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Monday, January 28, 2008

Thoughts on wealth and poverty

I'm having a hard time with wealth right now. More specifically, my wealth. It occurred to me this evening that I couldn't even pay my mortgage on what most of my clients make in a year. They support an entire family, and yet I wouldn't be able to live. I wonder how they survive. The crazy thing is that they drive nicer cars than I do, wear nicer clothes than I do, have all these cool tech toys that I can't afford.

I gripe because I'm so poor. Because there's a lot that I don't have money for. My pennies scream because I pinch them so hard, trying to make them last the month. But I make three times what my average client makes. Am I just spoiled? I honestly feel guilty for the money I have. Even though it seems like we struggle financially. I'm almost ashamed.

I should probably give a small disclaimer to say that by US Government standards, I am not wealthy. Probably on the very low end of upper middle class, if that high. We're not talking about amounts that would impress anyone if I told them what we made. But still, at this time of year, with the clients I see, it seems like a gross amount.

As I have to listen to creeps who want to take advantage of the system and commit fraud, I get angry. Or when I sit down with a client I strongly suspect is manipulating the system but is technically correct in how they're doing it, I feel like screaming. Because I have so many clients who are decent, hardworking people who aren't lying about their income, marital status, living situation, etc, and they really are living on 1/3 of what I can barely live on.

I know life's not supposed to be fair, but I'm really angry at how unfair it is right now. How, over the past few years, God has doubled our income and I'm still whining about how broke we are. How one of my clients, living off of 1/4 of what I can't live on, is supporting her invalid daughter and grandchild, and is about to lose her house because of an unscrupulous lender and has no idea where she'll go or if she'll be able to help her family members. And then, I look at these other people, supposedly living off of 1/3 of what I live off of, wearing jewelry I'll never be able to afford, driving luxury SUVs, wearing designer clothes, and they're mad because their refund, aka their earned income credit, is less this year because they made more money.

I don't really have anything other than that... just this feeling of discomfort in my gut that says things are not right. I don't feel right about how much money we make. And I don't feel right about how it doesn't seem to be enough. I don't feel right about the fact that there are people in my community grateful for a $1000 refund so they can finally buy a car. I don't feel right about the fact that there are people in my community who have learned to lie and manipulate the system so they can live on easy street.

I also don't feel right about this supposed economic stimulus package. Because as I look into the eyes of the desperate taxpayers who ask me about it every day, I realize that it's just a temporary band-aid. It might ease the strain on people's finances for a month or two, but the reality is that next year, these same people are going to be just as desperate, just as far deep in the hole as they were this time last year. Sure, some of them will have iPods they didn't have before, some might be wearing some new clothes, and others might even have a few other cool new toys. But will it make them any better off?

The truth is, I think wealth and poverty is less about dollar signs and numbers than it is about a state of mind. About our hearts. About our values.

This year, as I prioritize my spending, my budget, and what it means to have what I recognize as numerical wealth, I'm going to be thinking a lot more on using what I have for things of more lasting value.


Kay Day said...

i'm kinda where you are.
The thing is these people with all the "stuff" are in hock over their heads.
We don't have near the stuff some people do, but we make plenty of money. We just don't go out charging all kinds of stuff. We live on what we have.
I don't feel bad for what we have, though. My husbands works hard for what he makes. But I do want to find ways to pass on some of it. To bless others with out abundance.

Anonymous said...

I understand. Sometimes I wonder why we have stressful financial months with this abundance.
Not abundance by U.S. standards but by the world's standards.
And right now I have some opportunities: should I take more flute students? more accompanist jobs? should I do that contract tech writing work?
Will it really make a difference in our finances? Or will we use the money for something we don't need?

Danica Favorite said...

You guys definitely speak to what I'm feeling right now. Kay, I think you found my sole comfort in this debate... finding ways to pass on some of it and bless others with my abundance.

And Heather, I'm having that same debate with the hours I'm working right now.

Troy Tarpley said...

Danica, the second to the last paragraph in your post was the most profound.

The average household income for a US family is around 40K. Average. You apparently "lived" on half of what you earned a few years ago. So you apparently increased your standard of living by double and there is nothing wrong with that.

Keep in mind. Most of the people in the US live paycheck to paycheck and most carry large amounts of unsecured consumer debt.

When we act like a small child on the cereal isle pitching a temper tantrum, we adults tend to dig ourselves a nice little hole.

"I want it and I want it now!", we say. Flat screen from Bigs Buy, more plastic stuff from Toys Are Them and more dining out cause 'we work hard and deserve a break'. Awww.

If you've studied hard, applied yourself and increased your income because of it, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

However, if you choose not to do a monthly budget (that means a new and different one EACH month) and allocate where each dollar is going before you spend it, it is easy to have "too much month left at the end of the money" and you have reason to feel guilty.

If you earn above the average household, you have to get to the point where you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sounds like your close. Then and only then will people change, whether it is regarding money, weight or relationships.

You should list all your expenses before February begins starting with food, utilities, house and transportation. Then do a prioritized list. Example: If you had only a few more dollars, what would you spend it on? Health ins? Clothes? Charity? etc. After you take care of the necessities (food, home, etc.) you list everything else out in order of importance. If you know you'll net (take home) $2700 in Feb, spend it on paper before the end of January.

Don't worry about who got booted from the Biggest Loser or someone is going to make a good deal or a bad deal. Make your finances a priority.

We (my fiance and myself) changed the way we think about money over two years ago. Back then, we stopped borrowing money for anything. We cut up the credit cards and swore not to borrow again. We scrounged up some cash for a small rainy day fund. She sold her new car and moved down to a 5K car. We have worked a very simple and effective plan for getting out of debt and building wealth.

We did not buy anything to make this happen. We did not sign up for any debt programs or buy any tape sets. There are no EASY BUTTONS for this. We just acted like adults, devised a plan, made smart decisions, postponed what we want until it fit into the budget and we could pay cash for it. No more "payment plans". aughh!

We are paying for our wedding ourselves and that will happen in October. We are excited and have a plan for being debt free ---including the house!! --- by March of 2009. Like you, neither of us makes a ton of money. Probably in the middle of the upper middle class. But, personal finance is mostly about the personal part, not the financial part. We've got friends who make lots more than us and always seem to be broke, while like you, we know folks that make very little and manage.

Best of luck to you on how to deal with it and I apologize for rambling or sounding as if I'm preaching.

I came across your blog by Googling an annoying telemarketers phone number. I'm trying to figure out how to stop them from calling. Anyway, cool blog.