Money Talk: Reimagining Polite Society
In this series, we ask respondents from all walks of life the same set of raw money questions. The answers reveal intimate details of their financial lives, and for that reason some of our respondents have chosen to remain anonymous. These interviews will vary in length and detail, depending on the answers we receive.
Talking about money is one of the longest held taboo subjects in our culture. With this weekly series, we open people’s wallets (and with them fears, hopes, and closely held beliefs). We don’t approach this with a certain outcome in mind—we just want to open doors and find out if money is taboo for good reason, or if continued quiet is keeping us all down. We hope you’ll join us in considering this question: Is it time to reimagine polite society?
To participate in this series, please email us at [email protected]
Subject #1: Anna, Age 28
Location: New York City
HipLatina: How do you make your living?
Anna: I’m a freelance writer and editor.
HL: How worried are you about money? How do thoughts of money affect your life?
A: Very. The company I’m working for promised me a certain number of hours and they haven’t kept that promise, but as an independent contractor, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve been scrambling to find other work and keep getting first or second-round interviews, but those opportunities fall through. I’ve had to borrow money from my parents the past three months to pay my rent and bills, which isn’t something I’m proud of. But life rarely goes as planned, I guess. I’m better off than folks who don’t have family to fall back on, and I know I’ll never experience the extreme distress of those people.
HL: How do you spend your money? How would you describe your level of debt?
A: Lately, I haven’t been spending money on much of anything except essentials like groceries, toiletries, and prescriptions, because I have no money. But when I do, my money is spent primarily on socializing, on food and (alcoholic) drinks. Also coffee shops. I work from home, but I’m a naturally social person, and, as much as I resist it, I need the structure and community of some kind of office life. I don’t work well in coffee shops—I find them distracting—but they give me a glimmer of hope in a way that working from my bed in my cold room while wrapped in my robe does not. Also: caffeine.
I’m not in any debt, thank god. I got an academic scholarship that paid for half of my college, and my parents paid the other half (bless them), because they didn’t want me to be in debt. I’m very thankful to them for that. I know how rare it is to be in my age bracket, college-educated, and not drowning in debt. Since I feel so fortunate to not be in that situation, I’ve done a lot to avoid it — I always pay all of my credit card balance (never just the minimum), and I don’t buy things in installments (except once, when I needed reading glasses and the only pair free through my insurance [Medicaid] were ugly as hell and looked like they would fall apart after a few wears. I had just gotten a new job, so I was like, what the hell, okay. It was kind of a rash decision).
HL: How would you describe your credit score? How does your credit score affect your life (for good or for bad)?
A: I don’t know what my credit score is since I’ve never made any purchases big or important enough. I think it’s good, because I run up a decent balance on my credit card every month and always pay it off.
HL: What regrets do you have about money – decisions you’ve made, actions you’ve taken, or not taken? Have you changed anything because of these regrets?
A: Typically, I’ve been very good with budgeting money when I have a steady income and can forecast how much I’ll have to work with. What’s been difficult is when I’m consistently broke or barely scraping by and then I start (counterintuitively and self-destructively) spending without thinking, without planning, and I’m obviously worse off for it. I regret not planning better, not having a financial cushion. I suppose I haven’t changed much since graduating college; I’m still in the situation that I find myself. I did *think* I had graduated from dead-end, unreliable incomes (like waiting tables) to more “real” jobs, such as my current one, but I’m finding freelance work, even as a “thought worker,” or whatever, is more unreliable than working as a server.
HL: How do your parents talk about money–with each other, with you? How much do you know about their income, assets and savings, and economic future? Are your parents “spenders” or “savers?” How is money handled in your family? How has this changed over the years?
A: My parents are really generous with their children. I think my mom, if she could, would just give me all of the money. But my parents also understand the importance of becoming financially independent, and it was understood they expected that of us in adulthood. Then again, maybe they’re getting softer in their old age, because recently I’ve gotten the impression that my parents would be fine if I said, “Yeah, bye New York, I’m coming home to live with y’all!” I’ve had to push back with them, to be like, “Look, I need to do this on my own, I need to know, for myself, that I’m capable of making it in the real world.”
I come from a one-income household: my dad works in a managerial position at a big company making an upper-middle-class income, and my mom is a (very skilled) homemaker without whom, we would all be lost—she is the glue that holds our family together. My parents are really open about money. I know how much my dad makes, that we’re not as well-off as a lot of the family friends we grew up with and who started off on our income level, and that he’s worried about his and my mom’s future retirement. I don’t know how much they have in assets and savings, but only because I don’t know enough to ask the right questions; I’m sure they would tell me if I asked.
I’d say my parents are both savers and spenders. They don’t own a second home, they aren’t particularly extravagant in what they spend on clothes and other material items, but we’ve always gone on vacations, gone out to eat, had nice Christmases, etc. They have nice things. This has definitely changed over the years, if I’m looking back at patterns. For example, we used to go to Ryan’s, a cafeteria-style restaurant, all the time, and that was probably my favorite restaurant as a kid. Or Colton’s Steakhouse. Now, we’ll go to nicer restaurants, maybe $20 or $30 a head; and when we splurge, it’s a high-end steakhouse that might be double that.My parents always pay for everything when I’m home. They like to “treat” me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized this is not the case for everyone, and I’m lucky to have parents who want to do that.
My dad grew up pretty poor, I think. I remember him telling a story about his mom having to use food stamps at one point, and her living in the projects. But he only lived with her on some weekends because she was mentally ill and he was raised mostly by his aunt and uncle.
Something interesting that may be indicative of an income shift over my lifetime: My older sister, who is only a couple years older than me, was always concerned about our financial situation growing up. As a kid, she worried about how I or my dad would dress going out, if there were holes in something we were wearing, worried that we “looked poor.” She also used to worry that my dad would lose his job and we’d wind up in a trailer park. I always thought this was ridiculous; I just didn’t understand those concerns. I even kind of prided myself on not giving a shit. It was part sanctimonious and part stubborn idealism, like I refuse to believe these things determine people’s value, and people who judge others based on these things are garbage. But we live in the real world, and of course appearance matters, so I get that—and living in Europe, and especially NYC, has given me a different perspective. Anyway, I think it’s interesting I didn’t have those same concerns growing up; I guess I felt like everything would turn out okay. And even when my sister worried if, say, my dad wanted to treat us to expensive meals (when, in her mind, he couldn’t afford it), I was like, why? He wants to give this to us. So maybe I’m just generally more ignorant or optimistic or selfish, but maybe my sister, being older, had tapped into this knowledge of the way things once were for my dad, or could be again for us if we weren’t careful.
HL: Are you in a relationship? How much money do they make – do they make more or less than you? How do you handle money issues in your relationship? How are financial decisions made?
A: Nope. I’ve been single for the past seven years or so.
HL: Do you have children? How do you make decisions to spend money on your children’s interests? If you have children or plan to have them in the future, how do you plan on teaching them about money management?
A: No children. I’m just trying to survive at the moment, so I haven’t even begun to consider how I would teach my hypothetical future children about money management. But in terms of basics, I guess I would try to pass on what my parents have taught by example: don’t buy what you can’t afford, be smart and plan ahead, and be generous in whatever way you can afford.
HL: Do you have friends in different economic situations? How do you make social decisions with friends who have different incomes, such as where to go, what to do, taking vacations, or how costs are handled?
A: Yes. It all varies. Generally, I try not to plan things that I can’t afford and we’ll split the bill evenly if it’s a shared meal at a restaurant or something. I have one friend who went from being a minimum-wage worker at a coffee shop to making six figures in a pretty short period of time, so when I was a penniless writer and she was working at a hedge fund, she was more likely to treat me to random meals, and once a haircut. But now she’s a poor student again, so that’s finished. And I have another friend here in NYC who has significantly more money than me and he basically told me the first time we went out together, “You don’t ever have to pay for the bill with me.” I have felt weird about it sometimes, but I’ve also gotten to experience the kinds of meals that I wouldn’t be able to dream of paying for by myself, so I try to appreciate it, and let him know I’m thankful.
When I was teaching English in Spain, I had a regular set income, and travel was much less expensive and more accessible, so I could go on mini trips all the time, which I funded myself. I was also a lot tighter with money. Since moving to NYC, I have yet to afford to take a vacation using my own money. The only places I’ve gone are visits home (funded by my parents) and a trip to St. Louis to visit a college friend, who will treat me to stuff when I’m there.That friend isn’t rich: she’s a high school Spanish teacher who bartends on the side. She prioritizes travel and her relationships, and takes care of the things she owns so they last longer. She’s actually going to fly me out to St. Louis for my birthday and St. Patrick’s Day in March, because she knows I won’t be able to afford it.
Lately, the company I’m working for has been giving me 0-10 hours of work each week and I’ve been unable to find other jobs (and, to be fair, unwilling to go back to waiting tables). Things have been even weirder, because before I was just “poor” all the time, now I literally have almost no money, and frequently only able to pay for something if it’s by credit card because I don’t have the cash, so I’m sure that’s been annoying for friends who aren’t in similar situations and don’t understand my shift into having, maybe, $5 in my checking account. (Today, after paying rent—some of which was funded by my parents—I have $3 in one checking account, $6.64 in another checking account, and $0 in savings. I’ll bill my company 4 hours—the amount I’ve been approved to do—for research I’ll do sometime this weekend, which will l be paid on Wednesday, and then I’ll probably get a paycheck for some articles I’m writing in mid-January.) So I’m more likely to not offer to chip in for something that I would have typically chipped in for. I find myself getting resentful about being asked to join in on social engagements because I really WANT to socialize, and feel like I need to for my mental well-being, but spending money feels like an inevitable part of that, and sometimes attending without buying anything feels worse than not going at all, or there are unexpected costs to being out in the world (like buying a 6-pack of beer so you don’t look like a dick going to a stranger’s house party that you’d anticipated would be free, and then drinking so much at that house party, because stress, that you vomit all over your friend’s apartment, and so you pay for her to do laundry and buy her a new shower curtain and spend time that you were supposed to be spending writing a paid article on cleaning her bathroom) so it creates this negativity loop where I’m bitter if I go and bitter if I don’t. Not good!
HL: How does your financial life differ from others in your life, such as friends, family, or neighbors?
A: My brother works a lower-ranking job at the same company my dad does—at least, he did originally, and now he works for a subsidiary company. He’s making a decent regular income, enough to live in his own apartment, buy a sports car and go on a skiing trip. My sister is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband is just finishing up school in the medical field, so while they have been poor, they won’t be for long, and have gotten support from my parents and his parents. I live in an apartment building where, I assume, most of my neighbors are in financial situations maybe only marginally better than my own. All of my friends here are significantly better off than I am, with regular incomes.
HL: If you had more money, what would you do with it?
A: Buy a new wardrobe. Take acting or improv classes. Take pole dancing classes again. Move out of my apartment which has a living room filled with items that have been hoarded by the women who own the apartment, and big cockroaches that those women refuse to call cockroaches but instead insist on calling “water bugs.” Maybe take a night class or weekend course in film production or screenwriting. Invest. Earn compound interest for the future. Get a haircut. (I’ve had one in NYC, the one my friend bought me, that ended up costing me an $80 tip and some add-on that was “highly recommended”.) Buy things for other people, just because. Plan trips abroad and in other states. Go on hiking and camping adventures. Buy all organic vegetables (maybe—still not completely sold on the “organic” empire). Get better health insurance. Go to therapy. Take a mindfulness meditation course. Eat at some of the restaurants I constantly see featured in The Infatuation or buy 10 food items from various Business Insider food videos. Maybe donate to a cause I care about. The possibilities seem endless!