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Societal Norms Clashes with Culture

I know Sophia’s going to have a lot of fun with this topic, but I’m thinking lots of people have been wedged between soceital norms and culture. I have a varied group of friends, from (true) white Canadians to those of my own background and I have often noticed distinct differences to opinions based around what our society determines to be normal. Living in Canada, I must say I’m very fortunate that most around us are very accepting and tolerant of differences and everyone sticks to their own without meddling in others affairs. However the other day as I was having a discussion amongst friends, everyone seemed to have a very different outlook on core things… particularly with living environment. Let me elaborate.

Being raised in a traditional Asian household, it has always been accepted that one’s children and family will always be accepted in the household, whether you are 18 or 80. Most of my white-Canadian friends have moved out while I am still at home. I always ask them, “What is home?” I have one friend in particular who I thought was joking to me when he told me that when he turned 18, he found a note from his father who essentially said, “You’re 18 now, get out of the house.” To me, that’s shocking because 18 is an age where most people are still struggling to find themselves, let alone move out. Certainly, there are many who survive leaving home at this age, especially those who seek independence, yet why?

Being in my mid-20’s, I think people look at me weird for still “living at home.” To be honest, I’m comfortable living here and see no necessity to move away. Of course when I have my own family one day, I’m sure I’ll leave ‘home’ – but I currently, there’s no legitimate reason why I should other than what society defines as the norm. Why must one leave home at a certain age – does it imply independence? In the past, I have pondered whether bebe looks down on me because I’m still at home and we’ve never really discussed that. To me, my whole life revolves around my family and I know many people use the word “weird” to describe people who sitll live at home with their parents. Of course my circumstance is a bit different as I live at home also because of my father who passed away a few years ago, leaving my mom on her own. I cannot fathom what sort of son would ditch his mother for the sake of being labeled as independent by society.

Don’t fool yourself, because I have a friend who asked me after my dad’s death whether I would move out. I asked why and I explained that it’s hard for my mom to life on her own without a source of income and no one to take care of her (since my mom had me, she has not been back into the workplace) as my Dad did all that – everything from finances to even doing the gardening. His response was that, “You should leave your mom behind, she’ll survive.” and to me, that was a pretty shitty thing to even think. Perhaps in his culture, as a white-Canadian, this is a totally acceptable thing, but to me, it is not. I know that it’s possible to fulfill a son’s obligations to his parents without living with them, but currently, I don’t have my own family yet, so of course I intend to take care of my mother in the same house until the situation presents itself where I can no longer do that. Had my father still been alive, moving out would of course be a potential route to take.

I think what people these days don’t realize is the cost of moving out. Everyone wants independance and of course if you have a family of your own, wife/husband/partner/kids, I can see it being a need, but to move out just because is foolish. Unless you have an amazing job, you will find trying to make ends meet is very hard. This is definitely a very culturally-based thing. Talking to an Indian coworker of mine, she says she has kids of various ages, from school-age to into their 30’s and many of them still live at home. She says, “I welcome and encourage my kids to live at home any time.” This is a very conflicting thing with Canadian societies expectations of kids being booted out of their homes. You will find many Asians live with their parents or even grandparents if they are lucky enough. Having a tight-knit family should not be discouraged. I suppose another big thing is that many people don’t get along with their parents. My retort to most people when they say I need to get out of the house is, “Just because YOU have a dysfunctional family and don’t get along with your parents, doesn’t mean I don’t!

I live at home because not only do I have many advantages of having meals prepared and ya… even my bed made, but also because it’s financially sound. Why move out when there only needs to be one set of bills to be paid? Why move out and cause financial strain on both my mother and I? Why move out when we could cook-for-two and save money? Don’t forget things like utilities are generally fixed costs and you’re simply doubling it by moving out (two different locations). I think most people seek that independence so much it blinds them to the financial aspects. By living at home, in a few year’s time, I will have enough money to fully purchase a quarter-million dollar house with no mortgage by living at home. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, bebe can contribute the same amount, we could be living in a half-million dollar home easily and not owe the bank a cent. For anyone who’s holding a mortgage, you will know that the few thousand dollars you save every month could be used for LOTS of things. By living at home, the first year I worked full-time I had already saved up enough money to put a down-payment for a decently priced house. Now you must think that I just freeload, but I actually pay a good portion of the household bills, especially with my mom having no income, and of course my own stuff like car insurance, life insurance, internet, gas, etc. Do people not realize the savings for both your parents AND you by staying at home?

After having this conversation, I did think back about whether bebe has ever looked down on me for still being at home. I know we’re both very family-oriented people and value the importance of it, but I’m not sure if she views me poorly as a result. I mean, I still wouldn’t move out just to please her, but I would certainly want her to know the reasons why I’m at home, but also respecting the fact that one day when we’re financially capable, to move out on our own. When people ask me why I’m still at home, I simply tell them I have “no need to leave home right now.” Hell, I don’t even want to leave home until the situation presents itself. It’s not a matter of me not being able to fend for myself or that my mom is incapable of surviving, but it’s about making sound and rational decisions. For the most part, I get all the freedom I have being at home, than moving out. I’d dare say I get even more freedom since there are many things I don’t need to do know that I would being on my own (ok, I do admit to a bit of spoiling, but I’m not USELESS at least).

Our culture definitely plays a large role on how you perceive others or even yourself when it comes to “staying at home.” In many cultures, it’s pretty much acceptable to stay at home until you get married. In other cultures, this is totally frowned upon and makes you appear not self-sufficient enough. Many will give you weird looks or already generate prejudice based on who’s roof you live under. I think it’s much worse to “get a place of your own” in a dead-beat basement of someone’s home than living comfortably under the same roof with your loving family. Do I have short term plans to move out? No. Will I ever leave home? Probably. I think there’ll definitely be evolution as to what the plan is as bebe and I progress, but I don’t want her to believe that I’m going to latch on to mommy’s leg and not go anywhere. I have a responsibility to take care of my mother and I don’t want bebe to see this as being a burden on me where she will have to deal with the consequences of it. When the time comes, I will need to balance both sides and yet allowing bebe and I to have a place of our own to raise our own family.

Listening to a variety of my coworkers discuss their kids staying at home and such, it really places an emphasis that those who are not “of colour” are more likely to have kids who have moved out (or been booted out), more than those of non-Canadian culture. I love being Asian, yet living in Canada, but there are times when I find them my cultural mentality differs from what Canadian society expects and demands – because we are judged on such things. I proudly live at home, because I can save money, contribute to the well-being of my family and also take care of my mother. Yes, I am “older than what I should be” to still be at home, but I have the freedom here as I would with my own place. Funny that the other day I was discussing how my mom would not like it if I had girls over in my room because I was testing the traditionalistic side of my mom… only to find out she’s more accepting of reality than I expected. I said, “Well mom, you wouldn’t like it if a girl stayed overnight anyways…” and she said, “Well, I wouldn’t be happy if it was just a girl you just met, but if you have been dating her for a while, I’d be ok with it.” Suffice to say, I was quite surprized that my mom would be, of all people, to be so open to an idea such as that. Of course it’s not that I’m thinking about doing something like that, but it was to see how much freedom I really have “at home.” This is a great house and household to be living under and I have what others seek when they move out – freedom and independence… I have all that here, plus more!

Can YOU Live on $18,000 a Year? I Sure as Hell Can’t.

This entry is definitely not “on-topic” of my blog theme, but after reading it, I really thought it was worthy of being posted. Please note that everything between the quotes have been dumped directly from the news article and I take no credit for the contents. A lot of the times, I consider my financial situation. I ask myself, am I making enough? Am I saving enough? Am I reducing my quality-of-life by being too frugal? If I spend more, does that equate to my happiness? Am I spending on the right things? Do I think too much before I spend? Do I have money for a rainy day? Am I truly keeping reliable spending records? Am I overestimating how much I really have available to use?

I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks of these things on a regular basis. Suffice too say, I am not in a situation where I must watch every penny that goes out, but certainly, it is a wise thing to be wary of where a person spends their money. Unlike one point in my life, I know that earning money is quite difficult. Maybe for some, you can sit on your ass and money is being earned every second, but that is not the case for me. Every dollar I earn is from sweat, blood and tears (metaphorically).

Feel free to check out the original entry on MSN.CA by clicking on the link which I embedded into the title of the article below. This is amazing… I really wish I could live a comfortable lifestyle and only spend that much! Imagine how much money I could put away every year – sheesh. Right now, I’m pretty content with living within my means, but I always want to strive and become more efficient. After all, there’s always space for improvement!

By Liz Pulliam Weston, June 16, 2010

Living on $18,000 a year — by choice

Meet three people who live on that amount (or much less) while following their dreams. They’re thrifty, sure, but also content.

The term “low-income” is usually a synonym for “poor.” But I just interviewed three people who wouldn’t use that word to describe themselves, even though they live on $18,000 a year or less — in two of the cases, much less — without going into debt.

Their ages are 25, 44 and 60. They’re all college-educated and have chosen to live frugally so they can pursue their own interests.

Their stories are relevant for a couple of reasons. First, they show what’s possible when you let go of consumerism and the hamster wheel of spending too much and then having to work to pay off your debts.

Second, their thrifty habits offer lessons on how you may wind up having to live if you don’t get cracking on building up your retirement savings. That figure, $18,000, is about what you’d get over a year if one were to draw average U.S. Social Security benefits (now about $1,200 a month) and tapped 4% of a $100,000 nest egg.

(Four percent is usually considered a “sustainable” withdrawal rate, meaning you’re unlikely to run out of money before you die. The $100,000 nest egg at retirement age may be a stretch for some; Employee Benefit Research Institute surveys indicate half of all U.S. workers have less than $25,000 saved (.pdf file).)

Here’s who these three frugal folks are:

Tyler Tervooren, 25. Until recently, Tervooren earned $56,000 a year as a construction manager. But he lives so thriftily in Portland, Ore. — his expenses are about $14,000 a year — that he was able to save the bulk of his salary. He’s now enrolled in a state program that allows people to collect unemployment benefits while they launch their own businesses — in Tervooren’s case, a blog called Advanced Riskology that encourages people to take more risks in their lives.

“Since I earned so much but spent so little, the amount of unemployment insurance I get covers all of my living expenses and actually allows me to still save a little bit,” Tervooren explained. “My savings cushion can support me for almost four years — (even) until I’m 30, if I need it to — before I have to start earning money again.”

Nancy Tudor, 44. Tudor earns about $10,000 a year from two part-time jobs, and she says it’s enough to meet her needs. She’s earned more in the past — she recently returned from a job teaching Renaissance history in London that paid about $30,000 a year — but prefers her simpler life in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I had the apartment overlooking the Thames and the flat-screen TV. It just felt really empty,” Tudor said. “I decided to come home to the desert and be a lot simpler.”

Carol Holst, 60. Once upon a time, Holst was married to a corporate executive and raising two daughters in Beverly Hills, Calif. When the marriage ended two decades ago, she turned down the court-ordered alimony, figuring she didn’t need the money but that he did.

“It would have reduced his lifestyle and wouldn’t have changed mine,” Holst said. “I’d still be living in a one-bedroom apartment in Glendale, and he’d be cursing me.”

Holst said she’s figured out how much is “enough” and lives happily on the $18,000 she nets from her part-time job as an office administrator. She enjoys the work but really likes the time it allows for her true passion, which is sharing what she’s learned about voluntarily simplicity. From the bedroom of her apartment, Holst runs the website Postconsumers.com, which promotes the idea that you don’t have to buy to be happy.

All three credit their parents for helping to instil the ideals of thrift and careful money management. Tudor also remembers grandparents who talked about the Great Depression and a prevailing ethic “that if you wanted something, you saved up for it.”

That includes education. Tervooren attended an in-state university with inexpensive tuition for residents, and he worked several jobs to pay for it. Tudor got a master’s degree on a scholarship that included student housing and a $1,000-a-month stipend, which was enough to cover her expenses and those of her now-grown daughter.

Tudor asked the girl, who was 6 at the time, to identify what was most important to her, explaining that they didn’t have money to buy everything they wanted.

“She wanted money to buy books . . . and to take dance lessons,” Tudor remembers. So Tudor carefully budgeted money to cover those expenses. Tudor believes that explaining their financial situation and soliciting her daughter’s input staved off demands for more stuff.

“She understood,” Tudor says. “It wasn’t ‘I want, I want, I want’ all the time.”

The three have other things in common that allow them to live, and save, on tiny incomes:

Cheap housing. Holst has a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Glendale, Calif., that costs her $780 a month. Tervooren shares a four-bedroom home with his girlfriend and four friends, splitting the $1,200 rent six ways. Tudor rents a room in a retired couple’s home, sharing the upstairs bathroom with another tenant, for $400 a month including WiFi and utilities.

By contrast, the typical single person spends $1,074 a month on housing, while couples spend an average $1,521 and families with kids spend $1,947, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Renting is often a lot cheaper than owing, and sharing a home with other people can lower your costs still further. Homeownership is tough to pull off on a low income unless your mortgage is equally tiny or paid off. You also would need to be protected from big property-tax increases, either because home values don’t grow much in your area or because such taxes are capped, as they are in California. Even then, you have to find a way to pay for repairs and maintenance, which can total thousands of dollars a year.

Cheap transportation. Holst owns an 8-year-old, paid-for Prius that costs her about $1,500 a year, including insurance, maintenance and fuel. Tervooren has a 20-year-old pickup that he’s learned to maintain and repair himself, but he says he usually walks or bikes wherever he needs to go, spending less than $1,200 a year on transportation. Tudor doesn’t own a car and instead uses Albuquerque’s bus system.

By comparison, the typical American household spends $8,604 a year to finance, fuel, repair, maintain and insure a car or cars, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Cheap thrills. The three keep a handle on the other costs that tend to bust the budget, including clothing, technology and food. Clothes come from thrift stores, and all three cut their own hair. Holst has broadband Internet access and cable TV but no cell phone. Tervooren does without television.

“I make a hobby out of finding hobbies that I can do for free,” Tervooren said. That keeps him “from having any need for the distraction of a TV and its expensive cable service.”

Eating out is not a big part of the budget for the two women. Holst budgets $30 a week for food. Tudor spends even less — $99 a month — deducting the costs of dinners out from the total so she knows how much she has left to spend.

Tervooren’s spending on food — about $350 a month — is closer to the U.S. average spent by single people. He and his girlfriend take advantage of local theatre pubs that offer drinks, dinner and a movie for a reasonable price.

“I don’t try to cut a lot of costs on food,” Tervooren said. “I like it too much.”

The trio diverge in how they handle another budget buster for many U.S. households: health care.

Holst has health insurance through her part-time job but doesn’t have dental insurance; she budgets $1,000 a year for dental care. Tudor is lucky enough to live next to a teaching university, which offers dramatically discounted health care to low-income residents.

“A visit to the doctor costs $5. A visit to the emergency room costs $25,” Tudor said.

Tervooren had health insurance at his job, but now goes bare and hopes he doesn’t get sick. It’s a risky choice, because one accident or illness could result in crippling bills.

You may not want to live like these folks, but you could still learn a few things from them. Such as:

* You’ve got to know where the money is going. All three know exactly how much they spend on housing, utilities, transportation, food — you name it. Their money doesn’t slip through their fingers but instead is carefully and consciously deployed. Tracking what you spend is a great way to become conscious about your money and whether your spending reflects what you really want most from life.

* A lot of the costs we think of as “fixed” really aren’t. If you want to improve your finances in the long run and save more for retirement, then consider reducing big expenses like housing and transportation.

* Debt can be a trap. A moderate amount of home or student loan debt can help you get ahead, but those who want to live on less tout the importance of being debt-free so they’re not shackled to payments. At the very least, you should be getting rid of your toxic debt, such as credit card balances, because they erode your financial well-being.

* A lot depends on your attitude. I emerged from these interviews with a big smile on my face. These three people were so delighted with their lives — and excited about the future — that it was positively contagious. I don’t think I’ll ever live on as little as they do, but knowing how happily they do so makes the prospect of living on a shoestring a lot less scary.

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