Rewind 15 years and I’m enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime ride on a stupidly privileged gravy train. Living in crowded Hong Kong, my family's double story house overlooks one of the most expensive beach coves in the city.
One day us dumb kids spend a full day in a Hong Kong private members club, an expensive amusement centre for the rich, totally unsupervised. We enjoy multiple buffets, bowling alleys and…I can’t even remember. I recall swiping the plastic over and over again and then my parent's car rolls up. As we hop into the back a member of staff awkwardly informs our parents their dumb kids have just spent hundreds of dollars.
Did we get punished for this? Nope. Why should we? Money was so abundant that the incident is forgotten the next day. (Forgotten by everyone except, that is, the local staff at the club, who are stunned by what had gone down).
Barely a year later this gravy train derailed. My dad is made redundant due to a merger and our family enters a six year period of long term unemployment.
To save costs, we move to Rome to be closer to my Italian grandmother. We go to a good school and there is always food on the table and the odd dollar of pocket money.
But for six years as a teenager, money is an issue. Every dollar we spend is a dollar we never see again. As our well of water depletes we take smaller sips.
By the time University rolls around, I’ve become notoriously stingy. I practice keeping a straight face when asking bartenders ‘I’ll have your cheapest pint, please’. Fortunately, things get better once finances are in my control with my own career.
Fast-forward eight years and I gatecrash a corporate conference afterparty in Berlin to join a friend. The evening rolls by in a haze of bountiful wine, steaks and tiramisu while overlooking Museum Island. This pampering is on par with the Hong Kong days.
It gets me thinking: how would I feel if I lived this lifestyle every day?
As soft and aromatic as the strawberry-tinged tiramisu is, I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek this lifestyle out again. And I certainly wouldn’t put up with the suffocating corporate environment for free wine and a company car.
I guess this would suggest life’s luxuries aren’t important to me. And, by implication, I really shouldn’t be so bothered about the size of my paycheque.
Money invades my thoughts repeatedly, many times an hour.
But it’s not money per se: it’s the well of savings. I’m super focused on filling it up. Some fiscal prudence is a virtue, of course, but I definitely take it too far: I barely have a possession to my name and my friends have to put up with their phones vibrating every time I input a communal expense on a money-tracking app.
And what will I use these savings for?
I don’t know. So much in life is uncertain. That’s especially true when you’re trying to forge a career path where the options are unlimited. I'm rambling in a giant forest without a map.
While I wander under the tall trees, I devote myself to learning many varied skills and building networks stretching the world from English teaching to financial regulation. And along the way I jettison them as quickly as they're built. This happens over and over again because I often decide I’m heading in the wrong direction.
But I do have one very trusty companion along for the hike: savings. No matter what route I take, having a comfy cushion of cash gives me options. Throw it all up in the air to travel Central America? Yep. Start up my own business? Yep.
And until I know for sure what path to take, this savings well will continue to fill up, drop by drop.
I hope one day I will step out onto a clearing, leave the dark canopy behind me with clear direction in life and let go of doggedly saving money. This will also be the day my friends can enjoy a beer with me without their phones vibrating off the table notifying them they owe me €2,50.