A Conversation that Helped Me Think Differently About Money

A Conversation that Helped Me Think Differently About Money

Like a lot of other people, I grew up poor. My family ran a business that made no money. Heavily indebted, the business barely made enough profit to put stock back on the shelves. Our lives were funded by whatever extra cash could be scraped together, as the business did not pay a living salary.

I point out this fact for no other reason than to demonstrate that poverty colours your life. I’m no longer poor, but I still carry the fear of debt. As a child and particularly as a teenager, I was keen to fit in, stop the bullying, and just look like everyone else-that is, middle-class. As I grew up, and even into adulthood, I wondered about the inner workings of what appeared to me to be the “rich”. How they thought, who they were, how they thought of us poorer people. I resented them.

Recently, a friend and I got talking about how we grew up. She’d had the opposite experience from me – her father worked his way up from a poor background to run two successful businesses. They were very well off. They lived in a lovely house, had people to help them with their house-work, and flew first class. She was one of those “rich” people.

I found our conversation fascinating. Not because of the immense differences we’d experienced growing up, but because of the similarities.

At school, I’d been bullied and lost friends because I was poorer than most of the other children in my class. At school, she’d been bullied and lost friends, who assumed she was a rich snob. As I got older and a little bit wiser, I scoured thrift shops for discarded clothing better than mine, desperate to fit in during casual clothes days at school. My friend described an uplifting experience where she had used the last little bit of money in her wallet to buy food from a street-food seller that she shared with a friend. I developed an elegant style to blend in. She developed a casual style to fit in. Growing up we both had parents in constant screaming matches, arguing over money.

Moving into adulthood, I developed a strong dislike of debt, and fought hard for financial security and financial independence. Moving into adulthood, my friend developed a dislike for looking financially  different from others, and fought hard to be seen as a creative person in her own right, irrespective of her financial background.  We both felt very uncomfortable talking about our financial pasts with others and restricted it to close friends, respectively because we did not want to seem poor or rich.  We were both happiest when hard work and wise decisions led our financial backgrounds to play no part in others’ opinions of us, and we were valued and judged by our own individual contributions.

The similarity of our experiences shocked me.

I wasn’t so naive as to think that money would solve all problems, but I didn’t think that having money would create some similar reactions to lacking it.

What is the role of money in life? The answer is complicated and personal and a bit too long for this post. But certainly at all levels, while money helps you in life, it doesn’t necessarily make for a happier one.

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