Buying My Happiness

by Hridi Das

Art by Jenn Solo

Art by Jenn Solo

I discovered 60 Bangladeshi taka was equivalent to 1 Canadian dollar when I was 8-years-old.

That same year, my entire family immigrated to Canada and we discovered the literal cost of uprooting ourselves from comfort into the unknown. While there are the emotional, physical, and mental costs of immigration the reality of the financial costs is something which has always burned at the back of my mind.

My parents often discussed our family’s finances. I recall a discussion about having to get a loan from a family friend for the first year after we immigrated. I did not know what the word ‘loan’ meant until years later in the context of 'student loans'. As a child, I thought a loan was something which goes away after enough years. I thought a loan was something people gave out of the kindness of their hearts with no expectations of repayment. In hindsight, I had confused the definitions of 'donation' and 'loan'.

My parents counted every penny and they instilled many habits which have stayed with me as a young adult today. For example, my parents had never seen the value in keeping up with technological trends as my brother and I yearned to do. My brother and I were interested in gaming but it was not something we had been able to pursue in the same way as our peers. We created a work around that we still do to this day: We found games that were compatible on our PC's, keeping silent while our peers traded them on school playground. It's not to say that I would have been happier with all the devices or gadgets but it was certainly difficult to explain to my peers that I had an interest in gaming despite not having physical proof.

Another aspect of life that was affected by our family's frugality was food. Unless a name brand item was on sale, we would gravitate towards the generic brands. We couldn't buy the imported Shaan spices from India at the local Desi store, we bought the inauthentic yet effective less expensive ones made in Canada. It was a necessary trade - survival for homesickness. After each meal, had the taste of metal on my tongue. What a difference pennies can make.

All of my immediate family pursued higher education in Canada and what did that mean? Loans. There was that word again. By then I had learned its meaning and I knew it wasn't a good thing. The thought of oweing a faceless institution such large amounts of money made me anxious. By the time I was a preteen, I knew more about the mechanisms of banking than most kids did my age. My parents vented about their financial struggles in front of me for years and my sponge of anxiety soaked it all up. Eventually, my mother told me she regretted her openness about our financial situation it but by then I had internalized those informal lessons about money.

I got my first job at 16-years-old and I was ecstatic. I fell in love with working and the autonomy that money provided. My anxiety prompted me to I invest every penny I earned. To this day, it's still locked in an investment account, completely untouched for the past 8 years. My rationale? One day I will need this financial safety blanket for something very important. We all have safety blankets and I wove mine with coins, paper, and plastic.

To say that I'm vigilant with spending my money is an understatement. I always round up on any price tag I see and I take the extra time to whip out a calculator to figure out its final price after tax. I am an avid book reader yet I can count on my fingers the number of times I actually bought a book. I remind myself: the money is better spent elsewhere and libraries are a blessing.

I shied away from credit cards for the longest time because the idea of not paying something off immediately made me nervous about the consequences that would incur if I forgot.I do a careful need vs. want SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats)  whenever I consider buying something. I look at the return policies of anything with a scrutinizing eye.

I was 22-years-old when I started my retirement fund, something which surprises anyone who asks me about money. Some might even go as far to call me paranoid but I've never seen myself that way. One of the perks of my anxiety is the reflexive thinking it gives me - it's made me strategic with my safety blanket. There is an age old adage that says "money can't buy happiness" and I disagree. You see, money to me is independence, security, safety, stability, and freedom. If you ask me, that sounds like happiness.

Hridi Das is an interdisciplinary Bangladeshi-Canadian millennial who is in denial that she is technically a legit adult. When she isn’t figuring out her future, she can be found teaching herself something new every day.