Even with our ups and downs Mike and I make enough money to consider us middle class. I grew up middle class and identify with money from a middle class point of view even when I have been very poor or had a decent job with lots of cash. For our first two amazing years together Mike and I lived what we liked to call the lifestyle of the leisure middle class. Mike had a thriving business that after years of slaving at he was able to be there on a part-time basis and still make enough money for all of us to live on. I was trying to think of what to do next since my design business had tanked.
Leisure middle class is typically people that aren’t independently wealthy but have figured out a way to work very little or not at all. They do not lead an exuberant life style, more one of small privileges. I will never forget those years. It was a great way to start my relationship with Mike because it gave us tons of time to focus on each other along with blending our funky little family together. We didn’t have to deal with the day to day stresses that not having enough money can bring. When our financial lives started going south our relationship had a strong enough foundation to withstand it.
Thinking back to my late twenties when I found myself separated from my first husband and homeless, life was incredibly stressful for me. I was in San Francisco living paycheck to paycheck, no health insurance or any extra cash. I spent six months unable to find an apartment I could afford. I would bring my suitcase to work and move from a friend’s place to my brother’s house to my sister’s apartment and when I absolutely had to, the nasty hotel with the winos. It sucked. I remember one day crying at the bus stop (in the rain) because the wheels on my suitcase broke. It was this really nice leather suitcase my brother had given me as a hand-me-down. I had used and abused it so badly it had finally given up the ghost. While I was sitting at the bus stop with the rain pouring down on me at the bottom of my world I still knew I could go back to my parents’ house and stay with them two states over. I had a safety net because my parents have amazingly big hearts. Eventually I ended up moving back in with them for a stint.
Having tried both with and without I have to say my preference is money and security. You can’t beat it. No matter what my money situation has been I walk through the world as a middle class girl. It was my identity even when I did not know it was. It’s how I relate to money and status. My first husband grew up poor. I’m talking he had one pair of shoes as a kid poor and they were hand-me downs with holes in them. Status was and is very important to him. Showing that he came up from nothing to middle-class was huge for him.
He saw me as entitled. He felt I wasted my opportunities, mainly my education. Going to college and getting a degree in art didn’t make sense to him. It wouldn’t insure me a good job so why did I do it? If his parents would have had the money to send him away to college he’d have gotten a degree that would insure him a good living. I couldn’t argue with him. He had a good point. My parents did not raise me to go out and get a good job. The problem was, he wanted me to change into his version of what he wanted me to be and that wasn’t going to happen.
I was raised in the 70’s and my parents were rebelling against their upbringing. They wanted me to be happy and a good job did not define happiness to them. His other issue with me was that I wasn’t interested in finding a career that would insure a good living. He was right on all accounts. I thought that when I turned thirty, POOF! I would become a successful artist and that would be that. I didn’t have a back up plan. Ironically we spent money very similarly, we were both frugal. We lived within our means. We had one credit card with a $500 limit that we hardly ever used and when we did we paid it right off. Unfortunately that common ground was not enough to save our marriage.
Mike and I grew up in middle class neighborhoods in different parts of the country with some different views on how the money was spent in our families. Even with those small differences we have enough in common in how we think about money that we don’t have long drawn out discussions trying to find common ground. I didn’t marry Mike because he was also raised middle class and I’m not advocating the only way to achieve a strong marriage is to be with someone from a similar background but that similarity I feel is one way that bonds us. The reason we get along is because we respect each other even when we don’t agree and when we mess up.
Recognizing how I move through this world has given me a better understanding of what some of my drives are. Growing up, my parents weren’t frugal but they weren’t extravagant either. They were somewhere in the middle. I’ve been frugal out of necessity most of my life but it never came naturally. It always felt uncomfortable and whenever I could I would stop. What feels natural to me is to have a middle class home with two cars in the drive and to go on vacation a few times a year.
Lately being frugal has made more sense to me. If I spend less it gives me more time to spend on my family and my hobbies that I oh so love but don’t bring much cash in. When I was in my 20’s I thought that when I turned 30 my life would all magically come together with a good job that I liked and a good salary to go with it. Now that I’m in my 40’s I’m looking at my life goals rather than spending my money just to achieve a lifestyle that I was brought up in.
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