So this is me admitting that I have a problem with money. I grew up really poor. I had a great childhood, my parents are awesome people and I was surrounded by love and relatives. But until I was 10 or so, I thought the power company hung everyone’s power bill on the door knob. I wore my boy cousins’ hand-me-downs. I didn’t ask for stuff that was expensive, because I knew we couldn’t afford it. And because I didn’t have access to that stuff, I became that kid who did not give a shit about status clothing and labels, for the most part.
When I was in high school, I saved up money from my first job waiting tables so that I could buy my first beloved pair of Docs. I went to college via scholarships and loans, and worked at least one job if not two (sometimes three) all the way through to pay the rest.
Most of my friend group were upper middle class kids whose parents were lawyers and who already had stock portfolios in their names. I’m not judging my college friends — they were great people — they just came from a different place than I. Money, to them, was a constant — something you picked up the phone and ordered in. To me, it was something that I was constantly hustling for — scrubbing toilets, waiting tables, tending bar, and busting my ass just to barely have enough to pay my part of the rent.
And at some point some idiot actually approved me for a credit card, and I went NUTS. Like, OMG, free money, I can BUY STUFF! Like, any time I want! So then I was poor and in debt. And it took me several years of hard work to dig myself out of that hole and realize that credit cards are just not for me, ever.
There is a great article that John Cheese wrote about what growing up poor does to your brain. It’s pretty dead-on. One of the things is that when you have extra money, the desire is to spend it RIGHT NOW before some disaster happens and you have to use it to take care of that instead. For years, that was me. And then, after lots of soul searching and hard lessons, I went so far the opposite direction that my cheapness practically qualifies as a mental illness.
And even though now I actually have money, god help me if I spend one cent of it on myself. The guilt and panic feelings are just overwhelming. I know that it’s stupid, but knowing that something is stupid does not make it go away.
I can’t take pleasure in buying clothes for myself. I can’t drop $100 on a pair of nice jeans that will fit me like I want them to, because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Because the dog needs a haircut, and the car insurance is due, and the house needs all new screens, and OH MY GOD, WE CAN’T SPEND MONEY because if we do, a disaster will happen.
I’m not sure what disaster (anxiety-related disaster premonitions are not very specific) but something broken in my idiot brain assures me that if I purchase a nice pair of jeans for myself it will be DOOOM. Because it’s easy to justify a pair of jeans when they cost three bucks, even if they’re not perfect and don’t fit quite the way I want. They’ll do, right? Because some people don’t even HAVE jeans.
Over years of poverty and necessity, I’ve come to have a lot of my self identity tied up in being thrifty. My mind has always decided that cheaper = better. And we know that isn’t true, always. Cheap laundry soap that I make myself, awesome. Cheap concrete for the bridge abutment? Not-so-much.
There was a day I spent $60 on myself, I then promptly went out to my car and proceeded to have a giant panic attack. Because I spent money on myself. I had to sit there for fifteen minutes, smoking, assuring myself that it was okay. It wasn’t our last sixty dollars. We have money in the bank. All the major bills for the month are paid. I am no longer living in poverty. I am an adult who owns and runs two businesses, who is about to marry an adult who has been putting money away in savings since before he hit puberty.
Obviously, I’m a work in progress here. And not all my thriftiness is bad. Actually, most of the time, it’s useful. But I can’t put it on other people, like I have a tendency to do. (Oh my GOD, can you believe she paid that much for X?!) because that is not cool. Plus, I imagine, that I’m not the only one out there who feels this way.