Asian Girl Problem #47: Look Ma, No Debt

If you ever want to feel good about your life, read a self-help book about a problem you don’t have. A while ago I skimmed Lost and Found by Geneen Roth, who writes on women, food, and spirituality.

Roth talks about going bankrupt, and then running all over town trying to throw money at the problem. She finally lands on something to buy to make her feel better–a pair of $1000 eyeglasses. She returns to the store five times, dragging her loved ones, to try to convince them and herself that she needs the glasses.

I know that shopping high, to a much lesser degree than a shopaholic. You imagine you’ve found the holy grail to success and beauty. In the changing room, I might daydream about all the events I’ll show it off at and how I’ll look like Rachel Weisz during its first wear.

But the appeal is lost so soon before any of that has a chance to happen. Right after you pay the money. Often before I even get to the register. And in this way I’ve been pretty safe from frivolous spending. In time, putting things back becomes a high–or maybe just for us control freaks. So I couldn’t relate to Roth’s book at all. It sounded so American.

I always thought it was an Asian thing* to waste nothing, buy little, so that in return, as long as you had a decent wage you wouldn’t have to think or worry about money. My parents don’t balance their checkbook, have paid off their house and cars, travel often and laugh in the face of multiple payment plans. So I don’t have a strong concept of money. I was never forced to work to survive, had a joint credit card account with my parents since I was in high school, and have never budgeted in my life. I never spent much though. My idea of a budget is allotting myself $5 for lunch every weekday. Beyond that my expenses elude me.

“Poor chuckles,” aka cheap thrills, is a common Chinese saying. Living in a way that feels rich yet has no dependence on money. When I was young we didn’t buy things. Any new toys I got were either gifts or prizes from art contests I entered. Playsets kind of suck when multiple pieces are missing, but I never had a dull moment because my parents came straight home from work, told me stories, took me on roadtrips, taught me how to cook and build things. And that’s still what I want to do forever. Tell stories, cook for my family and build things. Buying is boring. Any capitalist ambitions were doomed from the beginning. Now I just need to figure out how to fit into society.

*Somewhere along the way it changes from being an Asian thing to a personal values thing. I know some Asians are the opposite–overworked, material-driven and single-mindedly interested in profit. But they still pay everything on time, in full.

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