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What Living In A Single-Parent South Asian Household Has Taught Me About Money

For a large part of my life, money has always been a big topic of conversation. Probably because I grew up with so little of it, thanks to my dad drinking away the bulk of what we had, or the fact that my mom did many work-from-home gigs so she could make extra money to keep us fed and take care of us. Here in Sri Lanka, not only is childcare (like a nanny) expensive, but also the thought of leaving your children with a complete stranger (like a babysitter) sounds ridiculously daunting. But we prevailed, and while I too do a lot of work-from-home gigs, it’s not for the same reasons as my mom. It’s simply because I value my privacy and freedom. But that’s not to say things were always so rosy.

I did, however, end up going to college abroad (cheaper and faster than studying in Sri Lanka) and graduated successfully, making me the first person to do so in my family (woohoo!). It wasn’t without loans or debt hough, but I should note Sri Lanka doesn’t have the same student loan system that we hear about a lot on TFD. Well, we do, but not to the same degree. In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to write for TFD was to show just how similar but different our approaches are to conversations about money, budgeting, investments, loans, etc. So without further ado, here are four things I learned having grown up in the household I did.

1. Savings

Sri Lanka, being the developing country it is, has a long way to go in terms of savings opportunities. While I still use a regular savings account (and a savings account with a higher interest rate to save for big-ticket items like trips and such), there aren’t very many savings options available here. Or maybe I’m not as financially savvy and haven’t looked in the right places. But we do a lot of savings in terms of “fixed deposits,” which I believe would be the American equivalent of a “time deposit.”

2. Investments

I cannot speak about savings further without talking about investments. Let me just start by saying that I’ve heard so much about 401(k)s and IRAs, and now I’m just a green jelly sandwich. No, we don’t have all of those back here. However, we have similar funds, like an Employee Provident Fund (EPF) and an Employer Trust Fund (ETF) that are only applicable to people with “permanent” jobs (or what the bank manager who refused me a car loan would call “real” jobs). So similar(ish) to a 401(k), an EPF allows you to contribute a minimum of 8% from your monthly gross salary that your employer matches with a minimum of 12%, which you can withdraw upon retirement or migrating or a number of other legitimate reasons. However, I have no such employer, and hence, I do not stand a chance at benefitting from these funds upon retirement. Assuming I make it that long. What I do have instead is an unsteady stream of savings that I’m working on building, hopefully before my 30th birthday — a retirement insurance policy of sorts.

During commerce class in school, we were taught of four specific investment types: fixed deposits, stocks, treasury bills, and treasury bonds. But if you know anything about developing country governments and their stock markets, you wouldn’t give your money to the government or the stock market, given how volatile both are. 

3. It’s okay to say “no”

…to nights out, extravagant cruises, and other sorts of things that you think might make a significant dent in your budget. It’s okay. You can have fewer friends and maybe more money. (Plus, if push comes to shove, you can always buy some friends later if you’re in desperate need.)

4. Living with parents is pretty cool

For some very odd cultural reason, not many unmarried kids leave their parents’ houses, since living with another person is a minor social taboo. I’ve been trying to move out of mine for a while now, despite not having a real reason to. I’m among the lucky ones — I won’t say no. I have a cool mom and stepdad who are very aware of the terrible things I get up to, and they let me cook my occasional vegetarian meal and even help me finish it. (And no, I’m not vegetarian. During monsoons, it’s way cheaper to eat meat.)

*****

As I said, these are very South Asian-specific lessons. I still save enough to travel sometimes, visiting some friends in the Netherlands and going back to India on numerous occasions. And my jobs are pretty neat — especially since they include a fair amount of travel compared to other “real” jobs.

Senashia Ekanayake is a full-time writer, part-time comms person, work-from-home enthusiast, try-hard yogi and ardent gift wrapper from Sri Lanka. She blogs on seniinthebox.com and tweets and grams as means of oversharing, ranting and simply celebrating the joys of social media.

Image via Unsplash

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