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?
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.