Spend Like You Want to Grow Rich

I wasn't rich as a 30-year-old. Yet if I wanted to, I could have leased a Porsche, borrowed loads of money for an expensive, flashy home, and taken five-star holidays around the world. I would have looked rich, but instead, I would have been living on an umbilical cord of bank loans and credit cards. Things aren't always what they appear to be.

In 2004, I was tutoring an American boy in Singapore. His mom dropped him off at my house every Saturday. She drove the latest Jaguar, which in Singapore would have cost well over $250,000 (cars in Singapore are very expensive). They lived in a huge house, and she wore an elegant Rolex watch. I thought they were rich.

After a series of tutoring sessions the woman gave me a check. Smiling, she gushed about her family's latest overseas holiday, and expressed how happy she was that I was helping her son.

The check she wrote was for $150. Climbing on my bicycle after she left, I pedaled down the street and deposited the check in the bank.

But here's the thing: The check bounced—she didn't have enough money in her account. This could, of course, happen to anyone. With this family, however, it happened with as much regularity as a Kathmandu power outage. Dreading the phone calls where she would implore me to wait a week before cashing the latest check finally took its toll, and I eventually told her that I wouldn't be able to tutor her son anymore.

Was this supposed to be happening? After all, this woman ...

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