Monday , August 8 2022

When people go to extreme lengths to save money


Ngoc Tien told his wife to get four onions so that he could cook noodles for breakfast for the entire family. Kim Minh heard him but did not respond to his miserliness.

And it is not just breakfast. The 40-year-old Hanoian has specific menus for every meal of the day, typically containing a vegetable soup and two dishes.

Eggs, tofu, peanuts, dried fish, and meat are part of them, but Tien insists that a meal for his family of four must not cost more than VND50,000 (US$2.15).

The food is so monotonous that their youngest son, who is in third grade, frequently complains, “The meal at school is better than at home.”

Tien’s standard response is that he had to eat rice with corn and potatoes when he was a teenager, and so his children should be grateful for having “an affluent life.”

The family members cannot buy more than two new clothes in a year.

When Minh asked to buy a new dress to wear on a company trip, he complained for a week because “there are four dresses hanging in the closet.”

Neither of their families faces any financial hardship and they themselves earn around VND40 million a month, which is much higher than the VND7.2-million average monthly salary of typical office workers in Hanoi.

Tien says: “I want my wife and children to practice spending wisely. Excessive eating is also harmful to one’s health.”

Children’s school fees and the family’s monthly living expenses should not exceed VND10 million.

“People only save about 30 percent of their income, but we save 75 percent,” Minh says.

Dong Hung of the northern Hai Duong Province, another extreme saver, says his family adopts the minimalist Japanese way of life.

Hung, who earns VND18 million a month, has a “3 No’s” rule for the family – no eating out, no vacation trips and no shopping.

He forbids turning on lights at home during the day and turning them off after 9 p.m.

Even in dire circumstances, the 45-year-old seeks to save money. He once had a 39-degree fever and his face had turned pale, but he refused to go to a doctor. He had acute stomach bleeding, but his family was only able to take him to a hospital by ambulance after he fainted. He woke up from surgery and insisted on going home to avoid paying hospital fees.

“He counts every penny, even avoids visiting his parents if the fare is too high,” sighs his wife, Hong Nhung, 40.

His hometown is about 300 kilometers away from where he lives, but he only takes his wife and children there once every two years, mostly on weekdays and avoiding holidays to save on gifts.

“Do not confuse a minimalist lifestyle with austerity and frugality,” Nguyen Anh Hong, a PhD in cultural studies, says.

She defines thrift as “reasonable and scientific spending that avoids wasting money,” and says “miserliness” is the correct term for the lifestyles of Tien and Hung who “count every fish sauce bottle and onion stalk.”

“Miserliness has always existed, and it may have been considered normal in the past because life was difficult back then. However, as the general standard of living improves in modern society, it is no longer reasonable.”

Hung and his wife are constantly at odds with each other because of their spending habits.

Nhung has asked for a divorce three times because she can no longer stand her husband’s miserliness.

She says he even buys only one glass of sugarcane juice for the two of them to share and not one each.

They had never traveled in 15 years of marriage.

Her husband has promised to change every time, but never did.

Economic suppression of the spouse is considered a form of domestic violence and is one of the leading causes of conflict in marriages.

There are no statistics in Vietnam on conflicts and divorces caused by spouses being too frugal, but a 2021 study by the Vietnam National University in Hanoi found that financial disagreement is the second most common cause of divorce.

Hong says frugality in men might make their wives feel inhibited but “it’s even worse when done by women.”

Hai An, 50, of the northern Phu Tho Province and her husband earn a combined VND15 million a month, which is higher than the average rural household income of VND2.7 million.

The most expensive item in the house is a VND5 million TV. Friends and relatives often tell An to buy more appliances to improve her quality of life, but she stubbornly refuses saying she would then have to pay more for electricity.

She carefully records her daily expenses in a small notebook.

Her philosophy is: “If I buy a pack of broth flavoring powder and use it for a month, it should be the same or less the following month. If I finish it sooner, I will look back at how I used the seasoning to make sure it does not happen again.”

The same calculation also applies to rice, salt, electricity, water, and all other items.

She frequently asks for used items and appliances from others, which irritates her three daughters, who are mocked as “beggar children” by their friends.

Even when there are signs of rancidity, mold or rot in fruits, she would cut off those parts and eat the rest.

“If it is still edible, I eat it. I don’t want to be wasteful.”

Phong, her husband, often advises her to change, knowing she is under pressure watching every penny closely.

To that, An responds: “A typical four- or five-person family spends around VND3 million a month. Our family spends nearly VND6 million. So what do you complain about?”

Minh says her children have food cravings, and when friends and colleagues invite her to eat out, she takes her two children along.

She says with a sigh: “Staying frugal and stingy is my husband’s way of life. There is nothing I can do to change him.”

According to Hong, some people save money and live parsimoniously possibly because of their poor family background, making it a difficult habit to break.

An’s husband often tells his wife’s colleagues and friends to advise her in the hope of changing her miserly mindset.

He himself talks to her about the need to find a reasonable way to manage the family finances.

“I know it is something she cannot change overnight. I just hope she gets a more generous view of spending.”

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