Sunday, March 18, 2018

More than making do with less

Way back when I was working full-time, I always thought that I needed all the accoutrements that came with corporate life. A nice car, lots of clothes and shoes, eating out at expensive restaurants and exciting holidays. Even though I was a single mum raising my son on my own and putting him through private school, making a good salary meant that I could treat myself and I considered these luxuries an essential part of life. Now that I’m out of the job market, my life is a lot simpler. But strangely enough, it's also become much more satisfying.

I guess when you’re young, you feel like it’s essential to acquire the latest phone or an expensive gym membership. Nowadays I make do with a mid-range phone, perfectly adequate for all my needs. I get excited about saving on a phone plan that I didn't think about paying a lot for before. Ditto my cable and internet package. I still remember questioning a young colleague of mine how he could afford a high end mobile phone that cost more than his monthly salary. He blithely replied that “you just put it on your credit card!”

I was part of that rat race too, although fortunately, I never succumbed to credit card debt. When I re-entered the job market after a long hiatus, I couldn’t wait to buy a whole new wardrobe that included heels (I was living in flip flops), and saunter into the office toting a brand new laptop in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other.

It’s been a number of years now since I worked nine to five in an office. Recently when I was broached to go back to work full-time, I balked at the idea of fighting rush hour traffic, staying back late and dealing with office politics. I also couldn’t imagine having to squeeze my bunioned feet into a pair of shoes for hours at a stretch!

Not having a salary that goes with a full-time job anymore, I’ve also found myself carefully considering purchases that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before. It’s customary for the Chinese to outfit ourselves in new clothes and shoes for Chinese New Year, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend a lot on a new outfit. So I was more than pleased to find a colorful top at a flea market for only three dollars! When I spring-cleaned my closets, I also found outfits that I had totally forgotten about, so shopping my own closet has become an adventure.

I’ve become quite critical of the food when I eat out. Like any self-respectful Chinese, food is very important to me. And I also remember one of my senior friends saying, “Now that I have to watch my diet, whatever I put into my mouth had better be worth it.” So it pains me when I pay a lot for a meal and it comes out sub-standard. The steaks and ribs that I cook myself taste a lot better than restaurant offerings, and cost a fraction of what they charge. With all kinds of recipes available on the internet, I’ve become quite adept at picking a recipe and adding my own twist to it. After tasting my Vietnamese rice noodle salad, my god-daughter exclaimed that it was “better than the restaurant’s!”

Now that I have more time on my hands, I also do a lot more of comparison shopping. I know which supermarket is charging less for my staples, and make sure I shop wisely for staples. On a recent trip to Singapore, I was amazed that certain things like milk and cooking oil were actually cheaper there. I started loaded up on them to bring home, to the amusement of my relatives there who reminded me that Singapore is supposed to be the most expensive city in the world.

When I travel, I do my research on flights and hotels to get the best deals. The best thing about being retired or semi-retired is that you have time on your side. So I don’t have to take vacations at the same time as everyone else. Traveling off season. Flying on a weekday instead of the weekend. It all adds up to far fewer crowds and great savings. I recent took a flight that was cheaper but it meant a longer transit in the airport. But I didn’t mind because then I had time to wander around the airport and people watch, one of my favorite pastimes.

I just talked to an ex-colleague who is jetting all over the world for work and staying at really nice hotels. When I visited her home recently in Switzerland, I also gawked at her closet which had all her name brand shoes and clothes laid out meticulously and color-coordinated.

I did ask myself, “do I miss those things? The trappings of corporate success?” Hey, I wouldn’t mind a nice handbag or two. I still lust for really well-made shoes. But then again, I’m thrilled that now, finally, I have time to spend with family members and welcome new babies. I’m equally excited by coming across fresh asparagus in season. Spotting new leaves coming out on my favorite plant that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before. Lingering over a meal with old friends.

It’s great when I get to enjoy a great cup of coffee at a cafe that costs the earth, but it’s also satisfying when I brew myself some nice coffee at home. Yup, in terms of finances, I’m living on less nowadays. But instead of making do, I’m feeling enriched in more ways than one.

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