The Thing About Money, Part 1: Background, or, Wanting money makes me feel like a phony

(This is the first post in a six post series titled The Thing About Money.)

I think a lot about money, and that makes me feel like a big phony. 

I like to think of myself as marginally punk rock, a bit of a hippie, and as someone who tries not to be frivolous–especially with money. I’m not some crust punk panhandling down on Venice Beach or anything like that (more power to you, if you are), but I’ve undergone a dumpster dive or two in my day. I’ve picked up free furniture from Craigslist, walked to work instead of driven, and stopped eating meat because of the damage industrial farming does to the environment and workers. At one point I was living in a shoebox New York bedroom with six roommates (shoebox as in only-fit-a-twin-bed shoebox) working at a small nut milk “factory.” I’ve been able to scratch out a marginal living, and this has been fine. It hasn’t been great, but it’s been fine. The older I get, however, the more I start to think about having nice things. Nice things like organic groceries, or a car with an undercarriage that doesn’t vibrate when I drive it, or the feeling of being completely debt-free and without student loans. And in order to have these nice things, I need money. But wanting it makes me feel dirty.

All hail the almighty… change jar. Image from pexels.com.

Class anxiety is a huge part of this. I’m proud of having been poor and still making something of myself. I’m proud that I was able to buy a car outright–yes, it was a used 2007 Toyota Yaris with over 100,000 miles on it, but it’s mine, damn it, and I drove it off the lot with no debts to my name. I’ve learned that if you’ve worked for something and had to make intense sacrifices for it, you’ve really earned it (side-note: as a white, cis, able-bodied person, I recognize that I have a boatload of privilege). And if you have money, if you have a support system behind you when you achieve your goals, it somehow doesn’t count. If you didn’t starve while you did it, then it doesn’t make it special. 

I was taught that hard work and money are moral issues. You can be a good poor, like my family, and buy vegetables and milk with your food stamps and try and stash money away for a rainy day. Or you can be a “bad” poor, like people who buy pizza rolls and soda and blow their whole paycheck as soon as they get it.

Now THAT’S a fucked up way of thinking.

(Besides, pizza rolls taste good, and when you’re that poor, can’t you at least have just one fucking thing that you actually like?)

These feelings are exacerbated by living in the South Bay area. I am lucky that I get paid a living wage for what I do (but only speaking as a non-parent–if I had any dependents to support, this job would not work for me), but sometimes it seems hard to count my blessings when I overhear twenty-four year olds talk about how they just bought a new house with their Facebook money while gazing at the vast sea of Teslas parked in my gym’s lot. But I also know this is a compromise on my part–I frankly couldn’t sleep at night if I worked for a company like Facebook. I interned one summer for a company that I found out made construction materials used in underwater oil drilling, and the thought of being part of a machine that kills the environment made me sick. I don’t want to work for a corporation like that. When I look at my student debt, though, I sometimes have to wonder if my compromises are worth it. I know they are, I know they are, I know they are…

I also feel like money should be the last thing on my mind. After all, the world is dying. Instead of providing aid to millions of struggling people and places across the world, Jeff Bezos thinks the best way to spend his money is to shoot himself into space. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Amazon is on fire (and wants to stay that way?), the Bolivian Amazon is on fire (although at least they’re trying?), and Trump is shitting all over the endangered species act (oh, and also still keeping children in cages). Is it even right to worry about whether or not I can get a better car when the earth is literally going to shit and it seems like everything you could possibly do just makes things worse? Is civilization even going to exist by the time I retire? And shouldn’t I be donating all my money to help other people; isn’t that what “good” people do?

Options seem limited, when you don’t want to be an asshole to others/the planet. 

A lot of “lifestyle coaches” would say that I need to change my “money mindset.” That I am coming from a mindset of lack, and as such, I send the message of lack out into the universe and receive lack in return. If I would just think from a place of abundance, then I would attract abundance from the universe. Sudden windfalls would come my way–past loans I had given but forgotten about would be paid back by friends, I’d get a surprise bonus at work, etc. etc. I’ve tried to think from a place of abundance, but it’s hard to feel abundant when you’re documenting every purchase at the grocery store to make sure there’s enough left over for student fees, or car problems, or whatever bills come up when your research assistantship is offered at half the hours than your professor originally implied (lesson learned: get it in writing, always). The money mindset is bullshit. Money mindsets put further blame on individuals–why aren’t you working hard enough at thinking positively?–when greater societal forces are at work. YOU SHOULD BE MANIFESTING, DAMN IT!

“Manifesting” more money isn’t going to do shit, in my opinion. However, maybe educating myself about how to best use money as a tool will empower me to feel less helpless. After all, knowledge is power.  In the words of Liz Lemon, “I have gotta make money and save it. And I have to do that thing that rich people do where they turn money into more money.”

So that’s what I’m setting out to do. Step one: I need to examine my own relationship with money. What’s my history with money? How was money treated when I was growing up? How do I feel about debt, what am I afraid of, and what’s really the worst thing that could happen if I lose my job? I guess this could be considered as part of some bullshit mindset, but it feels to me like more of a psychological archaeological excavation. Let’s get to some deep history in order to provide a better foundation for the future. (And of course, step two = ? and step 3 = profit). 

How do you feel about money? Do you have moral hang-ups about it, or do you view it merely as a tool to be used to one’s advantage? Feel free to post in the comments.

Four Things I Learned When Moving Across the Country

I moved across the country recently. 

Not the entire country. I moved from Denver to the Bay area, a distance of approximately 1250 miles. In a previous post, I mentioned accepting a new job offer. This job offer was in California, so I needed to figure out a cheap and easy way to move my one bedroom apartment (and partner) to the Golden State. 

Here are four things I’ve learned from moving across the country (and, in previous moves, the world):

1. Get rid of as much stuff as possible before you move. This one is pretty obvious–the less stuff you have, the easier it is to get it from point A to point B. In the last ten years, I’ve lived in North Carolina, South Korea, New York City, Denver, and now California. For three of those moves (NC to SK, SK to NYC, and NYC to CO) I gave away as many things as possible and only moved with two suitcases worth of things. When my partner and I moved to Denver, we were very lucky to have a friend already living there, and he allowed us to mail a couple boxes to his apartment. This made the move incredibly cheap–just a couple of plane tickets with checked baggage fees, about $150 in postage, and we were there! This also made logistics super simple–however, all our furniture was hand-me-downs or things that we took from the curb, so it wasn’t terrible to say goodbye to those pieces.

2. Research different options. As mentioned before, I was looking to move cheap. I moved to the Bay area for a job that isn’t in tech (a bad move on my part? I GUESS WE’LL SEEEEE), so getting moving expenses down to as low as possible was ideal. I looked into several options–renting a truck ourselves, getting a moving cube, or paying professional movers to drive the truck. Professional movers were out of the question because they are so expensive (rightfully so), and we really didn’t have too much furniture; renting a truck ourselves would necessitate one of us driving while the other followed in the car, which didn’t seem like it would be a very fun two to three days (nor did either one of us really want to drive a U-Haul over the Rocky Mountains). Additionally, we bought furniture when we moved to Denver two and a half years ago, and my partner didn’t want to start all over again from scratch (although I am very much a BURN IT ALL AND DRIVE AWAY sort of person, I respect his feelings). In the end, we went with a moving cube from ReloCube as the most affordable option and best for our needs. However, even the price on this was flexible–instead of having the Cube delivered, we opted to rent small U-Hauls to bring our furniture to the loading and unloading facilities. Doing this instead of having it delivered cut the price nearly in half. 

3. Have a back-up plan for when you arrive. I was lucky enough to get placed in housing that is owned by my employer, so I am paying slightly below market rate for my studio apartment (basically a necessity in the Bay area for someone who will be trying to pay rent alone on a non-tech salary [my partner is leaving soon to finish his MA overseas]). We pulled into town on a Friday afternoon to pick up a key from the security office. We arrived at the office, asked for our key–and the security office had no idea what we were talking about. The individuals handling the property for this organization had not dropped off our keys. Several calls and misunderstandings later, a representative of the property office finally came and gave us keys to a temporary unit (THANKFULLY). We were lucky (although it took over a MONTH after my lease started to get into my unit–but that’s a story for another day) that someone was there; had we shown up after normal office hours, we would have been without a plan for the weekend. If you do not have keys-in-hand, I suggest you look around at the best places to stay at least overnight and have options for storing your furniture in case things go awry. 

4. Take in some sights along the way. The main benefit of using a moving Cube was not having to drive anything ourselves. Additionally, the Cube was quoted as taking three to five business days to move, and our move spanned a weekend and included the fourth of July–essentially giving us three extra days before having to worry about retrieving our stuff. We packed the Cube on a Thursday, “Day 1” started on a Friday, and we had the entire weekend before Day 2 even started. Zion National Park, a place my partner and I had always wanted to visit, is almost exactly half-way between Denver and our new home. We spent three wonderful days hiking and backpacking in Zion before making our way to visit friends for the fourth of July in LA. This made the long drive days not as bad, because we had something to look forward to, and also let us check off some life goals without having to take vacation time or plan an extra trip. Hooray!

While moving is undoubtedly a pain in the ass, there are definitely ways to make it better. Check out your options, decide what works for you, and try to add some fun side-trips so your move does double duty–travel for work and pleasure. 

(Also, RIP to one nightstand that was smashed in the Cube during the move. However, please note that it was from Ikea, and I didn’t do a great job of putting it together in the first place, so take that for what you will.)

Learning to Love You (and me) More

Do you remember the art project Learning to Love You More?

Learning to Love You More was a crowdsourced art project/experiment created by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. July and Fletcher would post art assignments to the website, and people all over the world would do the assignments and send back a report with information about the work they created. The project was active for 2002 to 2009. I still think about it sometimes, even though it finished ten years ago and I never did any of the assignments. But the website has been acquired and archived by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and all the assignments are still up. I know the best time to start a project is yesterday, but better late than never, am I right? 

I used to do a lot of art–drawing, painting, embroidering, weaving, etc. etc. etc. However, over the last few  years, my time has been eaten up by other commitments–full time job, part time job(s), grad school, gym, trying to be a good partner (first world problems, I know). I miss creating; I miss playing with shit and taking a bunch of disparate objects and turning them into something new and, if not exactly beautiful, maybe interesting. I also miss using art as a way to figure things out about myself; for me, it’s a way of slowing circling toward a sense of truth. I thought using some of the assignments in Learning to Love You More would be a great place to start. 

A few of the assignments feel a bit overwhelming to me right now–for example, #3 is to make a documentary video about a small child. Well, at the moment I don’t know any small children, and it seems weird to just ask the students whom I barely know in my grad program if I can film their children (also, I don’t really ‘get’ kids, anyway–but maybe that’s the point? I’m supposed to ‘grow’?). As such, I chose something that seemed a bit more do-able. You know, to dip my toes in the water, build up my confidence and all that shit. So, for my first project, I chose Assignment #51: Describe what to do with your body when you die, because why not begin with the end? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. I remember being much younger and reading an article about a company that will put your cremated remains into a firework. This appeals to the part of me that has always loved to be loud and obnoxious. There are also several companies that will put your remains into a tree, and since I love the great outdoors (and would like to attempt to make-up for my enormous carbon footprint), I thought about this for a while too. Donating my body to medical science was at the top of my list for awhile, but then I found out that cadavers that have donated organs aren’t eligible for donation. 

Finally, I decided I want to be an organ donor and have whatever’s left just get cremated. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe that my body is inextricably linked with my soul, or that what makes me ‘me’ is at all linked to a physical body other than that this meat container is currently facilitating the chemical reactions that act as the vehicle for my soul. As such, I don’t feel like I have a good reason not to allow my body to be used for a good purpose after I die. 

I want to be a generous person. I want to be kinder. I often feel like I fall short of that goal. I lose my patience with people, or I act out of a place of fear instead of a place of empathy or abundance. Maybe this last act–giving bits of myself up so that others can live better lives–can help make up for the many ways in which I feel like I’m not giving enough. 

Depending on the state, you can register at the state or federal level. In my current state, I have to register through the state’s website–which requires a driver’s license of the state I live in (and since I currently moved, I should get one). You can also decide limitations on what tissues you do or do not want to donate (in case you have anything you don’t want coming out of you). Additionally, organ and tissue donation does not affect what you look like (so if you want to have an open-casket for the rest of your bits, your family can arrange one without you looking totally disfigured). 

It seems a little morbid to think about these sorts of things, but I like having a plan. I also think having a plan takes the pressure off my family–if I’ve already laid out what I want, they don’t have to worry about trying to imagine what I would want, or asking themselves why they didn’t know, and then going into some weird shame spiral about how they should have known, etc. etc. etc. (Or maybe it’s just me who’s worried about that.) My partner recently shared that he’d like to be buried in a mushroom suit.  I’m glad I know, so that (god forbid) anything happens, I’ll know what he wants.

Have you decided what to do with your body when you die? Feel free to share in the comments.