I thought I was better than this.
I had succumbed to a Black Friday online purchase. I mocked the crowds and shunned most trendy items, but darned if that pressure cooker didn't get me.
Too often I find myself comfortably nestled in my own smugness when I observe the spending patterns of other people. I consistently side eye the consumer lifestyle.
Unless, of course, I am the consumer.
I hate it when I'm the consumer. I want to b a creator! Or a citizen! Something cool!
And sometimes I am. But other times I buy stuff.
Why is money so weird?
It's More than your Bank Account
I used to spend any and all money that came into my possession. I didn't go into debt (until I took out a car loan for the first time, one of several poor financial decisions), but I didn't save anything. I had no money set aside, and was always a minor emergency away from panic.
Over time I started to build a small cushion into my checking account that carried over between pay periods. I can't say for certain when this started, but the trend kicked into high gear after my daughter was born. At one point it was $1000. If I saw a balance above a thousand in my account I knew I could spend more. As the "limit" approached, my spending would naturally decrease. Still nothing in savings.
Money came to symbolize security for me as navigated my career. I learned about emergency fund and set aside money. I read about sinking funds and started saving for goals. It worked. Money no longer slipped through my fingers unaccounted for. Eventually (finally) I started to pay attention to retirement and dabbled in investing. It helped that my income increased over the years.
My relationship with money evolved with life circumstances. I became less willing to flirt with financial disaster when I assumed responsibility for another human. I felt the burden of the unknown in new ways. I became aware of both how far I could stretch a dollar in certain situations; in others I was chagrined by how little money could buy. As I achieve moderate but increasing levels of success in my career, big money decisions were no longer theoretical. My education would come in reading, experimenting and adopting lifestyle changes that are still changing now. My bank account(s) tell a different story compared to my youth, but it’s far from the whole story.
It’s About Relationships
Growing up, my family rarely talked about money unless it was to make a joke/complaint about the lack of it. We identified with working class roots and had the income to match. Our household aspired to a middle class lifestyle and used to credit to bridge the money gap. This resulted in most of my material wants being met as a kid, and a pretty distorted view of lifestyle expectations.
Social interaction takes money. My friends, with similar backgrounds and incomes, set the pace for spending in my teen and early adult years. There were endless opportunities to spend all my money, even with my peers that really were not all that materialistic. Eating out, going to concerts, and indulging in hobbies all came at a price. And it was hard to identify how everyone could afford it. The truth was not everyone could. Some were subsidized by parents, others were going into debt. But that was hidden under the surface.
It’s About Identity
Pop culture is strange. No one wants to be rich, or admit they are rich. They want money, lots of it, but they don’t want to be labeled as one of “those” (elite? Privileged? Arrogant?) people. Here’s the breakdown as I see it:
Rich = Bad
Looking Rich = sometimes good/impressive, sometimes arrogant/too braggy
Looking Poor = cool if you’re not really poor
Investing/building wealth over time = dumb/snobby
Gambling/playing the lottery = fun
Broke = normal
Poor = Bad
At one point in my life I rejected the pursuit of money. It seemed selfish and greedy. To start managing my finances, I would have to admit that I cared. I got over myself and did the work. And it’s a good thing, because as my relationship to money changed a new truth was revealed to me.
Money = Options
This is big. With savings I have choices. My expenses are manageable, and my relationship to my job is less about necessity and more about development (on my terms). Eventually I may not have to rely on full time employment to generate income. With financial freedom one can pursue travel, passion projects and charitable works. And yes, you can buy the occasional pressure cooker on Black Friday. Sounds good to me. Money is a tool to help you navigate the rest of your life.
It's complicated, and a little weird, but not impossible to control.