Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Love, Money, and Everything In-Between

My relationship with money isn't terribly complicated. That's because I don't have any.

And that's where the complications come in. And this is a post on behalf of my fellow broke Washingtonians.

Being broke when you're in college isn't so bad, because nobody else has any money, either. But once you hit your thirties, everyone else is financially stable while you're still at the paycheck-to-paycheck kiddie table. (I call myself a P-to-P'er.) It ain't easy, and this is an absurdly expensive town full of marginally affluent, possibly overextended people.

(It's especially fun when you're a P-to-P'er because you dropped your career to get married to a virtual stranger and move overseas for a while, then had to come back and start over, which is what I did. So I really only have myself to blame. Oh, and the fact that the job market is really tough. Because it is. But, this post isn't specifically about me, it's about all of us broke folks.)

So you look at money-in vs. money-out, gasp at the discrepancy, devise a budget, and mercilessly chop out any form of frippery. Lunch is from a Tupperware, sodas have names like Dr. Skipper, and socializing revolves around half-price cheeseburgers and horrifically watery beer.

When you're broke, big group dinners are best avoided. Friendships can get strained when you order a salad, and everyone else orders the entirety of page 3 of the menu. Plus wine and dessert. Then they want to split the bill evenly, which is more efficient. This makes the P-to-P crowd want to scream and throw things (yes, it's an overreaction, but you try spending $10 and getting told to chip in $65, which is your food budget for the week, and see how you feel). Or when you can't make an event because it's too expensive, or you simply can't go anywhere at all for a while.

Dating is complicated, too, because if you always want to go to a museum or cook dinner at home, eventually someone is going to call your bluff. And who wants to look like a pauper in front of someone you want to impress?

Which brings us to the whole issue of pride: we're all supposed to have fabulous jobs and steady incomes and be able to go wherever we want. It's no fun to look like a tightwad because you're holding potlucks instead of dinner parties or dropping completely off the social map. And the deeper fear, of looking like you're incompetent at adulthood. And the deepest fear of all: that you may actually be incompetent at adulthood.

Which brings us to the anxiety. Don't read the business section of the Post, because you'll start hoarding rubber bands like a Depression survivor. Any reports on unemployment rates make me want to hide under my bed. But there's no room, that's where I've been stashing all of my economic Doomsday canned goods and penny jars. The recession isn't coming, folks, it's already here. Any of your unemployed and underemployed friends could have told you that months ago.

So maybe all of us will be in the same boat soon enough. And this entire post will be a moot point, because all of Washington will be at 15-cent Wing Night, tossing back discount beers together in a heartwarming moment of economic unity.

So, affluent Washingtonians, next time you think someone's a cheapskate, maybe they're just broke. And remember that it can happen to anyone, including you.


Hey Pretty said...

yeah, i don't get why people keep asking me to grab 30 dollar dinners with them at restaurant x. people with money have no appreciation for the budgets of other people. declining said invitations doesn't mean i don't love my friends, it means i'm living off the dole and eat a lot of hard boiled eggs and lentils.

Shannon said...

At the same time, you don't want to be the big fat drag that always wants to change everyone's plans to accommodate your budget.

I go along to the dinners, order very frugally, and hope I don't get stuck picking up other people's financial slack - seriously, if you're the sort of person that orders two appetizers and the lobster special, kick in some extra cash. Don't expect me to subsidize a lifestyle I can't afford.

Kristen S. said...

I hear ya! I remember being unemployed for the greater part of '02 (internet bust), and I wouldn't even go to the park because that would cost gas for the car.

Anonymous said...

Been there! I remember an episode of Friends like this too, so have Phoebe and Rachel. Some of those people ordering 5 course meals are doing it all for show, though, and they are deep in debt. You may be living P to P but just based on the fact you wrote this post I am going to guess that you are probably not making bad $$ decisions either. Hopefully your raises at work are not outpaced by cost of living increases. (Yeah right!)

Michael said...

You describe my life well into my 40s. Lunch at IKEA was a big deal. But it gets better. Really.

Nabeel said...

been there, done that, and burned the t-shirt. it was horrible, I tell ya... for a year and half of being unemployed. And I have a MASTERS! Luckily, I got a job in another city recently. I can certainly empathize, especially with that eating out part.