Tuesday, March 22, 2005

No Joke

I have been called many things by friends, family and general acquaintances. Three things I am often called by those that know me best, rather playfully or serious, are frugal, cheap and miser. Yes, I count my coins like a mother counts the strings of hair on a newborns head. I want to make sure each one is there in the condition that I left it and that the growth is on track. This has made me the butt of many jokes but I believe in the end I will have the last laugh.

A few minutes ago I was on the phone with my mother discussing my brothers’ plans for his 30th birthday party next month. It totally boggles my mind why he is spending so much money on his birthday party – more than what I think he has to or should spend. Of course this is just my opinion. My mother doesn’t have the best financial habits, my sister and brother for the most part follow in her footsteps and in fact I think my brother leaves her in the dust in the race of money mismanagement. Tonight my mother asked me how I turned out so different. She answered before I had to. I saw what I didn’t want. So often that is the best way to learn what you don’t want to do – just looking at what someone else is doing and seeing for yourself. Learn from the mistakes of others, don’t make the mistake yourself.

When I look at my family I see many things and how I was raised to handle money. On one hand, I stand in awe of my mother because on far less than what I currently make a year she was able to feed, clothe and grant many extras to herself, my brother and sister. I don’t know how she did it. She is an amazing woman. Of that fact I am certain. On the other hand I wonder what some of my family members (sometimes including my mother) were and are thinking when they spend and don’t save or invest. I am 25 and I constantly stuff away money when I can because I know that I won’t be young forever and will need money for retirement and because I also know that life is full of unexpected twists, turns and emergencies, all of which require money. Money my family wouldn’t have to give to me in a pinch. I know that I must to the greatest and reasonable extent possible be self sufficient.

One of the things I thank God for is the discipline he has instilled in me when it comes to stewardship of my own money. It is indeed a blessing. I create and stick to a monthly budget, pay myself first and constantly take time to do a personal financial forecast every few weeks to make sure things are all lined up. In 2003 my success was that I paid off all of my immediate debt [ read : credit card bills ] and 2004 I followed my aggressive savings plan and in 2005 my goal is to begin investing. I don’t recall much about fifth grade but I do recall every day before our teacher dismissed us from class we would all stand together and say in unison the words of Jesse Jackson Jr., “I will sacrifice my wants of today in order to satisfy my needs of tomorrow.” I don’t think that then I was able to really grasp those words and apply them to my life but years later I embrace them and that philosophy wholeheartedly. I do it but not without struggle though at times which I suppose is human nature.

Last year around this time I was absolutely obsessed with buying a home. Twelve months later I know that is still on my list of things that I want to do but it is no longer my very focus. I wanted to buy my own home because I knew it was a step in building personal wealth – owning your own stuff. On a nonprofit professionals salary, paying back student loans for two degrees and trying to stay afloat in Washington, DC and a year’s worth of seeing other peoples successes and mistakes I have done some reevaluation. Based on a number of variables it will take me a little longer before I can buy my own and I am okay with that. Interestingly enough I have a coworker who is my age, makes around the same amount I do and is about to go into closing on her co-op in a pretty nice area of DC. How did she do it? Her father. His name will be on the dotted line with hers and she will pay only a portion of the fees and monthly. [ read : he is setting her up quite swell ] My mother couldn’t co-sign for my apartment when I first moved here.

This struggle to get, keep and grow the mighty dollar on a less individual level is so interconnected to so may social issues it is hard to talk about one topic without talking about the many others. Economic class in the United States I believe is the elephant in the middle of the room as a society we tend not to discuss much though when I look around me I don’t understand why it isn’t the focus of nearly every topic of conversation or important dialogue.

My best friend O-Canada said the funniest thing to me the other day on the subject, “There is no such thing as middle class. Rich people made that up to make poor people feel better.” Her joke made a lot of cents. Too bad I don’t think enough people get it.