My parents got married in early 70s and moved in their current flat in 1974 I guess. Or it was 1973? Doesn’t matter.
By income, we were a lower middle class family, even though at that time – and relative to the shitty neighborhood of Rome I grew up – I would classify us as a upper middle class. My father was climbing the blue collar ladder in national energy company (would paint it white in the early 90s) while my mother was a housewife waiting to raise kids in her early/mid 20s.
It was economic boom time, and good time to be a government blue collar in Italy. Safe and raising salary, can’t be fired for any reason, can go on a strike whenever you feel like, and so on. Double digit inflation rate, but also double digit bonds returns. And la scala mobile… my parents’ fixed rate mortgage in the range 5-7% weighted ~35% of my father first salary, but within 5 years it became less than 5%.
Which means that in their late 20s my parents had an irrelevant mortgage on their 100 sqm apartment, and a lot of cash. As I said in my story and in my ESI Money interview, my father was a frugal person. He taught me how to handle money, save money, and invest in BOT. Just BOT, nothing else. BOT means Buono Ordinario del Tesoro, something like a CD. Bonds. A la Joe Dominguez of YMOYL, same mustaches as well!
“If I had 100 Million Liras in BOT, at 12% interests per year, I could quit working!” he used to say. Oh daddy, that’s so cuuute! We kids gave this thing a name, Financial independence, but it involves more math, spreadsheets, and investing skills 🙂
Btw, 100M Lira is now 50k EUR, you can’t even buy a second hand Ferrari with that pocket money!
Anyway, when the two of us sit down and fight over generations, opportunities, and “we didn’t have computers back then” I can’t resist and tell him that “hey, without even a high school diploma you and mom – a housewife – had a 100 sqm flat by age 22, a steady salary and a lot of cash at the end of each month, and raised 2 kids. My friends with a master degree are still living at their parents’ homes in their 30s… who had better opportunities?”
Anyway, this is going on a tangent. Let’s bring it back!
The extra cash they had back then was mainly saved, but the side gig money (my father always had many of them, including being building administrator of several buildings) went spent on cool gadgets.
One of my first memory as a child is the night Italy won Football World Championship in Spain, in 1982. I was 5 years old and I don’t remember almost anything of my life back then. But I remember a dozen people in our living room, watching the final game, smoking (it was considered normal back then, and I already hated that), and jumping for Marco Tardelli’s goal, spilling beer on the floor (poor mom, I now understand how unpleasant it would have been for you to clean all that shit the next day). I did’t react well, I focused on stay safe on my sofa. And I vividly remember that old leather red sofa. It was a 70s thing, a luxury one. I remember it very vividly. It probably costed much more than all my sofas since 2003, the year I left my parents house, combined together. In actual money, not “considering inflation”. Well, I think it helps that in 16 years I got 2 sofas for free and for one I paid 350 EUR 🙂
I remember even better the TV we watched Italy raising the World Cup on. They kept it until ~2010 I guess. Then they gave it away for free… such a piece of history, still functioning 30 years later!
It was a Nordmende Spectra, the wooden one, with 3 mini independent screens. You could insert an audio jack and have kids watch their favorite toon while adults watch their stupid 007 movie!
I think they paid a Million Lira for it back in 1981, i.e. 500 of today EUR. I mean before inflation. Inflation adjusted it should be somewhere between 2-3k EUR. The only TV I ever purchased in my life costed me 399 EUR back in 2010, and I still use it. She followed me in 4 different apartments in 2 countries and she’s still doing fine.
Yeah, drifting again from the topic, sorry.
My father also invested in few Commodore 64 computers. He bought a stock of 5-6 of them, keeping one for us (for me) and selling the others to colleagues and friends for a small margin so that our came for free.
He was so proud of his marketing skills!
Having the C64 at age 7 or so boosted my passion for game programming and for computer science in general. My father was pretty happy for a mere 15% return on investment… he didn’t expect a ROI of XYZ [put a value for my software engineering career here 🙂 ].
But I didn’t write this post to celebrate the “good old days” (just a bit!).
Along with all the above mentioned gadgets, my family also had a Dishwasher.
I don’t remember the exact year they purchased it, maybe directly when they moved in, in 1974 but I’m not sure. Anyway, they were early adopter in Italy! Apparently in US too:
For those who think I’m a rich spoiled kid, living in the richest country in the world, and earning a multiple six digits income PLEASE, listen to this: I never had a dishwasher in my 16 years of adult life, after having left my original family’s home.
I’ve always washed my own dirty dishes by hand.
Now that I think about it, I also never lived in a greater than 60 square meters apartment, btw. But that doesn’t hurt me as much as my dishwasher dirty dream. I’ve been washing dishes almost every night (and several mornings/afternoons) since 16 years.
There have been times when I liked it, like after a boardgame social evening in my Milan flat. I used to host boardgames night every other day when I was single. Amazing times! Washing some dishes while unwinding a Dominion or Carcassonne match, thinking how I could have played better, or rehearsing jokes for the following boardgame night have always been a pleasurable activity. But on most days it was just a punishment, a chore I didn’t want to do. A wasted 30 minutes of my day. yes, it’s a lot of time, and that’s because I’m a fucking perfectionist with cleaning my dishes!
Back then I didn’t own a dishwasher for both laziness and frugality. Research, purchase, transport, make room for it, install it, maintain it… Now things are different, we simply don’t have space for a dishwasher in our small kitchen. We live in a small apartment and the kitchen is already full.
When I was living alone, I optimized my meals to consume less forks, knives, glasses, plates, pots possible. Reusing glasses a dozen times, fast washing knives only used once to slice bread, avoid using a fork or a plate unless strictly necessary. I was a real dishwashing minimalist! My wife doesn’t care and use 5 spoons to check if the pasta is well cooked. She’s on charge of cooking, I wash the dishes afterward. Now that we have a daughter, my wife cooks more than before, thus more dirty dishes come to my way.
So the dishwasher is a luxury I never had the pleasure to enjoy firsthand, and I think when I will it will be life changing. I can see myself crying of joy at the time conquered back from my dirty duty. Life will be much much much better!
Or will it?
Let me tell you a recent story.
Last Saturday we had a fantastic frugal evening at our place, with a couple of very close friends. I cooked Pizza RIP (best in town), and – of course – after dinner we terraformed the entire surface of Mars!
This is the fourth game we played together, and after the first 2 losses on my side I was able to win last two matches. My friend, and wedding witness, and colleague, and travel companion and member of the Italian Hooli Investing Club is my though cookie when talking about board games. While our wives enjoy playing and don’t mind always ending up 3rd and 4th, we compete for the first place with unhealthy agonism. That goes as far as studying strategy guides (about TM? Here’s best one!), playing solo, and finding online version of games to train strategies with strangers. Boiteajeux is a good online portal for boardgames 😉
We consumed Agricola this way, then Castles of Burgundy, and now Terraforming Mars (not on Boiteajeux yet). I had to give up on Agricola, he has asymptotically beaten me up. On Burgundy we were at the same level, and now on Terraforming Mars the competition just started, and it promises unprecedented intensity!
“RIIIIP, baaaack on topic!”
Yeah, sorry, I get lost in thoughts and words, I can’t help 🙂
Saturday evening was amazing as usual. BabyRIP went to sleep at 8.30pm leaving us free to play TM till 1am. I cooked pizza, we served appetizers, we used water and wine glasses, ice cream cups… lot of dirty dishes. During the afternoon Mrs RIP cooked a lot of Baby’s food, generating a shitload of extra dirty dishes. I prepared the pizza dough. i.e. more dirty dishes, bowls, and cutleries.
The gaming night was over at 1.30am and I had no energy left to clean the mountain of dirty dishes. I guess it’s also explicitly forbidden by our condo rules to make such noises after 10pm (I love Switzerland).
Anyway, I took a look at the kitchen sink, and actually the entire kitchen area. Almost no horizontal surface available to simply put a glass. It would be complicated to maneuver dirty/clean dishes tomorrow… oh fuck, I won an amazing game 90-78, let’s celebrate it now and think about the dishes tomorrow! Let’s go to sleep!
We woke up slightly late on Sunday morning, with BabyRIP asking for food and Mrs RIP juggling in the kitchen to find space to consume other clean dishes to feed BabyRIP, and to generate extra dirty dishes. I don’t know where she found clean dishes to use, I suspect she asked neighbors or unpacked forgotten wedding gifts 😀
The two of us had also breakfast along with BabyRIP, i.e. more dirty dishes.
When breakfast was over, I had to face the monster. I’ve been preparing for it every minute awake.
I sighed, I kissed my family goodbye, told them “I’ll be back before lunch” and headed toward the kitchen. I estimated more or less an hour of work needed.
Then the enlightenment!
Ok, “enlightenment” for an old non-millennial like I am. I guess what I’m going to say is “just normal” for youngsters air-pods addicted around.
“Mmmh, I missed a live stream on YouTube yesterday, I could watch the recording while washing the dishes!”
So I brought my phone with me (never done before while washing the dishes) and put on my recorded live stream from Breaking Italy (I think I already mentioned it in a Curiosity–>Italians section on a monthly report). For the Italian friends, I recommend you watch this one too, at least the first half. It’s about immigration, racism, gypsies, Torre Maura’s episode in Rome and much more. Shy elaborated on poverty and racism and I had so much fun listening to the stream while washing dishes. Here’s the stream for you:
I love Breaking Italy and Alessandro Masala (Shy), the owner/youtuber/creator behind the show, and in front of the camera. His thoughts are always elaborated, empathic, never simplistic. Strongly recommended! It’s my source of information for “the news”. Each day, on Breaking Italy, he elaborates on 2 or 3 trending topics within world politics, Italian politics, news, facts. He offers his analysis and some of his point of views, which can’t be labeled with a political affiliation. Essentially whoever has liberal or libertarian views is unrepresented in Italy, where every party is becoming populist, nationalist, socialist and so on.
“Dishwasher. The topic. Stay focused”
Yeah yeah, I know, just let me talk!
Ok, what’s the point of this? I immersed myself in this listening experience while washing dishes. I focused, I took my position on the debate, I refined my thoughts while listening. I also had a blog post idea, plus this other meta-blog-post idea (talking about the dishwashing). After an hour I felt energized! I actually slowed down rinsing glasses because I wanted to think more, I wanted to prolong the experience. I knew once I had done with my job there were plenty of other urgent activities involving diapers and food on the ground waiting for me. I slowed down my dishwashing, an activity considered boring and numb so far, because I was enjoying my time.
It’s been a mindful experience that flipped my perception of a usually dreaded chore.
“TL;DR; RIP discovered podcast, welcome to 21st century! how do you think all those who commute kill their commuting time? Podcast! Since 199X!”
Yes, I know, this is not rocket science. But it made me think and draw few connections with philosophies and lines of thought that I read but didn’t intentionally practice on a daily basis so far.
First: things are not good or bad per se, it’s our perception of them that makes us classify them into good and bad. This is not new stuff, this is ancient stoic wisdom. Washing dishes is not “bad”, it’s my mind that tells itself that “oh shit, you’re wasting time here but this has to be done. What a pity!“. I voluntary make myself feel bad about it. With some intentionality, I can turn perception the other way around and transform weaknesses in strengths. So powerful!
Second: a mundane task is an opportunity to sharpen your thoughts. How much of our day do we devote to just thinking, being disconnected from the need to do something else? Brooming the floor, washing dishes, do the laundry are opportunities to elaborate on a thought and let ideas attack you. Yes, ok, I was not really “disconnected” this time (I was watching a youtube video, kind of “the definition of being connected”), but I was not scrolling, playing, checking notifications or doing any other attention killer activity. I was listening to content that made me elaborate on my thoughts.
Third, a mundane task is also an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Same as above, but double down on living the present. This is next step, for the braves among us. Just focus on the present moment, clearing your mind from the constant flow of thoughts. If you’re a millennial and can’t get rid of your phone while doing this, you can listen to some guided meditation or ambient music. My favorite guided meditation is Tara Brach basic Vipassana on InsightTimer app. Favorite ambient music is Studio Ghibli Music Live Radio on youtube channel Cat Trumpet.
I consider my attention my real wealth. This wealth is constantly under attack from the outside thru my senses, and from the inside thru my mind, my cravings, my sparse thoughts, my lack of intentionality.
I’m focusing on internal attention killers here, because they’re the ones we have more control of. On the other hand, we sold and lost our senses. Without much in return, we’re silently losing most of our original, natural, true wealth.
We gave up on hearing: we’ve accepted that it’s ok to listen to high volume music, with speakers on the bus, on the streets and in every public space. Thanks to mobile phones we passively consider ok to hear keyboard click sounds and other noises. We definitely gave up on hearing. Silence is a luxury nowadays.
We gave up on sight so long ago. If you live in a city, wherever you turn you see advertisements, brands, shops, unnatural colors that demand your attention. You’re probably wearing clothes with brands in sight, designed to capture others attention. You’re an attention killer carrier, a virus.
We gave up on taste with unhealthy junk food that “tastes good” but it’s made of extra sugar, extra salt, extra extras. We don’t know how things naturally taste, and achieving this amazing milestone costed us all time high of diabetes and heart diseases.
We gave up on smell, but probably we never had full control of it. I’m lucky that Switzerland air quality is one of the best in the world, but still smoke and cars exhaust gases are part of my daily diet. I couldn’t survive in San Francisco for example, where Marijuana/pee/fastfood/garbage/dogshit smells are everywhere.
I’m fighting my own battle to reclaim silence, unadvertised landscapes, good smells, and better quality food, but the internal attention killers are harder to fight. Digital Minimalism might be the solution, or depth year, or just pursue a simpler life, a FIRE life.
In this battle for attention, technology can be either an enemy or, if used correctly, a strong weapon.
“So… you’re never going to own a dishwasher, aren’t you?”
Of course I’m still craving for one! 😀
But I suspect life will be different the day I made my giant leap into the future. It’ll take time to adapt, and then one day I’d forget how life was before having a Dishwasher. And that’s applied lifestyle inflation 101. We’re all doomed, we can only slow it down but not stop it.
And I’ll also have the responsibility to use the extra time such magnificent device buys me back, and I’m ready for it. I’ve so many things I want to do for which I don’t have time available right now! My parents own a dishwasher since forever, but the extra time they saved in these 40+ years went straight to couch-potatoing in front of a TV, an amazing vintage one in the 20th century though. Not the best use of such a windfall.
Let’s not forget that luxury is a form of weakness.
“Yeah, but what does it have to do with financial independence, let alone personal finance?”
That’s a good point, I don’t have a quick answer to that.
But I don’t think personal finance has only to do with money. It’s about values, quality of life, efficiency and economy in general. And your attention is a resource that should be treated with the same attention (no pun intended) of your money. We, FI Seekers, track our income, spending, net worth because we want to monitor and be more intentional with our financial decision. In my opinion, this should also be they way to behave with our limited attention resources.
… And I wanted to write a fun GenX-y post about how cool was life in last millennium 😀