Holidays and vacations are what we dream of most. It is the topic to bring up during water-cooler chats, and the kinds of images that fill up most of our Instagram feeds.
I’m continuously fascinated by how oblivious we allow ourselves to be, indulging in our fortunate circumstances that we are to live in this time and in this country, to be living the way we live, to then think and behave the way we do as a result. As I observe people around me, what I often see are comfortable, coddled children (including myself). A little hardship sends us on a downward spiral of discomfort and shame. A little criticism sees us firing away comments verbally or digitally, all to defend our perfect image, our pristine pride and dignity, because what right do they have to criticise our perfection and our blessed fortune?
Most of us don’t think about or worry about basic comforts:
- Air-conditioned work spaces, restaurants, shopping malls, public transportation systems
- Appliances that prepare our food and keep them from rotting, appliances that wash our clothes, appliances that heat up our water so we can shower ourselves in comfort
- Widely available and super reliable public transportation systems
- Food options that are made affordable (sacrificing on the fancy aspect of it, of course)
- Toilet paper and sanitary pads.
You might have found the last point funny, but if you start wondering just how homeless women go through their periods, you’ll understand.
All of these are wonderful, as long as we remember to notice and appreciate them. But we often don’t. I often don’t either. So much of these things that we take for granted today were not made available just a decade or two ago, yet how often do we stop to appreciate what we have around us that is made available to us? Nearly every basic desire is available and increasingly affordable and convenient to get and use.
Some of us like myself have acquaintances of similar age groups spending ridiculous amounts dining out, eating fancy, dressing fancy, making purchases that encourages envy and garners them their much needed attention. It can make us feel that the most basic option for food and clothing shouldn’t be compromised, and that we ought to buy the best, the most expensive, the most lavish and most popular choices out there.
How often do we stand in awe of our clean, running water, our paved roads and infrastructure, our public transport system, our communication services, our air-conditioners, our washing machines, our $3.50SGD economy rice meals we could purchase from the hawker across the street?
How often do we think about what it takes to have a computer made available for us to use? How often do we stop and appreciate the clean air around us, the safety and security this country does a fantastic job at maintaining, the nearly-free education we as citizens gain access to?
Not often enough. And definitely not enough.
I’m ashamed I used to be blind to much of it, too busy with my life and my priorities to take a moment and appreciate just about everything I have access to. I felt entitled almost, without realising that I only have these made available to me because I struck the birth lottery: born at the right time, right country, to the right people, and circumstances.
While I’m pleased by my healthier life and financial choices now, and my awareness at just how amazing it is to have clean water made available to me in my home, I find that sometimes, I still need to work to maintain and sustain this level of awareness and attention towards just how fortunate my life is, how great things and services are here in this country, even when life throws me multiple lemons and curve balls.
In order to stay thankful, I go on a holiday.
Yes, you heard me right. I go on a freakin’ holiday.
No, not the kind where I fly to Bali and spend countless days at the beach consuming bucketloads of freshly pressed juice, dine a full vegan diet and yoga 24/7.
I meant a financial holiday.
Since I know humans tend to only yearn for warmth when the sun is gone, I take a holiday from using the things I’m used to using.
I take what I call a Money Holiday:
- Instead of eating out, I prepare a basic peanut butter sandwich and two boiled eggs for lunch.
- Substitute my favourite shampoo for a brand I can buy from the dollar store.
- Stop “catching up over drinks”.
- Completely wipe my shopping wish list of anything that costs beyond $20 per article (bags, shoes, clothes) and buying from the neighbourhood marts or thrift stores.
- Taking cold showers instead of hot ones.
- Not using my car.
- Limit my grocery shopping to a select few necessities and spending less than $20 a week: bananas, eggs, bread, milk.
…and yes, even swapping out fancy 3-ply toilet paper for the cheapest stuff available as a reminder that my grandmother used to use pages from newspapers or scrap paper when she was a young girl.
A money holiday from frivolous items and 21st century luxuries keep me extremely grounded and frugal, reminding me that wealth is not meant to be spent away but to be accumulated, and that one can either look rich or be rich (health, wealth, happiness).
If you’re planning to take a money holiday, you’ll find yourself in an insanely uncomfortable position if you work obediently within your money holiday limits.
Remember, money buys options.
It buys you the luxury to mourn when your loved one is injured versus having to fret about money in despair, trying to figure out how the medical bills will be settled and by whom.
It buys you the luxury to come home and have a peaceful, simple meal with your children and wife when everyone else is scrambling to recover from a financial crisis.
It buys you the worry-free days, even when days can be worrying for everybody else.