Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Idea of Wealth

The Wealthy Barmaid may be an eye-catching title for an article which was posted to Yahoo's website ( a closer read of the article paints a less than rosy picture. The article is centered around the example of Melanie Bajrovic, a highly educated young woman with multiple jobs and a great work ethic, not to mention two income properties that she's planning on using as her own version of RRSPs as she works in bars and restaurants in the meantime. There are a lot of good points for Bajrovic; she's smart, she works a lot, and she's very frugal. All of that would make her a shining beacon to the current lazy, entitled generation of kids who think that budget is a four letter word. And yet...

And yet Bajrovic has been working since she was 14 and has saved well over 75% of her earnings. Never mind the fact that 14 is well below the legal working age; the saving has been largely a result of her not having expenses. Bajrovic continues to live at home and has managed to buy property based on small downpayments and home renovations covered by her parents (to the tune of $30,000). She keeps her social life to a minimum and lives off $100 a week or so to cover her cell phone, gas and cigarettes. She works a lot of the time, shift work with more than one job. You have to wonder: is this truly a model?

Most of us equate wealth with independence. It means we're self-sufficient and that we can make our own choices. Living at home is not a form of self-sufficiency, even while paying your own way on certain bills. Being smart financially is about balancing your income with your expenses and not allowing one to exceed the other; it's not about eliminating those expenses by letting someone else take them on, which is what her parents are doing by subsidizing all of her living expenses.

There is a lot to be said about living on your own. It's not just about being able to balance a budget, but about essential life skills, and that includes cooking, cleaning, laundry and achieving worklife balance. It's also nice to have personal space, me time and to take pride in ownership when you've worked hard to live somewhere. Privacy and freedom are a big part of wealth, not just dollars and cents.

Then there's the whole social life aspect of this equation. While it's true that many of us cut down on expenses by not socializing or going out on the town, what exactly is the consequence of a minimal social life? It doesn't sound fun, fulfilling or meaningful; in fact, it sounds downright lonely, in the old Dickensian sense of staying at home with a bowl of porridge before heading to another day in a chilly office. Aren't friends more important than money?

The economy is tough and jobs are hard to find. Everyone has to make it their own way, and it's great that some people have found a way to make it work for them. But I think it's important for people to remember that wealth is not just about money; it's also about quality of life and happiness and all those intangible things that we sometimes take for granted.

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