“Everyone is capable of saving money,” said someone who never went on foot to the mall with only the money for an ice cream cone, spending three hours window shopping to take advantage of the establishment’s air conditioning. Yes, we live during a pandemic, but it is not a new thing that having savings or invested money is a privilege for few people.
Last week I was watching a podcast and the interviewee was saying how his parents had taught him—to a limited extent—about financial education, and they did it because they never had enough money to do anything other than pay the bills or understand how to deal with money on a level that allowed them to plan something.
My childhood perceptions did not allow me to judge clearly how much lack of money affected my routine. We rarely went to restaurants, but there was never any lack of food at home. My clothes weren’t always new, but I always had something to wear. I’ve never had the most popular toys and releases, but there was no lack of creativity to have fun and, today, I don’t have any traumas about what the lack of money deprived me. On the contrary, I always saw my parents working hard for us to have the best they could offer, and, at home, my brother and I always heard the same thing: “Study a lot because only studies will open the doors to a better future.”
Years later, with an academic background, a postgraduate degree, fluent in different languages, and some courses resulting in an international certification, I still don’t have savings or money to invest. Even to this day I try to understand where I’m going wrong. I sometimes have a bitter and uneasy feeling about working extremely hard and not seeing any financial reward at the end of another year. Is a good education not enough?
Recently, my social media feed started promoting ads with suggestions for remote work and financial independence. Of course, it wasn’t by chance, I had been researching investment options. I had no money, but I was trying to form a plan. I just didn’t count on how much I would end up letting myself be impacted and influenced by the algorithms, as seeing 90% of the content related to investing, working remotely, and earning money online drained all my motivation and energy.
However, while I hold in my heart the hope that if I work with a high level of accuracy and continue investing in my education, everything will work out, and that one day I will be able to look at my bank balance and know that I can rest my head on the pillow and sleep “beautifully.” Still, I worry about the sacrifices that need to be made to reach this goal quickly and consistently.
As I said, my childhood was not the easiest, but when I was a teenager my father had a better job, and we were afforded a bit more comfort at home. My father had a motto that roughly translates to: “Take advantage while you have it because we don’t know what will come tomorrow.” I know, it’s a small joy, but to hear that I could finally go to the mall and buy something spur of the moment was, and to this day is, so satisfying. With that thought (and a little luck that my father’s job involved travel), I also had the chance to visit many places in the south part of the country, ultimately seeing the Iguaçu Falls for the first time. They weren’t luxurious trips, but for those who count on their fingers how many times they went to Praia Grande when they lived in Santo André, each trip and each hotel room rate was more than enough to exceed all my expectations.
During college I had two jobs. The first one was researching the municipal bus system. I worked from 5:00 am until 11:00 am, and I reconciled that with college classes that started at 2:00 pm, sometimes I even had the latest classes of the night and returned home around 10:00 pm. The research lasted 3 months (if my memory is correct). As my second job I did a few weekends as a waitress in a rodizio (all-you-can-eat style) pizzeria. The money I collected was all used for my first international trip to Argentina, including a second visit to the Falls, but this time on the Argentine side, plus more than fifteen days visiting Buenos Aires guided by a friend who was doing an exchange program there.
The same happened after I graduated and was with my son. With the little money I had left over after paying bills (I had a starting teacher’s salary) and, as usual, with my father’s help, I was able to visit a new place, a friend, or be part of some special moment in my friends’ lives like a wedding.
As a foreigner in China, I had no access to a credit card. Anything I wanted to buy had to be cash at sight. This inability to pay anything in a few installments taught me how to manage my money a little better. My first year here I received a low salary, but I managed to save some money, as I didn’t know if I would one day have the opportunity to return to China. I saw the Terra Cotta army, climbed a mountain, went to the beach, and still managed to buy a PlayStation 4 for André before returning home. Before returning home, once again with the help of my parents, I was able to stay for 15 days in Europe.
In 2016, when I came back to China, I lived alone for a year before bringing my son, I had the chance to save a little more and the company I worked for had a bonus at the end of the contract. When I went to pick up my son, I let him pack his suitcase (he was 10 at the time). I told him to pack all the clothes that he liked and could fit. He landed in China with a pair of shorts and three t-shirts, but I had prepared myself for his arrival, as clothes here were and are cheap if you don’t care about the brand. Soon he had more outfits than he ever did in Brazil. (The climate is colder here, so more clothes are needed, unlike Goiás with its year-round summer climate).
Yes, I believe that money can solve a lot of problems, and I feel privileged to know that I can organize myself a little better, and save money to buy something André and I feel like spontaneously purchasing, but I still go back to my initial problem: When will I start investing for the not so near future?
On one night recently when I couldn’t sleep, I looked back and remembered everything I had achieved. The trips I’d taken and would never forget, the places I took André, even when money was tight that will stay in his memory forever, and the days when the sour taste of unachievable and seemingly unattainable goals were replaced by an expensive dinner with dessert resulting in a few hours when I just enjoyed the moment.
I still don’t have investments or a concrete plan for how or when I will invest my money (when I have it) beyond the next three months, but I will do my best to make sure that any night financial worries haunt me, I’ll instead remember all the investments I’ve made in creating memories and small moments of happiness that cannot be bought later. I will remember the friends I’ve made and cultivated because I was honest about when I could or could not take a coffee or go on a trip. I will remind myself that it is necessary to have balance, not everything is about the money. I will remember the future is always ahead of us, it is unattainable and if we do not take advantage of anything in the present, perhaps life will have been worth very little.
Proofreader Liz C Jacquinot