twenty dollars

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Berlin; the Brandenburg Gate is a stone’s throw away.

I was invited to take part in a conference called Falling Walls – reputedly the place where one can meet the brightest minds on the planet (the BBC said it so it is probably true).

Am I flattered that I was invited to take part in this extraordinary event? You bet I am.

Feeling flattered though doesn’t even start to express what I feel.

  • I feel excited: the line up of speakers is extraordinary and covers all domains of science.
  • I feel emotional: I’ll be part of the Falling Walls Circle that is invitation only event and includes people from different science and science related domains.
  • I anticipate the fun: this conference, drawing inspiration from the fall of the Berlin wall, is about breaking the walls between scientific fields and domains, between funders of science and scientists, between scientists and industrialists.
  • I feel nostalgic: I’ll be here on November 9; I’ll be part of the enormous party celebrating the fall of the Berlin wall. Twenty-five years ago, I saw it on Bulgarian TV and went out to join the big party in Sofia.

Tomorrow I’ll find some time to go and see the left overs of the Wall and will show you a picture.

Tonight, because I’m in Berlin and because I am overflowing with emotion and memories, I’ll tell you something that you don’t know about me.

You see, reading The Money Principle you may have got the impression of privilege.

After all, I don’t write much about frugality (not in the usual way anyway), when I mention numbers they sound rather large to many people and I keep talking about the different opportunities to make money.

Before I tell you what you don’t know about me, here are again the things about me that you’ve glimpsed through reading The Money Principle:

  • You know I’m Bulgarian;
  • You know I moved to the UK twenty-four years ago;
  • You know I met an irresistible Englishman and fell in love;
  • John and I have been together for twenty-one years now;
  • We have three sons: two grown up and one teen;
  • You know I’m a university professor travelling the world;
  • You know I love helping you figure out things about your money;
  • You know John and I messed up our finances big time; and
  • You know we came up on top by paying all our consumer debt in three years and one week.

Yes, many are interested in the story of us paying off £100,000 ($157,000) worth of consumer debt. This still attracts much interest and in fact an article about it will be coming out soon on the pages of a popular British magazine.

Here is the thing: paying off so much debt in so little time is not the story that defines me.

What defines me is a story you don’t know; it is the story of a young woman who landed at Heathrow Airport in September 1990, wearing an elegant green corduroy skirt suit.

She had a suitcase of clothes and only $20 in her pocket.

I was this woman.

Don’t even ask why I took dollars with me; probably this was the currency I managed to change in the chaos of the autumn of 1990.

I had just won a fellowship of the Soros Foundation (later Open Society Foundation) to spend a year at the Victoria University Manchester, UK.

When I told John that the story about me that is really interesting is the one about me arriving with $20 in my pocket and getting where I am today he raised an eyebrow (he likes pretending to be James Bond):

“Well, you were still privileged because you had a grant.’

I did. My grant was £400 per month, which even back in 1990-1991 was pretty hard to live on.

I used to rent a nice apartment in Sofia; in Manchester I lived in the tiniest room in a shared house. Then my apartment in Sofia got broken into and all my stuff was stolen. Oddly enough, this was quite liberating.

By the summer of 1991, I’d made enough money to send to my dad for a new bathroom (about £700).

In September 1991 I started a PhD at the University of Manchester. I had a grant of £3,500 for the year and no money to pay the fees (about £3,000).

By September 1992 I had earned enough to pay my fees.

And so it continued.

One day I’ll write this story. I suspect it will be a story of hard, smart work, great education and tireless hustle.

Now I’m feeling very tired.

Good night.

photo credit: TheToch via photopin cc