’ I said no.

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ I hesitated and responded in the affirmative. I do not know if any response would have mattered, anyway, and I thought that an affirmative response would get him off my case.

‘Is he serious about you?’ I was not getting uncomfortable or anything. I mean, I have this sort of banter all the time! Some people around me were watching amused. Others looked away. My eye brows were furrowed. PAIN!!! Nobody was going to rescue me. I got off at the next stop. Ten stops from my destination.

I wonder what gave him the reason to believe that it was OK to intrude my space and my personal life that way.

I wonder why some people dump their intricate details on strangers. If the norm of reciprocation is in action, sure! I have had conversations with people on the bus or plane that have been mutually un-creepy. But more recently, my experience has been that it does not matter to some people what they say to you or whether you listen.

No! No! Don’t anyone tell me that these people are lonely and need a listening ear! I do not want to be that listening ear by force! I just want to enjoy my ride to wherever I am going without feeling attacked or smothered.

In the words of Njugush, ‘Is it too much to ask?’

Public Transit

I boarded a bus on a major route the other day and a ten minute bus ride was all it took to see people in their true characters. Or not. I’m still deciding.

It was a sweltering day. The kind of day that has clothes sticking against your body in awkward places. The kind of day that open windows does not cool. The kind of day where you do not want to be skin to skinning with strangers on a bus. The kind of day where deep breathing could potentially make you combust internally (pun intended). We all just wanted to get to our destinations, obviously.

Overflowing buses make me very uncomfortable. It crossed my mind a few times to alight and wait for a different bus but I did not. I had to work the night shift and had to rush home and get some sleep. A few times on that journey, I relished the thought of just alighting but the will to sleep was way stronger. And with a kind of grace that can be hard to have, I hang in there. We all hang in there.

My best bet for surviving that bus ride was getting a seat and hanging onto it for dear life. I usually have a few tactics to that effect. When it comes to buses with multi-boarding options, I don’t use the middle or rear door because the whole nation divides into two and crams those doors. With the front door, you have to swipe your card but if that guarantees me a seat, I will be waiting by that door. Usually there’s about ten of us. And usually I’m first to third in that line up. I digress…

With the single door boarding bus, your options are limited and the chances of snagging a seat on a major route are usually slim to none. There is always a way. When I got onto the bus, I moved to the very back of the bus where no priority seating signage was in place. There’s nothing as bad as being exhausted and getting a seat and having a walker and its owner appear in front of you without a sound. It’s even worse if everyone else around you is aloof and will also not give up their seat. My thinking, wrongfully, of course, is that nobody needing priority seating gets as far back as I had situated myself. I watched for any tell tale signs that someone was going to alight and inched myself even closer. My tenacity paid off and I did get a seat. And on that day, I was not giving up my seat.

Anyhow, while thinking of how I would flipper slap anyone who implored me to stand with their eyes, there was a sudden commotion not too far from me. This lady at the very back stood up in a huff and tried to make her way to the front of the bus. She obviously was not alighting because she bypassed the rear door. There was an aura of rage as she jostled and shoved her way to the front. She halted conversations, hit people, almost toppled over others, stepped on some but THEY instead of her said sorry…in true Canadian fashion. She was on a mission! She got to the bus driver and gave him a yelling regarding the volume of the automated bus stop announcer.

‘It’s not fair! It’s not fair!! The volume is too loud! Turn it down! It’s giving me a headache! This is so unfair!!!’

No preparation for such an outburst. No preamble. I mean, this lady had been quietly not enjoying the bus ride. Shock befell the bus. Those with earphones on soon realized that the volume of their music was not loud enough to shut out the world. The bus driver did not say a word. I wasn’t sure what my response would have been if I was him. The woman, seemingly satisfied, returned to the back of the bus – of course pushing and shoving everything in her wake – and sat down.

One guy seated at the front decided to stir things up a little.

‘You’re in the wrong country!’

Again, just like that. The lady seated next to him nodded vehemently in agreement. They both looked around for a reaction. Some people glanced at each other uncomfortably. Another lady close to me opened her eyes in sheer horror and whispered to the people around in clear consternation ‘aren’t we all from some other country?!?!’ Many just watched bemused.

Meanwhile, the bus driver had increased the automated announcer’s volume. I am uncertain if people noticed this but I was itching to give him a pat on the back only that I wasn’t going to push and shove my way to the front for that. Half the bus had hearing aids on, anyway, so aside from the lady who was miffed by the volume and the drama it had stirred, it was business as usual.

I was playing tetris on my phone and hoping to get home soon because the heat was causing unnecessary drama.

Culture shock – Part One.

A decade ago, when I first came to Canada, I had a huge case of culture shock. I didn’t even know what culture shock was, but I know I was shocked. I recall friends telling me that I would experience this phenomena. Many of them had not even been anywhere outside of the country, but somehow they just knew I would experience it. They told me of stories of their friends and relatives that they knew of.

And sure enough, I experienced it. All the time. Little things made me acutely aware of the different world I had suddenly become a part of. Nobody explains to you what culture shock really is. Your senses become heightened to all things different. You start to wonder about things you never wondered about before. You question things. Eventually you give up understanding some things and just shrug your shoulders in acceptance…or is it defeat?

Some things are laughable and I remember snickering a few times when I saw certain things. It really got me in stitches the first time I saw a group of grandmoms in an aerobics class at a gym close to where I lived. My grandma would have had a few hilarious things to say about that. Even though her health would have benefited from an aerobics class, she would have had plenty to say about how she would never be caught wearing our skimpy gym outfits. How can we possibly expect her to be lifting weights and moving around in the name of exercising? That would have been culture shock for her!

Some things annoyed me. Like the 10 year olds that got on the bus and stared at you…willing their eyes to levitate you from your seat so that THEY can sit down. My mom would never approve of me sitting if a person 5 years my senior was standing! It’s a no-brainer…right? No, not really.
I initially found it very surprising that people wouldn’t move to the back of the bus in spite of the number of people waiting to get in. Even when the bus driver’s notice to ‘please move to the rear of the bus…please move to the rear of the bus’ was announced over and over again, these people would be immovably glued to their spots with earphones plugged in, some electronic gadget and a mile between them and the next person. I find it difficult to fathom how aloof the people inside can be even when the people outside are gesticulating wildly and imploring them to move so that they can board. I have been on both sides of the bus and when inside, I have moved. Occasionally, there has been that outspoken person that has yelled at people to move or the bus driver that has refused to move until the passengers make room.

I think of how crammed the buses back home get…and now that shocks me! Yet there is always room for one more even when somebody’s body part is in your face…or your rib. Woe unto you if they haven’t showered, won’t open the window, or decide to partake of some pungent smelling food while on board.

Learning how to dress up was quite an experience. I grew up naturally wearing large or extra large t-shirts. It was ‘normal’ to wear a t-shirt that went down to your mid-thigh and whose shoulder line was almost down to the elbow. The brothers were never allowed to stumble or appreciate.

My first summer job was at a camp. Part of the job perks involved getting a t-shirt with the summer’s theme emblazoned on it. I loved those t-shirts. I asked for an extra large t-shirt like I was used to. We also had to take a group picture wearing the t-shirts that we acquired. I recall another staff member asking me if there were no more t-shirts in my size. I was slightly bewildered. What did she mean ‘my size’? She took it upon herself to get me a small size t-shirt and said that there was one left – as if I was wearing an extra large t-shirt because there were no t-shirts in my size. Slowly, my dressing shifted.

The dressing situation became apparent when I traveled home. I got irritated plenty of times when it was subtly suggested to me to don a shawl or put some tights on or find something with long sleeves. I seemed to be going through an inspection every time I left my room. The look. Then the suggestion. It would be followed by an optic nerve-damaging-eye roll then an attempt to find something else to wear. Then I just gave up and resorted to wearing jackets on very hot days after going through all my medium size t-shirts.

I hope you don’t get offended easy…

I hope you don’t get offended easy…
I am always certain that what follows this statement will offend me, anyway. I feel like I’m being primed to be offended. And I wonder why people tell me things that they feel are bound to offend me in the first place. I mean…seriously…I’m entitled to not be offended. Entitlement: that’s a topic for another day.

When the ‘I hope you don’t get offended easy’ statement was said to me last night, I had a smile on. At first. It was interesting. I felt my smile break at the corners a few times while wondering what kind of nerve this…we will call him Obelix…had. He looked like him.

This guy went ahead and told me about a writing club he belonged to. My smile was still intact. I enjoy writing so this was not bad at all. Hardly offensive. He then told me about his friend that was part of the writing club.

In the writing club, as Obelix told me, they would have a random picture given to them that they would look at for three minutes and then have four minutes to write a story. Talk about creative juices under pressure! After writing their story, they would all get a chance to share their stories.

This brought back suppressed memories of having to talk about our holidays in front of the class in elementary school. My peers always went to the coolest places! Mombasa is where everyone seemed to congregate. I, on the other hand went to shagz – the country. I digress.

Now, his friend always told stories…allegedly…that involved black African nude women. Pick your jaw from the ground – thanks! I really wish I was joking. The rate at which my smile disintegrated was astonishing, even to me. Usually when I’m unable to fathom something, I furrow my brow and shake my head as if willing the idea to dislodge itself from my body and leave. me. alone.

Against every fibre in my body, I sat there. I decided to see where this story would go but the putrid taste that was beginning to develop in my mouth left me lost for words.

So Obelix went on to tell me that he later found out that his friend was the leader of some esteemed organization. That I should look the organization up because it has benefited a lot of Africans. That was the end. I couldn’t find the words to seek to understand. I left the conversation at a staccato.

Putting it into perspective, I did not know this individual. He had called me as though to ask a question and then narrated THIS story. I wonder if HE was the author of the stories. I am curious. Not enough to find out, but curious nonetheless.

Of introverts

So, this is my first go at blogging. I have always been fascinated at the idea of writing and musing and letting others read your heart and observations. I just got the push that I needed to get myself to start writing.

Today, the weather was great so I went to the beach with my friends. I am an introvert and I will generally tend towards not going if I do not have to. I will delay my exit from home and be in no apparent rush to get to a hangout location. If I find that it is too much of a struggle to either find people or get there, I will cop out as soon as an opportunity arises.

I find that once I get there, I am ‘stuck’ and sometimes have to make the most out of it. Usually I do, and will be pleased with myself for having made it to be social in the first place. I enjoy watching interactions. I will speak when I am spoken to and will watch the extroverts use an overabundance of words (and volume) to continuously get points across. It’s amazing. Really. I do not find myself able to do that at all. It takes a smaller audience, sometimes some prompting, a lot of passion, and trust to engage in conversation like some people do.

I identify people who are like me very easily and will usually make my way to them to hear what they have to say. It creates a kinship. A bond of sorts. An understanding. Both a voice and an ear. It really does not mean that we introverts have nothing to say. We do. But the circumstances have to be just right for the streams of verbosity to break the dams.

I have gone to social gatherings where I have not said more than ten sentences. I would leave and beat myself up for not voicing an opinion or countering an argument. Or I would leave as soon as I got to the location once I realized that it would be a long night. Many people have thought that I am bored or boring. Yet I am neither. Others have met me in less social situations (on the bus or the mall) and have been surprised by my normalcy of speech afterall!

Many times I like to just be. To watch. To listen. To laugh. To enjoy. All these without the need to speak.