Mur­phy’s Law of spend­ing

Would one take a drop in one’s stan­dard of liv­ing to help some­one else who is less well off?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - MARY SCHNEIDER

IRE­CENTLY read that J.K. Rowl­ing, the author of the suc­cess­ful Harry Pot­ter se­ries, has be­come the first win­ner of the Hans Chris­tian Andersen lit­er­a­ture prize worth 500,000 kro­ner (RM291,000). Now I’m not sure if Ms Rowl­ing has plans for the money, but a friend sug­gested that a woman who al­ready has more money than she can pos­si­bly spend in her life­time might give some of it away.

“She could set up a fund for upand-com­ing young writ­ers,” he said. “I’m presently work­ing on a chil­dren’s novel called Larry Trot­ter And The Kid­ney Stone that could do with some fi­nan­cial sup­port.”

“But would it be so wrong of her to keep it?” I asked.

“No, but she could re­ally do some­thing good with it. Af­ter all, it’s quite a small amount for her. What could she do with it? Buy an­other lux­ury car or a gold-plated toi­let seat or a small crate of cham­pagne?”

“Well, yes. That’s prob­a­bly what she will do with it. Mur­phy’s Law of spend­ing is pretty much like Mur­phy’s Law of hand­bags. No mat­ter the size of hand­bag you have, the con­tents will ex­pand to cover ev­ery avail­able space. It’s the same with money. Spend­ing habits usu­ally change to ac­com­mo­date an in­crease in in­come, un­til ev­ery last

Bri­tish author J.K. Rowl­ing re­ceived the Hans Chris­tian Andersen Lit­er­a­ture Prize 2010 in Odense on Oct 19. With the award comes the prize money of 500,000 kro­ner (RM291,000). cent is ac­counted for.”

The con­ver­sa­tion with my friend got me think­ing about my own sit­u­a­tion. I think I lead a mid­dle-class ex­is­tence here in Malaysia. I live in a mod­est but com­fort­able house, drive a not-too-old car, have two chil­dren en­joy­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, can af­ford to eat in a nice res­tau­rant once in a while, and take an over­seas trip (thanks to Air Asia) a cou­ple of times a year.

How­ever, the life I lead now is far re­moved from the one I knew grow­ing up in my na­tive Scot­land.

My bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther was a farm labourer. He worked hard, but there was never enough money for his wife and six chil­dren. Of course, it didn’t help that he smoked like a chim­ney and drank whiskey at the same rate as most peo­ple drank tea – it’s called pri­or­i­ties.

As a very young girl, it didn’t oc­cur to me that my fam­ily was poor. I just ac­cepted my life­style as be­ing en­tirely nor­mal. For ex­am­ple, it didn’t oc­cur to me when I brushed my teeth with soot from the chim­ney mixed with a bit of salt that most other chil­dren in Scot­land were ig­no­rant of the fun­da­men­tals of chem­istry and didn’t do the same.

I can still re­mem­ber the first tube of tooth­paste that came into my house – it was straw­berry flavoured and didn’t last very long. My sib­lings and I loved the taste so much that we de­voured it straight out of the tube.

Sim­i­larly, when my shoes de­vel­oped holes in the soles and my mother cov­ered them up with a card­board in­lay, it never oc­curred to me that other chil­dren would sim­ply get a new pair at the first sign of wear, or even have more than one pair of shoes at a time.

Some­where along the way, I stopped eat­ing tooth­paste and started us­ing it to brush my teeth. Since then, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve be­come so finicky that I will only use a cer­tain brand of tooth­paste. The mere thought of us­ing an­other brand (read: in­fe­rior) causes my lips to pucker in the man­ner of some­one who has just put a slice of le­mon into their mouth.

It’s the same thing with shoes. I have more shoes than I need: some of them very ex­pen­sive, some of them as new as the day they left the shop. None of them will ever get worn out.

Now, if some­one were to sug­gest to me that I buy fewer shoes or use a cheaper brand of tooth­paste and use the money saved to help a poor farmer in So­ma­lia, I’d prob­a­bly baulk at the idea. I mean to say, how could I pos­si­bly take a drop in my stan­dard of liv­ing to help some­one who is slowly starv­ing to death? Surely, we only help the less for­tu­nate when all our own needs have been met.

I don’t need an­other pair of shoes or the most ex­pen­sive tooth­paste on the mar­ket, but I cer­tainly want those things in my life, es­pe­cially since I’m used to hav­ing them. Take them away from me, and I will feel de­prived.

Per­haps I’m not so dif­fer­ent to J.K. Rowl­ing, af­ter all.

I think the lit­tle girl in Scot­land who cleaned her teeth with soot and salt all those years ago would dis­ap­prove.

Award win­ner:

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