This is absolutely impossible! – I hear you thinking.
Well, it isn’t impossible. I spent all of last week with someone who has no money at all and is blissfully secure about her future: my sister.
I hadn’t spent time alone with my sister for three decades at least: there has always been someone else around.
Last week, the two of us took ourselves to Bulgaria to sort out the last of the property left by our parents. And I spent a week with a woman whom I love and value but have stopped understanding.
You see, I know exactly what my sister’s financial situation is: she has so little money that you could say that she has no money at all.
At this very moment, she has no income whatsoever; in couple of years’ time, she will have a pension (in Bulgaria) of about £100 per month. Talking income that can’t even keep you in hot dog sausages!
She has approximately £15,000 from the sale of our parents’ property (this is her half) and she’s asked me to keep it for her (so, it is in a separate savings account in my name).
You see what I mean?
What I didn’t realise is that my sister is not fearful of her future; quite the opposite – she is blissfully secure about her future.
Before I tell you why my sister is blissfully secure about her future – and that you can do it as well – let me mention that her lack of income and low pension are not from lack of personal responsibility but as a result of a number of social and family events.
My sister’s low pension comes mainly from the pension system in Bulgaria and the fact that midwifery is not exactly highly paid.
She also didn’t work long enough because she:
- Looked after my son until he was two years old;
- Looked after her grandson (and was still doing it ill last year);
- Looked after our parents when they needed it.
As you can see, my sister is the carer in the family; she still offers to come and look after me when I have a cold.
Is my sister poor and deprived?
No she isn’t.
She has a home: she lives with her daughter’s family. She is very welcome to live with us if she chooses to do so. She is well dressed, eats well and contributes wherever she goes. Without my sister’s help at home and with the care for their son, my niece and her husband couldn’t have created a comfortable new life in another country.
And this how I think my sister does it; this is how she is secure about her future even though she has no money at all.
#1. Build close relationships
Most people would think about life security in terms of wealth and money. In fact, very close and stable relationships are an even better measure of security.
These are mainly, but not exclusively, with family members. Close friendships can also contribute to your life security.
So, here is the question: do you have in your life people who will do anything for you?
#2. Diversify your relationships
You see, two is a very unstable number.
What I’m saying is, that having in your life only one person on whom you could depend has its risks. You need to have at least three or four very close, persistent and dependable relationships to be secure.
This takes hard work.
#3. Feel the principle of reciprocity in your bones
Living with others and depending on them can be exploitative; no doubt about it.
But how about if you really live by, and build your relationships upon, the principle of reciprocity?
Responding in kind is one of the basic psychological kinks we humans have. Do good, be generous, help where you can and very likely you’ll get the same in return.
(Yes, I know there are people who don’t play by the principle of reciprocity but this usually breaks the chain; so you’d know.)
If we get back to my sister, we are involved in a very long chain of substantive favours. We supported her through her divorce, we mostly paid for her daughter’s education, I used my contacts to help my niece get started in research and market research. My sister looked after our son and our parents. Now I’m trusted to look after the little money she has. I know that she’ll be around without questions if I need her; and she knows that she can live with us if she chooses to do so.
You see, it works. And it is not about keeping score; it is about a spiral of positive and meaningful deeds.
#4. Learn how to be awesomely helpful
This is self-explanatory, really. To be able to build the kind of relationships that make you secure about the future even if you have no money at all, you have to learn how to be awesomely helpful: simply meddling doesn’t cut it.
#5. Be a pleasure to be around
Being a pleasure to be around is a combination of natural gift and learned behaviour. My sister has this to perfection.
My sister is a pleasure to be around because she:
- Makes me laugh;
- Doesn’t criticise my house, my kids, my ways of doing things, the way I look etc.;
- Is honest when I ask for her opinion;
- Tells me when something is not to her liking (mainly food);
- Asks whether we need something doing;
- Wants to make us feel better without being over-protective.
Can you learn this?
#6. Know when to retreat
When you live with someone, even if this is your sister and her family, you have to keep your distance: psychological, emotional and physical.
It’s not going to work, for instance, if you start taking sides in the inevitable family bickering; if you don’t allow your host to have some emotional and physical space.
So, learn to retreat and read a book or do some craft: anything that will give you and the others much needed space.
#7. Keep your life simple
I don’t have the makeup of a minimalist: every time I go away, I find myself with too much stuff. Every time I open my closet, I wish there was less stuff poking out.
My sister, is not a minimalist either. She is a born essentialist.
My sister would rather have three changes of clothes that are high quality than a closet full of rubbish. She would rather eat a bit of high quality food than stuff her face with junk.
This is how, her life is simple and her desires even more so.
#8. Have the generosity to receive
Do you think of generosity in terms of giving?
I know I do!
Okay, let me tell you then: generosity is also measured by your ability to receive. It is the principle of reciprocity again, you see.
By receiving, you are accepting the obligation to someone else. Receiving is a promise of future gifts.
#9. Focus on other people
We’ve grown into the habit of focusing on ourselves most of the time. Life is better when you focus on other people.
#10. Know that you’ll survive
To be secure about your future, despite your financial situation, you have to be convinced that you’ll survive; never mind what.
#11. Develop useful basic skills
To be able to enact #10, you need to really hone your basic skills. Being helpful to others and useful is not hard if you are great in the kitchen, nifty with a vacuum cleaner and handy with a needle (okay, sewing machine).
#12. Don’t shy away from any work
When we try to be helpful, we tend to assume that people need help with ‘the big stuff’. Like, when a baby is born people will try to help with looking after the baby.
Get a grip, guys. People need help not with ‘the big stuff’; they need help with the jobs that are unpleasant, boring and seen as not terribly important.
So next time you decide to help someone who’s just had a baby try cleaning the house; or doing the cooking. Or even changing some nappies. You’ll see that your effort will be much appreciated.
It’s the same with everything. (Oh, how my cupboards need organising and cleaning!)
#13. A healthy dose of fatalism helps
Last but not least, to be secure even when you have no money at all, you need to develop a healthy level of fatalism.
Security is but a feeling of the moment. You really don’t know what will happen tomorrow.
So, acknowledge that you have only limited control over the events affecting your life (earthquakes happen; banks go bust and the stock market could crash) and be prepared to deal/cope with whatever comes next.
We chase security through wealth and money all the while downplaying the importance of close and secure personal relationships.
Spending a week with my sister reminded me that people can be secure about their future even when they have no money: all they need is close relationships and the skill and understanding to build, and maintain, them.