Media personality Jade Seah says that she had to learn how to spend and enjoy the luxuries in life without feeling guilty.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

I had to learn how to spend money. Yes, you heard me, not save but spend – no typo there. You see, my family did not have much money when I was growing up. My father was in construction and my mother worked long shifts as a nurse. They were parents before either of them turned 25, and they worked long, hard hours to support us, while paying off the house mortgage.

We were not poor, but I was aware that we didn’t have a lot of spare cash. We never took cab rides; I used hand-me-downs from my family; and I didn’t have new stationery in school. We didn’t order drinks when we went to the hawker centre (my dad would bring a bottle of water along to save money). As a teen, I picked up some of my family’s thrifty ways. I didn’t get spare pocket money for outings, so my best friend and I would share a plate of rice or noodles during school recess. That way, we could save enough for the weekend.

I’d bring along a bottle of water so I didn’t have to order drinks. Most of all, I got really creative – buying vintage pieces (instead of new clothes) then “modifying” them to look good on me.

I started working at 23, and I saved a little each month. I found it hard to spend and enjoy my hard-earned cash. At 27, I managed to put a down payment on my first apartment.

As I entered my 30s, I still felt guilty about everything I purchased – while my peers splashed on designer bags and 400-bucks-a-pop nights out. It was only after my beloved grandmother passed away a few years ago, that I started to see life differently. She was a simple woman who earned an honest living cleaning her siblings’ houses (for money). Yet, she spent generously on her loved ones.

It taught me that money is simply a means – it should not be the end goal. These days, I see it as a route to freedom – to be able to eat, drink and experience the things that my heart desires.

I spend on experiences that I love, like wakeboarding – and on those whom I love, such as taking my folks out to eat or buying nice things for them.

Not having to worry about having enough of it (money) is a blessing that I’m thankful for every day. It reminds me not to (mindlessly) chase for more of it. Simply because the real capital and the key to happiness is building relationships.

P.S. I still carry a bottle of water out with me – a habit that’s also good for the environment!