And that's when I strangled him, your honor.

The Subjectivity of Wealth, Or: Don’t Tell Me What’s Expensive

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.

Lemme ‘splain.

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"Wealthy White Folks Welcome!"

Gentrification: Artisanal, Small-Batch Displacement of the Poor

I had just come home from work when three students from the college down the street approached my porch with official-looking clipboards in hand. “Excuse me ma’am,” (I’m a ma’am now? When did this happen?) “Can we ask you some questions for a school research project?”

Instead of hissing “Youths!” and retreating into the darkness of my lair, I obliged. I am a “ma’am” now, after all, and that comes with a responsibility to be magnanimous toward fine upstanding young people everywhere.

First question: “What does gentrification mean to you?”

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Whisper "any investment you make in yourself is an investment toward your retirement" three times.

How to Save for Retirement When You Make Less Than $30,000 a Year

Retirement is a difficult concept for young people to wrap their heads around. It’s hard enough figuring out how to be An Adult, let alone An Old.

We’ll be talking more broadly in the near future about the general concept of retirement. (Spoiler alert: it’s as outdated as an avocado-colored refrigerator.) But today I’d like to talk directly about the concept of saving for retirement while pretty legit poor.

For purposes of this post, I’m going to define that as someone making $30,000 a year or less. Obviously there are lots of factors that can stretch this figure. A mom of three with a high school education in Washington, D.C. is going to have a much harder time than a single, highly-educated person making the same amount in Woodstock, Alabama. And actually, that number is still more than double the official so-called “poverty line,” which is just over $12,000.

But Piggy and I feel strongly that there isn’t enough realistic, valuable advice for people in this general bracket, and so we’d like to talk to them.

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Dispensing advice about the Latte Factor to those who live one medical emergency away from complete financial ruin sounds a helluva lot like poor shaming.

The Latte Factor, Poor Shaming, and Economic Compassion

There’s a piece of conventional financial wisdom that goes like this: if you’re looking to save money or pay off debt, start by skipping small luxuries like lattes and instead put that money toward your financial goals. The single digit savings will add up to a significant amount over time, all because you had the fortitude to practice a little self-control. It’s a simple, effective way to find some wiggle room in your budget and a great first step toward living a frugal lifestyle.

The Latte Factor, as it’s known, is both virtuous and practical. It gives its frugal practitioner a sense of self-righteous superiority over those who continue to waste their money on overpriced, over-sweetened, caffeinated beverages every day. And because it’s such a simple solution, those preaching the gospel of frugality peddle it like a magic elixir. Can’t seem to save money? Just skip the latte! It works miracles.

Yet to those who truly struggle with systemic poverty, getting advice about the Latte Factor feels horribly condescending. In fact, being told that skipping a small luxury here and there will raise you up out of your low-income status feels downright cruel and deliberately ignorant. Because in cases of economic disenfranchisement, a lack of frugality is not the root of the problem.

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Do you know what Cinderella did to get ahead? She planted a tree. And watered it daily with her tears. The point is that class mobility has literally been a fairy tale for most of human history.

“Poor People Are Poor Because They Are _____. Rich People Are Rich Because They Are _____.”

When Piggy and I first talked about starting a finance blog for Millennials, we spent a lot of time talking about how traditional financial advice had failed us. Some advice failed simply for being too old. It relied on outdated growth models, or it ignored a rapidly changing globalized economy, or discounted the possibilities of living in a world transformed by technology.

These failures were innocent. Others were not.
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