"But at the end of the day, it’s like the difference between going to Dracula’s house empty-handed as opposed to arriving armed with a box of holy water and stakes."

I love this, and I'm stealing it and filing the serial numbers off.

I don't have the financial problems you reference to use it for, but it's a great metaphor for "this is bad, but we can make it less bad." Goes to show that the time you've put in over the years working on your writing has paid off in terms of skills, even if not directly as a job.

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* My roommate is essentially destitute (although because she lives with me she doesn't feel it as much as she otherwise would) and it causes a real disconnect I have to be careful of when we talk. For example, she will celebrate or lament the cost of a particular kind of apple at a particular store. I know apples are cheap relative to anything else I buy/eat, so I don't know or care what they cost, generally speaking. (I mean, I know they are between $1 and $3 or so per pound. I don't think a banana costs $10.) Multiply by 1000 examples.

* When we were just coming out of being poor after college, my BFF bought a treadmill for her apartment. She spent some time fretting about how she would move this when she moved out, and then she realized that she would simply pay movers and they would take care of it. "Problems that can be solved with money are not real problems!" we marveled.

* Even though I guess you could say I "worked my way up" to my current income level, it has never not felt like a fluke. If I lost my job tomorrow, it wouldn't surprise me if my next job paid half as much.

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Excellent essay. The tire example in particular really struck home with me. I remember having that problem during my first job out of college, trying to figure out how to patch the damned thing so I didn't have to replace all four tires a few weeks before I could afford to do so, after rent etc. I am still a little pissy about the import restrictions on tires largely because of that, despite not having to worry about that sort of expense so much anymore.

And yea, the money just disappears if you are not really careful with it. I am lucky that my wife is very cheap, but she definitely does spend money in a lot of subtle ways even still. I am probably worse. At the moment my stress is wanting to move to a lower cost of living area because I know that if I leave my job and take a lower paying but less obnoxious one money is going to be very tight. The cost of living difference being near a city and being in rural areas is really shocking.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

I've been out of the pit for decades yet I will never forget what it's like. I bought tires not long ago and thought about what it was like when I used to go to the junk yard and take them off cars myself and pay for them. I worked my way out of the pit and will never, for one day, forget. If you are still in the pit keep digging your way out and good luck to you.

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Perhaps the same mental shift happens when one goes from labor to management? I've always worked jobs where I knew I was valuable and made good money, but there was a definite change in attitudes and expectations once I got into a supervisory role.

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Before getting to this part of your article:

"When poor, I once spent about a week contemplating the impact of buying a jar of protein powder before pulling the trigger on this ostentatious luxury item"

... I thought to myself, I hope RC is buying more protein with his extra cash, since he's (ostensibly) trying to get into shape....it looks like you already had that priority.

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This resonates. My family made the transition you are describing when I was a child, and more gradually than you, via the now old-fashioned technique of getting a union job and holding on to it for decades, accumulating seniority. It's unlikely I was aware of half the issues my parents dealt with, but I remember enough of them to know how well off I am, and how much better things were for them by the time we were teenagers.

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"Consider that the average person has never done an oil change themselves, much less fixed a car problem with their own hands. I was watching a show the other day where someone knew how to change a tire and everyone else was amazed. These are real people that exist."

This comes off as a value judgment about people, but I think it's just illuminating the fact that on average, people value time over money (in the sense they are willing to trade the money to not have to spend the time). They just need to have the money to be able to trade it for the time, at which point the preference reveals itself.

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I’ve been curious what the job was that you got - started reading with the original article you are riffing on and was always curious. Glad to hear you are doing well and yes mo money no problems was not far off, yet wildly overstated at the same time.

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Thanks for this - a lot of it really hit home as I've wobbled back and forth across 'the line' several times in my working life, rarely doing much better than 'OK' but doing OK now.

Knowing my budget will allow for new tires on the pickup between now and when winter starts (not that far off now, here in northern MN) is a stressor nice to not have.

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Yeah it's weird, I grew up super duper wealthy and then when I went to college and had to pay my way through things I barely noticed. My expenses were roughly

Rent+Utiltiies (Power/Internet/Water/heat) - $1k /month (This was the bay area and I was living with 3 other people in a 4 bedroom house)

Food+some kitchen supplies- $150

Transportation- $100 (busses/trains mostly+my bike repair)

misc (repairs, books) - $200

Health insurance - $250

Dental Care (amortized) - $50

Savings - $200 (though tuition ends up eating 80% of that)

So being single is obviously a lot cheaper than raising a family of 4, I figure that "living comfortably" requires a post tax income of 20k/person you live with. But the lifestyle of an omega rich person who finds themselves temporarily "poor" (20k /year expenses is definitely not living small) and a person on 35k/year with a family of 4 are basically existing in different universes.

I personally felt no notable change to lifestyle entering college, and felt like I was still living like a multi-millionaire.

Sadly there aren't many stories about riches to rags, what do lives of Museum curators look like? I often found that the people at my university who grew up poor had completely different spending habits than myself.

Going from poor>rich you find yourself rapidly changing lifestyle in a large number of small subtle ways which massively inflate spending. It's surprisingly hard to notice unless you know what to look for.

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I actually really enjoyed reading this. I'm in the UK. Money is a little different here, but the essence is the same.

My mother raised 5 of us mostly alone (she married our father twice over the years), and welfare was our biggest income.

Having my own business as a teenager took me to London... where for a few years I scraped by, but generally in bars spending my income. Kindness of strangers played a big part.

Then suddenly I found myself earning an bizarrely high income. Each year I paid more in taxes than my mother ever received from the state over the entire term.

Now, things have cooled. But I don't feel the same stress any longer. I know HOW to make money now. But, I also, don't NEED to make that now.

I was widowed, which may have changed my goals. But, I know that what I have should keep me in good stead. I've never been flashy with materialistic things... always enjoyed a good meal. But. I can happily enjoy a slower pace.

For me now, it's primarily about avoiding all the stress of life.

Thanks for your story.


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After reading this, I can't tell if I'm middle class or poor.... and that makes sense, I guess , since my income is pretty much in the middle of your various hypotheticals.

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Aug 4, 2022Liked by Resident Contrarian

"Middle-class-or-better people don’t like to talk about money, something that always confused me when I was broke. Poor people talk about money constantly; since mine was the more embarrassing situation, why should I be the one who was comfortable if they weren’t?"

This is kind of like being effortlessly thin during a discussion of obesity. Of course, in either instance, there are plenty of people who aren't uncomfortable talking about it.

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This is a great article, spot on.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

As someone who went from "too broke to qualify for cheap healthcare and food stamps" to rich-ish, this article is very relatable. (Though I was still privileged in many ways when I was broke. At least I was single and didn't have to raise a family.)

It's been a full 5 years since I had financial worries, and I've finally starting to feel rich-ish. But wow did it take a while before I was willing to do "rich people" things. Like throwing away potentially moldy food instead of risking it, or buying the fancy $6 cookie box because I really want to try them, or buying a $300 robot vacuum that prevents me from having excruciating back pain every time I have to vacuum the house.

My husband had to berate me to go to doctors. I was used to avoiding doctor visits. "What hasn't killed you probably won't kill you. Doctors are expensive, so just live with it," and all that. (Except the dentist. I have never slacked on going to the dentist because that way lies root canals.) I spent a truly ridiculous amount of money on physical therapy last year. It still makes me cringe when I think of it. And yet, I'm not in pain anymore, for the first time in years. Whether it was worth the cost is debatable, but I'm still amazed by the fact that I was able to throw money at my chronic pain and make it go away!

Honestly, the weirdest part for me has been the "time is money" claim. I used to think this was obvious bullshit. Money was money, and my money was more limited than my time, so OF COURSE the right choice was to do time-consuming tasks that saved money. This included things like coupon-clipping, driving further to save money on groceries, and spending 4 hours to list things on ebay and make 30 bucks. Now that I have a highly paid engineering job, I suddenly find myself with more than enough money to buy (or do) almost anything I want, but not enough time. I'm currently considering hiring a weekly cleaning service because I despise cleaning. I'm very inefficient at it too; 2-3 times slower than my husband, and probably 5 times slower than a professional. The thought of paying someone a couple hundred dollars to free up my weekend is honestly starting to sound like a good trade. That is not a level of rich I ever thought I would be. It's crazy!

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