On Money

As children we were obsessively told how poor our parents had been as children and as graduate students, and it was not true. It was true that we had a great deal of inexpensive meat and many fatty dairy products, and that these had been rationed during the war. It was true that we had new clothes and chocolates. But we kept hearing about how we were poor, and that our parents had been atrociously poor, poor in ways we could never imagine. I learned that virtue was to get by on virtually nothing. Not just virtue, actually — validity as a human being.

Money, money, money, we had no money, yet we bought things. Nice things. We did not have new cars but we had new clothes. The rest of the neighborhood had cheaper clothes, or used clothes. I thought were living on credit. I felt terribly worried and guilty that I was costing our parents so much. I kept trying to get them to cease and desist with, or at least limit purchases of food and clothing, but I failed. I saved half my allowance and bought them a new chair for the living room which they really, really wanted and could not have afforded otherwise, they said. Yet there were certain other very expensive things they bought without batting an eyelid. They sent me to Europe and camping and I enjoyed beautiful sunshine and did not spend weekends working retail in florescent light.

They were waiting for their older relatives to die so they could get the money, they said. It was not a great deal of money but they wanted it. They asked us whether we were thinking in the same way about them. I was told it was crass to want money and also that I would not be able to make money. But if I were very good I would receive money, the only reliable money, more than I could hope to make. All of this teaching is why I have lower earning power than I should, a lower income than I need, and less confidence generally than is warranted. Right now it appears I should live on less than I do, but I am wondering how since I really have missed a great deal of life while trying to obey all of these edicts.

I suffer and live on a certain financial edge, and I cannot afford to do the things I would need to be able to do to be the academic I should be. At the same time I have a privileged life, as I notice every time I go into Sears or somewhere like that to shop for home improvements and meet clerks who have been inside that cavern all day. And I want a more privileged life, I want still more sunshine. I want autonomy, independence, confidence, innocence, power. I think the most important thing to remember is, the more I channel my Aunt V or my understanding of her, and the less I listen to my parents’ ghostly voices of death in life and life in death draining me, the more energy and confidence and earning power I will have. “You have no power over me any more” is my mantra.

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8 Responses to On Money

  1. Clarissa says:

    If I decide to have children, I really hope I don’t persecute them with stories of my years of penury. I know I will really want to, but now that I have read your story, I’m starting to realize that it might be a really bad idea.

  2. Z says:

    It’s not the stories themselves that are such a bad idea! The thing is that money, fighting about money in a family, is often not about the money itself. I’d just say, don’t manipulate kids with guilt or money or anything else, or use money to scare them, or overburden their conscience.

    But the money discussions are so often about other issues and I wish I could name these in every case. One of my chairs is guilt tripping me about small amounts of money at this very moment and it cannot be about the money — the real issues have to be more like power and control.

  3. Z says:

    …and I am trying to do budget and I am aghast. Except for obligatory retirement savings, I have never saved.

    First, for years, instead of savings as a backup there was Aunt V’s money, and one was supposed to spend all of one’s free time studying, not making extra money.

    Then there was the long assistant professor period, with all the new expenses and all the conferences and job search expenses, and moving expenses.

    Then, there was my very expensive depression (now insurance pays for it, but it didn’t use to since there was nobody in network), and home maintenance.

    And of course we have to add my taste for travel and nice things — although I do not travel in an expensive way or have many things, and don’t have near all the gadgets and luxuries many do.

    So, I just have to increase income. I am not sure how but it keeps coming down to this: I cannot stop traveling. And I don’t want a roommate. So I need a consulting business and an air b n b. I really do!

  4. Z says:

    And also — I could get really really really frugal like some students are but it wouldn’t help enough to be worth it, I don’t think. I really don’t think I make enough money to have the strategies Nicole and Maggie, Tenured Radical, and so on have, worthwhile.

    The big paradox I have is that to be me, I have to travel, and because of what state I live in, that would have to be externally funded. And because I was trying so hard not to fall off the research track so as to remain eligible for external funding, I did in fact fall off of it. So the travel has to be self funded. And it looks like the luxury I should cut out, but is in fact not at all.

    I must, must increase income and I would, ideally, have a roommate but I think I am too old for that. I need to be an air bnb.

  5. Hattie says:

    This references the previous post. Your father may have dementia. So don’t take what he says seriously.

    As to the money thing: I don’t know what to think about that.

  6. Z says:

    Dementia, good point — thanks. Actually, I think he thinks he does, too. Very good point since my mother is the fey one and depends on him to be the voice of reason.


    Money, really I am just complaining because home maintenance costs are making it impossible to have cash up front to go to MEX, which is paradoxical since ultimately it would be less expensive to be in MEX than here or no more expensive.


    At a more metaphysical level, money is connected into the guilt, powerlessness and boundary invasions I do therapy for. So that’s what I’m really working out here.


    Although of course I am pissed off: if I went to MEX, I’d be totally satisfied to live on nothing since I’d have what I wanted, namely, being in MEX. Here I’m a danger, liable to drive around burning gas, buy a bunch of plants and fix up the yard, take a class, buy a bicycle. I must do NONE of this if I am ever to get to MEX again.


  7. Hattie says:

    My husband and I are getting more and more dependent on each other to “fill in” our lapses of memory and judgment. It happens.

    My daughter is sick of home maintenance too and is selling her house and buying a condo.

  8. Z says:

    This house owning is a post WWII American Myth, I suspect.

    Parents, fortunately my mother is secretly lucid.

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