On Money: It’s just money

Chris Reads
5 min readMay 30, 2024

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This is Part Four in a collection of essays about my changing perspective towards money as a child of immigrants. Part One can be found here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

Ah, to write about money again. It feels strange to write about money, distasteful even, while I start a piece subtitled It’s just money as a privileged twenty-something living in the city. In part, this is what this will be about: a growing recognition that despite feeling poor and knowing that the economy is set up against my generation, I’m actually quite privileged. And with that privilege, many things aren’t worth fighting and stressing about. Entitled? Certainly. Out of touch? I certainly hope not.

Previously, I’ve discussed my cost-conscious upbringing, and my fascination with those were clearly raised under similar circumstances, as well as what I considered immigrant attitudes towards spending. As far as I can remember, I’ve always considered myself economically unprivileged and consequently frugal. This isn’t to say that I spend a lot of time thinking about money, but I’ve always understood that there was always a trade-off, and I wanted to optimize for the best possible outcome.

In the end, I have succumbed to lifestyle creep. I have joined exercise classes for hundreds of dollars a month that I deemed too expensive not five years ago. I now buy an ever-increasing variety of vegetables and cuts of meat which I wouldn’t know what to do with, but also felt were too luxurious a few years ago. I’ve started using more luxurious skincare and health products that I thought were a waste of money just a year ago. These are all of course, justifiable expenses, or at the very least, rationalizable. Slightly less so is my penchant for adventures and travel: family trips to Africa and Antarctica? Sure! Annual weekend trips to Paris and Copenhagen? Harmless. I’ve rationalized these as the creation of memories, and spending time with the people I love, but it is certainly not frugal. Of course, the worst examples are spending exorbitant amounts of money on food, or buying a vintage bag on a whim in Japan.

But is this really so bad? What is the point of money if not to be spent? My frugality was born out of economic instability, which no longer exists, and hasn’t existed in a long time, unless our AI overlords decide to materialize during my lifetime. As immigrants with children and a mortgage, but without a safety net, economic catastrophe was always just around the corner. Every dollar crimped here was one that could be used to get ahead or put away for a rainy day. Financial advice online generally suggests the creation of an emergency fund prior to paying down debt and building savings. My privilege only dawned on me after reading that: I’ve never had an emergency fund, and honestly I will never need one. My parents have, and always will be there to support me should I need it; they’re not made of money, but I could always put a bed in their house. Of course, I am financially independent and hope never to need to ask them for money, but the possibility of their support was not an advantage I’d considered until now.

I’ve always considered myself frugal, and budgeted religiously. I know where every last cent of mine goes, and my average spending across categories and people. But I’ve come to realize that my budgeting is different from that of someone who actually needs it. I don’t allocate my paycheck into different categories so I’ll have enough to get groceries at the end of the month. I just like seeing how much I’ve spent this period versus the last. I don’t every have to save up for a purchase discretionary or not, I just spend a larger part of my paycheque on it, and then moan about how I have to cut back on my spending next month. For me, budgeting is just numbers on a page. If I want something, I’ll think about it, but if I need something, I’ll just buy it. Any unspent money in my chequing account in surplus of the minimum balance goes into savings. They’re just numbers at the end of the day.

I had an epiphany a few days ago. I realized that a lot of stress in my life would dissipate if I told myself that “it was just money”. Whether it’s as small as forgotten groceries rotting in the fridge or as big as ruining a rental car without insurance, the issue seems insignificant if there is no other harm. A missed show and a dinner reservation? It’s just money. Lost phone or broken laptop? It’s just money. Missed flight or Uber cleaning fee? It’s just money. There is no denying that this is an extremely privileged way of rationalizing mistakes, but honestly, once the mistake has been made, and there is nothing to be done about it, it seems to be the smart thing to do. Dwelling on it any longer provides no benefits, and at the end of the day, it’s just money.

But in our capitalist society, it almost always is just money. Money is a store of value that can be used as a medium of exchange for anything, even time, health, and people if spent right. Everything then becomes a numbers game: losing a phone isn’t such a big deal. It’s just a thousand dollars. It’s definitely not worth a sleepless night about, especially if everything is backed up. Certainly, that this line of thinking has potential to lead to waste as any expenditure and accident can be rationalized as such. Yet it’s a useful panacea to see through the moment of stress, anger, and anxiety that might cloud the rest of the day.

Money is important, because everything is money. But because money is so easily countable, reducing miseries to their financial harm is an easy way to reduce the stress and anxiety that it may be causing, if one is financially stable of course. And that’s perhaps the conclusion of this essay, that I’m a lot more financially comfortable than I had previously thought. I’ve deliberated a lot about whether to share this post or not, outing myself as a champagne socialist. Yet, if I do get dragged to the guillotines for what I’ve written here, at least I’ll be able to comfort myself with knowing that I’ve made it. No one conducts an exposé on a poor unremarkable man after all.

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