Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What kind of spoon were you born with?

In other words, were you born on third base or did you really hit a home run?
Another personal finance blogger posted a response to a reader who asked if he'd gotten money from his parents or other gifts/inheritance.
This reminded me of an issue that I'd been planning to write about, as part of the larger topics of class and class mobility, and family attitudes towards money. If we're all going to be musing about money, we should acknowledge that there's more to it than how much we make and how much we have or owe. We may live in the land of "equal opportunity", but as this New York Times series of articles and many other sources have pointed out, some of us have an easier time taking advantage of these opportunities. This can mean anything from being born with a huge trust fund, to having parents pay for part of college, to starting one's adult life with a houseful of wedding gifts, and anything in between. On the other hand, some people are held back by having to provide financial support to parents, having to work instead of getting a summer internship, having to attend an overcrowded public school...

So I'll provide a bit more background about how I got to where I am today, and I hope other bloggers will do the same.

My family is middle-class to upper-middle class, depending on how you define it. My father was making about $50,000 in the mid-1980s, (when I was filling out college financial aid forms!) and probably never made more than about $75,000 a year. He was in the 2nd generation of his family to be college educated-- most of them were teachers, a couple were lawyers, and several went to Ivy League schools. My mother graduated from high school but was in the first generation of her family to do so. (Her grandmother was illiterate.)
I went to public schools in a fairly upscale suburb where I always felt that I did not have a lot of things that other kids had--clothes, cars, video games, toys, Disney Land, etc. We never took vacations, though I sometimes went to day camp, and was often taken to concerts, the ballet, and museums. When I was around 10, I had an allowance of 25 cents a week, plus an extra 25 cents that was added to a fund my father kept track of, which I was only allowed to spend on books.
My first real job, other than raking leaves and babysitting, was the summer after I graduated from high school, working in a clothing store.
I went to an Ivy League college, which my father mostly paid for. I had about $10,000 in student loans when I graduated. I worked (waitressing) throughout the school year (except for freshman year) and during summers. A year after graduating, I was unemployed for 2 months, during which time my father lent me some money to help pay my student loans. I also ran up a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt at that time, and lived with my parents for about a year and a half. After I found a job, I paid him back, and eventually moved into my own apartment and have been financially independent ever since. I have never received a gift worth more than $300 from anyone.
My parents are now separated-- I sometimes have to lend/give money to my mother but not in huge amounts.
That's basically it-- I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I know I at least had a spoon! I'm grateful for what I've been given and proud of what I've built up from there.

12 comments:

GrooveSocks said...

Great blog! I can't get enough of it! Now if I could only get my girlfriend to be as cost conscious as you are! Hpmgfr!

Madame X said...

Thanks!
and remember, the couple that reads My Open Wallet together stays together!

Jonathan said...

Thanks for sharing. Yep, you gotta take whatever spoon you get and run with it.

Anonymous said...

I just posted a comment under your DIY or PAY entry and forgot to sign my name. Just so you know, same person.

My parents had nothing. Both came from middle to upper class families (like you) but when they immigrated to Canada (I live in NYC) they had to work work work. Eventually they did pretty well but not after buckets of blood and sweat.

They provided us with everything we needed but not spoiling us with anything we wanted. We were raised like we didn't have money. We were only spoiled when it came to books and food ... But if you want the truth, I spend a few grand on books alone each year. I cook but do eat out.

I have many friends who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. When we were younger I watched them go on vacations every summer, spend hundreds on clothing each fall and redecorate their rooms every year. We all went to university, graduated and entered the real world. Of all of us, I'm the only one that lives in NYC comfortably and can go to Bali on my own dime.

The funny thing is we all hate our jobs. Everyone would love to quit and I'm going to when my contract's up. But I'm lucky because when I do quit I don't have to worry about money.

I'll be eternally grateful that I wasn't born with a silver spoon. Sure my friends will inherit a lot but even if you inherit a trillion dollars, it's just pennies if you don't manage it.

Anonymous said...

You state that you have never received a gift over $300 from anyone. But your dad payed most of your way through an Ivy League college, sounds like more than $300 to me!

Anonymous said...

A different Anonymous to Anonymous - she stated that her father *lent* her money to pay for school, which she stated she later paid back. Loans do not equal gifts. Don't you ever watch Judge Judy? ;)

Madame X said...

To the two previous anonymouses: my father lent me money after school, not for school. I paid some of my own college expenses, but the bulk of them were definitely paid for by my dad. I was considering college costs as a whole separate area, different from "gifts" but yes, you could argue that it was the best and largest gift of all!

Marcus said...

At some point in life I guess we all need a hand. As long as you eventually learn to stand on your own two feet and understand the importance of living wise financially, you will already be ahead of the game. My mom was single with five young boys and no one wanted to give us a hand. We ended up in a homelss shelter very early on and so I'm proud of where I am today. Check out my blog http://pocketwatchers.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

That little bit of help (dad paying for college, while you paid him back interest-free), the help when you were unemployed... All of those things are what I didn't have at all, and it makes a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

Yes college loans have tied me down for years. I had to choose a lower-status job that provided overtime and it completely derailed my career for a few years because I had $500 a month payments. :(

I also never received a loan from my mom (widowed) or any money. She paid my $380 rent in college for about 8 months and she had to work seven days a week to do it, which I still feel terrible about. I have given her back this money over time.

I think having college paid for and any small loans are HUMONGOUS gifts and put you way ahead of your peers. Instead of putting $500 into my 401k every month I am putting it towards my loans.

Anonymous said...

I think what I really need to do is find a job that pays as well as yours does. So what is it? I'm a college grad and am making 42K/year at age 49. My net worth isn't going to grow too much at that rate.

Anonymous said...

I think 99% of the population would say having an IVY LEAGUE education paid for is being born with a solid gold spoon...