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My father taught me about frugality

My father was one of my first teachers when it came to personal finance, and one of the most important lessons he taught me was about frugality.

My father worked very hard like most Chinese fathers, and even when he was home, he would still be working, talking on the phone with his colleagues about business.

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Despite my father’s diligence, he never made us think we had a lot. We lived in an old two-story house built in the 1970s which was never renovated, just repaired and repainted as needed. I shared a room with my three brothers and we only had a few toys that we got whenever we took top honors in school.

In school, I had classmates who owned nice things and who lived in big beautiful houses. My dad would only say, “We can also afford to live that way, we just don’t.”

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“So why don’t we?” I thought. Is it because frugality is one of the most important virtues of being Chinese that we must preserve at all cost? What about enjoying the fruits of your labor? Or what about gaining respect by showing financial success?

I only started to appreciate my dad’s lessons on frugality when I grew older.

In college, I studied in Ateneo de Manila where students are supposed to be among the richest in the country. While I was there, I joined the Ateneo Glee Club. Every year, we went on overseas tours and as members, we each had to do our own personal fund raising to finance a portion of our trip.

While the amount we needed to raise was big, I never encountered difficulties in raising the funds because my dad financed my overseas tours. I was surprised to find out, though, that despite Ateneo’s reputation of being a school for the rich, not everyone had an easy time raising funds.

I had two brothers who were accepted in Ivy League universities, which are known to provide very good education but are also very expensive. Nevertheless, the cost did not stop my brothers from enrolling in the said universities because my father was able to pay for their tuition.

Then, when I got married and it was time for my husband and I to buy our first home, my dad volunteered to pay for a portion of the cost.

When I expressed hesitation to accept his offer, he said, “Don’t worry, I won’t help you if I can’t afford it, because no one else will help me.”          

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During the Asian Financial Crisis, when stocks were down 80 percent from the peak, my dad bought some stocks. I was worried about his investments, but he told me not to. Nevertheless, his decision to buy stocks during that very difficult time proved to be correct because his investments eventually became very profitable.

It was quite unfortunate though that around five years ago, my dad suffered from a massive stroke that made him paralyzed and bedridden. However, because he was frugal, he was able to accumulate enough funds to finance his ongoing medical needs and for my mom to maintain her lifestyle.

Maybe my dad was not eloquent enough to answer my question on why we shouldn’t live luxuriously even if we can afford to.

However, he was able to live his answer and his answer was this: Frugality is important so that we can prioritize things that matter, like family, making sure they can maximize their full potential and having the peace of mind that they can continue to live comfortably no matter what happens in the future. Frugality also allows us to capitalize on investment opportunities that seldom happen and are only available to those who are prepared.

Thank you for your lessons, dad, and Happy Father’s Day!

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