Prompt: Share three pieces of advice you’ve received through your life that you wish you had heard earlier.
1. Don’t judge others.
My parents were reasonably tolerant people. They weren’t racist. They didn’t care about a person’s sexuality (although they may not have understood it either). My dad did have a tendency to judge religious people, as he is a pretty staunch atheist. And he definitely judged fat people, who he saw as lazy and greedy.
But I honestly don’t know where my judgmental streak came from. For a long time I judged others. I would judge people who did drugs. I would judge people who drank to excess. I would judge people who had unprotected sex. I would judge people who got into difficult situations through their own stupid decisions and mistakes. Basically, if you did something stupid, I judged you. Because I lived my life colouring between the lines. I followed the rules and I never let drugs or alcohol impair my judgement. I genuinely didn’t understand why others would be so reckless, so foolish.
Of course, eventually my high and mighty, holier-than-thou attitude came to bite me in the ass. As it was bound to. And I found myself in difficult situations through my own stupid decisions and mistakes. And then I had to realise two important things:
1. Everyone makes mistakes. Some make big mistakes, some make small mistakes. Some get away with their mistakes, some make mistakes that change their lives forever.
2. Everyone comes from a different background. Even my sisters and I. We’ve all had different experiences that have led us to make different decisions for different reasons.
Luck has a huge amount to do with where our lives are at. Not everyone who has unprotected sex gets pregnant. Some do, and it changes their lives forever. Others don’t, and they move on, perhaps learning from their mistake, perhaps not.
Not everyone who speeds is in a car wreck. My husband was just telling me yesterday that he once drove down the Southern Motorway at 190km/h (118mph). He could have been in a car wreck and been killed. He could have hit and killed someone else. But he didn’t. He survived and his life moved on, and he ended up where he is now. Sometimes we hear of people being killed or suffering the consequences of reckless behaviour but none of us are perfect. Sure, I haven’t driven a car at 190km/h, but I’ve broken the speedlimit in a residential area. What if a child had run across the road? What if my tire had blown out? What if… What if… What if… I’ve driven when I’m tired. What if I’d fallen asleep at the wheel? I’ve texted on my cellphone while driving. Anything could have happened. But it didn’t. But someone else did the same thing and something did happen. And who the fuck am I to judge them, just because I got away with it?
And of course, some people are the innocent victims of other people’s poor decisions. Some people never speed but are hit by a speeding driver or a drunk driver. That could have been me or my husband. I’m reminded of that saying ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. I’m not religious, so I don’t attribute my luck to God, but certainly some people are in shit situations through no fault of their own, or in situations my own decisions could have easily led me to be in.
So yeah, I learned the hard way, in my early twenties, that I’m just as stupid and fallible as the next person, and not to judge others when I don’t know what led them to make those decisions, and when I know that I’ve made stupid decisions before.
2. Don’t wait for ‘one day’.
I guess it’s inevitable that we will put things off because they don’t fit into our lives right now. Perhaps we can’t afford that trip, or the timing doesn’t work well because the kids are the wrong age or so-and-so is sick… But ultimately there’s always an excuse to put something off.
I read a story once about a woman who had passed away, and her children were cleaning out her belongings. Her daughter found a bottle of perfume that had been bought for the woman, and it had been saved for ‘a special occasion’ and never used. What a waste. Don’t save things for special occasions. Make today a special occasion!
About a week ago, hubby and I drank a $70 bottle of wine with dinner. No special occasion. He said ‘Open a nice bottle of wine’, so I did. It was fucking delicious. We both really enjoyed it, and we had a bit of a giggle over drinking such an expensive wine for no particular reason. It was really nice actually.
Contrast that to years ago when we were totally broke but hubby managed to buy me a bottle of nice perfume at a sale. I only used it for special occasions because I didn’t want it to be wasted. It was a luxury, something we couldn’t afford to replace. Guess what… The perfume went off. It got old and it went bad. I never even got to finish using the bottle, because I waited too long for special occasions to come along. I didn’t make that mistake with the next bottle of perfume he bought me (about 10 years later). That one I put on at least once a week, and I’ve nearly finished the bottle.
We have heirloom china plates and serving dishes that belonged to hubby’s grandparents. Did you know that if you don’t use them, they go brittle and are likely to break when you move house, etc? They need to be used to remain in good condition. But of course if you use them, you risk breaking them, and washing them causes the pattern to fade. It’s a catch 22. But better to use them and make happy memories. So we use our good china twice a year at least – for Christmas and midwinter Christmas (although we didn’t have a midwinter Christmas this year). We have photos of our last meal with hubby’s grandfather, using the good china, and it’s a beautiful memory. Worth way more than even antique heirloom china could be.
We went into debt to go to the UK in 2014. We went into even more debt to go to the UK in 2018 for my sister’s wedding. But we made amazing memories on both trips. We got to show our children some amazing places before they became too old and independent to want to holiday with us. Yeah, debt sucks. But firstly, if we’d waited until we had saved enough, we’d never have gone. Hubby and I suck at saving. And secondly, who knows what the future holds? This way, regardless of what happens ahead of us, we have these wonderful memories.
Talking of debt does kind of bring me to my next point though.
Financial literacy is one of the most important skills you’ll ever have in life.
As a child and a teenager, I always considered myself smart. Intelligent. That’s because I found school easy. In my teens, I started to realise that were other kinds of smarts, like being good at surviving in the bush, or street-smart, or having common sense. I don’t have common sense, I’m not street-smart and I’d suck at surviving in the bush. If I had to pick one of those things though, I’m probably better off in the bush than on a city street. But I still thought that I was a little bit better than those people who didn’t have academic intelligence.
But life has a way of kicking you in the ass and teaching you things that you’re too stupid to realise the easy way.
When I was flatting, at age 19-20, one of my flatmates was very good with money. Incredibly good. Hubby and I used to make fun of her. Because she never spent money she didn’t have to. She’d buy the cheap toilet paper. She only bought vegetables that were in season. She lived like a pauper even though she had the money to live a much more lavish lifestyle. Hubby and I couldn’t understand it. Why would you live like that if you didn’t have to? Why be miserable when you could spend a bit of money and have fucking tomatoes on toast and some decent toilet paper? Fuck, we were so judgmental.
Anyway, we ended up in a terrible financial situation. I guess we were effectively homeless, but our parents let us stay with them so we never went without a roof over our heads or a meal. But we alternated between my parents and my in-laws’ because having two extra adults and a baby in the house was too much for everyone and relationships and tempers frayed pretty quickly. One week with his parents, one week with my parents. It sucked.
After we got a flat of our own (renting), we were basically living off a maxed-out credit card. We’d put the wages onto the credit card, then spend them again, leaving us back where we started, having not reduced our debt one iota. This went on for a while until one week the interest on the credit card used up all the money we’d put on the card, leaving us with no available credit to spend. Well fuck. We had just enough money to buy toilet paper and the necessary things for the baby. No food. Luckily hubby was working at a bakery, so he was able to bring home free bread. I made soups using powdered chicken stock and some old potatoes we had in the pantry. We ate that shitty soup with bread for a week. We both lost a lot of weight that week.
I also remember (a different time) having to call in sick to work because we had no money for petrol. And once I had to ring my mother and ask her to put $20 in my bank account so I could buy sanitary products. We were that broke and that bad with money.
Guess what. It’s nearly 20 years since then. We’re still living pay to pay, and I’m still putting money on my credit cards every pay and then spending it again, making no inroads into our debt. I have a personal loan that I’m paying off, so I’m reducing that debt, but no matter how much I pay off the credit cards, I inevitably spend it again. I need to cut them up and get rid of them, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
I learned a lot about financial literacy in my last job. I am better with money than I used to be. I don’t spend the money for the power bill or the mortgage on other things, because I have it set aside for those bills. So in that respect, I am improving. But I’m still shit with money. We still have way too much debt that I can’t get out of. We still can’t save for shit.
I think the two most important things any person should have is emotional intelligence and financial literacy. These are far more important than the regular subjects we teach our kids at school. I wish I’d learned financial literacy much earlier in life. It would have saved us so much stress and heartache. I’m trying really hard to teach it to my children, but I know I set a bad example.
What life lessons do you wish you’d learned earlier?