(Written in October 2019)
Most people are usually extremely tight-lipped about their net worth. With me being fully transparent with mine every month, you might think that I don’t keep personal finance secrets.
Unfortunately, I have been, but I’ve given it some thought and decided that I don’t want to anymore. So, here’s my most fiercely guarded secret.
I’m 25 (I’m actually turning 26 in October 2019), but I still live in my parents’ house.
There’s a lot of shame associated with living with your parents in the West, where I believe most people move out of their parents’ houses by the time they are young adults.
Needless to say, in the personal finance world where people are driven, hardworking, fiercely independent, and of course brilliant in every other way, I was a little too insecure to reveal this about myself.
But for better or for worse, I’ve decided to bare all details about my current situation.
- When Shit Hit the Fan
- I Gave Up My Freedom to Live in My Parents’ House
- How I’ve Coped with the Lack of Freedom
- Choosing to Focus on the Good, Not on the Crazy
- Going Forward: Plans for the Future
When Shit Hit the Fan
People say that negative experiences in life are much more unforgettable than the positive ones. I say it’s true. I can still vividly remember every single fight I have ever had with my parents. Some still break my heart.
“I’ll give you time to find your own place. But you had better get out of my house.”
“Papa, can’t we just sit down and talk this out like mature adults? I want to come to a compromise! This seems unreas-”
“There isn’t going to be any compromise. It’s my way, or the highway.”
I was only 21. Thinking my parents were capable of unconditional love, I had just told them I was seeing someone of the same gender. Unfortunately, I had been wrong. Their words still feel like a knife in my heart till this day.
“You either break up with her, or you get the hell out. This is my house! So you damn well obey my rules! I will not tolerate this kind of disgusting behaviour!”
They gave me two options for my love life. One, I start seeing someone of the opposite gender, and be straight like every other normal, decent human being. Two, I stay single for the rest of my life.
I refused both options. I love my girlfriend, and she loves me back. To break up with her so my parents could “save face” seemed ridiculous.
“You have no idea how much I want to send you to the mental asylum to get treated.”
Everything about my parents seemed toxic to me. Moving out didn’t seem like such a bad idea, after all.
I spent weeks looking for an apartment. In Singapore, housing is extremely expensive. As a student on a budget, it was difficult to find somewhere to live.
To cut a long story short, I eventually did though.
It was an S$800 (equivalent to US$584) tiny bedroom, in a 3-bedroom apartment. It couldn’t have been more than a hundred square feet. Enough for a desk, a bed, a cabinet and nothing more. A single gunky toilet was to be shared with 4 other roommates.
This was the entire bedroom.
This was the shared kitchen, which didn’t look too bad.
This was the shared toilet. I suffer from OCD, so having a toilet like this didn’t help matters.
And I had to work approximately 20-25 hours a week just to be able to afford the apartment. After all, as a student, I was making no more than S$8 – S$10 (US$5.80 – US$7.20) an hour from a variety of odd jobs.
But despite all of that, it seemed so much better than the options my parents had offered me. Despite all of that, I still wanted my freedom to choose who I wanted to spend my life with.
In my mind, I was set on this apartment (rather, bedroom). I asked my roommates when I could move in, and gave my mom their contact details; she had insisted on it.
Little did I know, she called up my soon-to-be roommates, told them that I wouldn’t be moving in (resulting in me losing the bedroom), and later screamed at me.
“Get back home now, and for once in your life, show some semblance of filial piety to your parents!”
How incredibly whiplash-inducing.
Looking back, I realise that my parents were only trying to force my hand to get me to break up with my girlfriend. They thought that I was so used to the good life at home, that I would eventually cave from the pressure. But their plan backfired, resulting in 2 things that they didn’t want to happen – First, me staying with my girlfriend, and second, me moving out.
I needed to make a choice. But it seemed to me that no matter which option I picked, to move out or to stay, something had to give.
I Gave Up My Freedom to Live in My Parents’ House
There were so many arguments. So many tears. So many sleepless nights.
My parents were furious about my decision to move out. In Singapore, a pretty conservative Asian society, it is extremely common for children to move out only after marriage. My parents probably thought that my moving out at the “tender” age of 21 (and before marriage, at that!) brought dishonour to our family.
They wanted me to continue living in their house, with a condition imposed, of course – I was never allowed to see my girlfriend. Ever.
As bewildering as it may seem, I reluctantly took up that offer. I still love my parents (they weren’t always this crazy), and I wanted to move out on amicable terms. Moving out at 21 and bringing dishonour to my family would ruin whatever relationship I had with them. I didn’t want that; I couldn’t bear that.
In the years that followed, my parents monitored my movements like a hawk.
Since I was still schooling at the time, they forced me to give them my school schedule, right down to the hour. They knew every class that I attended, and gave me a curfew depending on how late my classes ended for that day. How much later I got back home would then be directly proportional to the amount of scolding I would receive.
When I was tutoring (for extra pocket money), I had to give them the addresses and contact numbers of my students and my students’ parents. They even wanted the official confirmation that I had indeed been hired as a tutor, and that this wasn’t just one of my many schemes to spend time with my girlfriend. Again, I got a curfew based on how late my tutoring session would end.
When I was meeting friends, I had to report to my parents where I was going, and especially who I was going out with. They made me send picture evidence of the people I was going out with.
“Don’t you dare lie to us,” they had warned me, “We have no qualms about sending a private investigator to tail you.”
Whether I was stepping out of the house for school, tutoring or just hanging out with friends, my parents would interrogate me before I left, as well as after I got back. Whenever I wasn’t home, they would send me strings of angry messages, expecting me to reply immediately. And if I didn’t, I would come back home to dire consequences.
The first couple of years were especially rough. Whenever something went wrong in my parents’ lives, they would take it out on me. I was blamed for being the cause of all their problems, be it work or health or happiness. Every name in the book has been hurled at me, from something mild like “stupid” or “unfilial”, to something unforgivable like “useless, fucking daughter”.
Even after I started working full-time, my parents wouldn’t relent on their absurd house rules and curfews. I work from 8.30AM – 5.30PM, and they used to hound me whenever I got back late (late being 7PM). They believed that I had no reason to get home so late, since I was working in a dead-end job in a small, sleepy company.
“What kind of overtime could you possibly do in a company like that?”
It was an utterly exhausting experience. I may have had a tiny sliver of freedom (at least they allowed me to go to school or work for a few pre-determined hours on weekdays), but I had, for the most part, given up a significant amount of autonomy to keep the peace in the family.
How I’ve Coped with the Lack of Freedom
Initially, I tried to resist their unreasonable constraints. I still hung out with friends, who were so kind to cover for me when I met up with my girlfriend afterward. My parents didn’t buy it though, and I was foolish enough to think that they would. I was the subject of constant harassment, day in, day out.
I sacrificed time, sleep and health.
It didn’t take long before I felt it less stressful to just stay at home, locked in my room; at least I wouldn’t be interrogated or scolded or even verbally abused for just going out. Eventually, my once-vibrant social life died, and I had the energy to keep only a few close friends.
Needless to say, maintaining my relationship with my girlfriend was a little more than tricky.
When I was still in school, I would sneak out of my house after midnight every Friday and Saturday. We got to spend a few blissful hours together until 6AM, when I would return home to cover my tracks and finally get some sleep.
Although we got to spend time together, this routine wrecked complete havoc on my sleep. I was nocturnal for more than 2 years – sleeping at 8AM and waking up at 4PM every single day. My quality of sleep was extremely poor, and I suffered from daily bouts of headaches.
When it was time for me to start working full-time, my terrible sleep habits had to go. My girlfriend and I could no longer meet up at night, and it took me a long time to adjust back to sleeping during the night.
In order to continue seeing my girlfriend on the sly though, I accepted a job offer that came with good work-life balance. I had 20 days of paid leave, 14 days of medical leave, and 11 days off due to public holidays.
I lied to my parents about the number of days of paid leave I had, so I could use them to spend time with my girlfriend. I also strategically took paid medical leave whenever I could afford the time and money to do so (in Singapore, you have to visit the doctor to get a doctor’s note for paid medical leave).
Despite all of my efforts, my girlfriend and I still don’t get to spend much time together. If we’re lucky, we get to see each other for a few hours every 2 weeks.
And there’s always the trade-off – I’m now stuck in a low-paying, no-prospects job that I despise, because it’s the only way I can strike some semblance of balance between my parents and my girlfriend. All the while working multiple jobs (my full-time job and tutoring) to bring home the bacon.
It’s not ideal, but sacrifices have to be made.
I had to take a dead-end job to keep seeing my girlfriend on the sly.
Choosing to Focus on the Good, Not on the Crazy
My parents’ actions have really done a number on me. Somewhere along this arduous journey, I developed anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, and mild insomnia. And I’m still suffering from them. I also developed Pavlovian responses to my parents’ actions; even a simple, innocuous text from them still gives me massive jitters and makes my heart pound too quickly.
But despite all the crazy I experienced under my parents’ totalitarian regime, there have been some positive moments.
First and foremost, I get to spend plenty of time with my siblings, and I have a very close relationship with them (after all, they are my only non-judgmental sources of human interaction in my parents’ house). On a regular basis, my brothers and I would take long walks together to pick up groceries or to have a quick meal. We have similar tastes in entertainment, and frequently watch movies, Netflix, YouTube videos, and play games together.
Second, although interactions with my parents are forced and therefore limited, we still bond as a family through our love for travel. My siblings, my parents and myself usually travel together twice a year. For a couple of blissful weeks (we somehow never fight when we are travelling), I actually believe that we have the ability to be a big, happy family. And 2-3 weeks out of a year is better than nothing, I guess.
Third, I also have the privilege of developing close-knit relationships with extended family. I am close to a few of my cousins (only the non-judgmental ones, of course), who are happy and supportive of my decision to be with my girlfriend. It’s also great to be able to spend quality time with my grandparents, and to hear stories of their younger days.
Fourth, and last on the list, there are arguably financial benefits to staying in my parents’ house. For example, I give my parents and grandparents a total of only S$400 a month, which I currently expense as “rent” money. This amount could easily increase by 50% to 100% if I were to move out and rent a tiny studio apartment with my girlfriend.
However, because of their over-the-top demands on my personal liberty, I honestly don’t believe that my staying in my parents’ house is speeding up my journey to financial independence. (But that shall be another post for another day.)
Although my parents are certifiably paranoid, and their oppressive demands have taken a toll on me, at the moment I’m choosing to focus on the good things, and not on their craziness. I very much appreciate the time that I get to spend with my loved ones, and I know that it’s something not to be taken for granted.
Going Forward: Plans for the Future
I wish I could say that I’m strong, and that I could withstand this unfair treatment for an indefinite amount of time. But my mental fortitude is crumbling. It hurts so much to watch the best years of my life slip through my fingers, while being completely powerless.
And I refuse to let my parents rule over my life anymore, so here’s my plan for the future.
Step 1 – Quit My Job
I’m only in my current low-paying job because of the situation that I’m in with my parents. If I were to work 12-hour days in a high-powered job, I can bet that my parents would flip out and give me crap everyday for coming home late (late being 7PM, remember?). It has happened before, and I have no doubt about it happening again.
Unfortunately, as it is with most other low-paying jobs, the job I’m currently working at is pretty dead-end. There’s no progression. There’s not even appreciation. Every year I get a bigger workload with a minimal 2% increase in my salary. It’s not taking me anywhere and it’s time to leave soon.
As such, I have planned to leave my job sometime within the next year.
Step 2 – Enjoy a Mini-Retirement
I don’t plan to find another job immediately. I don’t want to end up in the same position that I am in now – stuck in a dead-end job that allows me to leave on time, because I don’t want to get home late and incur the wrath of my parents.
What I do want is to have a break to spend some much needed quality time with my girlfriend. The past 4 years have been difficult for us; we don’t get to meet often, and it’s clearly taking a toll on our relationship.
The only way for us to spend much more time together while not angering my parents is this – I quit my job, and not tell my parents that I have done so. That way, they think I’m at work, while I actually have complete freedom at least over my 8.30PM to 5.30PM (my current working hours).
Fortunately, my girlfriend doesn’t work a 9-to-6 job. She works as a teacher, so she gets to come home early on some days. And we get to spend school vacations together as well. Although we still have to deal with time constraints, it sounds blissful compared to what we have now (which is almost nothing).
During the time that my girlfriend is teaching in school, I plan to:
- Find part-time or freelance work to pay my own bills;
- Work on this blog;
- Get my physical and mental health back in shape; and
- Pick up some new skills (Japanese, photography, cooking).
That would be my life for about 1-2 years.
Step 3 – Move Out of My Parents’ House
You may be wondering why I’m letting my parents trample over my life, when I can easily just move out now. Unfortunately, things are never as simple as that. I predict a lot of tears, drama and blame. I suspect that my parents would tell all my relatives about my decision, and put the blame on me for ruining part of the family. I will most definitely be shamed for being LGBT and therefore the black sheep of the family.
As such, I want to slowly broach the topic of moving out, instead of initiating it overnight. I want to be able to discuss issues with my parents in a civil way. That way, hopefully, they see things from my perspective – I’m not a kid anymore, I can take care of myself, and I need to live life on my own terms, not theirs. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. I still do, and I want to be filial and to take care of them if they need me to.
My biggest consideration against moving out immediately is my brother. He suffers from worse mental issues than I do (when you get constantly whipped by a belt as a kid, it does a number on you), and I’m his sole confidant. He plans to move out after graduating from university (in about 1.5 to 2 years), and I want to be there for him at least until the end of his stay in my parents’ house.
Therefore, I have a 2-year timeframe to put my “moving out” plans into action. Hopefully, I will be out of my parents’ house by 2021, after making sure that my brother has safely settled down on his own as well.
Step 4 – Find A Government Job
After moving out of my parents’ house, I should have a lot more freedom to pick a higher-paying job with longer hours. And I don’t have to worry about them giving me shit if I come back home late because of work! (Sounds like a dream, honestly.)
I plan to find a job with the Singapore government – The pay is decent, the hours aren’t intolerable, and jobs with the government are generally stable.
Freedom at last!
Step 5 – Work Towards Financial Independence
At the moment, I am about 10 to 15 years away from financial independence (if I continue staying on in my current job for the next 10 years, and living as minimally as I have been).
This could change depending on the following factors:
- Whether I can find income during my mini-retirement;
- Whether I can secure a government job after my mini-retirement;
- Whether my girlfriend and I buy a house;
- Whether my girlfriend and I have kids;
- Whether my girlfriend and I stay in the pink of health; and
- A whole bunch of other factors that would take me days to list.
It’s hard to predict when I would become financially independent, but I’m working hard to get there. Once I get there, I can then quit my job and pursue my passions full-time. (Here’s to dreaming!)
So, that’s my rough plan to change my life. I hope it works.
Thank you for reading!