Of course, I knew from the beginning that I was different. My Humanities brain was fascinated by the cultural differences between me and my Experts. They described a world of unending credit (multiple credit cards!), merry/frivolous spending, frequent eating out and an adversity to second-hand things. It was all SO strange to me and I read about it with the same morbid fascination that you watch a car crash.
You see, dear Reader, I am South African. To put that into context let me tell you a little bit about my family. My Oupa (Afrikaans for ‘Grandfather’) grew up on a farm in the Karoo. The Karoo has very few resources – it’s a dry, flat, harsh environment that as a general rule leaves your farm far from your neighbor, not to mention the closest town. So you have to be self-sufficient. And you treasure EVERY resource that comes your way (including money). What this means is that my Oupa’s family grew their own food (an achievement in this environment!) and NEVER threw out any food (they could never understand why guests complained or got sick from eating the 4-day-old-definitely-with-a-tinge-of-green chicken), hunted for sales anywhere they could, used electricity sparingly and recycled/re-used (underwear included!). I was too young to ever go to the Karoo Farm but I remember visiting my Great-Aunt Aunie (who spent most of her life living on the Farm) and: my Mom getting in trouble for throwing away food (that probably would have killed us kids!), me getting into trouble for having more than 1 light on in a room (not to mention leaving a light on when I wasn’t in the room!) and using the Yellow Pages (from the phonebook) for toilet paper. To put it another way, my grandparents’ generation makes my Experts look like indulgent splurgers.
While leaving The Farm definitely mellowed out my Oupa financially, he and my Gran (who despite growing up in the city had a similar approach to money) were still financially prudent: they were engaged for SEVEN years before they could afford to get married (they didn’t even think of credit as an option and this was before “people had sex before marriage” as my Gran often likes to remind me) and they only ever bought a car if they could do so in cash.
My parents don’t come close to my grandparents’ financial prudence. However, compared to the American culture described by my Experts, I feel like we are all already heroes living the Early Retirement lifestyle. Just to list a few examples:
- I can only remember having take-out maybe three times during my childhood.
- My Mom always made homemade biscuits (store bought was a BIG deal).
- I grew up in hand-me-downs from my cousins and then as a teenager preferred buying my clothes at the local Hospice shop.
- When my friend moved to England she gave me a bag of her clothes she couldn’t take with her. She didn’t think twice about offering them and I was THRILLED.
- I’ve only ever had 1 credit card. I was 26 years old when I got it. Up until recently it had a limit of R15000 (about 1000 US$). Husband has never had a credit card (and we don’t intend on him ever getting one).
- Husband and I have always tried to buy our cars cash. We have managed this for 3 out of the 4 cars we have owned.
All this meant that when I first started reading about Early Retirement lifestyles I felt WONDERFUL 🙂 But that was short-lived:
- If I was already living an Early Retirement lifestyle then I should have some nice savings tucked away already. I don’t. So something is clearly not working as it should…
- Also, if I’m already being financially smart then HOW do I cut down my already reduced expenses???