Sunday, November 26, 2023

Money & Me: Beggars can’t be choosers


My two-year-older sister and I went to two different colleges in the same city. She studied chemistry, I studied engineering. Introverted by nature, she liked living alone, renting quiet private rooms. I loved living in the dormitories across town, surrounded by college students, partying quite a lot. It was no surprise that her weekly money allowance (same as mine) lasted longer, at times not even all spent. In my eyes she was rich!

Mid-way through college, Bulgaria got its first McDonnalds, right smack in the center of the city. One Friday evening my sister offered to take me there for a treat. I was at the end of my financial rope so I accepted. Free dinner, what’s to refuse! Once we got there, a brand new, shiny, high-end restaurant (seemingly to us), was awaiting. I glanced at the menu, overcame my ego and said - “Instead of treating me to one dinner here, can I have the money for it. It will get me through a a few dinners purchased elsewhere.”

It felt wasteful to eat at McDonalds when I had no 2 pennies in my pocket. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request. “Well, it’s my money and I don’t want to eat alone, so you either stay and eat with me, or not. But I am not giving you money and eating alone.” - her reply stung. I felt awkward and a bit ashamed - was I just a dinner companion? not treated to dinner by my sister? As I was munching on my burger I swore never to rely on family for money and financial favors.

Shortly after I brought my Mom’s old sewing machine to the dormitories and set up an alterations shop. Fixing a piece of clothing every couple of weeks upped my monthly budget by half. I was thrilled - doing something I liked, meeting more of college kids - my clientele, and not feeling like a beggar ever again.

Money & Me: Learning to Budget


Credit Fidelity

Before the end of WWII, both sides of my family were quite well-off. My Mom’s family had a shop for agricultural tools imported from Germany and owned sheep and goat farms. My Dad’s family had a decent amount of land. Great-grandpa was the tax collector for the county, a well paying post.

The communist takeover in 1945 was a financial hit for both families. Without much education and not willing to join the communist party, all my grandparents were offered jobs with mediocre pay. My parents went to college and worked as teachers, but their wages were average. I was not cognizant of our economic status until I started college. 

My college was in a nearby city but I was not commuting. Instead I was living in the city, in the students dormitories. I received 5 Bulgarian leva per week from my parents and I was expected to go home for the weekend. I liked my independence, being a big girl in a big city, and I didn’t want to go home on the weekend. But I was running low on money by the end of Sunday. 

I started borrowing a lev or two from my wealthier roommate who had twice as big weekly allowance. I would return the loan promptly on Monday morning when I return from a home visit. This must have gone for a while. One day she asked:

Almost every week you borrow 1 lev from me, then you return it and you are again 1 lev short the following week. Couldn’t your parents give you that extra 1 lev for the week? Or could you split your 5 dollars over 7 days so you don’t have to borrow money?” 

 She said it so simply and well intended. How come I didn’t think of it?! I did what she suggested and I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to budget! I would still run short on cash occasionally 
but the idea of planning how to spend the money I have was forever planted in my head.