1.10.2006

Feeling Poor and Lucky (now updated)

I read this article in a old issue of Business Week when I was waiting in a doctor's office. Look, it was either that or Field & Stream. The article, titled "Thirty and Broke," was both about me and not about me.

It was about me because of all of the many, many reasons not to pursue graduate school, money is definitely up there. I also made, and continue to make, many life choices based on the high cost of education, the high cost of rent, and the relatively low-ish salaries available in the non-profit sector, where I happily reside. It was about me because my fancy education cost an arm and a leg, and I'm not rolling in it. (If I had wanted to go the corporate route--which I didn't--and if I had been able to get a job in that sector, I would be more financially comfortable now. But probably a lot less happy.)

It was not about me because I am lucky enough not to owe the Feds any money for my undergraduate education, due to: being the second child going to college (parental assets already gone to first child's alma mater), going to a school with a lot more financial aid (including grants) than most universities (and they upped it at least once during my time there, in competition with Princeton), some unusual events, and my parents' generosity. I am very grateful for all of those things.

It's also not about me because I don't have any credit card debt, unlike most of my generation. I've always been responsible with credit cards (pay off everything every month). I can do that because I am blessed with a job that pays a living wage, and because I keep my expenses proportionate to my salary. Entertainment can cost a lot in the City, but, lucky for me, I am happy entertaining myself with the New York Times (split three ways between myself and my two roommates, it's a bargain), library books, talking with friends, learning Gemara, and wasting time on the Internet. (Since I broke my eBay addiction that last one has been cheap!) I sometimes go to a movie with a friend, but it's not a default weekend activity for me. And my lovely grandmother takes me with her to the theater a few times a year, which satisfies my desire for those finer forms of entertainment. Although part of me would like to go gallivanting about the world some more (India, anyone? Argentina? Italy?), while I'm young, unencumbered, and have a lot of vacation time, another part of me wants to save some money for, say, an emergency fund. You know, like they say responsible people should have? Also, shouldn't I be socking money away for retirement, while it's still at least 40 years away? Because, you know, there will be no Social Security or anything left for us? Yeah, I thought so. So, in that respect, I seem to be not-so-much like others of my generation, at least not the other who consider themselves to be part of "Generation Debt."

Then I read this article in Slate, titled, "The It-Sucks-To-Be-Me Generation," and my feelings about "this is me and this isn't me" all made much more sense. I agree with the article (others didn't like the article as much), especially on the perspective part. It's really hard to have perspective at 26. And it's true that other generations have struggled far more than ours, financially and in other ways. Like my grandmother often says, when she was my age, she and my grandfather made $2K/year. That's right, $2,000.* A generation later, my aunt's starting salary in Manhattan was $7,280. So they also struggled. And they ended up okay. And I, hopefully, will too.


* This number is approximately accurate. I don't remember, really, because whenever my grandmother or aunt points this out, I immediately respond with, "Yes, but how much was your rent?" Because it seems that at least two things, rent and college tuition, have unequivocally gone up faster than inflation or salaries.

UPDATE: My aunt's first rent was $230/month, or 38% of her gross income. My first rent was also 38% of my gross income, but the difference is that my aunt was living alone in Brooklyn and I was sharing a two bedroom apartment with three other women in Manhattan. (It was a two bedroom turned into a four bedroom through temporary walls put up in the living/dining area.) It's hard to say who had the better deal.

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