Of Financial Insecurities and Enlightened Greed

Of financial insecurities & enlightened greed

Written by Agatha

April 2, 2020

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Earlier this week, a friend who is a pilot with Emirates Airlines shared the disheartening news that he has been put on unpaid leave for 7 months. 7 months. I literally had to count 7 months using my fingers to get a clear picture of the next time he will receive a salary. It’s one of those sad moments when you lack words of comfort, so I resorted to just listening.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t as worried as I was, or maybe he had taken time to think through his plan after he received the news. Through our call, he sounded okay, his voice was very calm. His plan is to do farming during the seven months, and stay positive while at it since the airline business is one of the most hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all have those friends or family members we think of as ‘rich and never experience financial challenges.’ We sometimes envy them (the good kind of envy haha) and want to be like them. This is one of those people in my life.

I didn’t ask, but given that he was that positive, I concluded that he probably has his financial ducks in a row.

Before the dust settled on that one, I read this article that the UAE government had issued a decree to regulate private-sector jobs. Companies had been given the go-ahead to ‘implement a remote working system, reduce the salaries of employees permanently or for a temporary period, or send them on paid or unpaid leave.’ I experienced fever, a slight headache, sweaty palms, and extreme anxiety as I read that article. When I was done, I heard myself say “I’m screwed!”

In panic mode, I forwarded the article to my bestie and added that I might soon not have a job, or will be placed on paid/unpaid leave. His reply?

“Be positive. If the worst shows its head, we handle it, then we start climbing again. It would be perfectly okay to come out of this alive and poor. Think of staying alive as the biggest investment you can make right now.”

Calm returned to me. If the worst showed it’s head, WE would handle it and we would start climbing again.

My extreme panic emanated from the fact that I still haven’t achieved my goal of saving a 6 months emergency fund as I shared in this piece.

In the wake of all the mass layoffs, small businesses closing down, salary cuts, the panic that the little cash reserves we have might not be enough to last us however long this pandemic will be with us, a lot of us are experiencing these feelings of hopelessness.

These events got me thinking about my financial insecurities, and maybe by thinking through them and sharing, you’ll realize that you are not alone.

1. Student loan-HELB

Every time I review my net worth, this is the one item that makes me feel like a loser.

I consistently paid this loan from November 2016 up to mid 2019.

Then I woke up one day and just gave up because I didn’t see any significant change in the figure. I was doing the minimum $30 payment at the time.

I decided to focus on building an emergency fund first before I went back to paying HELB but life happened and I just haven’t resumed paying. It’s the only debt I have, and it bugs me daily.

I plan to resume paying it in 6 months time after I have an emergency fund, but this time make bigger payments so that I can finish and move on to other investments. I’m also secretly hoping that the government announces a waiver this year, in which case I will liquidate one of my short term investments, pay it off and do a celebratory dance.

On college debt; rather than the pursuit of learning & culture, it has become the pursuit of job training in an effort to secure employment that will justify the astounding cost and debt incurred. — JL Collins

2. Financial competition with friends

Being open to speaking about money with friends brings a multitude of benefits, the best one being that you cease to speak, spend and invest your money from a point of fear.

However, when you get to know what your friends have achieved or are doing with their money, you sometimes get tempted to copy them. You begin entertaining thoughts of changing your financial plans. You sometimes even feel inferior or like you’ve done too little at your age. You doubt if you’re making any significant progress when people share the amount of money they have put in in investment X. I have often found myself wondering “where the hell did she get such an amount of money?” “What I’m I doing wrong?”

Fortunately, I’m also very good at having positive conversations with myself. Anchor your thoughts by reminding yourself that your paths are different, that people make investment decisions based on their life goals. Copying other people’s money moves is catastrophic. Have your plan, make consistent progress, make changes where need be based on research, professional advice and personal convictions, and celebrate your progress.

Any fool can spend money. But to earn it and save it and defer gratification — then you learn to value it differently. — Malcolm Gladwell

3. Giving money out of guilt

This is one financial insecurity a lot of people struggle with, I included.

I recently experienced a family situation where I’m expected to give because the person assumes that I have extra money, while at the same time disregarding the fact that during this lockdown, I’m fully responsible for myself and need to keep as many of my coins with me as I can.

I have a monthly budget for charity/black tax. I assess who needs it the most or what cause I care about the most and give towards that. When that budget gets depleted, I confidently tell people that I don’t have money.

Saying no is hard, but we’ve got to learn how to say no and not feel guilty about it.

But, I still haven’t fully overcome this insecurity, I sometimes still give out of guilt.

I don’t want to give to family, friends or charity out of guilt. I want to give from a place of love.

A lot of times, we’re angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves. — Rupi Kaur

4. Privilege. And the fear of it.

There was this piece of writing that was making rounds on social media this week. A privilege checklist. If you have food, running water, a roof over your head especially a comfortable one with ample space, have stocked up food during this pandemic, and have an emergency cash reserve, it means you’re privileged.

I ticked most of those boxes then I caught myself feeling guilty for it. Isn’t this what I have been working hard for all these years?

I remember sharing with my friend that maybe there should be a guidebook on privilege. I have this internal fear: what if I get rich and become blind to the realities of others yet I was once underprivileged?

What the writer of the piece was communicating is that we should be aware of our privileges. That we should not call people who live hand to mouth stupid for not self-isolating during this time. That we should learn to step back and reason logically, before becoming defensive when somebody calls us privileged.

5. I’m good at Math

Wasn’t this article supposed to be about financial insecurities? Oh yes, ‘I’m bad at Math.’ I have put that in quotes because after I read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: a book about underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants, I made a mental note that I would never use that as an excuse for being fiscally unfit. Also, that’s a high-end book recommendation.

Then my fav habits guy, James Clear taught me that ‘new identities require new evidence.’ That I needed to put in the work to stop being bad at Math. Btw, I used to be stellar at Math in primary school, until high school happened and… a story for another day. Back to James Clear, he taught me a 2 step process to change my identity:

  • Decide the type of person you want to be.
  • Prove it to yourself with small wins.

So I’m out here taking an accounting course, reviewing my finances every month, reading all my financial documents and asking questions where I don’t understand, and identifying myself as an investor.

Who do you want to be? What are you doing to prove it to yourself now that you have time?

To top it up, I came across this life lesson on understanding our limitations by one of the smartest investors, Charlie Munger. He also happens to be Warren Buffet’s business partner;

“I think that realist is probably a better word. The truth of the matter is that our abilities are not so high. And part of the reason for the successes we have had is I think we understand our limitations better than others. But I don’t call that humility…..”

“I have this friend who is really not smart at all. He makes everybody explain things until he understands it… But he does have incredible patience. He doesn’t do anything until he understands it. And he’s perfectly willing to have 5 years go by between deals. Meanwhile, he lives well within his means. You’d be surprised how rich this dumb man has become.”

“So you can be pretty modest if you understand your own limitations. It’s better by far to be with a guy who’s I.Q is 130 and who thinks it’s 128 than with a guy whose I.Q is 190 who thinks it’s 250. The second guy is going to get into great trouble.”

“Operating within what’s prudent to do with your given hand and your given ability is just a financial knack. And I don’t call it humility at all. I call it enlightened greed.”

Whether I lose my job or not during this period, I will choose to concentrate on gratitude and to pay attention to progress over the destination.

I’m also keeping sane and productive by tracking my habits using a habit tracker.

By the end of this lockdown, I will have completed 2 online courses, one on Accounting and the other on Digital Marketing. Do the same, add a skillset to your CV, and work towards monetizing it(did somebody say passive income???)

What are your financial insecurities?

As you go through this phase, remember lessons from the small book Who Moved My Cheese. That change is inevitable, that we should learn to adapt. And feel free to use my friend’s words, “ If the worst shows its head, we handle it, then we start climbing again.”

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