Wealth is entirely subjective. Depending on where you’re sitting on the great Staircase of Financial Solvency, your perspective of who’s wealthy and what’s expensive is going to vary wildly.
Because of this disparity, the definition of “expensive” truly depends on an individual’s personal money situation. Someone who makes $300K a year and can easily afford their rent and insurance isn’t going to think twice about buying cage free eggs, organic milk, and grass-fed beef. Meanwhile, their neighbor who makes $30K a year is going to be buying the practically expired store brand milk on sale. To them, the whole concept of buying organic, cruelty-free food seems absurdly out of reach even while their wealthier neighbor finds it “inexpensive.”
Which is why it’s about as irritating as a Spotify Premium commercial to hear people speak authoritatively about what’s expensive and what’s not. Especially when their version of “expensive” is a diamond encrusted dog manicure and yours is a Whole Foods grapefruit.
“It’s not THAT expensive…”
Bitch do you even know me? Do you have intimate knowledge of my bank accounts, debt levels, and net worth? No? Then how the fuck do you know how expensive something is from my point of view?
It can be really fucking frustrating to hear things like “[insert expensive thing] is not THAT expensive” from people richer than I am. It makes them look clueless and inconsiderate, and it makes me feel self-conscious and stressed about my financial circumstances. Not gonna lie, it has even soured more than a few friendships.
When I was in my early twenties, my landlord sold my house out from under me. My partner and I got barely two months’ notice to find somewhere else to rent, and in the meantime we had realtors and potential buyers invading our personal space every day. A clueless friend with deeper pockets asked, “Why don’t you just buy the house so you don’t have to move?”
Because we didn’t have a down payment, we still had massive student loan debt, no mortgage lender would take a risk on us, and we simply were not in a financial situation where buying a house was a reasonable chance to take.
He was baffled. His financial situation was so different from mine that to him, buying a house to avoid a temporary inconvenience was “not THAT expensive.” Once he got used to the idea that a 20% down payment was not something we had just lying around at the age of twenty-four—a fact he found horrifying—he suggested we simply borrow the money from The Bank of Mom & Dad.
And that’s when I strangled him with my bare hands, Your Honor.
Assuming someone else has the same access to financial safety nets you do is so ignorant it can get you elected to Congress. If you lack the empathy to be able to imagine financial circumstances more dire than your own, perhaps you should retire from polite society and eat your avocado toast in silence.
Assuming someone else has the same access to financial safety nets you do is so ignorant it can get you elected to Congress.
Some people have more expensive lives… and not on purpose
We’ve talked before about the Pink Tax and how womanhood comes with extra expenses. But how about the disabled? Those whose parents are poor? People with financial obligations beyond their control, like elderly dependents or sick children? Ex-convicts, disproportionately excluded from public housing and employment opportunities?
Fortune does not smile equally upon us all. If you started your life healthy, debt-free, and unfettered by familial financial obligations, you should count yourself lucky. And yes, you can acknowledge that luck while still taking pride in your accomplishments. But the fact remains that sometimes the only thing separating you from a poorer but equally talented, driven, and worthy person is an accident of birth.
Sometimes the only thing separating you from a poorer but equally talented, driven, and worthy person is an accident of birth.
There’s a word for this: privilege.
Dozens just zipped down to the comments to call me a feminazi libtard SJW cuck (joke’s on them—I embrace my feminazi libtard SJW cuckoldry with reckless abandon). For those who remain, allow me to clarify. Privilege does not necessarily mean you have a blanket advantage over everyone else. It means you’re lacking a certain disadvantage someone else has. For example: it absolutely sucks to be poor and white, but at least a poor white person does not also have to deal with the racist bullshit a poor black person deals with. Get it?
So when we’re talking about economic privilege, it means that you lack the disadvantage of student loan debt. You lack the disadvantage of economically compromised parents. You lack a disability that prevents you from working. You lack financial obligations that negatively affect your ability to get ahead financially.
I know this idea flies in the face of our sacred American bootstrapping narrative, but if you’re still attached to that comforting bedtime story, I invite you to wake the fuck up. Join the rest of us in our capitalist reality wherein 42% of bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills and wage discrimination against people of color persists.
Above all, compassion
If you’re rich, I’m not telling you to feel bad about yourself. In fact, this isn’t even about you. It’s about having a modicum of compassion for those in different economic circumstances. Don’t go forth into the world, foot and silver spoon both firmly in your mouth, and make ignorant-ass comments to people who might be less fortunate than you.
What’s affordable to you might be completely out of reach for the man working three jobs to support his children and disabled wife. What’s pocket change to you might be a month’s wages to the child of blue collar workers who went $100k into debt to get a college degree. What you find “inexpensive” might be an unattainable luxury to the refugee taking night classes at community college.
Don’t downplay the subjectivity of wealth.
And you might not even recognize these socioeconomic differences on sight. In fact, some of your friends and coworkers might be drowning in a sea of debt, battling an expensive chronic disease, or expected to financially support their extended family. They do not deserve to hear you dismiss their circumstances out of hand.
I remind myself of the subjectivity of wealth all the time. I think of it when I hear my friends panicking about their student loans because they started out with twice the amount that I did. I think of it when my friend the single mom frantically asks me to babysit so she can pick up an extra shift at work. I am so fucking fortunate. And as much as I look at those above me on the Staircase of Financial Solvency with envy, I know there’s someone else looking up at me the same way.
Don’t downplay the subjectivity of wealth. It makes you look like an asshole. A dumb asshole.