Day 4: Money, Financial Impotence, and more

Have you seen this Atlantic article about the secret shame of the middle class?

It's....I have a lot of thoughts about it, which I will surely not be able to elaborate sufficiently in the time I have allotted.

So let's start at the beginning. This whole article totters along, flopping between actual statistics from economists and the anecdotal evidence of his life. I deeply respect that he wrote and published this piece. It's a good piece, outlining some very real and very scary realities...and they're not so uncommon as we want to believe. I mean, 47% of American adults can't come up with $400 in an emergency. Yowza. And I appreciate that he connected them to the very real questions of a single life--his own. The circumstances that led him to think he needed to empty his 401(k) to pay for his daughter's wedding. To think that both kids should go to very expensive private schools. He ruined himself financially for things that other people only dream of.

I'm tired of the middle class feeling entitled to getting all the things, or making sure your kid gets all the things, partially because I feel entitled to all the things and it has brought me nothing but grief and grievances. But I'm learning. The new part of me knows that none of these things are promised to us.

I am always sort of curious about the case of my sister and me. She has always been great with money. Just tonight we were joking about how she had my dad set up a bank account for her. She was 12, I was 16. I literally had zero idea of what she would do with a bank account, because I had no money. She, on the other hand, was sitting on $800 cash that she had saved up from birthday gifts over the last ten years.

We started from the same place, but we are not there now. In her, I see the effects of smart financial decisions. In me, I see the effects of poor financial decisions.

I live, like the writer of the article, a life that is like a shadow projected on a wall--it looks much bigger than it is. Sure, I have my ways of savings--I don't own many clothes, we have a rusty old car. But I have lived beyond my means. There's no other way to say it. So of course I am financially unstable. I am on the edge of the cliff...but I am changing that.

I spent my savings rather than putting myself out there and hustling as a freelancer, because I was more comfortable losing money than asking for money. I thought that somehow success was my right and I would get there, and I spent my savings, and now I'm financially unstable, a phrase that makes a lot more sense to me than "financial impotence".

Let's talk about that for a moment. I mean, metaphors matter. What is impotence, here? Impotence as a lack of action, a lack of power. A body that doesn't do what you want it to. I refuse to believe I have no power in this matter. I may have less power than I wish, I certainly have less power than some, but I just don't want to be convinced that it's not going to happen. Let's be frank: There are people who ARE making money. There are people who DO feel empowered financially.

I don't regret spending my savings. What I regret is not working harder every day to get new clients, to get more money in the door. Not asking for more money. Not believing I was worth other people's money. What a terrible thing to think about yourself. How demoralizing to see people you don't respect making money while all the time you whisper: You're not worth that much to yourself.

You're not worth that much.

It doesn't get much more awful. If a boss or a lover told one of my friends that, they would be Dead. To. Me. And yet, that's what I said to myself, all the time. Something I still say, in new and imaginative ways.

Of course, there are very real problems with the economic situation overall. We can't all just decide to make a million dollars (can't we?) Let's agree that yes, things are well and truly fucked for the average American, which all the stats in that article point to.

Then what?

I don't know how to fix the big picture yet. But financial illiteracy is one thing we can individually work to fix. We can read books. We can take classes. We can support each other. We can share our stories. We can hire each other. We can grow and become the big bosses of the future who don't fuck everyone over. We can say Yes, we want to make money, and Yes, we want to spend it on a good living wage for our people.

I have started to fix it for myself and in some ways, reading this article was a relief. Six months ago I would have read it and felt uncomfortable and unsure of what to take away from it. Is this true? Should I be worried? Fucking rich people. Fucking poor people. And so on. Reading it now I could see what mistakes he was making, and why he made them. I could see that because I've had to start sorting that out for myself.

It's a long race and I am still at the starting line. For a while I couldn't even FIND the race. I have learned that I have a relationship with my money, whether I tend it or not. Right now my big wins look like finding a savings account with a 1% interest rate instead of an 0.02% interest rate. My big wins look like tiny wins, but I'm delighted by them.


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