I think it’s time for me to come clean about something–and I may as well do it publicly, because as many times as I tell myself in private, it never quite seems to sink in.
Here it is: I’m shit with money.
I’m not, like some of the best minds of my generation, mired in student loans, or credit card debt. No. The problem is that it isn’t that simple. I don’t owe anyone money; I have enough stored up to get by, and though I’m in a bubble of unemployed bliss at the moment, I have the capacity to get a job and keep it. I have a university degree and am on my way to another. If you put all that together, it spells someone grounded, someone with a stock of cash in a bank somewhere and a clear sense of how to budget.
At the very least, it spells someone who’s been given a chance at a clean financial slate. And that’s just it: for no good reason at all, I’ve blown my chance. Is it because I’m a girl? I never can resist that cute new dress in the window, or the perfect handbag, or the must-have shoes of the season. I think garments have my name on them (and some of them, as you’ll see from the picture, literally do!). Or is it because I’m young and carefree? I like being able to buy a round of drinks at the pub or a meal out for no good reason. Maybe it’s because the exchange rate is painfully not in my favor, or because I spent three months a year ago living abroad off my savings and nothing else. Maybe it’s because, for whatever reason, I’m more afraid of stinginess than starvation.
Fundamentally, I think it’s because it’s hard to think of myself as poor when I live like I do. I don’t just mean that I feel rich, emotionally–I do, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I have a sleek apple laptop, and a digital camera, and expensive jeans, and the two of us live in a three bedroom, two-storey house with an expanse of garden out back and four fireplaces. We jet off to California for a month and though I cringe at the $1,000 tickets (nearly twice what I paid just six months ago) I pay up anyway–cringing is a very different thing, after all, from not being able.
I sometimes don’t know how to reconcile the financial reality of my life with my life itself: how is all of this possible when we pay our rent late every single month because we always just barely have enough? Once, in a money-induced panic, we looked at moving, but it isn’t significantly cheaper to rent a shabby bedsit, and we came to the conclusion that the problem is us, not where we live.
What frightens me is that there’s a point where it stops being the relative poverty of youth–a glamorous poverty, if there can be such a thing, a state of lacking in which you feel the pressure not as a weight but as an incentive, a driving force–and becomes simple poverty. The possibility that we might actually run out of money completely–no longer cringing, simply unable–is real, and only gets realer with each month, each year, each pound spent. If I know what my life looks like from the outside in, and I know that I love it, how do I preserve it?
I don’t know if it’s possible to feel the grip of seriousness until it’s too late–having never known before what life looks like with an utterly empty bank account, I go on living as if I never will know, and hope that I won’t.