Going back to my own situation, I gave a portion of my income to my parents. It's not a small sum, and it is easily the 3rd or 4th biggest expenses after mortgage, food and insurance. I've counted it as an expense all the time, until the revelation hits me. To be honest, sometimes my parents would buy me some food stuff and help me to get some stuff done when I couldn't be at home. In other words, you can treat this 'expenses' to parents as an asset that you can utilize when you need to.
Now to qualify it further, I think it's important to distinguish between parents who can help you and those who can't. I'm not trying to be mercenary, but it's an important difference to make when you are considering to call upon the help of your parents. If you're never going to ask help from your parents because they are not competent enough or your relationship with them is just not that strong, but you're still giving them an allowance to fulfill your duty as their child, then please treat this as an expense.
2. Most of them take microloans with huge interest. Isn't that financially unsound?
Whatever I'm talking about in point 1 is an informal asset. If you talk to an accountant, they are going to tell you that since you're paying money with no immediate benefit, it's an expense. But the poor studied in the book really utilized such informal assets very frequently. They will have to because their income is unstable and comes in only at certain months of the year, but they have to eat every day. Hence cashflow to them is very important.
To tide through months where they have negligible income, they take microloans with huge interest (easily 30% per month). It seems a lot, but these are actually simple interest loans with flexible period of payment even though it's stated clearly the duration of the loan period. Their system is flexible and sometimes the lender (all of them are not licensed but do it out of obligation or just trying to help their fellow villagers) will forgive the interest or principle if they deemed the borrower had paid enough.
I'm not saying we should all go and take out microloans with huge interest, but I think I'm starting to understand their perspective a little more, instead of just saying they are not financially wise to do so. If you have family to feed daily but your income drips in every other month, you do what you can to settle the most immediate concerns now.
I start to see the role of such microlenders to provide cash flow for the poor. I do not expect Singapore's microlenders to forgive the debts and to have simple interest with flexible payment period, but to sweep all of them as devils trying to profit from the desperation of the poor seems a little harsh. They do serve a niche area where the bigger institutions like banks are reluctant to do because of the higher risks involved. It's precisely because of the unstable income that they need to borrow money to provide a stable cashflow but it's also the same reason why the banks refuse to lend them. If you remove the microlenders or put harsh penalties to drive out them out of business, then who is going to step in to provide the still needed service? Loan sharks?
3. The things we take for granted.
When I read that a lot of them deposit money in banks every month for a year, so that they can take out slightly less than the total amount put in, I was stunned. The system we're used to here is that we get paid for depositing money, but they are paying for the right to deposit money. What's the issue here?
Firstly, there's a lot of places worse than putting in bank. If you place it under your mattress, you risk having it stolen or burgled. If you hide it in your home, you risk having your home burnt down in a slum fire or washed away by floods or demolished by the government trying to control the spread of the slum cities. This sort of stability is something we take for granted.
They also have multiple savings clubs where their schemes are so ingenious that I might take a whole article to spell it all out. One of the more simple ones is where each month they give $10 to a person, and by the end of the year, they can take out $120. This is way more convenient than walking 2 hours to the nearest bank, but you run the risk of the money getting robbed/stolen/embezzled. Might be safer with the banks with a small cost, isn't it?
Secondly, the drudgery of life makes it easy and tempting to focus on the immediate and forsake the longer term future. Without the discipline instilled in putting a sum every month in the bank, the poor people will have a hard time saving up for major milestone event like wedding, funeral, buying of seeds for harvest etc etc. In other words, they are paying a small sum for the discipline that is forced down onto them, to make sure they save up so that they have a lump sum payment at the end of the maturity period. This really opens up my eyes. We're complaining about the low interest rates here for saving deposits...wait till we have to pay to deposit money (aka negative interest rates).
I think this is one of the most interesting books I've read this year regarding finances. It really opens up my eyes on how the poor people studied in the book manage their financial life. If you ask me, they are astute cash flow managers, being able to move cash in and out multiple times of their networth. This means networth is not really their concern over there, cash flow is. Isn't that the same for us? This book is much more significant to me as I'm also a self employed with variable income. Whatever they do to alleviate the stress of not being able to bring in money during their off peak months, I can also follow.
Another 50% more to go to complete the book.