Hi. My name is Christopher. I made $33,505.68 last year.
I don’t have to use that specific number. I could say I am a lower-middle class tax payer, a college educated white male, a blue or pink collar worker depending on how you define the term. I could say I am straight and cis gendered. I could say I am an artist, or a writer, or in the very least a wannabe. I could say I am a traveler, a gardener, a layabout, a romantic. I could use all these terms to define myself but each of these terms comes with a whatever-the-hell-that-means kind of shrug that defines most jargon.
My name is Christopher. I made $33,505.68 last year.
In Los Angeles that just sneaks me into the middle class. Compared to the rest of the country perhaps a bit better. How about compared to the rest of the world? I’d say compared to the rest of the world I’m doing quite well. Quite well indeed1.
I don’t feel this way of course.
My name is Christopher and I have over eight thousand dollars of debt. 8,863.39 to be exact ($8186.82 from credit card + $676.57 from my car loan). Or if I was writing a check: eight thousand and eight hundred and sixty-three dollars and 33/100—–. Or put another way: 26% of my yearly income. And what’s most striking about that number isn’t how high it is or how low it is, it isn’t how much of my money must go toward paying all this off, or what I could buy with that money instead. It’s not any of that.
The average credit card debt for households in my income bracket is $6,822.
So just like my income, my debt is right smack dab in line with the United States middle class.
That’s sort of fucked isn’t it?
While I busy myself with arguing politics on facebook and critiquing over edited instagram selfies, for doing whatever I can to somehow distinguish myself from the rest of the population, I somehow continue to dismiss the one thing that unites most of the country.
We owe a lot of what we haven’t made to pay for things we don’t need 2.
Which is to say: We’re really shitty with money.
In school I took classes on computer coding, typing, Old English literature3, women’s studies, Shakespeare, medieval history; I learned about proofs in geometry, how to set a table in Home Economics, I even learned the law of diminishing returns in Economics itself; but despite having a dad who was a banker and living in a country where money is king, I never developed the common sense notion of knowing what I can afford. Instead I always feel like I’m Sarah Connor with some brat dropping ice cream into all my best laid plans.
Despite this, it’s still sort of taboo to talk specific numbers4. The result of this is that each of us exists on an island we can’t escape from, unable to imagine that anyone else is a similar state. And so the first step toward the road to recovery doesn’t involve anything dramatic – we don’t need to stop going out for drinks just yet, or refinance loans, or move someplace cheaper. Before we can make any plans we need to first out ourselves. We have to admit our big secret5.
We can’t just say we’re broke. We need numbers. Numbers to tell our friends when we don’t go out for drinks after work, or when we don’t buy that record or that book or that car or that 15 dollar bottle of beer. Numbers to tell us what exactly we want instead.
I’m doing this project because I have other goals. One: I want and have always wanted a small piece of land and a house. Two: I want to donate more than the measly and frankly embarrassing five dollars a month I currently donate to a malaria prevention foundation6. Three: In the current political climate I’ve been vexed by what I can do individually to make the biggest difference. I’ve decided that reducing my debt and voting with my dollars is the easiest thing I can do7.
My name is Christopher. I make $2,800 a month and I have $8,863.39 worth of debt. Pleasure to meet you.
Where My Money Went This Week
I transferred 100 dollars over to my savings account, to bring it back up to $1,000 after transferring $200 because I forgot that my $200/month car insurance bill9 went through and I didn’t want to risk an overdraw. I transferred $91.52 over to one credit card to pay for gas10. I paid another $123 to cover half the minimum of my 8k credit card debt. And I dropped $357 into my car loan. I drive a Ford Focus.
Last night I indulged with an expensive six pack of beer, a steak from the grocery store, and at some point this week I’ll be buying one or two records11. I sold three boxes of books to the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood for which they paid me around 70 dollars. I lost money by calling out of work due to illness and not having enough time-off accrued to account for it.
- I’m leaving out a lot with this. I’m not getting into purchasing power, my old living situation, my new living situation, vacation time, time taken off to do nothing etc. ↵
- There are plenty of “good” things for which we are in debt: student loans, mortgages, medical bills (medical bills aren’t “good” of course. Our healthcare system is still a mess in which even those of us with health insurance are a disaster away from being in debt. But I distinguish medical bills from my Playstation 4 and my growler of craft brewed IPA whatever. ↵
- Tolkien yay! ↵
- In my circle the only time anyone specifically mentions money is when they announce that they’re getting money back from the government after doing their taxes. This is always said with a particular glee, as if the money wasn’t theirs to begin with, or as if they didn’t just provide the government with an interest free loan that they hoped would be returned. ↵
- My good friend’s girlfriend flashed me her tax form which had her personal income on it and I felt like I was sneaking a peek at her journal. ↵
- Givewell.org calculates the cost of saving a life if donating to the againstmalaria foundation to be around $3500. ↵
- Other things of various difficulties ranked in no particular order: write/call my congressman, vote, drive less, read more, write a bestselling fiction book that earns me millions of dollars and ignites a cultural revolution that changes the world, be less of a dick, don’t call people racist (even if they are), listen to better music, read better books, watch better movies, don’t die. ↵
- Actor Curtis Armstrong, born November 27th, 1953. ↵
- Why I pay 200 dollars a month for car insurance is a tale for another day. ↵
- Why I commute 80 miles a day for work is a tale for another day. ↵
- The Robocop soundtrack by Basil Poledouris and the Eroica Symphony by this dude named Ludwig. ↵