The managing of money

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Broadway tickets always a splurge — worth it?

By Caitlin Kelly

Few things are as frightening to some people as managing money.

For many, it’s a question of sheer survival — when the American federal minimum wage, shamefully, hasn’t risen from $7.25/hour in 10 years — while the cost of living now dictates a minimum of $14.84 an hour in Cleveland and $24.30/hour in San Francisco.

For others, it’s the best barometer, literally, of their worth and value to the world, to their family, to their industry — and to themselves.

One freelance writer bragged this week about making $10,000 in a month and how she’s about to hit her $50,000/year income goal.

Which inspired many others but also annoyed me and some other writers I admire. I really tire of money being held up as the sole metric of success.

Income is not one-size-fits-all.

Expenses, as well.

I recently had an interesting conversation on Twitter with a stranger, a mechanic earning $40/hour, about my use of the words “working class” — wondering if that meant him. I suggested “blue collar.”

I’m endlessly fascinated by what we earn, how we earn it, what we spend it on and how much (if any) we save and for what purpose. As subscribers to the Financial Times, we also get its glossy oversize magazine called — no kidding — How to Spend It, which often features $10,000 dresses and $100,000 watches, pocket change to the bankers and other HNW (that’s high net worth) readers it’s aimed at.

I’m fascinated by money partly because my maternal grandmother inherited a lot of money from her father, a Chicago stockbroker and real estate developer — and spent it so fast and so freely you would think it burned her fingers. She lived a life of opulence: homes designed by the city’s top decorators, limousines everywhere, custom-made silk muumuus and matching turbans and enormous jewels. It was quite something!

She also never bothered to pay any taxes to anyone — so when she died there was little left after paying off the Ontario, Canadian and American governments.

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Our weekly indulgence, fresh flowers

So I’ve seen the effects of both privilege and profligacy.

 

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Don’t end up in trouble!

Living in the United States for decades — without doubt the meanest and most punitive developed nation when you are poor, ill, vulnerable and struggling — has also really opened my eyes and taught me to be extra cautious about what I earn and how much to save. It’s not a place you ever want to be in trouble with no lifelines or savings, reliant on charity or the shards of government help potentially available to you.

We were offered a huge break this year, a tax credit that has saved us $1,000/month (!) on our health insurance. But we’re also now required to account for every penny of our income and expenses to bureaucrats who have no understanding that — as full-time freelancers — we do not have an employer, yet keep hounding us for more and more paperwork.

That’s when I get libertarian in a hurry and would rather just pay for things myself.

I’ve stayed put in the same one-bedroom apartment for decades; our housing cost is $2,000 month, (half of it the maintenance fee we owe to the co-op,) fairly cheap for New York (suburbs.)

But we don’t have children or pets or dependent relatives, when so many others bear the costs of all of these. So we’re usually able to save money and that gives us some breathing room — helpful when we lost $27,000 worth of anticipated income overnight thanks to the pandemic.

We were also lucky to each graduate college with no debt, (Jose had full scholarships and I attended university in Canada), another enormous burden for so many Americans, even into their 30s or far beyond.

So much of the money we have access to, and how we manage it, is circumstance and luck: where we were born and raised, what resources were made available to us and when. The job market.

Good health — or its lack.

This year has, oddly, been a busy one for us. We have both had steady work and found new and appreciative repeat clients.

But we both really know how fragile it all is.

My husband grew up in a wholly different way, his father a small-city Baptist minister living in church housing. So Jose tends to be very risk-averse and I tend to be bolder when it comes to spending and investing. It makes for some challenging moments!

We work really hard, splurge when we can, and pray for ongoing good health.

Does handling your finances cause you stress?

Do you enjoy it?

Did anyone teach you money management skills?

36 thoughts on “The managing of money

  1. It can be stressful at times, but my M is an accountant and deals with a lot of the details. I don’t enjoy dealing with it much; I do it because I have to. No one ever taught me how to handle money. I had to learn it on my own, including the hard way!

  2. Jan Jasper

    My mother taught me to be sensible, on the frugal side. I remember when I was a child and extended family was together opening Christmas gifts. Afterwards my mother carefully removed the Scotch tape from the wrapping paper and and, for paper that wasn’t damaged, she folded carefully carefully so we could reuse it in the future. Relatives made fun of her for this. My mother explained to me that some families who didn’t have enough money might have had enough if they had been sensible in this way. Obviously not just with gift wrap, but the savings of that lifestyle added up over the years and it really made a difference, she explained. I’ve found that to be true.
    After my father died when I was quite small (this was many years before my Christmas memory) my mother grew vegetables in our backyard so she could save money when grocery shopping. We got some money from the VA because my father’s death was deemed to be as a result of war injuries, this was in the early 1950s. My mother wanted to put as much of the VA Survivor check in the bank as she could, so she grew some of our own food. I’m incredibly proud of her for having been so sensible.
    I think if two people in a couple have vastly different approaches towards money you’re going to have problems. I have found that out the hard way.

    1. My mother inherited quite a sum but didn’t want a job so she was extremely frugal and made some very good money on appreciating real estate. She would shame me if I spent too much (in her eyes)…like the $100 I paid for a pair of Ferragamo loafers from a consignment shop I wore for the next decade.

      Yes, it helps to agree. We have had some quite challenging moments on this issue.

  3. I started learning how to handle money around junior high or high school. I had a little bank book and debit card, and my dad taught me to keep track of how much was in it. Really helped when I went to Israel summer before senior year, and then when I went to college.
    I think the only time it caused me stress was when I was in my third year of college and was really stressed about paying for my study abroad trip (though I was also dealing with realizing my sexuality, my workload, and never enough time to write, so it was more a cumulative thing).
    These days, I’m happy to have a job that pays well, even if it stresses me out. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but every time I add a bit to the account for my eventual down payment on a house, I feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s still a ways away before I’m ready to buy a home, but it’s nice to get a bit closer to that goal.

  4. like you, i learned early, and all through my own system of trial and (lots of) error. over the years i’ve gotten better at it, because it was imperative that i do so, but still am not solid in my understanding of some financial concepts.

    1. I learned — with a loss of $8,000 (maybe more?!) decades ago — never to hand my money management to someone whose “explanation” of what they were doing with it NEVER made sense to me. I choose and manage all my own investments (and tend to make decent choices and leave them.)

      Getting paid to cover personal finance has helped me earn AND learn!

    2. Jan Jasper

      Caitlyn, your comment about living on the top floor reminded me of one reason why I was so glad to leave years of apartment buildings finally for my own house. Years ago, I rented a lovely apartment that was downstairs from a very noisy, very selfish young woman who was habitually noisy at night. When she wasn’t having parties with friends over, she was clomping around in her platform shoes at 3 a.m. I got so little sleep – for months! – that I came to understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Granted I was not in a prison, but only being able to sleep in short bits for months on end was unbelievably horrible.

  5. Broadway tix- worth it? I remember when Hamilton was coming to Charlotte, NC.. There was a lottery and my husband set the alarm to get a spot to purchase those completely overpriced tickets. Our spot was better than my sister’s who didn’t set her alarm..so she asked us to buy a ticket for her too. When the time came to purchase..the invite was sent via text..you had 10 minutes to go online and buy. I had just gotten out of the pool at the YMCA, happened to check my phone and sure enough it was our moment. I found 2 tix..but couldn’t find 3. My husband said BUY the 2 tix!! I couldn’t leave my sister out..so we missed our window.. When my sister’s window to purchase popped up later that day she was easily able to buy a single ticket. So she went, we didn’t, until about 2 years later. It was at that moment, watching Hamilton in Palm Beach, that I realized how much I loathed this over-priced “Broadway” game.. I don’t care if the tickets are free (which they never will be) or how superb the production.. I will never play that game again.. I’d rather see a high school play and blow the money we saved at a great french restaurant.

    1. I have never seen Hamilton.

      We are very lucky to get discount tickets through TDF (you have to be a union member) and I’ve seen almost every show (often orchestra seats!) for maybe $50 a ticket. I would never pay $200-300.

      The biggest splurge (and well worth it) was for very good seats years ago to see South Pacific with my visiting mother.

      1. When our number came up in the lottery..we were frantic (10 mins to buy) and ready to pay a lot for each seat..that whole experience was such a put off though..I told my husband later I didn’t ever want to get swept up in something like that again..plus I was pissed off at my sister to boot..HAHA.

      2. The whole thing is silly..but I admit it..I was like one of those whackos fighting over a TV at a black Friday sale-..you have to visualize it- me in the gym locker room..dripping wet..fever texting my husband and sister..clock ticking down..it was a clarifying “moment” for sure..silly.

  6. Jan Jasper

    I once took a very useful investing course at New York University. It lasted for if I recall, 10 or 12 weeks. It was very in-depth and very helpful.

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