Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems


When I decided as a teenager that I wanted to be a journalist, I’d resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t make a lot of money. Reading books where young reporters ate beans out of cans to candlelight, I was content when my first full-time job (two jobs actually – one part-time) paid enough for me to pay rent on an apartment the day it was actually due (no post-dated check required), eat out, and know at the end of the month, I still had a little bit of money in my bank account. But what did surprise me was when I told a friend how much my full-time job was paying.

“Oh, Sansamor,” she said, eying me with pity in her eyes. I think she said more, but that’s all I remember. That moment of pity; that split second when I felt like everything I stood for was being reflected in my paltry paycheck. I’d never cared about money before, but in that instant I felt naked – I felt unworthy, and I didn’t like it. I rationalized that I was doing what I loved and that it was only a stepping stone for something greater. I was writing, I was editing, and I supervised (Ok, only two interns, but STILL!). And although she made more money than I did (I assumed based on the reaction, but I never asked) she wasn’t doing what she loved. I also had only myself and a small dog to support, while she had a child and a car note. Even so, I never again told anyone how much money I make.

An article I read in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times tells me that I’m not the only one feeling alienated by the size of my bank account. The article talks about “Keeping up with the Joneses” and how people of different economic status often feel uncomfortable, some about their wealth, others – like me – about their lack of it. A friend confided in me recently that she and her long-time best friend just had a falling out over money. Friend (I’ll call you DR just in case you’re trying to keep this on the low!) has been well taken care of by her parents. They were blessed enough to be able to provide her with a car during college and later, after she graduated from Grad school and was working. Well, apparently BF thought DR was acting “spoiled” when she lamented about not being able to get the new car she wanted. Now they haven’t spoken in weeks.

When did money become the measuring stick by which we measured our worth? Not that there is anything wrong with money – we all need some – but I don’t appreciate being made to feel like less of a person because of my perceived bank account. And I’m sure those more fortunate of us shouldn’t be made to feel bad because they didn’t grow up broke.

Here, in a military community, I think it’s even worse. Everyone tries to one-up the other, getting the latest BMW, Mercedes or Volvo. Buying up the Coach and Dooney bags as they come into the PX, and sporting fake Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior that we KNOW they got in the back room of some store in Czech. I’ve even been at a party where someone broke out the laptop to pull up the military pay scale so they could compare their pay to the rest of the guests!

Even though I make more money now, that’s not what defines me. But sometimes it’s hard not to get swept up in the comparison. Several weeks ago, an acquaintance speaking about his car (butter leather seats, heated seats standard) called my car a piece of shit. I’ve had my little ’96 Mazda Protégé since I was a freshman in college, and it has admittedly seen hard times, but it still stung. I was tempted to shoot back, we could afford something else if we wanted to – something better than what they have, but what would that have proven?

Just keep this in mind the next time you’re met by awkward silence from a friend after you make a crack about their financial status, or low-paying job, or when you look at a friend’s engagement ring, silently thinking how small it is.

We know what you’re thinking.

And it doesn’t feel good.

5 comments:

woodstock said...

Yeah, I'm posting again. I'm kind of upset that you even let some nonsense bother you. Yeah, college brought about hard times, but look where you are now. I don't think we've had to say "no" to doing something because of not having the money, have we? And how much debt do we have minus student loans? Exactly. Don't let those comments have you wanting to spend unwisely. Remember we're working towards retiring as millionaires. And your car doesn't look bad. It's newer than the $800 big body I drive.

No Limit said...

Thanks, wise words :) I just try to keep my eye on the prize, i.e. our longterm goals, and not worry about things that are just for now.

Anonymous said...

What we have to realize is that God made us and gave us what we have for a reason. Some of us need the support of family while others are strong enough to be very independent. And no matter how great others think you have it, a small part of you can see something about them that you want to be or have. Life is too short to let material things get in the way of being happy and content. Take everything that comes your way as the blessing it was meant to be.

Miss Ahmad said...

keeping up with the joneses adds to our countries collective debt.

i feel blessed that I have a little bit of hippie in my, just enough to keep me from feeling like I have to do everything to keep up with everybody, because you know what...it's never enough.

the truth of the matter is that most people are debt ridden and crazy, just trying to look fly.

We calls that N*gga Rich!

The Phoenix aka ThatGirlTam said...

LMAO @ nigga rich! Only Nisa (smh) HAHAHAHAHAHA...