Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dishing it out, maybe can't take it.

Did anyone hear this episode of The Story, in which a couple discusses their experience with near-foreclosure and their life completely changing? (I've been working on painting the basement ceiling, you see, which is a horrifyingly slow job, and nothing passes the time and keeps my interest like a good podcast.) Anyway, I was with these folks right up until the time they mentioned that the lost job that triggered the downward financial spiral had been providing a 5 figure monthly income.

It's possible that I'm just all wrong about the demographics of my readership, but let's let that sink in for a bit.

I try to make it a habit not to get judge-y about this kind of thing because I do believe that almost none of us receive good financial education and on top of that, there are lots of companies that make it very easy for all of us to believe that we are entitled to certain things and that we can and should spend money on stuff that is a little out of our reach financially. And of course, everyone makes mistakes, yadda yadda yadda. And and and FRANKLY, when I do the math, for this modern expensive world with all of the things that we are meant to believe we need, $120K min per year is not all that much money. I can't believe I'm actually saying that and ten years ago I lived on like 12% of that amount--but depending on where you live in the U.S., it's true.

My basic problem here, however, is that I can't relate, like, at all. Again, maybe I'm misjudging my readership, but gentle bitches, imagine for a moment that you have an income of at the very least $10K per month and you still have student loans and credit card debt and you owe back taxes (though maybe the taxes came later in the story, after the house). Would you go house-hunting and if so, would you fricking do it in L.A. in 2006 and if so, would you buy a house with a mortgage payment that is worrisome to you from the get-go, knowing also that you will need to put a bunch of money into the house? Whatever other craptastical situations I might get myself into in life, I am positive that that particular situation will never be one of them.

I've actually been sitting on this post for a few days because I realized that what I was writing was pretty much just uselessly judgmental and doesn't come to any conclusions. Certainly, there are hundreds of other eps of The Story that I don't specifically relate to and I manage to be interested in and moved by them (remember that mantra about replacing judgment with curiosity)? And regarding one's income and the bills one pays with that income, it's probably true that most people are like koi, expanding to fit their environments instead of keeping things small and manageable--i.e., if you have a big income you're going to let your expenses increase because you can afford it.

So what's my problem? Is it the blue collar roots of my peoples showing? My inherited and cultivated frugality creating a kind of disdain for privileged people who let their finances run away from them? I guess that's probably part of it. Bless these nearly-foreclosed folks for finding their way out of it and figuring out what's really important along the way (hint: it's not material possessions!), but for me, they're not sympathetic characters. They were in a position to know better.

I was actually going to connect all of this to screed on why I can't really read fashion bloggers (except Tavi), but since that is likely to be directionless and judgmental too, I'm going to shut it down and go paint the basement some more.


  1. Stand back because I'm not capable of replacing judgment with curiosity on this one. I'm going to slam some judgment down on people for that kind of senseless, wasteful, greedy-ass lifestyle when the majority of the world's population barely gets their belly fed at the end of every horrible grueling day. I can't listen to that podcast.

  2. Living in the DC metro area is an unavoidable socio-economics crash course.

    So many people here are struggling. So many people are conspicuously and embarrassingly wealthy.

    The divide between them is sharp and cold, and while I perfectly understand that not all of the poor and hungry are absolved of guilt for their plight, I am hard-pressed to believe that the elite around here have anything other than absolute contempt for people outside their tight little sparkly circle.

  3. I came back to confess that I had two $11 cocktails last night, which is the essence of conspicuous consumerism and a slap in the face of my fellow hungry woman. So, yeah, scratch what I said up there.

  4. I'm with you guys. Although, if I'm being honest, I also secretly judge middle-class folks who accepted those no-payment no-background-check mortgages on $400,000+ homes without bothering to research what an "adjustable rate" is. Not excusing the evil banks and mortgage companies, and not talking about the people who were clearly duped by dishonest bastards... just saying: adjustable means your rate will go up. Period. It's right there in "Real Estate for Dummies."

    I realize I am a crappy person.

  5. I didn't mean to suggest that being judgmental automatically makes one a bad person. I mean sign me up if it does. I guess I just couldn't figure out exactly why I wanted to blog about this whole thing, so I hedged a lot in my post. I try to avoid bagging on specific people here because I like to remain low traffic and kind of uncontroversial (interesting!), and truly if I decided to just sit here talking about people that piss me off I would never get anything else done in life. Also I am not exactly a lifestyle paragon. But I felt the same way y'all did and more than anything I wondered why this particular story was worthy of air time. They've already gotten enough publicity, sympathy, and probably hateration through their blog, and while they owned their mistakes in a way, they never ever said anything resembling "you know what? we didn't understand how privileged we were, how wasteful we were. We had a fistful of winning lottery tickets, in fact, and basically we just used them to light a cozy fire in the really expensive fireplace for our hipster friends."

    Also, Melinda, I don't have any sympathy for that particular variety of middle-class folks either, though I'm also inclined to find the banks culpable for offering such a fucking shady product.

    And Marigoldie, a couple fancy cocktails do not make you a hypocrite. You work hard for your money AND your fellow human beings so have a g-d Juliet and Romeo once in awhile.

  6. Thanks for the exoneration. I guess it can't hurt once in a while to have an $11 cocktail, but it's good to remember there's always a log in our eye somewhere. That's why hating on anyone is pointless.

    Also, I don't have sympathy for people who didn't bother reading up on the basics of real estate and ended up in that impossible situation. I wish "personal responsibility" wasn't a trademarked phrase of the right, because I believe in it -- hard.

  7. Amen. The husb and I are approaching a year of having only one income (my paltry) while he goes to school full time to change careers. We have a mortgage, which is the most worrisome piece of the finances puzzle for the next year, so we've been combing over our budget to see where we can trim. Honestly, there isn't anything to trim! OK, we will cut our netflix subscription, which will save us $120.00 per year, but other than that we are already at the minimum monthly output if you don't count food. And we've been cooking more at home than going out recently too. We are totally happy with our minumum cost life style. Who are these people with these gigantic monthly expenses? How much does it really cost to have quality of life? Not that much, friends. Not that much.

  8. Love this: "they never ever said anything resembling "you know what? we didn't understand how privileged we were, how wasteful we were. We had a fistful of winning lottery tickets, in fact, and basically we just used them to light a cozy fire in the really expensive fireplace for our hipster friends."

    I don't spend a lot of time hating on these people because it isn't productive, but I do keep in mind that needs and wants are, and forever will be, very different things.

  9. Honestly speaking, we could have easily been that couple. And not because we were always privileged -- or at least we didn't start out that way. Husband was from Bronx lower living, me from LA lower living; I shared a bed with my mother until I was 13 for gods sake. But Julio and I busted ourselves free from borderline poverty, landed bigger-money jobs, which for me was pretty much by accident and A LOT of dues and hard work considering I had no education. And then we had this money that seems to add up to the american dream and then houses were (are!) pimped on us, like we are failures if we do not buy into this dream. When you’re poor, all you think about is owning a house someday, right? And the next thing I know, it’s all unmanageable, stressful, and mostly I find out that even though I have more money, I don’t know shit about money and I don’t know what to do with it. What I've learned, in many, many, too many slap-my-ass-down-to-reality ways, is that real financial intelligence is fucking humbling and, really, an all-soul kind of thing. When you first have enough money to go to a grocery store without counting to the penny, you blow a stupid amount without thinking of waste. Even for the privileged who have always had it, they don't think about a connectedness to anything outside of themselves because they are not really financially intelligent in a compassionate or global sense; in an all-soul’s way. It's been a hard road to here. I have snags still. I grapple with many decisions, but for the most part, I feel ok. Does my future seem secure enough? No. Are my kids’ college education on lock? Not exactly. Are my taxes in order? Kill me. Do I share enough? No. Will I survive an emergency? I'm not sure. Do I still have a mentality that when I go to the grocery store I might not have it like this again, so I over spend? I do. Do I have enough right this minute? I do. Do I feel greedy? Not anymore. Those last 2 questions make me feel like I'm gonna be ok though.

    We sold our house (the first house I had lived in) in 2003, I think, just at the market rose. The relief we felt when we turned a profit and escaped from the house-owning myth was a relief like no other. When I moved back to SM, I swore I'd never buy again and to be honest, I still feel that way.

    Anyway, my point? I think mainly that financial intelligence, for me, is a soulful journey and hardly anyone really has it.

  10. D, that's an amazing comment--thank you. But see, that's what I'm talking about: you went from there to here and you deliver some powerfully self-aware shit as a result. Of course, I'm predisposed to like you, so maybe my reaction to your tale is biased.

  11. thanks KA, I appreciate it. I do judge too, believe me; mainly the super rich. Though not a lot because, man, I feel financial mistakes to the core, but you're right, the lack of self awareness or a strive to get there disappoints me on many levels. But who am I? I ain't done a lot of shit right on this tip. I’m not on the streets, so that’s good, but I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for me for the decisions I’ve made. I would die from further embarrassment if I felt someone did.

    I wanted to add that any time I spend money, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt like I don’t deserve to spend it, or it is a given that I must work harder than others to earn this money. It's hard for me to find a balance of being super tight like when I was coming up because I had to be and over spending because I might not have it like this again, or giving it to family or whomever needs it more than I do. The only thing that makes me feel better is simplifying my life, but my young self would laugh at my current definition of simplifying. She’d judge me too. It's ok. She'd be right.