On Money: The Abyss gazes also into you
Finally, it’s time for my own reckoning. Like I previously mentioned, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this hypothetical series for a while now, but never knew how exactly to tie it all together. But as I reviewed my notes about my friends, it dawned on me that I was not so different after all. I would write about a detailed account of my own slide into the freewheeling, easy-spending, avo-toast buying, yuppie millennial lifestyle.
Though I’ve never planned to, I’ve bought three-dollar bottled water a few times this summer. Though I’ve never bought Common Projects, I’ve spent enough on clothes that sometimes I’m uncomfortable admitting it. And though my expenditures aren’t anywhere near those of some of my other friends, I’m also not making anywhere near what they are. What happened?
I pin the root cause on the increasingly expensive tastes of my peers. As much as I portrayed myself in the role of an uninterested observer, I was actually an agent in the system, usually buying the same sorts of things they were. What am I going to do, skip dinner? Drink at a different bar?
This is compounded by the awareness that I have the lowest propensity to spend among my friends. To compensate for this, I generally try to ensure that I’m paying for at least my share, and prevent it from seeming as though I’m the least willing to spend. The effect of this is twofold: I spend a comparable amount to my friends when we go out, and few question the looseness of my wallet.
Although there’s initially some form of sticker shock, maybe even a bit of grief that doesn’t fade, the real travesty is that everything else seems much cheaper by comparison. A two-hundred-dollar t-shirt seems unreasonable, but a hundred dollar hoodie is suddenly affordable. What’s four dollars for guac when that ski trip set me back four hundred? I guess that’s how it starts for everyone.
For my friends reading this, though I am complaining about spending too much money with you, and I hope to spend less, the damage is long done. Of course, the system is an echo chamber that I’m also directly contributing to, by reinforcing the idea to everyone that more expensive purchases and experiences are the norm. Regardless of who’s to blame, it’s too late; I’ve grown accustomed to the big price tags and the long bills.
This past weekend, a few friends and I reserved a table at a club that I frequently patronized when I wore a younger man’s clothes. Though I was excited to relive some memories, I was internally agonizing over having to pay a couple hundred dollars for the table. I remember tables being immensely expensive, and costs have only risen since the pandemic started receding. When the bill was settled a few days ago, I was surprised that it was only sixty-five dollars. Sixty? Three drinks the weekend prior had cost me that much. What a steal!
A month ago, I was in a nicer part of town with a friend around dinnertime. She had mentioned she wanted Italian for dinner, and saw nothing but dollar signs. In fact, while ducking into a McDonald’s for ice cream earlier in the afternoon, I took the liberty of snagging a Junior Chicken. When we sat down at a wine bar a few hours later, I had been ready to order a few appetizers, drinks, mains, and then dessert. Instead, my friend declared herself not especially hungry, and we split a burrata, and got our own pastas. My portion of the bill came out to just under sixty dollars as well, even after an exorbitant eighteen percent tip. I immediately treated myself to a seven-dollar ice cream cone on the way back. I had saved money that day.
In both of those cases, the old me would have agonized over the bills for a while. Cover is a standard twenty, so a sixty-dollar night meant three potential outings that I could have gone on. Dinner for one at a Korean restaurant is a little over fifteen dollars so my half of the bill could have easily been dinner for a family of three. The new me only agonizes over nights where I have no idea how much money everyone is spending, and only hopes to be buying rounds equal to my share.
Where do I go from here? Do I only spiral deeper into the abyss of spending? Over the summer, I’ve watched in slight horror as my credit card statements swelled up to the size of my paychecks. At some point, I will be unable to keep up. What if I start going to Vegas on weekends? Renting houses in the Hamptons? Spending weeks in London? When I read Obama’s A Promised Land nearly a year ago, I was shocked to hear that he carried credit card debt. Will I? It doesn’t seem implausible. I’ve decided a prudent decision would be to set aside money from my paycheck every month for investments, and keep close track of my expenses, but would that make me miserable?
One solution is just to run a little faster on the giant capitalist hamster wheel. If I made more money, then I could spend more and have savings. Of course, by acknowledging that it’s a hamster wheel, I’m also implicitly conceding that the faster I run, the faster I will have to run. It’s naïve hoping to just catch up to my friends’ pace, and then hover around there.
Even willfully controlling how I spend money might be challenging. How can I force myself to live on a shoestring budget, to tell friends I can’t participate in activities just so I can save thirty percent of my post-tax income? A few weeks ago, I went to buy mouthwash and was faced with two options in the flavour I wanted. A one-liter bottle, and a two-liter bottle that was on sale, and cost fifty percent more than the smaller one. The larger bottle also said “ECONOMY-SIZED” on it. I deliberated before taking the smaller one. I’ve become the type of person to purchase small-pack household items because they are more convenient.
And so, after a brief bought of revenge-spending after the pandemic, I’ve joined my friends to become a millennial who will never own property because I buy too much kombucha, one small glass bottle at a time instead of in a case. I’m not sure how I can address this problem, though I might finally need to start creating a budget every month to track where my money goes. And I think my new awareness of the problem coupled with my unease with my spending habits will lead to a change of some sort. Next time, perhaps I’ll buy the ECONOMY-SIZED bottle and fill up my little bottle with it.