Okay. Someone said this to me today. I couldn’t help but look at her funny since I’ve started following the Financial Peace University plan. The person that said this to me is a good friend, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for her. She said it with the unspoken connotation that… she’s not broke, and, shame on me for saying I am. If her eyes could talk they would have said something like,
Here you sit in a coffee house with a hot chocolate in your hand and a buttery croissant on your plate. You have money in the bank, a place to live, a car, multiple gadgets like a laptop and an iphone. You’re not broke. I have all of those things, too. I’m not broke.
If you asked me a year ago I would have happily agreed and went on spending money like I didn’t owe every cent of it to a bank. This friend, and most of my friends, have forgotten that they owe shit to a bank. And, as long as they owe shit to a bank, none of that stuff is theirs. If that bank decided to collect on those loans, like some banks did with mortgages in the financial housing crisis, they would all be in big trouble. Their independent lives hinge on the decisions that bank makes. Our culture of “healthy debt” or “necessary debt” has put a set of blinders on them. Yes, I am broke. I owe $35K in student loans. It doesn’t matter that I have some money in the bank. It’s not $35K. I set aside this $3.50 to have coffee with you four weeks ago. It went in my budget, and I’ll be doing my laundry by hand this week to offset the cost. I put it under “fun,” ironically.
This particular friend I was talking to went to an expensive, out of state, private, Catholic university. She graduated with over $100K in debt, and by my calculations and the way she lives she probably still owes about $75K of it. But yet she goes to the mall and spends hundreds of dollars on clothes at a time, she financed a new car – two new cars if you count the one she shares with her husband, she eats out every day, she has a fancy expensive New York City apartment. If this sounds like you, it’s worth asking the question: Are you in denial about your debt?
My friend is broke off of her ass. Why is she not running around screaming like she is on fire?!
And while her comment made me feel momentarily ashamed, like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, like I’m preaching some kind of poor woman’s sob story, like I’m telling people I have no money because I want them to feel bad for me… no. That’s not why I’m doing this. I want the truth. I am thousands of dollars in debt. Nobody is going to convince me to go back to believing that this is normal. Debt is normal. I need debt to achieve. I need it to make something of myself. As I looked at this friend in the eye, I felt pity for her. She hadn’t realized any of this stuff yet. Most of my friends haven’t had the a-ha moment.
I am afraid for my friend, and for all of my friends back in my “old life” in New York City. The girls I grew up with who were raised with this privileged and skewed view of economics. Some of them really are smart enough to work up to jobs in the 200K range, but most of them won’t get that far even if they are smart. They’ll never be out on the street, or scrape the bottom of their car for quarters, or know what it’s like to feel hungry because you can’t buy groceries, and, thankfully, I’ve only had a small taste of the quarter thing and a night or two where I slept in my car. But will they be able to afford to retire? Will they be able to pay for medical bills if something happened to them or their loved ones? Will they be 40, still living month to month, paycheck to paycheck in a row house in Queens with two roommates? Or will they live in a house more expensive then they can afford to pay off, and be a slave to the bank their entire life? And pay $10K in taxes every year for that privilege?
Most of them live on the edge, financially. I know. I used to do it too. I lived paycheck to paycheck to afford a cramped, crappy studio in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and buy groceries from Whole Foods and go to Broadway plays. I wonder when my friends will wake up and what will happen when they do. I feel like screaming at them. I feel like shaking them. I’m not saying I’m better than they are or will be any better off in the long run, but I still worry about them.
These are the questions go through my mind on a daily basis. It feels awkward watching my friends live that “old life.”