Muney – Needs & Wants

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(The Story of Your Money is the ultimate beginner’s “for dummies” introduction to Personal Finance principles. This series is a primer that will walk you through the very basics and set the scene before you dive into the world of personal moolah management – I highly recommend starting with Part 1 [it will make more sense] even if you’re a pro!)

Picking up where we left off, Mamat realized early in this story that money is a tool which allows him to acquire the “STUFF” he needs and wants in order for him to live a fulfilled life.

mat2

In Part 1, we very roughly divided this stuff into “basic needs” and “wants”; but let’s take a closer look:

 

N&W3

Basic needs are the bare essentials – food and drink, shelter (e.g. a room in your parents’ home), a sufficient amount of clothing, transport (fuel, spare car), some level of exercise and fitness, education, etc.

Wants are the extra little treats and luxuries that we all want to enjoy: $5 café lattes, an expensive watch, the latest phone, shopping, a fast car, travel, etc.

You’ll notice that I’ve also placed a family under the “want” list; isn’t it a bit strange that something as big and important as a family falls under the same category as a cup of coffee. Similarly, in the “needs” list – should toilet paper really be in the same group as an education?

eq3   

So perhaps we need to map this out a little bit more:

nw3

That’s better. The items that we’ve now taken out – fitness/health, education, family, travel – are the stuff you can’t buy off a shelf in a store. Now you might argue that hey, you can buy textbooks from a shop, a plane ticket from a travel agent. This is true – but a textbook is not the same as education; it’s something you can buy to help you towards getting educated but they’re not the same thing. The same way a lifetime’s supply of medicine will not (and cannot) guarantee good health. And “travel” means so much more than just simply booking a plane ticket or hotel room.

The stuff we’ve taken out – these are intangible, non-material items. This means they’re not physical objects, you can’t touch them or place them into a paper bag. Some of these items might be better known as experiences, beyond travel (and being a wanderlust yadda yadda) this includes bungee jumping, writing a book, white water rafting. You’ll notice that these are the things that tend to appear on your bucket list.

Let’s take a look at that table again then:

fullneedwant

So non-material needs include things like health, education, fitness, and for some people, spirituality and religion.

Non-material wants are, on a basic level, things like travel, family, and can even stretch as far as wanting more time – time to devote to your passions and hobbies, like gardening, baking, or writing a book. Non-material wants can be to someday quit your job, start a business, and become a stay-at-home parent. These are all intangible needs and wants; just because you can’t see these things (or put a price on them) doesn’t make them any less important.

We have a tendency to think of needs and wants in terms of material, consumer goods. And that’s probably because our first exposure to the concept of “needs and wants” is in school, when you learn about commerce, business, economics, and trade.

But it’s worth remembering that humanity existed long before the modern financial system, and we had needs and wants long before the invention of money and retail shops.

Like Mamat, in order to fully utilize the tool of Money, we have to identify what our needs and wants are – and this must include all the non-material stuff, because I would argue that these greater “non-material” desires are much more important that the material items, and will contribute far more heavily towards a fulfilling life.

If you wish to mull over your own, personal Needs & Wants (without a busy clipart mess in the way) – here’s a blank slate. I think it’s helpful to think about it. Extra points if you actually list it out on paper 🙂

blanknw

I’ve laboured on and broken this down into detail because the key point is that for every quadrant, Money will prove to be a very powerful tool. This is fairly obvious for the material items (i.e. mo’ money, mo’ shoppin’), but what we often don’t realize is the pivotal role that Money can also play in achieving our non-material goals. The bigger stuff like less stress, more time; and the even bigger stuff like the freedom and courage to stop doing what you don’t like (e.g. working 8am – 5pm) and start doing what you’re passionate about (being a stay-at-home parent, photography, baking, anything!)

Remember, Mamat got a job to earn money to get his stuff. The important reality of this relationship is that this job will take up a huge chunk of his time. In exchange for Mamat’s time (and work effort), his employer will give him money – that’s the basis of their relationship.

But the problem is that Mamat will soon find himself in the all-too-common struggle for control. Mamat will give up the majority of his time working at a job he may not fully enjoy, and then start to feel resentful, wishing he had more time and freedom. Time to do things he’d rather be doing. The freedom to choose whether he wants to stay employed or quit his job to pursue other things.

 

But this is the reality of modern life, isn’t it? Mamat will be chained to his office desk like a prisoner forever. He’s completely and inextricably trapped.

Or is he? 

Does a tool exist, perhaps, that he could use – to free him from this cage?…

Hmm. Have you heard that saying…
timemoney

Time is money.   Time = Money.

If the relationship is that Mamat trades his time to receive money in return…

He can trade money to receive time

He can buy back his freedom. In order for him to do that, he has to have a plan for the income he receives at his job. This plan must account for all four quadrants of his Needs & Wants. He obviously needs to eat and drink and survive on a day-to-day basis (material needs). He also needs to keep fit and healthy and devote some funds to lifelong learning (non-material needs). He works so hard he deserves the occasional treat or two (material wants)And he mustn’t forget the biggest picture – his non-material wants: a family, travel, the freedom to choose where and how to spend his days. 

Mamat has to realise that in order to achieve these non-material wants, he needs time. Time to spend raising a family, time to travel, time to devote to his hobbies and passions. I’m sure you’ve seen this:

Mamat is the guy in the middle. He has money, he has energy – but he doesn’t have timeAnd since the marvel of modern medicine has hiked up average life expectancy, Mamat can expect to spend a lot of darn time being that guy in the middle. The image above even says it for me: this system of life is a true story “if you are normal” – and “that is why be Unique.”

So what can Mamat (and the rest of us) do?

Well, he has to gain time – without completely cutting off the flow of money by recklessly quitting his job with no cushion. (If he did that he’d revert to being a child and have a green tick under TIME and a red cross under MONEY).

How to gain time?

a) live longer [but this is obviously difficult and practically impossible to control]
b) buy time.

How do you buy time?

As I mentioned at the end of Part 3:

Money can buy many, many things – in fact, it CAN buy you happiness. You just need to know how to use it the right way.

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Muney – Money is a tool

(The Story of Your Money is the ultimate beginner’s “for dummies” introduction to Personal Finance principles. This series is a primer that will walk you through the very basics and set the scene before you dive into the world of personal moolah management – I highly recommend you start with Part 1 [it will make more sense] even if you’re a pro!)

In my last post (Part 2), I mentioned it’s difficult to get into the “start saving up”, “plan your budget!” part of personal finance before first addressing what money is, why it’s important to you, and why we need to take care in managing it.

When someone asks you to do something (“Go clean your room!”) the natural response – especially if it’s annoying or boring (and you don’t want to do it automatically) – is… Er.. What for? Why should I?

stubborn

Parents of teenage children, you definitely know what I’m talking about.

I was a teenager myself not too long ago (yeahright) so I don’t want to begin telling you that:

  1. You should live below your means (and spend less than you earn, ALWAYS)
  2. You need to have a proper savings plan and save up for the future

until we’ve had a conversation about what for and why.

(And I’ll give you a better reason than “because I said so!”)

We need to begin with a quick philosophy lesson. I’ll  break this down into very easy, bite-sized pieces and try not to bore you – so please bear with me till the end!

{ Instrumental VS Intrinsic Value }

Woah, big words.

Like the word suggests, something with instrumental value works like an instrument or a tool; the value is in what it can do for you, what it can be used to achieve. It is a means to an end; a way to get you from one point to a desired destination or outcome. A hammer is good for pounding nails into wood – the hammer has instrumental value.

                                             

A bicycle is also something with instrumental value; the value and usefulness of a bicycle is judged by its ability to get you from Point A to Point B. If, for example, it would suddenly lose its ability (e.g. the tyre is flat, the gears are busted) the bike loses its instrumental value. A hammer that cannot pound nails into wood (e.g. the handle is broken) also has no instrumental value.

          

Intrinsic value on the other hand describes something that is inherently valuable in its own right, as it is. In basic terms, it has value in simply existing. So if you have something with intrinsic value, the fact that you just have or possess it is valuable, even if it does not necessarily propel you towards a desired destination or outcome (like a tool or vehicle, with instrumental value).

I would argue very strongly that education for instance, has both intrinsic and instrumental value. Let’s explore this example quickly:

“Getting a University education is important so you can get a job which pays a fairly high salary.”

This sentence describes a university education as having instrumental value; if you have a degree, it will act as a tool/vehicle and help you earn a high salary.

But does education only hold instrumental value? If an education is not able to get you a high-paying job, is it useless? Like the hammer with the broken handle? Like the bike with a flat tyre? OR does education have value irrespective of whether it gets you a high salary or not?

Allow me to test you (and your value judgment) with a real-world example:

What is your opinion of a young lady who chooses to get married and become a stay-home-mother, shortly after graduating from University?

A) Her three years at University was a big waste of time. Pedah saja blajar lama-lama, inda jua beguna. Sayang saja duit, buang masa. (Loose translation: No use/point. Waste of time and money.)

B) It’s her choice; she’s clearly a smart lady and is old enough to make her own decisions. Maybe she wants to settle down and start a family. If that’s what is important then good for her! Plus, a well-educated mother could very likely raise equally successful children. And a University degree doesn’t have an expiration date – if she ever plans to go back to work in the future, those options are still on the table.

C) An education was such a stupid idea to begin with. Who the heck wants to waste time sitting around in school?

If you answered A, you see education as only having instrumental value.

If you answered B, you see education as having both intrinsic and instrumental value.

If you answered C, there is a little ‘X’ in the top right corner of your screen – please click that now.

{ Money has instrumental value }

Like the sub-title above reads, money has instrumental value.  Realizing this, appreciating this, understanding this is an essential cornerstone of good personal finance.

Money is a tool.

In Pt 1, I walked you through Mamat’s story – he requires money in order to get/buy/obtain all the stuff he needs and wants. It is clear that money is a tool which allows Mamat to live the life he desires (a life with food, toilet paper, a gym membership, a family, etc.)

mat2

I will drill this into you one more time: 1) Mamat wants stuff in order to live a great life 2) Money is the tool he uses to get his stuff 3) He ends up getting a job to earn the tools (to get his stuff).

Mamat doesn’t want money just for the sake of having money; to hug it in bed every night before he goes to sleep. There is no intrinsic value in just having it, and Mamat knows that. Mamat understands that the money he earns has instrumental value – it can be traded and exchanged for the stuff he REALLY wants to live a fulfilled life.

People who believe money has intrinsic value become Misers.

Misers are people who hoard wealth and spend as little money as possible; they become obsessed with accumulating money (for the sake of it). These people can be described as cheap, cheapskates, stingy, karit. And being a Miser is not a positive thing. Unlike Mamat, who desires fairly healthy “stuff” in order for him to lead a fulfilling life, Misers only desire money – piles and piles of it – to bury in the ground or hide under a mattress. “Gila harta” is another term, loosely translated to “crazy over wealth”.

Sensible personal finance is not about trying to accumulate (or save) as much money as possible, it is not about mindlessly obsessing over every single cent and dollar. Being careful with your money does not mean being an extreme cheapskate.

Life is not about who earns or collects the most money – you cannot take your riches to your grave.

The goal should be to live a fulfilling life dedicated to activities, things, and people you care for most and are most important to you. Money is merely a tool to help you achieve this life. Money can buy many, many things – in fact, it CAN buy you happiness. You just need to know how to use it the right way. Money is not happiness, but it certainly can help you towards achieving it.

It is imperative to realise money’s instrumental value and learn how best to use this very powerful tool. After all, the true value of money lies not in what it is, but in what it can do for you.

Okay, mosey on over to Part 4 now –>

Muney – Who is in control of the relationship?

(The Story of Your Money is the ultimate beginner’s “for dummies” introduction to Personal Finance principles. This series is a primer that will walk you through the very basics and set the scene before you dive into the world of personal moolah management – I highly recommend you start with Part 1 [it will make more sense] even if you’re a pro!)

Mamat’s story is nothing unique – most people are subject to this tug-of-war between Income and Expense as soon as they leave school and enter the workforce.

Our children know the drill: to do well in life you stay in school, study smart. And then one day you will graduate, enter the competitive pool of young jobseekers and hopefully emerge victorious – a job offer, clutched tightly in your fist!

And then what?

Oh, um.. Car, marriage, house.

Huh?

Buy a car. Get married. Build a house.

Oh. But how?

Hmm.

It’s wonderful how much human effort and endeavor (and money) gets poured into education, on both a national and global scale – we’re talking pre-school syllabi, special-needs assistance and care, detailed classroom planning, education streaming exercises, examination standards, policy guidance across the board for primary, secondary, vocational, university levels – all the way from the day a child starts walking till the day s/he walks off the graduation stage.

But then it just drops off, doesn’t it?  Bleep. Bleep Bleeeeeep –

And then Nothing.

Strip away the training wheels, no more diapers, get a spoon and feed yourself, dammit!! Congratulations, you survived the first twenty to twenty-five years of your life – here is a piece of paper proving your shiny new credentials and a bag of optional bragging rights (please do not take these; just leave them by the door before you exit).

And then what?

Nobody knows.

You just spent the last two decades of your life learning how to tell the time on a watch strapped to your wrist and now you find yourself clutching a stick in an open field and it looks like it’s going to rain.

You’re not going to admit you don’t know what you’re doing, that you suddenly can’t tell the time – not after all those years in school! How embarrassing. Nobody’s going to admit they haven’t a single clue, goodness no – Not when you’re now a, gasp, dare I say it: adult.

Pfft. No textbooks, teachers, no step-by-step instructions on what to do next? That’s okay. I got this, I mean c’mon – I have a job now. How could someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing get a job. …Right?

#millenialproblems

And so here we are. Even if you sucked at math in school, you (like Mamat) probably understand the concept of Income and Expense.

Got a job, aw yisss. Someone gives me money. I use the money to buy what I like. End of story.

Wait – WHAT! I qualify for a new credit card??!!1! Well that’s great news! Someone’s offered to loan me some money! My wallet can suddenly stretch a little more: I can buy things even if I don’t necessarily have all the money just yet – and then pay it off in the future. Sama jua tu. After all, I have a job. Just because I don’t have the money right now doesn’t mean I can’t afford it – I’ll have that money in the future. The fantastic benefit is that I don’t have to waste time waiting. Here’s an example: look at this car. I’ll just buy it now, and then in seven years I’ll be done. If I had to wait till I had all the money, I’d be waiting forever – and c’mon, what am I supposed to do in the meantime, walk 15km to work everyday? Hitch a ride like a child? What a joke.

Well alright, so that’s set. Got the car. Next step – marriage. Or specifically, a wedding.

I’ve already started saving up for that. I’m sensible so I’ll try kumpul duit as much as possible, use it to buy smaller things like the wedding dress, the door gifts, the décor. But oh man I don’t want to wait forever, I’m getting old! I’ll just take out a loan for the rest of the amount; like 15k that won’t be too bad. Plus, I’ve already paid off a good amount on my car so that’ll be done soon anyway. Yeah. Problem solved.

And what about starting a family? Children unfortunately don’t work like bulk-order discounts – no buy one free one deal! Each one is pretty much as expensive as the next (let’s not get into the hand-me-down argument right now). Will you be buying baby formula on your credit card? Will you still be paying off the loan you took out to buy pampers when your child is halfway through primary school? What about that house you always wanted to get? (??!!)

Let’s pause right there.

You’ve suddenly found yourself ensnared in this vicious cycle. Every month a nice, clean paycheck is dropped into your bank account, the balance shoots upwards like a rocket and spikes (momentarily) into the sky – before it plummets straight back down with a resounding crash, because all your monthly payments devoured it like it was a free Ramadan buffet.

Where did you go wrong? All the benefits of not having to wait to buy, saving time, paying for it in the future – where did it go? Suddenly all your Income; the precious golden nuggets you are rewarded with after spending  8 hours a day, 5 days a week, year in, year out, hunched over your cubicle desk – they’re  going straight back out to pay for Expenses you don’t even remember making! Where is that designer bag I bought last year; I’m still paying for it and I haven’t seen it in weeks!

(It’s probably buried under all your credit card debt somewhere. Ouch. Sorry, I had to – I’ll be nicer now.)

I mean this – well this is torture, isn’t it? Is there an end in sight?

Personal finance people, they talk about this problem in many colourful ways:

You’ve dug yourself into a big hole (no, a big CRATER) of debt. You’re SPIRALLING downward into inevitable bankruptcy. You’re struggling to make ends meet. You are drowning in interest from all your credit card bills and loans. You have no disposable income – what this means is, like the rocket example above, even if you’re still earning a monthly salary – it gets cut away like meat off a bone, and you’ve only got a few bucks left after the carnage is over. You can’t withdraw any physical money from the ATM. Your Income is bleeding out in the form of bills and bank transfers – you never see it! Just numbers on a screen, numbers on a page, sealed up in an envelope and poked into your mailbox.

Let’s pause again for another second. Alright, take a deep breath and slowly – release.

Does any of this sound familiar? Anything even a tiny bit relatable? It’s not a great story. But I’m not here to be self-righteous about it and bask in your feelings of guilt and shame.

Hey. Chin up. It’s not too late.

But we need to make a change. A real change. Not a “I promise to shop less next month and if I’m a good girl, I’ll reward myself with a trip to Singapore/new watch/more stuff!” change. Not a “I’ll stop buying lattes, I’ll just make Nescafe at the office” change.

I’m talking a real change.

(Warning, tough love: Hate to break it to you, honey, but don’t go crawling to the government for help, don’t go playing the blame game “gaji inda cukup“, “XYZ paksa membagi bantuan” “aku ani bukan jua org kaya, inda mampu” – snap out of it, you big baby, grow some BAWLS and take ownership over your own situation! If you got yourself into it, it’s probably your fault to some extent. And y’know what, even if it wasn’t your fault to begin with… you’re the only one who can help yourself. Everybody got their own problems to deal with, sweetie; stop the dependence, the spoonfeeding, the breastfeeding. Can you imagine if you needed someone to wipe your bum every time you needed the pooper? What happens if you accidentally soil yourself then – is it their fault or yours? Forgive the language but Y’ALL GOTTA HEAR IT FROM SOMEBODY. It’s time to take matters into your own hands and take control!)

But it’s not just about saving money.

It’s not just about spending less.

It’s not just about paying off your credit card and starting from zero debt.

Don’t get me wrong, all these things are very important. But before we get down to these “actionable” doable, changeable, check-list, New Years Resolution-worthy bullet points… We need a conversation about why we need to do all this, why it’s important to seize control of our finances. What do you get out of it? What is the purpose of Income, Expense – in fact, what is the purpose of money at all?

We need to start rethinking this whole money business – turn it over on its head, flip it inside out. As cliche as it sounds, we’re going to need to fix a mindset: how we look at money. What money is, and what it’s good for, and why we need it.

Sure it’s a material good, and we definitely can’t take it with us to the grave – but don’t be fooled into thinking “money isn’t everything”, “money isn’t that important”, “the best things in life are free”, “I’d rather be happy than rich”. It’s not everything but it is the currency of the modern world. It’s not healthy to obsess over money but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s not important. It is important, that’s why the number one cause for stress in adults is money.¹ Money troubles are also one of the main causes of fights in marriages (and divorce)!²

And if this something (that isn’t “everything”) can have such a big impact on the parts of your life that actually do matter (your health, family), that’s all the more reason to handle it properly.


¹ This is a fairly well-known factoid but if you want actual statistics to back it up, a quick google gives me these:
What stresses Britons out most? 
Top sources of stress in the US (2014)
I can’t vouch for how credible this statista website is but c’mon I’m not exactly writing my PhD thesis here.

² Snore, let’s make this an interactive exercise. If you really want a source,  look for statistic yourself. Maybe I made it up. Prove me wrong (with a credible source, not Cosmo mag) and I’ll buy you a cookie.