Okay so, no one has any money. That much we know. Show me someone in their mid-20s who’s all set with their finances and can afford frivolous things like a designer pepper grinder without scrimping on the bare necessities and I will give you my first born, for real. The fact is that most of us aren’t like that, especially those of us who are still in school or freshly out of it. We’re all surviving in the best ways we know how, and more often than not, even if someone appears to have money, they’re usually a clever illusionist rather than actually being wealthy.
I started thinking more about this after reading this essay by Amelia Edelman, in which she describes how she manages to survive as a 20-something creative type in Manhattan, and even have spare money to travel, by avoiding buying clothes/shoes/accessories for herself. Predictably, it garnered a ton of criticism for being pretentious, condescending, etc., but I think she had a good point — that you can approximately design your life how you want it by figuring out your exact priorities, which expenses you feel are necessary and which you can reasonably cut out.
And maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about money. I don’t mind the occasional conversation with a close friend, but when a near stranger asks me, as they often do, “So you make enough money writing?” or “No offense, but how do you live?” I do everything in my power to not freak out. And it happens all the time — random acquaintances from high school, anonymous asks on Tumblr, current classmates (most confusing, since we’re all in the same boat with student loans); no one can seem to understand how I’m a 23-year-old grad student and freelancer living in Manhattan, in an actual apartment no less and not under a bridge.
I’ll be honest: I can be guilty of that nosy incredulousness myself. Recently I was talking to someone who just purchased an $800 peacoat and had to make every effort not to ask if they had a side job as an escort or what. But I didn’t, because it’s none of my business, and everyone has their methods. Who knows, maybe they were really in love with the peacoat and had to sell a kidney for it. Most of us have to give things up to get something we want more, and if you don’t mind dressing like a bag lady so you can afford a trip to Nepal, then HYFR. Full support.
That said, maybe my life looks glamorous on paper, but I don’t have a glamorous life. I live in a living room, on a pullout, with none of my own furniture besides a charmingly cracked mirror I found on the street. I’m not having sex with anyone so it’s not awkward that I don’t have a door. School is in walking distance so I rarely take the subway, I thrift my clothes and drink cheap vodka, get my books from the library and I don’t eat every day, but damn it to hell, flexibility is most important to me and I have it, so in a lot of ways I’m already living the dream.
So ultimately, instead of getting jealous or angry that someone has more money or resources than us, we should all make an effort to figure out how we can be more creative with what we have to get closer to the lives we want. My experience isn’t everyone’s, and everyone has their own unique set of expenses, but I think the important thing is figuring out what’s important and what you need to do to get it. I mean, it’s your life — you figure out what you want, and what you can conceivably make happen, and then you adjust the rest. Someone is always going to have more money than you, or less, but all you can ever do is figure out how to make it work for yourself, lest you be bitter and miserable forever. And please, let’s all try to stay out of each other’s finances — if nothing else, it really is rude.