Money and Me

courtesy wearethe99percent

The website, We are the Ninety Nine Percent (brought to you by the people who occupy Wall Street), features pictures of people struggling in this economy holding a hand written note like this one.  I’ve been stopping by to read them for a few days and my first reaction is argumentative (You are the 99% of what?  You have a future.  What that future will be depends in part on your skill set and willingness to work.  There is no deserve … this is life.). I wonder exactly what they want.  If the 1% had less money, do they think they would have more?  Instead of arguing, though, I’ve been thinking about my attitudes toward money.

When I was born, my father was in the Army.  My mother and I lived with her parents until the war was over, after which we moved into a drafty converted military barracks in New Haven Connecticut.  By working two jobs as tool and die maker, my Dad was able to make enough money to move us into small house in what I would call the lower-middle class town of East Haven where I lived until I graduated from college.   We didn’t have a lot of money … my friends always had more expensive clothes and some of them had cars … but we ate well and never felt poor.  My Mom liked to take rides out Ridge Road in Hamden and look at the rich people’s houses but she didn’t seem to have a drop of envy in her.   My Dad seemed OK with it but would have a nasty comment if someone pulled out in front of him in a Lincoln or Cadillac.   Thinks he’s a big shot, he’d probably say.  What bothered my Mom was when people who weren’t rich over spent on luxuries only to scrimp on food, clothing and health care for the kids, not people having money.

Engineering school taught me to be a perfect corporate employee and I had a $660/month job waiting when I graduated.   Muri accepted a position as a social worker.   It was a time when just about anyone graduating from college could find a job.  I was lucky, I know that.  Even a few years later there were times when graduating engineers couldn’t find jobs.  Muri and I had more money than we’d ever had in our lives … my Mom would tell me we looked prosperous, which probably bugged my Dad.  Although I was a mediocre undergraduate student, I was very good at engineering and got some very nice raises … once I knew what all that science was good for, I became a very good graduate student, earning a Masters and a PhD.  The additional degrees brought me additional raises and promotions.  We weren’t rich but we were definitely upper middle class.  We had a nice house, nice cars and an enjoyable life style.   When I retired from the corporate world, I stared a consulting firm and for about six years, we made more money than I’d ever dreamed about.   We took very nice trips, bought a new house and a second one near my grandkids.   We spent too much during that period and saved too little.

Now we’re mostly retired.  Our assets are in IRAs that we rolled over from my 401Ks and in our house here in California … the house in Arizona is way under water.   We are very fortunate compared to many I know but we have to keep an eye on our expenses just in case we live to be 90 and at some point we’ll have to sell our house to get at the equity.  The ups and downs of Wall Street give us the jitters even though we’re not part of the 1% that seems to be the Occupy Wall Street folks’ obsession.  I’ve worked hard for what I have, educating myself to get ahead, changing jobs strategically to get raises and working with integrity at each job.  I was fortunate to weather a number of recessions but my good fortune was assisted by the fact that I always made myself valuable to my employer.   I made mistakes … starting a 401K earlier or saving more during our best years could have eliminated some retirement jitters.   I’d likely still be working if it weren’t for this recession.  Yes, I’ve been lucky, too, but I owe nothing to the worried young lady at the top of this post.

When I hear of an athlete with five Bentleys or a CEO with a $10M bonus as I drive by a homeless man, I have a redistribution-of-wealth moment.  Then I regain my senses and wonder why we can’t be a more philanthropic species.  My mother used to say she’d be a very good rich person because she’d help people.  Muri and I try to do our part through charities.  There are in fact many philanthropic rich people out there who get too little notice in the rush to vilify the 1%.   I also know that many people would drive through my neighborhood and wonder, What do these people do?   They might even be envious or think they deserve what we have.   Within an hour, I can reach numerous beachfront neighborhoods where I say, What do these people do? but I’m OK with it, like my Mom was, not that I wouldn’t like their view.  I don’t think what they have has much to do with what I have.  I suppose it’s easy to be egalitarian from where I sit.

Where do you sit?

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3 Comments on “Money and Me”

  1. Amy Says:

    I can see your point because my husband has a PhD in Sciences and has been a professor in Wind Engineering, I’m still working, and both my daughter and her husband are Electric Engineers.

    I’m afraid that our youngsters may not have the luck as we have had even they work hard. We did not have hundreds of thousands of greedy executives in businesses and banking, the government did not borrow billion of dollars to bailout banks, and information was not ubiquitous as today; not to mention global competitions and the trillion deficit (and it’s growing).

    And, they may not be so hopeful as we were because the country is mortgaging their future. Sadly to say, educators and parents have not taken their responsibility to teach youngsters the knowledge they need and skills they must have in the new era. Instead, we keep telling kids how smart they are simply because they can use some techy gadgets…

  2. marjulo Says:

    I like what Amy wrote. That’s my concern as well. My dismay with our times comes from concern for my children and grandchildren. I spent all day thinking about this post, not knowing what to say exactly.

    My younger daughter, Jennifer, is a vice-president of Mercy Housing, working on property investment and funding. She was a “first responder” in Joplin, where their low-income housing for seniors was damaged in the tornado. She travels all over the country, visiting housing and looking for appropriate properties to develop.

    She is a member of Leadership Denver and presented a program last spring for other youngish business, education and non-profit members. A resident of one of the local Mercy Housing properties spoke about the experiences that put her in one of the apartments. She had bachelor’s and master’s degrees and held a responsible job until she became incapacitated by mental illness. She eventually lost her responsible job, her health insurance and her house. She was living in her car when finally the opportunity to live in Mercy’s low-income housing put a roof over her head and helped her find employment and restore her self-esteem. One young hot shot spoke to Jennifer afterwards, complaining that an educated woman couldn’t pull herself together. My daughter pointed out that she had no one to turn to, no family that could help her, yet she wanted to get on her feet. Should people like that be abandoned, when a helpful hand and mercy could make a difference.

    This video featuring the Chicago Mercy Housing group gives you an idea of what it is all about.

    This is my two cents worth.

  3. Margie Says:

    You have done a very good job of summing up your view. My husband and I have gone from owning absolutely nothing, to an adequate financial position in retirement because we spent the 42 years of our marriage saving money, paying off our credit cards at the end of each month, paying off our mortgage as quickly as possible – in other words, living within our means.

    Do we in this country have a distribution of wealth problem? Of course we do, but the solution to that comes from the buying choices that we all make. Right now, society is willing to create millionaires in the various computer industries. They are willing to support pro athletes and entertainers who are quite happy to live a lifestyle most of us will never know.

    If the 99% want more of what the 1% has, then the 99% has to be a lot smarter with how they spend their money. The concepts are not hard, but it doesn’t work if a person is unwilling to give up instant gratification!

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