Savings Experiment

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One of the things I tried when I wanted to just start saving was socking away actual bills and coins.

Round 1

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The first step I tried was to save every ¥1000 bill I had in my wallet at the end of the week. Basically, if I had any bills that were ¥1000, I would put it in a canister that I had bought from the 100 yen store. I thought it would be a small step that I can do and that it shouldn’t feel like such a big deal. I was still paying off my student loans, so I couldn’t really save a lot. I just thought I needed to do something, even if it wasn’t that big.

The idea was just to start the habit of saving. If I could introduce it and keep doing it, maybe I’d realize that being consistent with it wasn’t that hard to do. Maybe I wouldn’t miss the money that I wouldn’t be spending. I gave myself one year to try it out. At the end of the first year, I had saved ¥50000 (or about $550. Back then, the yen was so strong, it even reached ¥72 for $1). Not bad, for such a little habit.

The second year I tried it, I only got to ¥20,000. For some reason, the second year was much harder. I think it felt like I was sacrificing too much; giving up that ¥1000 bill at the end of the week was painful. I actually stopped halfway through the year. That was very discouraging.

Round 2IMG_7250

 

So then I thought, what about coins? In Japan, there is a coin worth ¥500, about five US  dollars. It is the biggest coin in the Japanese currency. They are big, shiny, and gold. They are also heavier than the other coins. Again, I wanted to give myself a year for this experiment, and the idea was to sustain the habit and be more consistent.

My first year, I had saved ¥135,420.

Wait, what?!

¥135,420, which is about $1300 USD.

I was able to use that money to pay for my roundtrip flight to the US.

It was amazing! I was very surprised that I was able to save that much money. But why was the lesser-value coin easier to save than the higher-value bill? I think the reason why it was so successful was because of the weight.

I walk everywhere because I don’t have a car and I live in a pretty walkable city with a good transportation system. Because I had to carry everything I needed with me for the day in a backpack that always sat on my shoulders, the thought of the extra grams weighing down my wallet made me want to get rid of it as soon as I could. Instead of waiting for the end of the week to save the money, I usually unloaded the coins in the piggy bank whenever I got a chance.

It was also great to deliberately try to collect the coins so that I would have more to save. Every time I was at the cash register, I would try to spend and estimate the total so that I would receive a ¥500 coin as change.

Additionally, part of the reason why I changed to the coins was because of the 2011 Tsunami that hit Tohoku. I knew I needed to keep cash at home in case of emergencies. I figured that if a flood or if a fire it, money in the form of paper bills would easily be destroyed. But with coins, there could be a chance that they would survive a disaster.

However, when I decided I wanted to spend the money on a vacation, it was a lot harder to put it back into a bank account. I was too embarrassed to go to an actual bank teller to deposit it so I decided to use the ATM machines. So when I got the chance, I would haul ¥30,000 worth of coins to the bank and deposit it through the machines. I made several trips to different banks. I didn’t want to overwhelm one bank with so many coins 🙂 It must have been fun to see all that when they did their accounting.

I did this for three more years, and each year, I was able to save more than ¥100,000. I’ve since stopped the habit now that I’m able to save more than that in my bank account. But I learned that the most important thing was getting the habit started and being consistent. I also learned that saving even a little bit at a time can lead to big payoffs in the future.

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Personal Finance: Personal Growth Through Finance

When I was younger, I truly believed that rich people were bad people. I thought that people with a lot of money were always corrupt and used their money to do more harm than good. Because of that, I was determined to grow up and become a poor do-gooder. My income wouldn’t matter. As long as I was doing work that I loved and I was changing the world, I would be happy. It was better than being a rich, evil millionaire making his money off the backs of the poor.

I also believed that love conquered all, that money didn’t matter as long as two people loved each other enough. With love, you can tackle any problem in the world.

Okay, I’ll give you a minute to get your breath back. I’ll wait until you stop laughing.

I’m actually cringing as I write this… But hey, remember the title of this blog.

Now that I’m older, I’ve done a complete 360 and realized that money can be used for good. As I learn more about finances, I’m diving deeper into virtuous things you normally wouldn’t associate with money. I’m learning concepts that have allowed me to grow professionally, personally, and even spiritually.

Wait, what?!  Woo-woo stuff in a money blog? Yes, I know. But please bear with me.

It’s never really about money–it’s about how you treat it and how it makes you feel. Really analyzing the way I use my money led me to think about society and life in general. Reading and learning about the many aspects of personal finance has taken me through so many rabbit holes: financial plans, retirement accounts, productivity, frugality, the human psyche, mindfulness, investing in health, environmentalism, conscious consumerism, and even minimalism.

Rich people aren’t necessarily evil. Sure, there are some rotten ones out there who abuse the power that they have because of their wealth, but the same could be said about poor people. I’ve realized how rigid and misguided my thinking was. Money can be a positive force in this world. As with everything else, it is a tool to be used. The question is whether you can use it efficiently or not.

As such, I’ve also discovered empowerment and entrepreneurship. Having money can help you become charitable and allow myriad ways you can be of service to others. You can invest your money wisely so that you can leave a legacy behind for your favorite charity, or create scholarships for students who come from poverty. Being wealthy means you have the power to not only change your life but also help others become better. Your business could employ others who need money to support their families. When you’re financially secure, you won’t be steeped in anxiety so you have the time to spend with your loved ones.

The underlying story about money is how you use it. I don’t want to give it power, so much so that it would control my entire life. I understand that money is not the end all and be all of things. It’s just that having it and not worrying about it gives you agency and control of your own destiny. You have, in short, choices. It’s like a pay-it-forward mentality. You can spend money to help yourself, which in turn would enable you to help others.

So many of these things I would never have thought of if I hadn’t been exposed to the world of personal finance. Normally, you wouldn’t associate money with positive and noble goals, but it has also helped me define my values more clearly as I learn to use money efficiently to fund my dreams and goals. It seems really strange that I feel like I’ve become a better person because I’ve learned to treat my money with the respect that it deserves. After all, it represents a big part of what I do in this world.

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A Man is Not A Plan

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I’m a pretty independent person. I tend to do things on my own and dislike depending on others. When I was younger, I’ve always worked so that I could have the money to buy the things I needed. Honestly, I’ve been working since I was 12. Back then, I made five bucks an hour watching my neighbors’ kids. It was awesome! I loved having the money. Of course, as soon as I got it, I spent it.

Maybe I wasn’t the best at saving money, but I was not afraid to work for it if I needed to.

Granted, we got allowances when we were kids. We all did our chores and did homework. As students, that was our job. My older sister and I also had to cook dinner because our parents were both working full-time. We got twenty bucks a week, but that usually went to lunch.

When I was old enough to work legally, I went out and got a part-time job. As a teenager, I hated asking my parents for money. I just didn’t like the feeling of guilt every time I  asked them to buy something that I wanted. I got a job as a store clerk at the local Bradlees. Since then, I’ve been working.

This didn’t stop when I got married. I had to. I had student loans to pay off. I always knew that debts had to be paid off, and I wanted them gone as soon as I could.

For some reason though, I was so focused on paying off my loans that the idea of saving for retirement never occurred to me. Maybe, at the back of my mind, I had my husband.

And that is the key. My husband is Japanese, first of all. And, he is in the military, which is considered a civil servant job. He is what they call koumuin  (公務員). In Japan, a government worker is in it until they retire. They can never get fired, unless you do something really bad–or if you choose to leave government service. Not many people do, however, because if you can last until the end of your employment, you’re pretty much set for life. You have a guaranteed pension and health insurance until you die. Talk about job security!

Maybe because of that guarantee, I knew that we would be set for life. He would get a pension and social security, enough to cover our needs once we both retired. I knew that he would get a nice, big check once he was done working. With that security, I really thought I didn’t need to worry about that stuff because we were going to be okay in the end.

“Hope is not a financial plan.” Suze Orman

Of course, I never figured that he would get sick.

I imagine the feeling I had back then was akin to the feeling that many people experienced during the Great Recession of 2008. My world fell apart. And how easily, too. Everything happened in a few months. He just couldn’t function normally and the stress we were both under was incredibly difficult and strained our marriage. But I knew we had to get through all this.

First of all, my husband’s health became the main focus of our relationship. It was imperative that he got better. Anything that would help him heal, whatever amount it took, we did. I had to stop working a little bit to focus on his recovery.

Eventually, he got was able to bounce back. His job was kind enough to grant him paid leave to heal and also provided the means for him to get drugs and treatment.

It was during those two difficult years that I realized I can’t rely on his job for providing the security we would need in the future. That was when I realized that I had to contribute and do something about my lack of knowledge.  If I didn’t do anything to tackle my fears and this limiting belief that I was powerless when it came to my finances, we would sink under the weight of it all.

I decided I couldn’t be a moron any more when it came to money. I started listening to podcasts and reading online whatever I could to make sure that I would get our finances in order. Gradually, I became empowered and understood enough to start saving and investing in my health, my retirement, and also in our marriage.

I’m glad to say that my husband is healthy, and we’ve overcome what I hope is the worst of his illness. At least now I know that I can’t rely solely on him, that this is something we have to do together. After all, we are partners in this path to financial independence.

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Hey, Moron!

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I first heard the term “money moron” when I was listening to Farnoosh Torabi’s podcast, So Money. I think she was interviewing Scott Allan Turner who was explaining the mistakes he had made before he became smarter about his money–the time he was a money moron. I heard the term and I just fell in love with it. Pardon my nerdiness, but I just plain loved the alliteration and the implicit meanings behind those two words.

The term money is fraught with many meanings. To some, it’s a dirty word. It might be embarrassing and a little scary to talk about. I know for myself that when I was younger, I thought I was a cool person because I was going to be one of those people who wouldn’t care about it. I grew up thinking that money caused a lot of problems in the world and that the desire for it made people evil.

Me at 18: I don’t need money! I’m going to be poor but I’m going to change the world!

Yup, I was that much of an idiot.

To others, meanwhile, money means financial independence and freedom. Now that I’m older and facing my forties, I have come to appreciate money as a tool to achieve these worthy goals. Money itself is not good or bad. It is the meaning that people attach to it that corrupts people or makes them work positively for good.

Billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have used their money to change the lives of people around the world. If you take it a step even further, many individuals gladly donate what they can to causes that they believe in. I don’t think anybody can fault them for that.

Me at 37: I am grateful for the money I have–not many people can say that.

And simply, too, money could just mean numbers: your income, retirement portfolio, your spending. It could be the negative in-flows and the drop off in your net worth. It means I spent more money this month than I wanted. It could also be that $1500 round trip ticket to the US to visit family and friends.

In essence, it is a word that represents a huge and exciting world.

To me, being a moron means you’re not informed about something, that you lack knowledge in certain areas. I would like to think that I’m smart, but I will gladly admit that there are a lot of things I don’t know. I can’t possible know everything: Wow, so many opportunities and ideas to learn about and implement!

And that’s what excites me. It means there’s always a way to make myself better. Even when I was young, I always loved studying, or reading, or just diving deeper into a world that I find interesting. I’ve always dreamed of being a professional student. If I could make money studying then I would do that job. Now, years later, I’ve also come to understand that acting upon that knowledge is just as exciting. Doing something about the information I’ve learned and applying it in my daily life not only gives me valuable experience, but is–in itself–another way of learning. 

Holy cow! Learning within learning, within learning.

Lastly, I added the sayonara to the term money moron to stress that I live in Japan and that my journey towards financial independence is deeply tied to this country. As an American expat (but really an immigrant), I am faced with many issues many other nationalities won’t face when they are living here. One of the things that still troubles me is taxes–Damn, you IRS! I dread dealing with my taxes, but that’s a blogpost all on its own.

I am on a journey, and I accept that I am still a work in progress. I will blunder–a lot–but at least I am taking steps to achieve financial freedom.

I’m so glad to have started.

I hope you’ll join me along the way and learn from my mistakes as well.

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