Money and class

Let’s talk about class a few minutes. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot for over a month, except I keep pushing it aside because of other more pressing issues, like you know, death, and stuff.

Some of you may know that when my grandparents died (my grandmother in 2006, my grandfather in 2001) I was one of nine people who inhereited some money. The estate was just settled around Passover of this year, so I was suddenly handed a rather large share of the money.

Now, I have always felt very conflicted about class identification and class privilege. On the one hand, I recognize that my family has had some of the privileges of money, like being able to afford to go to college. That is due entirely to my grandparents, who paid the down payment for my parents’ home, helped pay for undergraduate college, and who in their deaths paid for my graduate school the down payment for my home.

On the other hand, my immediate family did not have a lot of money growing up. My mother was the only breadwinner for most of my life, and she was a university professor. While this now makes her decent income, as a full professor with thirty years experience, it didn’t always. I remember shopping at Goodwill as a child, when it was embarrassing to shop there. (As opposed to now, when I shop there because I can find funky things). My father went to work at a private school for a few years (he didn’t have a teaching certificate, so he couldn’t teach in a public school) because my parents needed the money to send me to college. He quit the year after I graduated, to return to his primary occupation of writing.

In addition, I grew up in San Antonio. One of the things I didn’t realize until I left San Antonio is that it is a very poor city, and the whole economic ladder is shifted. I would describe myself as middle class, but middle class in San Antonio is a lot more like lower middle class in any other city. Yet class is not only about how much money you have, it’s also about attitudes and values. And being a child from an academic household is a solidly middle class perspective to have.

So, I inhereited this sum of money, and I’ve felt paralyzed by it. I’ve actually been dreading getting it. I mean, obviously not entirely – I was able to take it, deposit into our checking account, and pay my parents back for the loan they gave us for our down payment – my mother got her inhereitance before the cousins did, because ours was tied up in Miami real estate.

But there’s still some money left. And I feel guilty for having it. It feels like it doesn’t belong to me. It’s like I’m afraid I’m going to become some sort of person I don’t want to become, if I acknowledge I have it.

And then I feel like an fucking douchebag for complaining about this. There are real problems in the world, this is not one of them. I am grateful, I am privileged, I am lucky, and I just need to shut the fuck up about it already, right?

Advertisements

~ by realsupergirl on May 11, 2007.

28 Responses to “Money and class”

  1. You shouldn’t feel guilty for having it. When my grandmother died she left enough to pay off my student loans and while I feel lucky, I’d pay off my own student loans if it meant I could have my grandma back a little longer. If you don’t need it or don’t want to use it, you could always invest it and make it work toward retirement. I won a sum of money and that’s what I did. I don’t touch it – except for the downpayment on my house – and it stays where it is. That way I feel the things I have were earned.

  2. I don’t mean to be condescending, but would you feel better if you did something “good” with the money, like donating some of it to Planned Parenthood or another cause you believe in? That might not totally assuage your guilt, but you could at least be proud that the money was helping other people.

  3. This is true…and I am actually overdue for my usual payments to causes I believe in. Not sure why it didn’t occur to me to make a larger donation this time. It’s not a bad idea.

    Planned Parenthood or NARAL would also be a good idea, given the current state of our country, and is one my grandparents would totally support.

  4. Yeah…

    I finished grad school in 2001, completely prepared and ready to start making payments on my student loans. My grandfather died, and left his life insurance to my mother, who offered to use it to pay off my loans.

    It was incredibly generous, and I am so grateful, but yeah, I’d take having my grandfather back in a heartbeat.

    On the other hand, knowing how much education mattered to him, using it for that reason would have made him happy.

  5. I also did that when I came into some money and wish I had given more.

    I would also point out that those of us who choose to work in education or non-profits are not raking it in– a conscious choice on my part. I never thought I would be able to buy a house until a relative died and unexpectedly left me a good chunk of money. So, I feel less guilty knowing the good I have done with my working hours and how that is not valued by society at the rate it deserves.

  6. I also did that when I came into some money and wish I had given more.

    I would also point out that those of us who choose to work in education or non-profits are not raking it in– a conscious choice on my part. I never thought I would be able to buy a house until a relative died and unexpectedly left me a good chunk of money. So, I feel less guilty knowing the good I have done with my working hours and how that is not valued by society at the rate it deserves.

  7. Money, in and of itself, is not an inherently evil thing. It’s about the choices you make.

    You did not go out and buy yourself a lavish home and become a perennial student. You acquired shelter for yourself and your spouse, and attained a graduate degree in an area that allows you to go out and help people.

    Having that money will allow you to do work that is good, and necessary, and not be so concerned with the paycheck that comes along with it.

  8. I would suggest putting it into a CD for six months (no more than the FDIC-insured $100,000 per bank) or so and just thinking. I may have more to say on this later, but don’t do anything rash. I’ve known of a few folks who did rash things or things they didn’t understand (like hand almost a million dollars to an unscrupulous “financial planner”) and regretted it. The first rule as always is “don’t panic.” The right decision will seem righter the longer you wait, so there is no hurry to do anything.

  9. I would suggest putting it into a CD for six months (no more than the FDIC-insured $100,000 per bank) or so and just thinking. I may have more to say on this later, but don’t do anything rash. I’ve known of a few folks who did rash things or things they didn’t understand (like hand almost a million dollars to an unscrupulous “financial planner”) and regretted it. The first rule as always is “don’t panic.” The right decision will seem righter the longer you wait, so there is no hurry to do anything.

  10. I did this, too. I donated 10% which was tough at first but I realized that I got to keep the other 90%. It was more than I had before and so what was a little off the top?

  11. I would put it all in a retirement account. That way there is no guilt for using it now, but it could really help in old age. Plus, it is very likely that your long-term financial well being was what she had in mind.

  12. I would put it all in a retirement account. That way there is no guilt for using it now, but it could really help in old age. Plus, it is very likely that your long-term financial well being was what she had in mind.

  13. See, I don’t think class is the right thing to worry about. You don’t get to change class just by getting money. Class is more to do with who you know and what you do, than what you have. It’s true that, in America, money is a powerful determiner of class; but it’s still the case that the choices you make have more to do with it.

    I recommend squashing the guilt. You didn’t earn this money, any more than Bill Gates earned his billions. The US economy rewards lucky people, not good people, not hard-working people. Sometimes good, hard-working people are also lucky; when that happens, it is a good thing. Bill Gates doesn’t feel guilty about having stumbled upon a contract that accidentally made him the richest man in the world. I have no doubt that he is a basically good, hard-working person, but lots of better, harder-working people never get that lucky. You got a little bit of luck (in having wealthy grandparents) which you did not earn. So try to skip the guilt, and cultivate gratitude. Gratitude begets generosity, whereas guilt begets fear.

    Last year, I got to sell some shares of the company I work for, and I made a nice chunk of money. Here’s what I did with my windfall:
    -I gave some of it to charity, almost 10%.
    -I bought a couple things I had wanted for a long time: a new computer, and some art by local artists.
    -I invested the rest of it for my retirement.

    I don’t feel guilty about that: I think of it as taking care of myself so I won’t be a burden on anyone else. I didn’t earn that money any more than you earned yours: I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

  14. One of the things I didn’t realize until I left San Antonio is that it is a very poor city, and the whole economic ladder is shifted. I would describe myself as middle class, but middle class in San Antonio is a lot more like lower middle class in any other city.

    Ditto. I thought we were pretty well off when I was growing up. What I didn’t realise is that the reason my dad chose San Antonio is because his money went a lot farther there. He would have prefered that we live in Las Vegas (and we did for a short time when I was a baby), but it just wasn’t sustainable at the lifestyle level we became accustomed to.

  15. Your grandparents wanted to share their wealth, clearly and it would make them happy if you did with it what you felt was good. I mean, money is a blessing and a burden depending on attitude. Use it to be happy and comfortable, to give to charity, to visit friends overseas 🙂

    Plus, as a homeowner, you should have a chunk of backup (emergency roof/siding/plumbing replacement)funds.

  16. I can definitely identify with your class angst. When I grew up, it was the rare summer weekend that didn’t find me sitting in the car for hours while my mom shopped at garage sales. We’d regularly swing by the neighborhood Goodwill trailer to raid donations left there after hours. My favorite memory is of pouring on-sale bulk granola out of a big yogurt container very, very slowly so I could catch the bugs. (Note for the not-so-observant: “favorite” is used ironically in the previous sentence.)

    So I still find it odd to realize that people are willing to pay me quite a decent amount of money for to do something that I’d do in my own time anyway. It’s certainly nice that I can afford to indulge my gadget obsessions, but having grown up with a quasi-poverty-line lifestyle does occasionally rear its head in odd ways. The first time my bank balance hit five zeroes was when I got a workers’ comp settlement I wasn’t expecting, and it was gone within six months, spent on two cars and rather a lot of pizza. (Of course, I *was* 20 at the time…) I’ve since gotten a bit better about dealing with numbers on that scale, but even so, I’m not to be trusted with major financial decisions. (=

  17. Juliet, you’re on our list!

  18. Why don’t you sit with this money for a while until you have had time to sort out your feelings about having it? It sounds like they are complex — how can you whine about having money when so many people don’t have it, how can you whine about having money when, in order to get it, someone you love had to die?

    To which I would say 1) I think it’s great that you are being so thoughtful about your money. Talking about money and wealth is a huge taboo in our society, so it is very difficult to sort out one’s feelings about it. There’s just not a lot to go on. We all hear that it is supposed to make our lives better, but we also see examples of it making life more complex. But I don’t think we have a lot of real information about how money operates in our lives.

    And 2) you did not put your grandparents in their graves to get their money. They died. Everybody does, eventually. You did not wish it on them. They had money. They had to dispose of it somehow. They loved and cherished you, and this was one more way they could demonstrate it to you.

    It is a great gift — I don’t know how much it is, but I’m guessing that it opens up a number of possibilities for you. I’m also guessing that your grandparents left it to you because they wanted you to benefit from their struggles. You know, they probably wanted to be sure that their children and grandchildren did not have it as hard as they did.

    Anyway, for what it is worth, here are a few things that I might do if I suddenly had a bunch of money:

    Set up a foundation (or join an existing one) to give some of it away.

    In Oregon, a number of socially responsible investors/inheritors got together some years ago to figure out what to do with their wealth. That grew into the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, which gives away lots of money each year to social justice organizations that would otherwise have a difficult time raising money for their programs. I bet there are similar foundations in Boston. I bet they can put you in touch with other similarly situated people to help you figure out what you want to do. They may even run workshops.

    Invest it and use the interest to:
    * travel more than my current budget allows, or
    * replace some of my income to allow one of us to work less than full time.
    * support myself while building my dream non-profit group working on women’s issues in the state.

    These two things may not be exclusive. You could invest the money and use the interest for a number of things, including giving some of the money to worthy causes over time.

  19. Why don’t you sit with this money for a while until you have had time to sort out your feelings about having it? It sounds like they are complex — how can you whine about having money when so many people don’t have it, how can you whine about having money when, in order to get it, someone you love had to die?

    To which I would say 1) I think it’s great that you are being so thoughtful about your money. Talking about money and wealth is a huge taboo in our society, so it is very difficult to sort out one’s feelings about it. There’s just not a lot to go on. We all hear that it is supposed to make our lives better, but we also see examples of it making life more complex. But I don’t think we have a lot of real information about how money operates in our lives.

    And 2) you did not put your grandparents in their graves to get their money. They died. Everybody does, eventually. You did not wish it on them. They had money. They had to dispose of it somehow. They loved and cherished you, and this was one more way they could demonstrate it to you.

    It is a great gift — I don’t know how much it is, but I’m guessing that it opens up a number of possibilities for you. I’m also guessing that your grandparents left it to you because they wanted you to benefit from their struggles. You know, they probably wanted to be sure that their children and grandchildren did not have it as hard as they did.

    Anyway, for what it is worth, here are a few things that I might do if I suddenly had a bunch of money:

    Set up a foundation (or join an existing one) to give some of it away.

    In Oregon, a number of socially responsible investors/inheritors got together some years ago to figure out what to do with their wealth. That grew into the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, which gives away lots of money each year to social justice organizations that would otherwise have a difficult time raising money for their programs. I bet there are similar foundations in Boston. I bet they can put you in touch with other similarly situated people to help you figure out what you want to do. They may even run workshops.

    Invest it and use the interest to:
    * travel more than my current budget allows, or
    * replace some of my income to allow one of us to work less than full time.
    * support myself while building my dream non-profit group working on women’s issues in the state.

    These two things may not be exclusive. You could invest the money and use the interest for a number of things, including giving some of the money to worthy causes over time.

  20. a lot of people have written great things which i have to admit that at this moment I only had time to skim. But my own reaction was that you should make the most of the money. Personally, I would not give it away but try to invest it — if you retain control and handle it well, over time it will enable you to give away more than just a sum of cash today that you never see again. I think trusts can be set up in just about any amount (and you can buy yourself time as someone else pointed out by putting it into a CD or something briefly while you get advice. And I do recommend getting *professional* advice if you can find a very good person who understands your motivations and concerns.

    I would not put it in retirement because it was already taxed so there’s no need to put it into something that will steal your flexibility and control — the only reason to put money into a retirement account is to avoid the income tax. (well perhaps you have a certain time window to roll this over, but I imagine the estate was already taxed etc., I guess you would have to ask a professional about this.)

    privilege is not automatically a bad word. this privilege is a gift from your grandparents whose dream it was. in a way, you are indulging them as much as the reverse. so honor their dream by being grateful and mindful. If you gave someone a gift out of your hard work, would you want them to feel guilty? I know people already touched on that but I can’t resist.

    Finally, money IS power and money IS time/life energy, because that’s what it’s exchanged for. That is why we are jealous and conflicted about privilege. Mostly I think though is that we get angry when people abuse privilege. So the way to not feel guilty is not to avoid having it but to be a wise steward. Is my 2 cents.

    If someone has to have this sum of money, would you rather it would be someone else, who would not take it so seriously and would not try to utilize it for its fullest potential?

  21. Also, it seems like to you, class is maybe an identity and you do not want to be launched into a new identity because money puts you in a new bracket. So don’t be. Simply don’t adopt such a narrow definition of class or a simplistic idea about the power of money over identity.

    An amount of money cannot change who you are, it can only change your options. Live an example of that. How you *respond* to an amount of money would have to do with your identity. Being financially illiterate or even poor is not a mark of merit any more than having money is a sign of merit or of corruption. You still have total control over your identity, mostly expressed in how you *consume,* not in numbers in accounts. it’s great that you are being so mindful. That will help you preserve a conscious identity. At the same time, be careful not to give this more power than it actually has. Similarly — if one of us is not free, then the rest of us never can be, is a call to action but not a reason to sell one’s self into slavery. So, the fact that we should never feel entirely comfortable until all our brothers and sisters are comfortable is not really a reason to live in a shack with a dirt floor if you don’t have to, unless that floats your boat.

    Example: The modern design world is getting all excited now about reducing square footage of living. Right now, it’s people with money to pay an architect and a designer, but the developments from those efforts should ultimately benefit a much wider audience. I wouldn’t tell those people to stop spending their design dollars on figuring out how to live comfortably in a smaller space just because for them it is privilege.

    I hope that none of this is written condescendngly as too bald advice but I really must get back to work, so I don’t have much time for wordsmithing! Hope it’s helpful. Very interesting dilemma.

  22. Also, it seems like to you, class is maybe an identity and you do not want to be launched into a new identity because money puts you in a new bracket. So don’t be. Simply don’t adopt such a narrow definition of class or a simplistic idea about the power of money over identity.

    An amount of money cannot change who you are, it can only change your options. Live an example of that. How you *respond* to an amount of money would have to do with your identity. Being financially illiterate or even poor is not a mark of merit any more than having money is a sign of merit or of corruption. You still have total control over your identity, mostly expressed in how you *consume,* not in numbers in accounts. it’s great that you are being so mindful. That will help you preserve a conscious identity. At the same time, be careful not to give this more power than it actually has. Similarly — if one of us is not free, then the rest of us never can be, is a call to action but not a reason to sell one’s self into slavery. So, the fact that we should never feel entirely comfortable until all our brothers and sisters are comfortable is not really a reason to live in a shack with a dirt floor if you don’t have to, unless that floats your boat.

    Example: The modern design world is getting all excited now about reducing square footage of living. Right now, it’s people with money to pay an architect and a designer, but the developments from those efforts should ultimately benefit a much wider audience. I wouldn’t tell those people to stop spending their design dollars on figuring out how to live comfortably in a smaller space just because for them it is privilege.

    I hope that none of this is written condescendngly as too bald advice but I really must get back to work, so I don’t have much time for wordsmithing! Hope it’s helpful. Very interesting dilemma.

  23. Just FYI – I don’t believe it was taxed, because it comes under the heading of “inhereitance” or something like that. The only taxes I have to pay are on any interest the money earns.

    On the other hand, is receiving some money through the State of Washington retirement system, and I believe that is taxed upon its withdrawl. But this money was not.

    You are correct – I received lots of good advice and support. My friends are awesome. Another way in which I am blessed.

  24. Actually, if it were enough money (about $150K, in my case), I’d pay off my mortgage and the remainder of our adoption loan. Being debt free would allow one of us to quit working full time and stay home with Butternut. It would also give us time to live more frugally to make the most of our remaining one salary.

  25. Actually, if it were enough money (about $150K, in my case), I’d pay off my mortgage and the remainder of our adoption loan. Being debt free would allow one of us to quit working full time and stay home with Butternut. It would also give us time to live more frugally to make the most of our remaining one salary.

  26. I don’t have a lot to say, but I’d recommend reading Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It For Social Change. It’s available in PDF for free on the website, or you can buy a print copy.

  27. Also, I recommend some books about money. I have a great one around here somewhere, “Get a Financial Life.” And I found this link this morning, speaking of professionals: Five things your financial advisor knows (…but will never tell you) http://www.lightshipmutual.com/2007/05/five-things-your-financial-advisor.php Everything I learned about money I learned from books (and hard knocks) in the past decade; I certainly never even saw any before then…

  28. can i have some???

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: