I am often grilled or ridiculed for my lifelong inability to manage money, and occasionally asked outright why or how I could choose to spend over a decade racking up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt by traveling the world. This line of questioning is an immediate tell that the person interrogating me has never been poor, because when you’re poor for your whole life, your “immediate benefit vs. long-term cost” meter gets broken. I wanted to have those experiences before I died, and there was no other way for me to get them: that’s it, that’s the only reason why. It was either maxing out yet another Visa card or shuffling off this mortal coil having never set foot in my beloved heart-home of Birmingham (UK), and I chose the former. And I am so happy that I did. I feel so lucky every day. I don’t care how long it takes me to pay it all off or how much more I end up spending than I would have if I would have just worked for decades to save up — I did not want to die without those experiences, being poor means feeling like you have no future so I grew up thinking I might die at any moment, but now those experiences cannot be taken from me no matter how much debt I have. Mission fucking accomplished
Besides, what was I supposed to do, open a savings account? Jesus, I was making $6.50 an hour. And what the fuck was I supposed to save for, a fucking college education? Man, you might as well have told me to start saving for my next trip to Mars. Poor people don’t go to college, we don’t know how to do that shit! It really feels like scholarships and financial aid are for well-connected, motivated, and intelligent poors with stronger bootstraps or better families than the rest of us. Because the rest of us were born and raised to internalize exactly one piece of knowledge: you must do whatever you need to do to be able to eat and keep a roof over your head. Everything else is for rich people. If we are lucky, we will be able to grind away at entry-level jobs until we keel over and kick the bucket and if we are not, we will starve and die on the street.
While I do know EXACTLY how much money I have available to me at all times, tangible and intangible, every second of every day, money has never felt numerable or even finite to me. It just feels like access. The balance in my checking account is nothing more than an indirect display of how much power and influence I will ever be able to have on the world. I’ve been out of the projects for over a decade now but the relentless grind of poverty, only getting to live like a normal person in those brief moments when other folks felt like being charitable? That still informs my every waking thought.
I watch how my wealthy friends navigate in the world and it is just so fucking foreign to me — they can literally afford to make their lives easier. It runs the gamut from being able to hire people to assist them with basic tasks and purchasing items whose sole purpose is to minimize stress and hassle to being able to spend lavishly on high-quality personal accoutrements that last for years and indicate to the world at large that you are monied enough to be thoughtful and patient with your purchasing decisions. This stands in stark opposition to poor folks who have to shell out for the very first barely-affordable apartment/car/jacket/pair of shoes that comes along without having the luxury of worrying about whether it’s going to completely fall apart on you a few months or even weeks later.
One of the many tiny wisdoms that have occurred to me as I’ve gotten older is that money greases the very gears of life. When I was a kid, I used to think that the way you could tell a poor person and a rich person apart is that the rich person would have more and better stuff. As an adult, I know that the way you can tell poor and rich folks apart is that the rich folks are just less worried about everything. They are so secure in their belief that they will wake up each day housed, clothed, and fed that it doesn’t even register on their radar screen. It creates this impenetrable, invisible insouciance that is at once overwhelmingly enviable and goddamned infuriating. I honestly can’t imagine what that must feel like.