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Sunday, April 04, 2010


The ExpertDabbler, shared an article over the weekend. He has consistently shared interesting and thought provoking stuff.. (so that credit goes to PK).

After reading through the article, realized a few things which made me go WTF?

There are people who live among us, who realize what it means to live frugally only when they are in dire straits.

As a household with both adults working (and another adult who comes and helps us out at least 6 months a year with the kids, thereby enabling us to work harder 6 months a year) we currently do a lot of the things that are featured in the article and have been for as long as we can remember.

a. we always use the public library for books, CD's, DVD's etc. True that we have a blockbuster mail order account where we pay under 8 bucks a month to watch newer movies, but by far the biggest movie expense for us is watching Desi movies in the local theater with friends or family. Reliance has pretty much bought all local theaters and they have established a price monopoly for Indian movies screened locally. (If only someone could break that or they realize their ticket prices are high.. or Blockbuster/Netflix/Youtube start online streaming of new releases for lower prices?.. anyways back to topic)

b. we always pack our lunch. Me 98% of the time and San 95% of the time. We eat outside as a family once every week at Bhavikas for <12 bucks for all 5 of us! Sometimes we go outside (maybe once a month) and splurge 40$ at Saravana Bhavan or the likes of it.. but that is usually a once a month affair these days.

c. Used to Bike where possible (or at least tried to) till the accident. Now it is going to be a slow start again. We don't have fancy SUV's. We buy cars that we know will last us at least 10+ years and still have decent fuel efficiency. Not exactly your Prius buyer but then again, we just decide to get as fuel efficient as the wallet would permit.

d. We still use coupons where possible and always do our homework before buying things.. sometimes we wait for years to buy things. Almost all our clothes shopping is done on India trips (granted everyone cannot do that, but we offset the cost of the flight tickets by shopping for a year/two worth of clothes).

e. we always take our kids to the local parks to play. At the most it is paying 6$ in parking for the entire day to visit any of the California state parks for a full day of fun, be it a beach, a hike with waterfalls, or just a plain picnic on a bench with home cooked food under some really tall old trees.

The thing that really hit me was:

1. We are not on the street. We have a huge debt on the house, but we made an investment and barring some natural disaster, the return will be there or least it will be a break even situation, but we don't act in a way that suggests richness.

2. After reading this article I started thinking "Wow, people have to lose their jobs to have our lifestyle ?!" So, what do they live like when they have jobs? How can some folks live a lifestyle that their paychecks do not support, for months, for years ? How is that even possible? How many people should have been doing that for how long for reality to come crashing down the way it has for all of us?

What would our family lose in terms of lifestyle if our jobs go?

We will be the same folks.. in a smaller place!

The library will still be there

The parks routine will not change

Biking will become a happy norm

Thayir(yogurt) or rasam(gravy) saadam (rice) in the lunch box will be replaced with more of the same except, there will be no lunch box..

It will be difficult to adjust to living with shared walls..We have the experience from four years ago. Then we moved to this house and during construction all five of us lived in one room for 5 months. Somehow the apartment experience was like a preview and preparation for the one room experience and we made it through.

The big surprise during both the apartment living and the single room living amid construction efforts was the way the kids reacted to all of this. As a child we(me, brother, sister and parents) lived through asbestos sheet roofed rooms in a house with a window facing the Cemetary for years. The bathroom was outside the house. So adjusting to something less is not a shock for me.

Jr. and the little did not have any issues with living in smaller spaces. In fact Jr. was the happiest when we were in that apartment because she found so many kids in that place to play with in the evening after coming back from school. There is a certain happiness to living in an apartment complex if you can adjust and calibrate your noise levels with the environment and kids being kids will adapt.

Little wonder then that thayir saadam lunchers and Chinese buddies(who bring their own fried rice in their Tiffin boxes) will have to share the fact that there is nothing wrong with using public facilities, spending responsibly, watching your bills and balancing your books and trying to teach your kids a thing or two from your life's experiences...

Who knew growing up in a poor/ lower middle class family for most of your early childhood could come in very handy later in life?

It is all karma, neh?


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:36 AM, Blogger Swatantra wrote...

Very interesting perspective...

good to know about you and your sweet world..

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:05 AM, Blogger Kavi wrote...

It always does ! it always does. The perspectives that got into the head early on stay deep and stay long !

Lifestyle is a wonderful thing. It evolves. And you are doing a fabulous job of passing on a way of living to the kids !


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:45 AM, Blogger dipali wrote...

So true, Sundar, all of what you say.
Simple living in one's childhood prepares you for much of what life brings your way.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...


what kind of place is it in the bay area where five can eat for less than $12, and what do you get to eat? i need to treat my friends there next time ;-) [and i am only half kidding].

seriously, even the temple canteen here, i will pay more than that for just me and two kids (and we won't even be really full).

- s.b.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:12 PM, Anonymous WA wrote...

Exactly same question as s.b, 12 dollars for 4 of you-vaaa

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Maybe some of like to enjoy the little time we have on earth and treat our loved ones - aka not $3 per head meals once a month. Some of us enjoy experiences better than looking at the balance in the bank


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Surely agree with cooking more and spending less outside on meals. Especially for those of us who eat all 3 meals outsides, everyday.

Saravana Bhavan costs around $50 for 3 people in my country. It's hard enough to get 1 meal under $10 per person these days, let alone 5 people eating for $12! USA rocks.

I am wavering between your sound advices and pradip's comment...

- kajan

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Bhavikas for $12?!!!! Just my hubby and i rack up a bill of close to $20 there! You make me guilty :-)

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:31 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...

I guess to each his/her own.

Bhavikas is not expensive but the food is almost like home cooked food and is very yummy..

Rotis are 2 for 1$ (used to be 3 for 1$ last year)

sabji bowls are 2$ each. used to be 1.5$ last year.

so if you order 16 rotis, 2 sabji's it costs you 12+ bucks.

kids eat 2 rotis .. parents 4.


however when San orders ChAt items, they are around 3-4$ / item and the snack/dinner sessions end up 18-20 bucks.

now that is squared away.. Pradip, there is no bank balance to stare at.

Not saying we should not eat out. we should, every now and then or for some folks who cannot cook at home, a little more often.. as long as it is within our monthly eat out budget. that was the point.

I see this guy who orders a 9$ lunch every day .. 5 times a week.. including a 2$ bottle of water, 1$ bag of chips. etc. stuff like that just boggles the mind.


esply because the vending machine around the corner has the same bag of chips for 75 cents and bottle water for a 1.25.

which is already overpriced.. if someone takes a few minutes to buy a big bag from costco and transfer it to a ziploc bag every day.. you get that chips for 20 cents. Drink from the cold water fountain 10 feet away (they have cups provided!) that is 2$ saved..

so yes, sometimes it just beats me.

this whole bottle water industry should be non existant.

In the country that calls itself the most developed nation, people are worried about drinking water from the tap and buy it in a bottle for 2$ plus, toss the plastic in the garbage and put it in a landfill, pollute the enviornment by all that diesel used to lug these bottles around the country and end up in wars to get oil to lug water around!


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Revathi wrote...

I agree and disagree with most of your points.

Agree on taking lunch, not splurging on items unnecessarily,shopping.

Disagree on eating as a family for 12$. That is definitely a no no. Shopping for 2 years in India totally disagree. Indian clothes is fine but not for office wear and regular clothes and shoes. No idea if you do that too.

But anyways interesting article lot of thought put into it.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Nice article that applies to everyone, even if they might have the same or a different opinion.

Good to know there is still a place in bay area where a big family can eat heartily for < $12! Bhavikas vazhga!!
But for most people, without Bhavika's it costs $25/couple and $30 w/kid and even more w/kids

Regarding buying clothes - yes We also do the traditional Indian shopping in our trips to India but fitting and look for decent ( even walmart) clothes to office is from USA. I try to buy jeans/trousers in India and they either have low quality zippers, bad ugly fitting and one wash in the washer either shrinks it or gives it a very worn out look. Not to mention they have become very expensive and if you really convert it, even a $9.99 jeans you get @ walmart on sake is much durable and better fitting.

Kurtis are always from India - unbeatable. I have bought shirts for $2 here for my husband ( which is unheard of in India these days, unless it is bought on the platform). And mind you that $2 short was on sale/clearance rack but great condition and still look nice. yes, I live in the bay area.
Everything is pretty expensive in India these days, and I am from chennai where cost of living is much much competetive than other parts. I try to convert and see that it is same or almost close to what we pay here. And if we wait for sale, discounts/coupons, buy one get one and do the math it comes to the same. the problem is for buyers who don't care and just want to be "in fashion" and buy clothes in spur of the moment.

Try shopping for household items - furniture/books/table or any such items at consignment stores and you will find great bargains. Sometimes unused/untouched items within a couple of dollars. This is unheard of in India. If you have not..just try walking into a consignment store..just to try it out ( you dont have tell us ) but do it and see what you think. Children's books, your mats, cleaning items for measely prices. Then there are clothes and other stuff too but I stay away from buying used clothes/kitchen items/bedroom items. But I dont mind other things in good unused condition. try it Sundar. India is not always cheap. For every shopping soree you need to add auto/car petrol charges, not to mention the pains you take to travel to the shops in that hot sun. But I agree than some items HAVE to bought there and only there. hot sun or not.

I come from a pretty well of family but brought up in a very humble way. We were well off but I never knew until I was in college because we lived in a small old home ( joint family) and dad taught us all to bargain and think before buying, look for discounts. Mom taught us not to eat out all the time and keep track and account of money spent. Later I realized how valuable it was and how I hunt for good bargains now and can tell anyone how to save in america and still enjoy a good life. Even though we both earn here, we still look for bargains/clerance/don';t buy clothes in US unless our current ones don't fit/tear/or see clothes within $5 (max $10 for adults). Even for my kids, nice stores like jcpenny offers clothes within $5. Only pavadai for DD and sherwani for DS and other traditional clothes are bought from india.

There are many many ways to save and you rightly said the same. One has to have the inclination/habit and spend just a few minutes to do your homework before hitting that wallet which carries your hard earned-put-your-kids-in-daycare-to-earn-that-after-tax money.

sorry for the long post but you started an interesting topic ...you always do :)


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Call me Anondesi wrote...

Nice post Sundar,but i'm sure you would pick on me on my views. I'm not at all finding fault with living humbly,but living a Indian way of life in another country despite eagle passport and two monthly earnings does not feel good with me. I wonder what type of exposure you give to your kids,be it moving with people from other ethnicity, trying out their cuisine and their culture etc..I see you save for your kids college,but will you let them decide their own lives or would you still be like a typical Indian parent who decide whats good for their children

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:18 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...


interesting perspective from your side as well..

a-non-desi or anon-desi,

living responsibly is not and should not be called Indian and living beyond ones means should not be called the Eagle way either.

I personally know Americans (desi or otherwise) who save to send their kids to a good school, buy them their first car, make sure they have a support structure till they find gainful employment (and not all the kids became doctors or engineers, some are artists, school teachers, economists...) and also know Desi Americans who spend way more they can afford. . borrow on an already mortgaged house to pay for vacations.

American way to me is to be able to do what you want to do, stand up for things, encourage creativity, and a whole host of things that does not include spending recklessly.

As for the kids moving with people from other ethnicity, please come to Cupertino and visit us next time you are in the area.

Out of 19 kids in my kids class, 12 are Chinese American, 6 are desi, 1 is middle eastern American.

There is a good chance that Jr. or the little one will walk home with a Chinese guy and say "Daddy, I want to marry him!". The odds are strongly in favor of that.. 12:6 or more, based on a crude statistic at 2nd grade, 1st grade and Kindergarten..

I am prepared to say "ok" as long as the dude doesn't smoke, is not a habitual drinker/drug user or womanizer and can also show that he is responsible when it comes to money and can think about a stable life.

Then again, have also seen that in Desi families, the views of one parent don't count a 100%.. probably 20%. The dominant parent (in this case San) counts for 40%, the grandparents another 20%, their siblings 10%, the street dog and sagunams when she brings the boy into house the remaining %....

this comment is becoming a post in itself..

should make that another perspective ...




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