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Splurge? Sock Away? Here’s What Language Has Taught Me About My Money Habits

By Owen Guo

Published June 30, 2023 • 4 Min Read

Not long ago, I could rattle off a number of ways to say “spend” in English. However, when I tried to do the same for “save,” I found myself struggling for a synonym.

To understand why, I consulted a thesaurus. My go-to synonym resource presented me with 21 words that could act as substitutes for “save,” and a whopping 49 alternatives for “spend.” For every “sock away,” I had at least twice as many “invest” and “allocate” staring back at me. I was fascinated, although perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me. After all, isn’t it so much easier to spend than save?

A family tradition

Diving into various synonyms for saving and spending sent me back to my younger years, when my parents’ money choices left a deep imprint.

I grew up in a frugal family in China. With dad being the main breadwinner, my parents saved whenever they could. They did it for many reasons: my education, health care and, per Chinese tradition, the future wedding of their only child. They also wanted enough money to retire comfortably. To them, every penny spent was a missed opportunity to save.

That philosophy eventually became mine. During a seven-year career in China, I cooked plenty, scoured cheap airfares and couch-surfed when travelling abroad. A big chunk of my paycheque went into savings.

Then, in 2018, things changed.

That’s the year I moved to Toronto to pursue my master’s degree. With a hefty price tag, education became my biggest spending decision in years. But the ability to pay for my tuition as an international student helped herald a new chapter in my life – a new beginning, really.

I burned through my savings after two years of school, but I graduated debt free. One year later, I became a Canadian permanent resident in a country I now call my adopted home.

Saving again for a new future

After landing my first job, I quickly returned to my frugal roots.

My income has grown, but my daily expenses have remained relatively steady. After being a net spender for two years, I now devote more than half of my income to savings and investing.

That’s because I’m chasing another life milestone: a condo. It’s a goal that requires an even bigger upfront payout than my Canadian education.

I’m hoping to get there within the next five years. If the dream of homeownership helps me stay a disciplined saver, there’s a psychological benefit, too. Having cash in hand amounts to a financial cushion in times of distress – be it an income loss or other emergencies that require money.

Saving like a squirrel

Back to the words. Here are some that stood out to me.

To build savings, you “sock away” or “squirrel away” your money regularly. Admittedly, these synonyms seem unremarkable – perhaps a bit boring.

Synonyms for “spend,” on the other hand, sound a lot splashier. If you pay for a fancier-than-usual dinner, you’re splurging. You might fork out part of your hard-earned income for a cash-guzzling hobby. Spending recklessly is the definition of squander; living within your means is budgeting.

So, what did this whole exercise teach me about my own money philosophy? Well, even I can admit, saving isn’t nearly as exhilarating as spending. But saving matters as it is an act of foresight, trading instant gratification for greater value in the future. (I definitely take inspiration from a colleague’s recent story, Why My First $100,000 Was a Magical Milestone, which makes clear the benefits of compounding.)

I know the power of saving firsthand. It made my journey to Canada possible by way of education. And I know I’ll continue to do so, knowing that one day it will pay off in big ways. To save, I’ve realized, is to squirrel away for a more bountiful future.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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