Saturday, February 24, 2007

What I would do with $3000

Last week at a dinner party, I was chatting with a young (20-ish?) woman I had never met before. She was telling us about a vacation she’d taken, some years back, in England and Ireland. She said how much she’d like to do it again. She said, “Yeah, if I just found $3000, I would go back!”

Her intention, I think, was to emphasize how improbable a return trip was. That the trip was out of her reach, because she couldn’t afford it.

Before thinking, I said, “If I found $3000, I’d buy a more reliable car.” Actually, I could think of a lot of things to spend $3000 on, before I’d spend it on a vacation. After the car, if I somehow came into another $3000, I’d probably pay off a (small) portion of my debt. Then I'd buy an even more reliable car (because $3000 doesn't go very far when you're talking about cars). After that I'd consider upgrading my computer. Then I’d buy enough body work to keep me pain-free for a couple of years, without having to argue with the insurance company. Then I’d put some money into savings for the next time I move. I hate moving when I’m broke. I’d go to the dentist, and get my cat his shots for the year, and buy snow tires, and then pay off some more of my debt.

I could go on. On my list of things I could do with $3000, a vacation is several pages down. (A vacation to England does not appear at all.)

It occurred to me then that anyone who would spend an unexpected windfall on a vacation, without even considering other options, probably doesn’t have many unmet needs in their life. And yet the woman's tone made me think she felt deprived, or at least disappointed, that she couldn't afford the trip. I discovered that this is one of my class triggers – when somebody says or implies that they are poor because they can’t afford everything they want.

(A trigger is when something happens and you have an immediate emotional reaction to it – whether anger, fear, shame, feeling “shut down,” or something else – and that reaction is not only about the thing that just happened, but also about the similar things that have happened in the past, to you or to people you identify with, such as your family or social group. In this case I felt angry and unseen, not only because of what this individual said in the moment, but also because I have been in other situations that were similar, where a person assumed everyone in the room had as much access to resources as they did, and were wrong. Some times when that happened I did not know how to respond, or felt I was “less than” the person who had so much. Even though I know better now, this situation reminded me of those, and the same emotions came up – a trigger.)

The vacation itself is not as much of a trigger for me, because I understand that people prioritize differently. Spending limitted resources on travel is a decision I can respect, even though I probably wouldn't do it myself. What really bugged me about this interaction was the woman's assumption that we could empathize about what a hardship it is to forgo international travel. As I sometimes say to my partnered friends who complain when they haven't had sex in a few days, "Honey if I had problems like you have problems, all my problems would be solved."

I can afford what I need, barely. And, because I understand that many people can’t afford even what they need, I don’t get too stressed out about things I merely want. I’m happy to have a car, a computer, and a body that are working well enough. I know that’s a privilege. And I'm learning to feel satisfied with paying off my debt quickly enough, even though I know it will still be with me for a while.

My response to the young woman at the dinner party was not thought-out, but it was honest and, I imagine, unexpected. I hope that by breaking the ordinary pattern of polite conversation, I challenged or at least shook up some of her assumptions about what she was saying. I’m glad for the opportunity to reflect so that next time, I can say something even more useful.

Meanwhile, I’m curious for some feedback. Please use the comments function to tell us 1) what would you do with $3000? and 2) what are some of your class triggers?


Anonymous said...

1) Dental Work and, as I am privileged to have dental insurance that will give me some of that money back, go to a couple of doctors I really ought to (but don't yet need to) see, then cut my hours per week down to 25 so that I have enough time to apply to jobs in my upcoming location.
2) Put it in a CD for 6 or 12 months and continue as though I'd never encountered it, as in 6 months I won't have health insurance and wlil have to pay back my loans, and will likely need it more than now.

Triggers: 1-A particular coworker who complains daily about his being "poor" because his material goods are elsewhere in the country, even though he has enough money to go retrieve them. 2-The same coworker referencing his upper-class parents and anyone else who has a job as "working class."

ElliotManning said...

What I would do with $3000:

I'd be able to afford hormone treatments at that point, so I'd probably get some of those. Or I'd pay for some of my college tuition. Or I'd go to Georgia.

My class triggers:

When some bitchy snob at my school (female or male-gendered) starts flaunting the extreme benefits that the monetary riches they enjoy bring them. If they were more humble about it, it would be easier to deal with. But not when they brag about it like they do.

Davey says ... said...

And, this is why it's important to talk about triggers! For me, the word "bitchy" is a trigger, especially when used to describe anyone besides the person saying it. I think it's a sexist word, and even when used to describe men, draws on sexists stereotypes that say any woman who has a complaint of any kind is "just bitching" & deserves no more attention than a whining dog.
Also, I'm beginning to be more sensitive to the word "snobby". I notice that some people feel intensely triggered by it. I don't, and I haven't stopped using it, but I am thinking hard about what I mean by it and how I can be clear about what I mean. Otherwise, the word just calls on stereotypes of rich people. Although the stereotypes do come from someplace, they are not universally true, and they are counterproductive for building cross-class alliances.

Davey says ... said...

PS hormone treatments are wicked cheaper than that, especially if you get your health insurance to cover the little details like bloodwork.

Dlhoratio said...

If I had $3000 that really came out of nowhere, I'd push myself really hard to not hoard it, and to donate at least half of it to places like Jewcy or the FabAppColl. I have a tendency to want to keep money in the bank for when I "really need it".

Here in Europe, I'm feeling some anxiety over the fact that I can't really make money while I'm here, and so I'm just depleting from my savings all the time. I keep having to tell myself that I *have* the privilege of financial security, and that if there ever is a *real* emergency, my parents *can* help, if not bail me out completely in a number of ways.

Something I would probably do is buy a new/used bike, since mine got stolen last summer, and it's easier to get around with a bike than with just feet.

Alexei said...

An unexpected $3000? In fantasy land, I would either:

1)Go on a trip to Russia with my partner so I can show her all those little places that I loved so much
2)Plan a trip to San Diego so I could join with my family in welcoming the newest member (planned birthdate on 4/11)

In reality, I would probably end up spending it on:
2)Fixing my car
3)Other "day-to-day" related expenses

I have odd class issues. I grew up with a working class/low-middle class income (my father was a minister), but a mother who was determined to provide an upper-middle class lifestyle (she grew up with a lot of money). So I learned great habits- like spending money you don't really have. I've been working hard to break those habits, sometimes at the cost of my own sanity.

In the end, what usually triggers me the hardest is A) other people's assumptions that they "deserve" certain things that most people wouldn't even imagine possible to have for themselves or B) the assumption that the class lifestyle I was raised in is the one I live or identify with now. Not even close.

Thanks for this post- great food for thought!

ElliotManning said...

I thought of something else I'd do if I was given that amount of money: I'd have surgery to correct my weak eye muscle. And then I'd buy a club and turn it into a drag facility. :D Fun!