I have a funny relationship with money.
Okie okie, who doesn’t right? But my case is an extreme case of financial neurosis. I know most people think they don’t have enough money even when they are doing pretty well i.e. those wall street and lawyer types. But I find myself going to extreme measures to save money that I don’t particularly need to save. I’m not saying I’m rich enough not to save (I wish I am but alas…) but I’m not in the poor house either.
Having finished my graduate degree recently without any debt (thanks ma and pa!), I found myself a reasonably paid job in tony Boston. Compared to Chicago, cost of living here is much higher (the rent itself is enough to give me multiple heart attacks) and I constantly find myself obsessing about saving more of my hard earned income (“is Stop & Shop having a sale on red pepper or should I buy it at Russo’s?” kinda obsession). I spend alot of time tracking my expenses right down to the penny and poring over financial blogs (check out bostongal’s and jonathan’s blogs, they’re great!)
So I was reading this really old series of financial novels about the pyschology of money and financial systems over the weekend and what the writer said really made sense to me:
“The whole money complex is rooted in the pyschology of guilt. Money is the condensed wealth, condensed wealth is condensed guilt. Thus Christmas gift giving is a partial expiation for piling up all that condensed guilt during the year… one is bound to employ the currency that prevails in the country one is exploring, in [America’s] case it is neurotic currency. All currency is neurotic currency.”
Having been to many improverished countries like India, China, Bolivia etc etc in the past few years, I really do feel guilty about my good fortunes. I know it’s not my fault I’m well provided for and these people are struggling but it just feels very unfair. That people are starving while I get frustrated by frivolous concerns like where to get the best sashimi in Boston (I concluded there is no fresh sashimi here btw) and whether I should buy the 2003 Bordeaux or 2005 Burgundy (both are very good years) … my office just had a function a few days ago and I was quite appalled that a simple lunch for 5 people came up to over 200 USD. That amount can feed alot of people in other countries I can imagine…
Maybe I have a reverse Marie Antoinette complex. She was the infamous french queen who symbolised the excesses of the French aristocracy and their lack of awareness about the world, namely the plight of their own peasants who were struggling to survive amidst heavy taxes, high food prices and economic depression. Her subjects particularly resented her opulent public wardrobe and jewellry when they couldn’t even afford to eat:
Hmm.. okie that’s not a very glamorous Marie. How about the Kirsten Dunst version?
And so, when informed that her subjects didn’t have money to buy bread because of their inflated prices, she said famously “let them eat cake”. And then all hell broke loose and the French Revolution followed soon after.
So when I behave like a scourge, it’s really to say to the starving Africans/South Americans/Indians/fill_in_destitute_country “hey I’m trying here! I’m not unenlightened, I feel your pain”. And the next moment I search for good seafood here in Boston… (anyone has recommendations?)
I know I know. Contradictions is me.
Imagine how much worse it will be when I really become rich. Sigh, the guilt of it all.