(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.
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.