One weekend, my wife had an intriguing idea: “Let’s take our new car and find a place to eat somewhere we normally wouldn’t consider.” Our usual dining choices in Taipei were often dictated by the convenience of public transport, primarily the MRT, confining us to places where parking wasn’t a concern. Opening Google Maps, I zoomed into the areas just on the outskirts of Taipei, a few kilometers away from the nearest MRT station. And there it was, almost hidden from our routine gaze – a vegetarian omakase restaurant, a culinary treasure waiting to be discovered beyond our usual radius.

The Liberation of Choices with a Car

Embracing the freedom that comes with our car transformed our exploratory landscape dramatically. Suddenly, the radius of our gastronomic map expanded, and with it, so did our choices. No longer were we tethered to the areas within a stone’s throw of MRT stations. We ventured further, broadening our horizons both literally and figuratively.

The journey to these places became part of the adventure itself – a drive through parts of Taipei we had rarely seen, offering glimpses of the city that were previously just names on a map.

This shift was more than just a logistical change but a paradigm shift in our lifestyle. Having a car didn’t just mean going places. It actually symbolised an expansion of our accessibility to experiences. Each drive became an exploration, each destination a discovery. 

Have you had this experience when you first got your driving license? It happens to all of us.

From Humble Beginnings to Broader Horizons

My journey of expanding choices wasn’t just geographical. It was deeply rooted in my personal growth and financial journey. I vividly recall my days as a student at UTM Skudai, where economic constraints were a constant companion. Back then, each meal was a careful calculation, typically not exceeding RM2. Dining out was a luxury, and splurging a little on KFC or Bakuteh was our way of celebrating special occasions. Those days were humble, yet they taught me the value of money and the satisfaction of simple pleasures.

As my career progressed and my earnings increased, so did the spectrum of my choices. Dining at more expensive restaurants became an option, not just a distant wish. But interestingly, this increase in financial freedom didn’t detach me from the roots of my culinary preferences. The local hawker stalls, with their mouth-watering dishes, remained a staple in our diet. They represented value for money and a connection to a lifestyle I had grown to love and appreciate. These stalls – char kuey teow, prawn mee, nasi lemak, nasi kandar etc., with their unassuming charm and authentic flavours, are reminders that while financial growth broadens our choices, it doesn’t necessarily change our core preferences and values.

This evolution in my dining choices mirrors the broader theme of life’s journey. As we grow financially and personally, our ability to choose expands. We’re not just talking about the ability to spend more, but the privilege to experience more – to savour the diversity of life’s offerings without being constrained by the limitations we once faced.

Trading RM2 Meals for RM500 Feasts

Today, our financial journey has brought us to a point where indulging in an omakase restaurant or a Michelin-grade dining experience is a delightful reality. These establishments, known for their exquisite cuisine and often requiring reservations months in advance, have become accessible to us. As of 2023, Taipei has a total of 35 Michelin-starred restaurants. I have only dined in a few. ?It’s a testament to how far we’ve come – from carefully budgeted meals to the luxury of culinary excellence.

Celebrating milestones with family over RM500-per-person dinners, and expressing gratitude to our accountant with a fine dining treat, these moments transcend mere luxury. They weave stories of appreciation, achievement, and community, reflecting a lifestyle shift from sheer affordability to a blend of quality and luxury.

These experiences are not just about the food, but the stories they create and the memories they leave behind. They symbolise a shift in our lifestyle – from prioritising affordability to embracing quality and luxury. However, this shift isn’t just about the ability to spend more, commonly known as “personal inflation“. It’s about appreciating the finer things in life while staying grounded in our values and relationships.

The Essence of Financial Growth: Expanding Choices and Personal Values

The core of earning more, accumulating wealth, and reaping better returns from investments lies in the profound simplicity of expanded choices. It’s a straightforward yet impactful reality: increased financial stability equates to a broader range of options in nearly every aspect of life. This expansion is about the freedom to choose more.

But an interesting question arises in this journey of financial growth – can one still find joy in the simpler, less expensive things they once cherished? In my experience, the answer is a resounding yes. The ability to enjoy what we are used to is less about our financial status and more about our personality and values. Despite the shifts in my financial landscape, the joy I find in simpler pleasures remains undiminished. I believe this is a crucial aspect of maintaining a balanced perspective in life.

However, adapting to different standards of living can take time and adjustment. For instance, imagine the transition from driving a RM300k car to a RM50k one. The experience is undeniably different, and it’s natural to feel the contrast. But this adjustment is more than just about getting used to a different car. 

It’s about:

  • Understanding and accepting the various facets of life’s journey.
  • Recognising that our preferences and possibilities may evolve over time.
  • Maintaining the ability to appreciate different experiences, both luxurious and modest.
  • Emphasising that appreciation for diverse life experiences should not diminish despite changes in circumstances.

Final Thoughts: Embracing the Present and Striving for More

Reflecting on this journey of financial and personal growth, I’ve realised that the ability to ‘fall back’ to simpler times or lesser luxuries is not the most important thing. What truly matters is recognising and appreciating where you are right now. You’ve worked hard, made sacrifices, and navigated through challenges to reach where you are today. So, take a moment, look around, and enjoy the fruits of your labour. It’s a testament to your resilience and dedication.

However, the essence of true contentment and fulfilment lies in revelling in what we have achieved and maintaining a mindset of continuous growth and improvement. Happiness is found in being grateful for the present while keeping an eye on future goals. It’s a balance between contentment and ambition, between enjoying today and planning for tomorrow.

I remember the days when driving my Datsun 120Y felt like a significant upgrade from my motorbike. Those moments were as precious and fulfilling as any I experience today. This doesn’t diminish the pleasure I find in my current lifestyle. Rather, it enhances it, reminding me of my journey and the strides I’ve made.

Datsun 120Y

In closing, I encourage you to embrace your successes, no matter how modest they seem, and continue to work towards your dreams. Your aspirations are valid, and your efforts to reach them are commendable. Keep pushing forward, but take the time to appreciate how far you’ve come. After all, every step forward, no matter how small, is a part of your greater journey towards a life of expanded choices and fulfilling experiences.


Personal finance author and trainer

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