I am anxious when it comes to anything important.
Time, global warming, my career (or lack thereof), my health, my parent’s health, my relationships (or lack thereof); you name it. This anxiety has probably contributed to the increasingly potent ulcer in my GI tract. Some of these worries have surfaced with time and exposure to the world, and some have been around for as long as I can remember. One of those latter omnipresent anxieties of mine is that of money.
There are a lot of reasons for anyone to be anxious about money. Millenials, for instance, grew up in the midst of one recession and are on the cusp of another. It would be difficult for anyone to have an optimistic view of money when their understanding of it originated with seeing “we don’t have enough” plastered on screens. And it’s impossible to be calm at all about money in a capitalist society. In an economic structure where money rules the day and society does not support its citizens with means of life and livelihood such as healthcare and education, it’s no wonder most young adults have deep-rooted issues with finances. There’s money in being born, there’s money in dying. It can seem inescapable.
Even outside of my mini-diatribe on postmodern American capitalism, however, I know that my anxieties around money stem from a place of ignorance and that my ignorance stems from a place of privilege. My family is now solidly upper middle class and, as such, I didn’t have to worry much about money growing up. My education nor my healthcare were never a question in my mind. My parents were able to ask which school would be best for their children to attend, not whether or not they would be able to.
Growing up, it was never necessary for me to be involved in managing our family’s finances. My parents were on top of it. If we ever struggled, I only found out about it later because they didn’t let on, and it was never bad enough to be visible at the moment. Part of the nature of privilege is that it is invisible to those who have it. Sussing it out requires a continual wake-up call.
I thought that I had gotten this wakeup call early on. I was unaware of any of our family’s earlier struggles and unaware of exactly how secure we became. What I was aware of for as long as I could remember, was that we had more security than previous generations of my family. I didn’t know how well we were doing in the present, but I knew that it was better than the past and that I should be grateful.
If you’re the child of immigrants, maybe you have also internalized the narrative of how your parents came to another country to have a better life. For some, there is a shame associated with this awareness. Yes, they’ve chased a better life, but they’ve also become foreigners and now deal with racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry.
This shame is not necessarily rational. How could any of us be responsible for decisions that were made before we were born? But it has incredible sticking power. That coupled with how I observed my parents being conscious of every dollar spent translated to me turning into a Frugal Farheeda. My policy was to be as cheap as possible lest I turn into the type of kid who couldn’t appreciate all it had taken for their parents to get to where they were. And so the anxiety mounted.
The main issue with my strategy was that I was still incredibly ignorant when it came to anything having to do with money. I didn’t learn, for instance, how to budget because I never spent. Even now, I’m hitting myself over the head for this stance recognizing that it is unproductive. It is unproductive for me to be caught up in shame for spending and it is unproductive for me to get stuck on the fact that I walk through the world as a socioeconomically privileged person.
What is more productive, I hope, is for me to dispel my own ignorance, and for me to learn. It will take a lot of work, and I feel like an idiot most of the time still. But all I can do at this point is hope that sitting with that discomfort will be useful and that one day this tangled mess of shame and ignorance around money will turn into something real and frank. Maybe it’ll serve to dispel some of the anxiety curled up in my gut.