I was talking to some friends the other day when one asked me if I’d ever been to Las Vegas. I told them no, that it wasn’t really my kind of place. They were amazed; how could anyone not love Vegas? It’s not just for gambling – it has fabulous restaurants and amazing hotels, too!
“Which I’ve never been in a position to afford, quite frankly,” I replied. “If I had thousands to spend on a few days of my life I’ll never get back, I might feel differently, but that’s never been the case.”
I’m lucky to have friends who take a comment like that in stride without feeling attacked or like they need to make me feel better. They understood it was just a statement of fact: to enjoy a place, I need enough money to see it in style. Otherwise I’ll just feel I’ve wasted my money. And to me, that’s not just an irritating feeling: it’s one that, until recently, often made me feel physically ill with remorse.
This got me thinking: all the places I’ve lived in or visited that I didn’t enjoy, I was seeing from a perspective of little or no financial security. Situations vary greatly depending on your vantage point, so who knows what I’d think of the places I’ve lived and been if I had the money to enjoy them more. Certain things don’t change – like air quality – but such simple things as having free hours during the “working day” to run errands can make a small but significant impact on your quality of life. For example, I liked L.A. better when I was in college, had a more flexible schedule and felt somewhat financially secure because I (naively) believed me college loans would pay themselves off with a good salary. For another example, L.A. is very difficult to navigate without a car because they have something against providing public transportation (read: it’s an oil town); if I had to do without a car, as many Los Angeloonies do, I’d hate it even more.
But the other thing is, the middle class or financially secure people who have surrounded me all my life tend to think I’m impossibly dull because I can’t rattle off a list of things I like to do (that all cost money). Everything I wanted to do as a child cost too much money. If I wanted music or dance lessons, I could feel the tension as my mom tried not to make the “Oh my god how much will that cost” face, and eventually I just started denying I wanted lessons. Ditto on band instruments. Ditto on all sorts of things. We took four vacations during my childhood. By the time we had a little money in my latter teens, I was so used to this way of thinking I couldn’t change. Instead of wanting something and hunting for the funds, I’d just convince myself it wasn’t worth the price.
Just as well: once I got out on my own, much frugality was called for. Frugality that causes most of my middle class friends to gasp and wonder how I could live without that. For fuck’s sake, people: you do what you have to do. It is a luxury to imagine you couldn’t cope with a situation millions of people clearly cope with every day.
I don’t resent the middle class for having more. I do sometimes resent those of them who judge me by their own standards because they actually imagine themselves the least fortunate person they know (I actually find upper class people are much more likely to be understanding – they know a lot of people don’t have what they have). And sometimes I resent the world because, really, anyone who works as hard as I do and spends as frugally should be able to buy a house and have some job mobility. There’s no excuse in a country as fortunate as the US for full-time jobs not paying enough for you to buy your way out of the indentured servitude of rent and save your way into some financial security.
But you know what? I do have passions. I won’t know if I enjoy travel until I’m able to try it in style without feeling nauseated by finance-panic (you either know what I mean by that phrase, or you don’t). My passions are that I want to become truly financially independent of the world, as much as possible – that’ll make me feel secure. I want to run my own business, grow my own food, live off the grid. The amount of money this will take won’t sound high class to anybody, but it will be living richly to me. I will feel secure and like I have a plenty of options, and that is what being “wealthy” really is.
But I want to make more money than that, too. Because I’d like to change the world at least a little, and no one ever did that without either money or violence. I’m going to guess you’d prefer I go the money route, right? ðŸ˜‰