Jan 6, 2012  •  In Finance, Personal

More Thoughts on Money, and Small Steps Forward

As stated in an earlier post, 2011 was not the best year — financially — for my family.

This does not only apply to my parents. While J and I are by no means poor, we have been on a very tight budget. Yes, we were able to hire a part-time nanny for a few months. Yes, we are able to dine out once in a while. But these luxuries do not come easily, as we have made numerous sacrifices to achieve them (e.g., not purchasing clothes for ourselves for the entire year).

And as much as it pains me to not be able to afford toddler classes for Claire, or not be able to immediately afford a new couch despite the fact that our current one literally has springs popping out (thankfully, the springs are coming out of the bottom of the couch so they do not pose a safety threat), I know that we are the lucky few. I have family members who are about to get kicked out of their home. I have close friends who are struggling with unemployment, mounting bills, and have even contemplated drastic measures like suicide.

Because if you are reading this on your own computer — or even on a computer at work — you are probably wealthier than 90% of the world.

Even now, I feel silly writing out our problems when there are people starving out there.

I guess this is one of the biggest reasons I stopped spending so much time on Facebook in the past year. Yes, I still log in to upload pictures to share with my family, and to keep up this blog’s Facebook page. But I don’t like to hang around much because so many people’s problems seem so petty (#firstworldproblems much?), or the pictures from luxurious vacations and/or frivolous purchases depress me when so many of my loved ones are in financial pain.


(image source)

It is no secret that in our current economic climate, the rich keep getting richer while the poor grow poorer…with the middle class dwindling in numbers. J and I are very fortunate that we are able to remain in the middle class, but with the costs of living rising far quicker than our income, we can’t help but feel strained and a bit resentful at times.

Then we come across pieces like this, where those with $700k incomes feel “poor,” or this, where a high-end designer chooses to defile their pieces before throwing them out so that the less fortunate can’t wear them, and I can’t help but feel even more depressed. Not because I am envious and wish for more money and a better lifestyle, but because I want to scream, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE??!!!

I remember joking to J a couple of months ago that this current worldwide situation of the widening gap between the upper and lower classes is what will eventually lead to World War III. And as much as I said it in a lighthearted manner, I couldn’t help but think that there may be some truth to the statement. Perhaps not a war, but some sort of revolution.

Think about it: throughout recorded history, the widening gap between the rich and the poor have almost always led to big changes. The fall of the Roman Empire. The French Revolution. The Bolshevik Revolution.

I am a bit scared for the world that my girls will be raised in, to be honest.

But there is no use just whining and complaining about it. I have decided that while I cannot control the actions of others, I can at least take some small steps toward helping those in need. As such, I have signed up to be a volunteer at a homeless shelter via my church. I have also decided to donate a percentage of my blog earnings every month. (I wish I could do more and give more, but it’s admittedly difficult with two babies and our own mounting bills.)

How do, or how will, you help?

18 Responses to “More Thoughts on Money, and Small Steps Forward”

  1. “I am a bit scared for the world that my girls will be raised in, to be honest.” So am I. I think we, as parents, just need to do the best we can do for our children. We can offer them the best life we can afford and hope they see a bright future ahead of them.

  2. I think about this a lot, particularly when I am in zambia like I am now. I feel really fortunate to have all that we have — jobs, a car, and a house which would have been completely out of reach if not for my parents.

    We haven’t been super great about giving back beyond the arenas of our work. Right now we contribute a few things to the food back every week. I know we’ve both talked about doing more. I’ve actually had an application to volunteer at the food bank saved on my desktop for a few weeks. Maybe it’s time I sent it.

  3. It’s great you’re trying to do your part.

    I wouldn’t worry about not putting Claire in toddler classes. There’s plenty you can do for free!

    Check out your local libraries- many have story times, sing-a-longs/music time, free play and other activities that are free. Also, check out MeetUp.com- my daughter has been to Gymboree and other places for free thanks to events organized by MeetUp groups. Also, Groupon and Living Social and those kinds of sites routinely offer all kids of kids classes at deep discounts- that may put it within your budget.

    We’ve yet to enroll our almost 2 year old in any formal classes, but thanks to our local libraries and MeetUp.com she participates in several organized activities every week- for free!

    (PS- the library might also be good, because they don’t frown on younger siblings being present where some of those classes might restrict, or make you pay)

    • Thanks for the suggestions. Our city, unfortunately, is severely underfunded and the local library is TINY and does not hold such programs. As for meetups with other moms, I have checked them out but they are too far, or inconvenient (having to go into the city on a bus, or pay a $20/hr parking fee) as our own neighborhood is predominantly composed of immigrants whose language I do not speak. We definitely did not think of kids when we moved here, and that is why we will be moving out within the next couple of years.

      • (I should add that while it is completely possible to bring Claire on the bus, it has become very difficult since she has become a toddler because she just hates being in a car. Also my reasoning for not wanting to drive long distances with her, because she will cry and cry in the back seat.)

  4. Honestly the only things kids need is food, shelter and a lot of love. I’ve even forgotten that these last few weeks when our bills started rolling in and we had chosen for me to stay home. It’s crazy how my tiny take home (less than 2k a month) made such a difference! I’m now thinking of ways that I can supplement our income that doesn’t involve me going back to work/

  5. Such a great post as always… I am high-fiving you in agreement on all of this… especially the obnoxious facebookers and the worry about the world our kids will grow up in : / Though every generation of parents says that right?

    I am 10000% guilty of whining about stupid things, but I am always at least *aware* that they are First World Problems and that I’m being a brat. (I think the problem arises from people who are truly oblivious to their own obnoxiousness.) From there, I can catch myself and reframe my thinking. Like when our house flooded a few hours before we needed to drive 3 states away for Thanksgiving, I stepped back from my OH MY GOD WHY ME SOB SOB SOB mentality and reminded myself that the flood was from the shower I had in my house, that gave me fresh and clean water to enjoy whenever I wanted, that I could even *adjust the temperature of for my comfort.* I didn’t feel bad for myself anymore!

    Ugh, we need to be better about giving too. We have an “adopted” kid, give whenever our friends do walks and stuff, but should do way more. Thanks for the inspiration to get on that!! : )

  6. Di:

    I don’t know if I want children still, but it scares me shitless to think about bringing them into the world right now. I personally feel like some ultrawealthy people (I do not want this to sound like I demonize wealthy people, but I dislike people who use their wealth to buy government they want) have such influence over the country at this point that the class gap will continue to grow until something happens. I hope that’s not so, but it’s what seems most likely to me.

    • I used to be really scared about bringing children into this world too, not only because of this issue, but others such as global warming, the declination of natural resources, etc. But you know what? Having children changes that because children give you SO much hope. This is one thing that really have changed me for the better since becoming a mother — having more hope for the future. (It may not seem like it all the time through this blog, but it’s true! :-) )

    • I decided a long time ago if I ever had a significant amount of money to donate, I’d give it to someone who worked with children. The stories of child abuse, hunger, illness, and poverty break my heart. So I donate as much as I can to the food bank and my children’s school.

      After a particularly bad bout of depression, I decided the most effective way I could help (because I have no money and no influence) was to make sure my kids were happy and healthy and didn’t want for anything. Sometimes that makes me feel a little callous, but I’m doing the best that I can.

  7. Amy showed me the UrbanBaby thread. It’s disgusting. Even within our own circles, those more fortunate never think that they have enough money. Like some of my friends who made 15k-50k bonuses during Christmas and complain about the amount of taxes deducted from their bonuses. Even with raising a family, our generation thinks that we need like a household income of 500k when we were raised just fine on much much less.

  8. Ironically, whenever I see this conversation brought up, it’s always among people who are truly in the upper tier of earning but who think they’re middle class. [personal note: It’s a policy/political identity issue that I take particular pain in trying to fix, because you won’t seek the proper avenues to remedy public policy if you classify yourself as a member of a different group.]

    The true middle class, the middle fifth of income earners made $38,048- $61,735 in 2010. The upper middle class made just up to $100,065. Therefore, you’re in the highest 20% of earners if you make over $100,065/year… or technically “wealthy.” And like you, I’ve found very few of my friends who share this classification with me who would consider themselves as such, despite that their individual salaries exceed what the definition of a wealthy FAMILY should make.

    We all choose our social circles and what values we choose to surround ourselves with. If you don’t want to deal with the Joneses, don’t approve of their lifestyle by being their friends. We left LA to leave behind the silly new car competitions and image styling and we haven’t missed that part one bit.

    • I agree with you. I’ve seen that it’s easy to put yourself into a bracket based on the way you feel relative to your surroundings. I used the WSJ percentile calculator to figure out mine: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/10/19/what-percent-are-you/. I have more, much more than I need to live (even live abundantly). I feel poor when comparing myself to people who have two bedroom apartments in my neighborhood (SF) or sail boats or whatever. But I can’t compare myself to the ultra wealthy – I have to compare myself to those living without the basic necessities to get a firm grip on perspective. It’s that comparison that motivates me to be a giver and an active participant in the community.

      • I agree with both of you that it’s not always the best to put yourself into a bracket based on your neighbors. But I can see the other side of the argument too, that it’s not easy to disassociate yourself from your community and friends and family, especially since they are the ones you interact with the most.

        I live in an area where the disparity between the rich and poor is one of the greatest in America, so I have friends and family who are on both ends. Like Sunny said above, we know people who earn $200k/year who still don’t think it’s enough, as well as those who are on the brink of bankruptcy and homelessness. Our household income is above the national average, but when you compare it to where we live, we are above the mean but below the median (there is a HUGE difference between the two in our area) so I’m not sure exactly where that would put us. We know that we are considered middle class where we live, but I guess we would be considered upper middle compared to the rest of the country when you base it solely on income.

        Yes, we could be more comfortable, and I wouldn’t be lying if I were to say that it would be nice to be able to afford a nice vacation this year. But it is true that we are a lot better off than others, and — like you said — only by remembering this can we be more motivated to give and no be so selfish.

  9. The dresses being ruined made me so sad. :( I wish they could have worked with designers to donate to people less fortunate who can’t afford nice dresses.

    Claire and Aerin have great parents who will raise them with tons of love and a giving and grateful environment. I’m proud of you for donating your time at a local shelter!

    We do a lot of donations to charities that mean a lot to us. (Breast cancer, Haiti, Japan and women’s shelters) I was looking into donating my time at a shelter here in Shanghai but I don’t even know how to search for it nor speak the language… yet. So that will require some time and brainstorming.

  10. Very interesting post. I feel concerned about the widening gap between the rich and poor in the US too, especially because all trends suggest it will only grow. I can’t imagine that a society with huge wealth disparities will be a pleasant place to live in, even if you are on the right side of the gap. I hope things will change soon.

    I think your idea of giving back is a great one, and will try to think of what I can do in this regard.

  11. Lena:

    When I read this I couldn’t express my shock when you described perfectly the same reason why I can no longer look at facebook anymore. You always seem to hit my feelings right on the nail. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with these feelings. I make a living, enough to cover the NYC rent and the necessities, so there are plenty of people much worse off but I haven’t been on a vacation since I was in grade school so watching all my friends who still live with their parents flaunt their extravagant meals and vacation really hurts sometimes. It meant a great deal to me to when I read this post, to know that someone else understands thanks for sharing your experiences and opinions!

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