Money: Let’s Discuss (or at least be aware)

I read a Huffington Post piece “Why Talking Openly About Money is Crucial, Not Crass,” and identified with what Jennifer Dziura wrote.  She referenced salary transparency as a social justice issue.  A social justice issue.  This is the second article I’ve read this month making that point.  It’s a sticky subject because we’ve been raised to believe money is not a polite topic of conversation.  Many employers even forbid salary talk among employees.  But, if we don’t know how we compare to our peers, how can we know if one group is being paid equitably to another?  You can see how the “no discussion” policy allows salary discrimination to fly under the radar.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I want to talk about being sensitive to the people with whom you spend your time, whether friends, coworkers, family, or otherwise.  The part I really identified with in the article is income disparity among friends.  Dziura’s example referred to $14 cocktails that one person may think nothing of, while the other is working nearly an hour to pay for a single drink.  That took me back to a time when a $14 cocktail was out of the question for me.

When I moved here with Sweet Baby Chubs in Y2K, I had $1,000 in the bank, a mortgage in Michigan, and rent to pay in Raleigh.  Because I didn’t have a ton of experience as a legal secretary, my salary was in the 30s.  After taxes, that left me with about $26,000 to pay that mortgage, rent, car insurance, utilities, food, gas, etc.  Oh, and I went back to school to finish my degree.  To say things were tight is an understatement.  I’m not suggesting it was the end of the world, and I realize I was much more fortunate than so many who struggle every day.  Thank goodness I was creative, resilient, and knew how to budget.  My Dad taught me how to pay, save, and stretch a dollar like nobody’s business.

And thankfully I had a wonderful group of women in my life.  I was new in town, and had those girls not befriended me, I’d truly be the crazy cat lady now (as it turns out, I’m the crazy dog lady).  My financial picture is greatly improved, but the one thing I would do differently is to have discussed numbers with my friends back then.  They would have been happy to dine at MoJoe’s where $10 will get you a burger, fries and a PBR vs. 18 Seaboard where you’ll easily spend twice that.  I’m not saying either is better; I’m straight talking about what a girl could afford.  I don’t think they realized how serious my situation was, and I never told them.  It’s crazy that I’d choose a bowl of soup and water rather than asking if we could dine elsewhere.  But it wasn’t polite conversation.

That time in my life taught me a lot, and I’m grateful for it.  You never know what’s ahead – a lay-off, a plunge in the market – any of us could be right back to square one.  So I still stick to a budget and the good habits formed during my lean years (and I’m proud of that).  I started drinking water when I simply could not afford to add a drink to my bill.  I can drink whatever I choose now, but you know what, I drink water.  No sugary soda, sweet tea or juice, just pure what-your-body-needs water.  I indulge in a beer or glass of wine every now and then, but water is my go-to.  When I made the decision last year to eat clean, the beverage part of that equation was already solved thanks to my shaky finances over a decade ago (always a silver lining, always).

What this HuffPost article has most reminded me is to have an awareness and be considerate of others.  For example, when suggesting a place to eat, why not throw out two options (a high and a low) and let the other decide?  And be sincerely happy with either.  I do love food and a nice restaurant, but if I have to choose, it’s more about the company than the venue.  No matter what the topic of conversation.