strapped

I was skimming Tamara Draut’s Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” at the library on Saturday. Paul and I had gone for a fresh load of books, because we live three blocks from a fairly sizeable L.A. library now, and are the sort of adorable nerd couple that go there on weekends. I was scanning the new releases and was curious: what IS happening to my peers across America?

Turns out, not much good. Maybe in the fly-over states, there’s a mythical place where people are living at similar quality of life levels as their parents. But with the squeeze on the middle class, I bet that’s only because their parents are out of the pages of “Nickel and Dimed”. There was anecdote after anecdote about people my age, in a similar position to me, who are buried in credit cards, mortgages, student loan debt. I’ve been lucky – MY loans were extremely low, and were from the Canadian government. I live in L.A. where there is NO point in a mortgage, as buying is so much more expensive than renting. And I have not fallen prey to the unscrupulous, poorly regulated credit card companies. And even I, until literally a few months ago, lived hand to mouth, breaking even every single month, completely unable to save more than 5% of my salary at best. (I’m supposed to be saving 20% now. I did the classic “if you get a raise, put it in savings” stunt right after I paid for Christmas. And the move, and the redecorating, etc, etc)

I fail to see what it is that is wrong with the system here. Why is it that, in major cities, NONE of us seem really able to get ahead? Seriously. I do really well, IMHO. I don’t make six figures, but I made all the right choices & got a lot of lucky breaks and now, here I am, twenty-eight, no kids or house to pay for, and yet – I’m still not really making much more than I need to live on.

OK, I have it easy, and have NO right to complain. I have my own career, a steady living I fell into a few years ago, where I have doubled my salary in the last three years through dumb luck and hard work. But even with all my luck & my comfy regular paycheck, I just burned through four months of savings in two weeks. $1100 to get Zippy fixed up. $850 for taxes on my freelance work last year. $335 for a parking ticket to the City of Los Angeles for parking in a handicapped spot last year. A run of bad luck, and bam! Back to zero in my savings account.

Obviously, there’s places I could cut & save. Vacations, for example. Especially vacations that involve staying at the W and eating at an extremely high-end restaurant. Magazine subscriptions. DirecTV/TIVO. The few, occasional meals out that we do go for. Throwing an upscale wine and dessert party for our friends. But seriously, that’s a few hundred dollars here or there – and it’s SO MUCH bigger than that. And I LIKE being able to spend money on things like that, because I haven’t broken free of the system enough to let go of material rewards. I don’t spend money eating out for meals very often – I pack lunches – and I don’t go to movies or even drinking at clubs very often, so I think I’m pretty OK with the indulgences I do have.

I guess the point is that its frustrating, trying to save money, and never seeming to be able to. At least I had the $2K to pay for a run of bad luck, too – many of my peers don’t. And even thinking about THAT makes me sad, because I’m at the upper end of the spectrum when it comes to Twenty-To-Thirtysomethings In The Big City. What does everyone else do? Hit the credit cards? Go into debt at 12.9% APR? Take six months to pay off $2K and end up paying a hundred dollars interest on it? Call their parents at the cost of their pride?

It isn’t even that I feel like we got scammed out of the quality of life that our parents had, or that previous generations had. I think the whole system of money, jobs, all of it – I think it’s fucked up. I think the way we’ve regimented ourselves into currency, constantly, is wrong. I think THAT needs to go out the window. Suspiciously like communism, which we’ve proved Westernized humans don’t have the mindset to adapt to right now. How do you squeeze out the middle class though, if there are no financial classes? Making life easier for the middle class would be a great patch – but this is a huge problem – and I think it’s tied into sustainability, consumerism, and so much more than I won’t even go into because my lunch break’s over – and i have to go make that money now.

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