An immigrant, a mattress and financial independence

This is proving to be a challenging month on the road to financial independence. The first week of the month isn’t quite done yet and we’ve already incurred over $10,000 of expenses. None of the expenses were unexpected (more about that in our monthly numbers update), but that doesn’t really make me feel better as I pore over our numbers. As I lay in bed, alternately refreshing Mint and Personal Capital, using the power of my mind to simply will our net worth back up, I realized that I badly needed some perspective. I lay in the dark, allowed my body to relax into our mattress and let my mind wander.


When Mr. BITA and I moved in together, Mr. BITA decided that we should purchase a quality mattress for our new bed. I, not knowing what lay in store, agreed. Off we toodled to a mattress shop.

The mattress that Mr. BITA fell in love with cost nearly $4000. 4-thousand-fucking-dollars. It wasn’t even close to the most expensive one in the store. The one that was recommended by Oprah was close to $7k.

Let me explain. Where I grew up a mattress cost $10-$15. Adjusting for purchasing power parity, that would be maybe $100. And for all of my adult life before I moved to this country, I didn’t even own an actual mattress. I had this old quilt that belonged to my mother (it was at least a decade older than I was). It was thin and hard and I used to spread it on the floor and sleep like a proverbial baby on it. The few times I visited this country on business trips before I actually moved here, and stayed in a hotel, I used to have to sleep on the floor because my quilt hardened back screamed bloody murder if I laid it down on the poofy soft hotel mattress.

So, $4000. Mr. BITA explained that his back had never met a mattress that it was willing to be remote acquaintances with, let alone friends. He trotted out the old “you spend a third of your life on a mattress” bit. He batted his eyes. I have always been a sucker for the old eye bat. I decreed that if we were to sleep on that mattress until our dying day(s), I could make my peace with the price. The things we do for love.

While Mr. BITA paid and made delivery arrangements, I did some math. The mattress cost more than my first annual salary, converted to dollars. Pre-tax, to be clear. And, at the time, that salary made me feel immensely well off. How so? When I got that job, my father wryly pointed out that my gross salary, per month, was more than his monthly take home salary after he had worked for twenty years in the Indian Army. My father is a cardiologist. A cardiologist. And here I was, a decade later and an ocean away, buying some highly engineered foam for $4000.

I was glad that I had come this far, and that I could afford to buy that mattress. I am also very glad that every now and then, when I lie on that mattress, I can think of it’s cost in terms of a man feeding and educating his family of four for a whole year.

As I drift off to sleep on the $4000 mattress (having resisted the urge to check our net worth on my phone just one more time, in the unlikely event that some dollars decided to breed like rabbits and surprise me) it comforts me to remember that all through my childhood, though we lived on less than the cost of a mattress, I never once felt poor.


4 thoughts on “An immigrant, a mattress and financial independence”

  1. I also went through something similar. My first job out of college paid more than my step dad’s last job. It was humbling to realize I had it so good right away, whereas he’d worked his entire career and not gotten to my salary. They are very proud of me and my accomplishments 🙂

    1. I remember feeling like an imposter. There was no way I could convince myself that I was worth more, that I deserved to be paid more than my father was. It was a weird mixture of pride and shame.

  2. The mattress story is very funny and hit close to home.
    As an immigrant myself, 37 years ago, I sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag with a thick blanket under it as “mattress” until a friend pointed out that my social life would greatly improve if I got a bed with a mattress.
    He also mentioned that a door laid flat on cinderblocks as a study desk was not inspiring confidence according to the american social standards.
    At the time I considered it no hardship and was of the opinion that the money was better spend on education.
    I did achieve early retirement after a career in my chosen field so the education investments did paid of handsomely.

    1. Hi Kimobear! I love hearing from fellow immigrants and it is a bonus to hear from one who has achieved early retirement. I’d love to hear more about your story, if you are comfortable sharing details. When did you retire? What was your career? How have you been spending your early retirement?

      A door laid flat on cinderblocks seems a perfectly reasonable desk to me : )

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