Last night while watching House of Cards with my husband, we got to the part where Scary Doug mentions he wants to be paid at least $250,000 a year. I remarked out loud that, "that doesn't seem like a lot of money to me."
My husband looked at me like I was a weirdo and said: "That's a little more than three times what you make in a year."
"But what I make in a year now is three times what I made three years ago." [Insert actual shoulder shrug.]
Then we went back to watching.
$250,000 still doesn't seem like much to me. Not for what fictional Scary Doug does, and — more importantly — not for me. I know, logically, that it is a lot of money. It is much more than most people make in a year (including, as my husband helpfully pointed out, me). But I guess logic doesn't really factor into this.
My relationship to class is a strange one: My family is more poor than wealthy. Growing up there were times we were on public assistance. (I once terribly embarrassed my mother by showing a good friend of hers her food stamps, back when they were literally pieces of paper.) But all that said and done, we also had some high times. My parents had years of extreme financial success, and they made all the right friends in those times. They still have those friends. I was raised in many ways outside the class I was living in, with upper middle class values, especially around money and career.
Class is not money, many Americans don't understand this. I didn't flop from class to class because my parents went from haves, to have-nots, to haves, to have-nots again (actual timeline, that). I flip-flopped around because one's means in many ways control one's environment, and often enough my means meant that I was surrounded by blue collar trappings.
I've discovered I have a weird "faith" in financial solvency that many people I know do not share. Technically I am a freelancer (though I often describe myself as a sole-proprietor or a contractor, people seem to prefer those terms) and when speaking with other designers about this people often ask, "Is it scary? Not knowing if the work with trickle into nothingness?"
And... no. Not really. Pragmatically I know I should have a healthy fear, and I do have concerns, but there's this other thing there too. Something like optimism that is just part and parcel of the way I think about money. I have faith in it. Sort of like, there is always money lying around — even if for the moment it's in someone else's possession.
Reading Tracy's recent article on class and relationships made me think about my experience with money and class as I relate to my husband. Because this is strange — my husband's family definitely has more money than mine, yet my husband's attitude toward money is almost perpetually worried, if not fearful. He thinks of money as something not be lost, and I think of it as something to be gained.
It's an interesting contrast.