The other day, one of our younger staffers mentioned that she was enjoying this busy summer (even though it’s impossibly hot and difficult) because she’d done so many extra hours since Christmas that she’d managed to save $800 towards a new car.
Ah, I remember being young and having money…
We got onto the subject of debt and adulthood – which seem to go hand in hand – and she asked how I’d financed my car. I broke down my whole weekly paycheck for her as follows:
- Rent (Rob pays for the groceries and utility bills while my paycheck covers the whole of the rent)
- $200 onto my credit card every week (paying off our wedding)
- $90 to my mother (paying off the money she lent me for my car)
- $33 in personal loan repayment (old business loan, still owing)
- $6.50 life insurance
- $40 gas for my car
This leaves me with a weekly surplus of… $4. Basically I work 70 hours a week for $4 in spending money.
Our savings is now ring-fenced as a house deposit. Anything unexpected or frivolous that I have to buy (new shoes, doctor’s bills, presents, etc) has to go on my credit card, which means that my endless $200 credit card payments just become more endless and I pay a ton of interest on everything, but that’s better than not having a house.
We manage (just). I wouldn’t consider us wealthy. We’re not poor either. But you hear so often that those who need a hand up are just bad with money, or spending it all on booze and cigarettes, and that’s clearly not the case. We don’t spend our money that way. We’re very careful with our purchases because we have to be. But we’re still just one bit of bad luck away from missing those debt repayments and needed some extra help. It’s really easy to see how ordinary, working people end up in trouble even without doing something really stupid. There but for the grace of God…
I wonder whether, as a society, we’ve just lost touch with the idea of luck. We tend to believe that those who are successful have achieved this through superior character and ability rather than simply good luck. The converse of this attitude is that those who are struggling are only there because of poor character. They are somehow choosing to be poor. It helps everybody at the top feel less guilty, but it also enables us to convince ourselves that if we just work harder then we will automatically rise up.
Life doesn’t always work that way though. Sure, some people have talent and make smart choices and reap the rewards, while others are foolish and make bad choices and suffer… but it’s not always as black and white as this. We used to believe in social inequality and the virtuous poor. Charles Dickens certainly did. Now we pay great heed to the delusional musings of people like Donald Trump and Kanye West simply because they’re rich (and must therefore know something we don’t). Describing them simply as lucky bastards with no great insight seems insulting and almost revolutionary. But to me it’s just the sound of two cerebellums flapping in the wind. There are wiser people all around us.
… Adulthood, huh? Just a lot of work and $4.