Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Friends at Both Extremes

Here's a story about a relatively new friend of mine, someone I don't think I've mentioned here before. Let's call her Bella.
Bella is a divorced mom with two teenage kids. She gets child support payments from her ex-husband, but money is tight. She works at least two part time jobs at any given moment, and is always hustling for other little projects. That is what I love about her-- the hustle. She will literally do pretty much any honest job, from bartending to babysitting, to hauling garbage out of someone's basement. Her oldest child obviously picked up on this enterprising attitude, and has already started working, not just for her own pocket money, but realizing that her earnings will help support the household. Things are that tight.

Interestingly, Bella's parents are quite well off. They seem to be a bit oblivious to money matters and don't realize how much of a struggle it is for Bella to make ends meet. And Bella doesn't want to ask for handouts. Their wealth means her kids get nice gifts once in a while, and go to their house in the Hamptons once or twice each summer, but Bella isn't yet desperate enough to ask them for cash support, even though they've given big handouts to her siblings in the past.

Switch gears for a minute, to a dinner I had recently with another friend, who's met Bella many times and known her for years, though they aren't close. This friend, who I'll call Henri, is very successfully self-employed. Though he was worried that the economic downturn could put him in the position of having to lay off some of his small staff, he's actually landed some great deals recently and his business seems to be booming. He mentioned that he needed to hire a new bookkeeper and someone immediately mentioned Bella. Bookkeeping turned out to be among her many past jobs, so it seemed perfect. Since Henri and Bella don't talk that often, someone else said they'd tell her about it and have her call him, and then asked "how much is the pay?" Henri answered "$90,000 plus bonus."

At that point, my jaw dropped, and I wondered if I should apply for the job myself! I make slightly more than that now, but given the kind of growth Henri's business has been having, I wondered if it would be worth riding his coattails! (And hey, I like counting money! And I even worked for a bookkeeper when I was about 13.) In reality, I'm not sure I want to be a bookkeeper-- I think I was just shocked to realize how truly successful he must be if he can employ a whole group of people, many of whom are probably equally (or more) well-paid. I heard later that Bella was also a bit shocked-- when she was told about the job and the potential salary, she seems to have gone into a sort of reverie, saying "$90,000? Do you know how much that would change my life right now? $90,000....."

I would like to say that this story had a happy ending in which Bella and Henri were an employer/employee match made in heaven. But alas, Henri's other bookkeeper might not be leaving after all. And Bella would have a hard time doing the commute into the city for a full-time job-- her kids are at a tricky age to have to fend for themselves in a suburb without good public transportation. And who knows, maybe there was some awkwardness there? It can be weird to mix friendship and business, especially when there is such a disparity in circumstances. Bella is probably my poorest friend right now, and Henri is probably the wealthiest. It's strange-- but they both give me a lot to think about for this blog!


Anonymous said...

What happened to your other unemployed guy friend? I would say that he's probably your poorest (out of those you have mentioned).
Too bad Bella couldn't take that job. It would have been life-changing.

Melanie said...

It's amazing how people look at money differently depending on their situation. What is does show is that everyone has issue with money - they are just different ones - great story
Good luck to Bella and Henri

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that since you make than $90K now you didn't try to pursue the job at Bella's expense.

On another note, she sounds like she's doing the best she can, but no one should expect cash handouts from parents; the fact that her siblings got some is irrelevant. Mom and dad are not responsible for supporting grown children. So bravo for Bella for not asking for any!

Madame X said...

@ Tasha, my other friend is Mortimer. Though he has also been pretty strapped at various points, he doesn't have kids and still spends money on things that he doesn't have to. Bella makes less than Mortimer usually does, and seems to have cut her budget to the bone. Mortimer is still theoretically unemployed but managing to get some cash-under-the-table work.

@anon 10:40, I most certainly wouldn't have pursued the job if there was any chance Bella would really want it. And she has never "expected" parental help-- she believes in independence and that is why she has resisted asking. But with kids to support, I think it's harder, as it becomes a question of trying to meet their needs more than just her own...
It's frustrating for me to see her in this position, knowing how easily her parents could help, and that Bella is so far from being lazy or self-indulgent or spoiled-- her parents didn't really have as much money until after she was grown up, so she wasn't raised expecting to have to have a certain lifestyle.

Patch. said...

I think that Bella should ask her parents for help. I'm shocked that she would prefer to let her child shoulder financial responsibility than ask her parents for a loan or assistance. Good for her for helping herself, but when there are children involved, it's not a selfish or immature act to ask for help. I'd go bankrupt before I accepted financial help from my parents, but I only have myself to worry about, not a family.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's a very good thing that Bella's daughter is helping out her Mom financially. The lessons that she learns at her young age will help her as an adult.

I have a friend whose husband died and who took the view that her child was not going to want for anything that children with two parents could get. My friend has had more and more trouble making ends meet over the years, while her child has turned into a bit of a spoiled brat, not helping Mom in any way!

In my mind, Bella is raising a great daughter!

Anonymous said...

hi Madam X,

Did you see this WSJ article about scrip and the history of i.o.u's???


Anonymous said...

I completely understand Bella not asking her parents. I would have a hard time with that too even though my parents have offered on many occasions. It's just sad to me that they live in their own little world and don't see what chaos their daughter lives in.

I was so hoping for the happy ending. I'm a divorced my with a 5 year old and money is tight here too. I'm doing everything I can to make extra money and pay down bills and keep afloat. I hope Bella finds her opportunity soon!

@networthcanada.org said...

I read once that you are the average of your friends. At least in my life, when I sit down and think about it, there are always people that are better and worse off than you are in your circle of friends, and you tend to fall somewhere in the middle.

Anonymous said...

The "Erica Smith" post reply is SPAM. I got it on my own site and i've also seen it elsewhere.

Ashie said...

I wonder if Bella could brush up her book-keeping skills and focus on trying to get bk job? Those pay really highly here in Oz, dunno about NY. This is a nice story, hope things work out for both of them. I understand how hard it is to take money from your parents too.