According to the Chinese Lunar calendar, February 8, 2016 will be Chinese New Year, the year of the Monkey. Chinese people traditionally celebrate New Year ’s Eve with many special dishes and each dish symbols great hope for the New Year. One of such dishes has left a long lasting impression with me was the fish dish.
Growing up in China, I remembered no matter how difficult life was, my parents somehow managed to find fish for our New Year’s Eve “feast” every time. At the center of our dinner table on the New Year’s Eve, there sat the fish with its head and tail intact. We were told not to touch it and just looked at it. It was meant to be saved for consumption on New Year ’s Day. For our little kids, it was a cruel punishment that we were not allowed to touch the fish when the fragrance from it was so irresistible. But my parents always said that saving the fish dish for the next year was important. It meant we would not go hungry next year because the Chinese word for fish “?,” sounds similar to another Chinese word “?,” which means extra. By saving the fish dish, we learned not to consume all we had at once and always remember to save something extra for the future.
Saving the fish dish was the 1st personal finance lesson that my parents taught me and they reinforced this valuable lesson year after year through the fish dish on New Year’s Eve.
This lesson has served me well. When I came to the U.S. 20 years ago, I had less than $100 in my pocket. To make ends meet while pursuing a master degree, I took on three part-time jobs: waitress, math tutor and computer lab assistant. Not only did I work hard, but I always managed to save a little extra for the future. After two years, I was able to pay $500 cash for my first car, a little red Ford Escort with manual transmission. Now, I am the founder of Red Meadow Advisors, LLC, a company that focuses on helping others to achieve financial freedom.
I feel deep gratitude that I am living in the richest and most powerful nation in the world. At the same time, I am concerned by how many people are trapped by debt. According to a report by Bloomberg, consumer debt in America has reached an all-time high of $3.2 trillion. Another recent survey shows 63% of Americans have no emergency savings to cover things such as $500 auto repair or $1,000 hospital visit because they have less than $1,000 in their saving accounts. They're one paycheck away from being broke.The same Bloomberg report concluded that "consumption, financed by debt, is not the path to resilient growth.”
The road to prosperity is simpler than many people think. It begins with living within your means, delaying gratification and always saving some extra for the future. We do not have to keep up with the Joneses. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.” That remains to be true on both a personal level and a national level.