Story time Part 1: Pocket Too Deep, Hand Too Short.

It is about that time of the year when many of us would have forgotten some, if not all of the new year’s resolutions (new year’s what?) that we made, if we made any. My new additional resolution is to write 100 500-word minimum articles in 2021. This is my 4th. I am behind schedule. The late motivational speaker, Englishman Peter West said, “having a goal without a plan is wishful thinking.” He can’t be further from the truth. Peter was a no-nonsense, tell-it-as-he-sees-it guy, who used to frequent Malaysia in the 1990s, encouraging thousands of people in the salesforce to make use of the potential they had in them.

Some of the more common resolutions are 1. Be punctual. Some of the highty-flighty, tembak besar (or is it besar tembak?) bigshots think it is fashionable to be late. This year, 2021 in particular; new year’s resolutions seem mute, distant, not talked about. In a country like Malaysia; we have what is known as “Malaysian time”. To be fair, the rail services in Italy had a standard practice – “being late”. When I was in Italy some years ago; I used to commute by train to most parts of the country. First of all, their railway stations like Rome and Florence, were a nightmare, even in the day; with about 200 departure/arrival platforms each. One of the first messages that you hear over all the trains’ P.A. system is, “Good evening. We apologise that we are late”. And this is regardless what time of the day it is. I love Italy and its people. Well, all except for that one lady who pickpocketed me of 750 euros on the train from Rome to Florence. 2. Getting down to a regular exercise programme. Intentions are admirable – to lose those couple of kilos (for many, losing 10kg would be far better); tone ’em muscles (this is causing my belly to look bigger than it should 🙂 ) and to keep fit and have a healthy routine. By January 1st; the Asics/Nike/Adidas shoes, t-shirts, shorts/skirts, sweatbands, fitness tracking devices are ready. Then, everyone is out working on their various exercise programmes. By the end of two weeks; the blazing hot sun, the rain, the humidity, oh yes and the MCO, PMCO, RMCO, and all the other COs due to the Covid-19….no need to say….”lah”. The best is to exercise according to one’s schedule, level of fitness, etc. Not to others’ expectations. 3. To be financially free. This is one that gets side-tracked and waylaid almost from the very beginning with special offers, super easy payments, attractive ads and the list goes on. Buying a motor vehicle seems so attractive now, due to the special waiver of government sales tax. Buying a smartphone comes bundled with so many goodies, just short of the kitchen sink…sometimes you may wonder….would it not be better to lower the price of the new phone instead of throwing in the kitchen sink as part of the package? You notice how the free power-bank is suddenly worth RM250? What about buying a house? We all love a discount, a massive discount will seal the deal. Now, you can buy a property for free….no, really….free….that is 0% deposit or down-payment for property under construction. In reality, the deposit, down payment and interest income from the deposit and down-payment lost by the developers will be charged to your instalment repayment.

I would like to focus on wanting to be financially free. What does it mean to be “financially free?” Financial freedom usually means having enough savings. financial investments, and cash on hand to afford the kind of life we desire for ourselves and families (Sevilla). There are many views on what financially freedom is. Here, I am not talking about being financially independent which in a nut shell means earning more than your expenditure or spending less than you earn. Being financially free to me is about having peace of mind from all forms of debt. I am talking about not being chastised to loans and not having to work to earn an income to pay the loans off. My mother has this principle, “Live within your means”. Don’t take loans. “The rich lords it over the poor, the borrower is the lender’s slave”. – Proverbs 22:7 (RSV CE)

There are a few exceptions. You most probably would need to take a loan to purchase the house you live in, and one or two cars. These purchases should be moderate according to your household income. It should not be to the point of struggling to make ends meet (your peace of mind is compromised). You might face a “catch 22” situation. You will need a good credit score to take a loan. And you can’t get a credit score without taking a loan.

As your income grows, you will find yourself “needing” more things to make living more comfortable for you and your family. And the advertisements – they are the answer to one’s prayers – the advertisers. These adverts seems to have every solution to the problems you never know you had. Many of you may have heard of this story: a shoe manufacturer sent a salesman to a remote country to sell their shoes. He saw the people there going about their everyday lives barefoot. He returned back to the shoe manufacturer with his findings: “Everyone goes around barefooted; there are no prospects of selling shoes here”. The shoe manufacturer decided to send another salesman there. He, too; saw that people went about their daily lives barefooted. He sent a message back to the shoe manufacturer : “Everyone goes around barefooted, send 1,000 pairs of shoes”. Could it be that the people there did not need shoes, that they chose to live closer to nature?

Some years back, I received a congratulatory note from a luxury German car marque after having purchased one of their models. The way the advertised standard message was put across to me, their valued customer; “You have arrived” with a hint that it was due to their brand that I had attained that level of success. Though it was not necessary for me to reply that message, I did. ” It is because I have attained this level of financial success; I chose your product; that you have arrived because of my choice and should feel honoured; not the other way around.” Needless to say, no response from them. So much for being a valued customer.

The clothes you wear, watches, shoes, restaurants you dine, club memberships….the list goes on. After you’ve acquired these things, then you need to upgrade to keep up with the Joneses so that you don’t feel inferior or intimidated by the “lesser” things you have. The solutions and answers to all the questions you never knew you had to begin with. The easy credit from financial intuitions and credit cards help you acquire these “assets” which deplete in value the moment it changes hands from the sellers to you. The German car marque (which I talked about earlier) invited me to the launch of their latest mid-size large model not too long after I got my car from them. Keep in mind when they first sold me the car, they said, “car for Life”. I asked, “Whose life?” I test drove this large mid-range model in their model line up. I put forward a proposition to the senior sales manager, “If I buy this car for RM470,000, drive it out of your showroom and park it overnight in your front vehicle parking lot which is part of your compound; come back the next morning and offer to sell it back to you for RM30,000 less than what I paid for; will you take it?”. He said the company couldn’t. An “asset” with a RM30,000 drop in value is not accepted back by the people that sold it in the very first place, after 1 day! 15 years ago, my daughter was with me when I was buying a new cell phone (handphone). When I bought the handphone, she said, “Daddy, now that man is rich.” I asked her what she meant by that. She said, “You gave him your money.” I said, “Yes, but I have got a new handphone.” She said, “but that man has got your money!” She was 5 years old at that time.

Coming back to the idea of having peace of mind. In most cases, before long, you probably would have raked up loans, credit card and other expenses which would create a new meaning for “work”. You work in order to earn the money to pay off the huge debt you now regret you have. “The borrower is the lender’s slave.” –(Proverbs 22:7) We are consumed by debt. We cannot and should not fault the many advertisements that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I welcome them as the provide a multitude of choices for anything that we may be looking for – be it realty, motor vehicles, clothes right down to simple things like groceries. Then, we are able to make an informed decision on our purchases. But and it is a big “but”; we have to be responsible shoppers. Buy what we need, not what we want. We have to learn not to be compulsive shoppers. It is unfortunate that many people are caught in the debt trap when it becomes stifling.

The key is to have peace of mind. While many may fall in this seemingly spiraling bottomless pit debt trap; not all is lost. The first step is to identify that we have a problem. The next step is how do we want to address this problem. This will be answered in Story Time Part Two: I Want To Break Free!

We had this old family friend from Penang where when it came to paying for a meal or drinks; his hands would go in his pockets but was slow to take them out. He found it difficult to reach for his money because his pockets were too deep but his hands were too short. Yes, he is wealthy.

*****

In this article, I may not have/did not attempt too much on being grammatically correct. This article may be disconnected with its title. It is intended to provoke the thinking process of critics of this article, not so much the content, but the way it was written. In 2020, it was vogue and fashionable for men to wear dresses, skirts and what-have-yous. If that was ok, then writing articles the way we’ve known all this while; is set to change, too.

Sevilla, Jovia. “What is Financial Freedom?”, MoneyFit

Proverbs 22:7 (RSV CE), quoted in “Navigating Your Finances God’s Way”, Catholic Edition, Compass Catholic Ministries

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