Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Living Frugally, Even if You Don't Have To

I went to a mothers' group today (my first one). It's good to speak with people going through the same changes and adjustments; also, it was nice to hang out with adults for a change (particularly since B has been in Tokyo for the last few days). Of course I thought that little R was far superior to all the other babies in cuteness, behavior and general development (I am sure all the other mothers think this too). It was interesting to see the other babies and realize that so much of what she does is just stereotyped developmental behavior, rather than something incredibly unique. She is definitely a calmer/quieter baby than average though.

The weird thing about the mothers' group here is that it is composed all of expats (=Westerners living abroad), who all are from a similar economic level. In other words, rich. Pretty much all of them have "helpers" (what they call live-in maids here), don't work, and have husbands with intense, time-consuming jobs who are rarely home. They are also able to spend lots of money on stuff like strollers, doulas, private baby nurses, frequent international travel, etc.

The strange thing is that I do fit in with the other mothers for the most part. I could get a maid if I wanted one, I don't work, and my husband does have an intense, consuming job. I guess I feel a little bit uncomfortable about the whole thing since we've never had any money, and always had to economize. Luckily, I don't have expensive tastes so it never felt too onerous (for instance, we traveled a lot, even if this meant that we couldn't eat at any Italian restaurants in Florence because it was out of our budget; and we ate out a lot, even if this meant only eating out at taco trucks). Also, I was raised by feminist, non-materialistic parents, so it never occurred to me that my husband should provide me with a particular lifestyle. Since I picked a non-renumerative career (museums), it seemed natural to only buy clothes at thrift stores and not have any matching silverware, new furniture, or a working TV.

Now B makes more money (though we are still not rich whatsoever, seeing as he's an academic and all), but I want to try not to adjust my lifestyle expectations too much. It's so easy to get used to living at a certain level, and once you do, going backwards is terribly painful and galling. Living frugally gives you so much more freedom.

I am worried that living in Singapore (and hanging out with other expats) is not going to be at all good for this goal though. For instance, there aren't any thrift stores here, because everyone spends as much as they can afford on new branded products (very important for your status). And if I spend a lot of time with people who feel that it's not possible to go shopping with your child(ren) without an accompanying maid, then I might start feeling that way too.

I am looking forward to buying certain things (like a flattering wardrobe), but for the most part I want to try hard to save a large proportion of our income and live well below our means. I need to keep this goal in mind, because it's so easy to be seduced into hyper-consumerism and a high-end lifestyle.

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