Money Diaries

Mixed up money: It takes a willing heart.

Mixed up money is a series of friends’ financial questions. I am not a CFP by training so I do not recommend an investment, do not sell products, and are not affiliated with any of the financial tools providers. The names have been changed for anonymity.

Here is a very different mixed up money story because I did not handle the situation well. Things got emotional and created a tension between the friend and me. Thankfully, things did not escalate beyond our one-time detailed meeting.

Months ago, Mia came to me and shared her problems with money. Over an RM14 latte, I found out that she has a couple of consumer debts, her paycheck is no longer enough to cover her monthly expenses, and it was getting hard to cope.

I did the only thing I know at the time. I asked for her expenses statement and put on my every-dollar-matters lens. I warn her that I will be ruthless and indeed, I left no stones hidden after seeing how the leakages were around her life. I started to suggest items to cut or do without, one after another. Looking at my past money diaries, you should know that I am sensible. 😬 I will not ask anyone to live on bread and butter alone.

After going through half the list, I sense that she was reluctant to make any change. So I want to give her real-life examples. My mistake? Taking myself as an example. I say things like considering my electricity bill is less than RM50 and yours is RM400, your consumption may be too much.

This is where things went downhill; Her defense was I was earning more so I can live my lifestyle. Her focus shifts to my job instead of the need for her to cut expenses and ignored the fact that my total expenses were lower (I shared the number) and our payroll is not that much a difference (about RM300).

Here’s what I learn from this very emotional talk:

Empathy.

When dealing with any personal financial question, do not make a comparison with yourself to avoid invoking hard feelings like resentment or jealousy. I face the problem like a checklist instead of a situational assessment. There should be no argument of right or wrong. The aim is to help the person to accept their situation and way forward. Only give advice when their heart is ready to change.

Humbling our hearts.

Most of us think the way we spent is the best, because we put in a lot of effort into making daily financial decisions – how to spend, save, and invest, is this a good product, how much it cost, etc. Our brain already signals that we made the best choice. This is why it’s hard to acknowledge that we are wrong, apart from feeling bad when we are proven wrong. Over the years, I come to accept that “I made the best decision” is only half-right; I have been humbled many times by people who have better ideas than me. If I choose to keep my ego and not change, I won’t be able to save and build my finance.

Frugality is a lesson for everyone

Yes, income level (if your income is too low) plays a role, but it is also about what we spent. Some families live below living wages and can live happily, and some earn above average but are burdened with living costs. If you don’t acknowledge that you’re not frugal enough after your income is past eating egg and rice, and your favorite bag is LV, then no number can give you financial freedom. Here are some easy surf-frugal habits:

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I ended by saying: Just be more aware the next time you purchase something.

Thinking back, she might be tuning towards asking for financial assistance but she started her question as “What can I do?” and my natural response was to make sense of the numbers. It could be a miscommunication from the beginning.

How would you handle this differently?

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