My relationship with money is very strange. I’m constantly comparing myself to other people to see how I’m doing financially, and I’m never satisfied with my status. I live in a shoebox of a little house, I drive a low end car, most of my “stuff” is low end (computer, phones,mp3 player, coffee, groceries, etc.). I’m never happy. I always marvel at how other people can afford SUVs, and private school tuition. According to all the stats I’ve read, we are at the upper end of income in Baton Rouge. I know I don’t live in an exceptionally rich part of town, but I look at my neighbors’ yards, cars, houses, and I feel inadequate. I recall bell hooks, when writing about her BMW (maybe it was in Where We Stand: Class Matters), saying something about feeling this way as a child of poverty (which I was), which causes an emptiness that can never be filled. Of course, the drive to consume caused by hypercapitalism is the real root cause of this feeling. But just because I intellectually know this, it doesn’t make the feeling go away.
A New York Times article says that the average credit card debt for Americans is $8,500. Not as high as I suspected, but still high. We have no credit card debt, so in that regard we are fortunate. (Let’s not even go into my student loan debt, which is traumatic to say the least). The article in the New York Times is a fascinating lesson for me on finances. Apparently, we’re all living above our means, and it is escalating dangerously.
Over the past few years, I have learned to be more responsible with my money. I have learned to live on a budget. But I also know first hand how hard it is to live on a budget when you have no money in the first place. I never could understand why financial planners want you to save money when every penny you have is going for necessities. While I moved out of that state of affairs long ago, how to save money was a lesson I learned only recently. In short, while my finances are relatively secure, I still have that hunger from poverty, that insecurity over ‘not having,’ and the desire to conspicuously consume. And consume. And consume.