This item in The Guardian (h/t: Jacob Bacharach) is, as they say, rich. It’s about fabulously affluent SWPL who despair that they’re living “paycheck to paycheck” on gross earnings running well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. A CFP’s client who is decribed as living in the DC area and grossing between $450,000 and $600,000 feels insecure because he’s on the hook for $8k in monthly extortion payments to his ex-wife (not so much alimony as allyamoney) and $150k in total private high school tuition for their two children. Another CFP, this one based in the East Bay, had as clients a young couple who blew horrifying amounts of their discretionary income on thrice-daily restaurant meals because “neither knew how to cook. Not even how to make toast!” It’s mindboggling, but it’s more common than you’d think.
The most barfworthy vignette in the article is about my people, unfortunately: “According to a recent survey by LendingTree, 44% of millennials earning between $100,000 to $149,000 live paycheck to paycheck. Interestingly, just 33.5% of those earning $50,000 to $75,000 said they lived that way.” Well, sort of my people: not to put too fine a point on it, these are my high school and college classmates, but not me. When I had that environmental consulting gig after college, I was beside myself with a weird combination of gratitude, guilt, insecurity, and fear that I wasn’t cut out for the industry and would do something to blow it, and that was at an annual salary of $41,080, plus some shitty-looking (but probably hella expensive) fringe benefits. (If I’d thought of it at the time as a gig, rather than as the soul-ruining “career” everyone made it out to be, I probably would have hung in there for a year or three. Seeing what the job had done to my bosses and colleagues, and projecting myself repeating their midlife crises a decade or two down the line, was debilitatingly horrifying.)
The only way the six-figure Young Turk crowd isn’t a big old bundle of asswipes is if its tight finances are overwhelmingly the result of student debt, a possibility that I find hard to believe. Thanks to the hardening of the American class system during my lifetime, these whiners are generationally affluent, with some exceptions proving the rule here and there. Many people would reflexively argue that these youngsters are making so much money because they took on so much student debt to finance their educations, but the student debt albatross doesn’t shy away from the poors, either. Quite the opposite: the most ruined victims of the student debt racket are the unemployed alumni of sleazy for-profit career colleges, a group drawn overwhelmingly from uneducated, generationally poor families who have neither the finances, the social contacts, nor the overall savvy to safely navigate higher education in the United States. The six-figure Lacoste preps leading the bitchfest about tight finances are backstopped by family financial resources and mentored by powerful social networks the likes of which would make the Corinthian Colleges alumni community shit their shorts in envy and amazement.
Okay. Maybe I was unfair, and they’re mere Abercrombie preps. No, not to the Lacoste crowd; surely you’re aware that these are assholes.
Fine. #NotAllPreps. For that matter, #NotAllMaleNurses, and #NotAllArtTheftDetectives. But I have yet to come across a supercilious bitch (of either sex) in a tan alligator polo and light salmon Capri pants who greeted me with words to the effect of, “Cool aloha shirt; you want a job?” Damn straight Stephanie Lazarus dressed better than them, although I must concede that more than a few of them straight-up know how to rock it with a sweater. I don’t recall seeing any of them in the clothing aisles at Bi-Mart, which probably helps explain why their bills are so high. And I spent time around a number of Dickinson students who were exactly the type to complain about how rent on Dupont Circle makes it hard to afford the latest season of Veblen goods at Lilly Pulitzer or Brooks Brothers. This is probably related to the Dickinson alumni network’s reticence about figuring that my parents paid into the racket, too, and therefore hooking me up with a fucking job. Career services will, however, teach students how to politely eat French onion soup at its Etiquette Luncheons.
At least Tammany Hall was honest.
The Guardian piece about these profligate fuckheads dumping all their money into a big hole resonated with me because I’ve lately been hearing claims that my parents’ monthly cash flow is tight. My dad has forlornly conceded that I’m probably not sympathetic to the jacked-up estimated taxes they’ve incurred as a consequence of all the rent they’re getting post-renovation for my childhood house in Palo Alto (good Lord is that SWPL), but I’m not so much unsympathetic as confused and a bit worried about their apparent failure to keep an extra cushion of $15 or $30k in cash on hand and available for immediate disbursement. The circumstances make this an eminently good idea.
Honestly, though, I hardly know what the fuck is going on here. I’ve started snooping into their household finances, and with a completely clean conscience, because the details may have significant effects on my solvency and whether I can safely look for work any farther afield than Albany or Burlington without being on the verge of cold homelessness. As a result of my snooping, I’ve become aware of about $30k worth of annual pension income beyond Social Security and CalPERS, but also of monthly electric bills as high as $237 during the winter and well over a thousand dollars a year in propane bills. I don’t believe I ever spent more than $70 a month on direct utility payments at either of my apartments, and my parents’ retirement house is pretty small. My dad has also told me that they’re spending close to a thousand dollars a year to have a crew of resentful hillbillies install and remove the dock for their pontoon boat, which they left in sloppy piles this fall. They’re paying something like $50 a visit to a different set of hillbilly dipshits, these ones reporting to a blood relative of my grandmother’s shitbird alcoholic boyfriend, to tear up their driveway with their plow equipment, and probably several hundred a month every winter to stack their pontoon boat in a big shed. They’re spending probably over a hundred a month on wine shipments delivered by UPS, whose new delivery driver has started tearing four-inch-deep ruts in the driveway to complement the gravel stripping undertaken by the redneck plowboys, the tentative upshot being that my dad is planning to pay no telling how many hundreds more to one of the rare competent and upstanding local rednecks to resurface the drive come spring. Remember, this is all happening on grades of up to eight or ten percent.
It’s impossible to calculate a bottom line from what I’ve been able to piece together so far, but the actual bottom line isn’t really germane anyway. What matters is my parents’ (mainly my dad’s) perception of their solvency month to month. It doesn’t really matter that they’re frankly being lavished with multiple sources of pension income at a time when my mom’s idea of a slow work year (due to diverticulitis and a prolonged recovery) still results in over $25,000 in gross payroll income. I’m not sure what the unexpected medical expenses my mom and I incurred this year (in my case, for an ear infection, including presentation of first fruits to the extortionate rat bastards who own the patent for Ciprodex) really mean for my parents’ finances. For what it’s worth, they don’t seem to have cut back on groceries, wine, or that alarmingly expensive coffee from the Okanagan, but I’m not sure that’s worth much.
Realistically, I don’t expect straight answers from either of them about the actual state of their finances, but not because they’re trying to deceive me. My dad tries to keep my mom in the dark, at her request, resulting in his telling me but not her how much he spent renovating their rental house, and I get the sense that he isn’t nearly as rational as he should be in his own calculations and thinking about money.
None of this bodes well. We’re getting to the point at which I have to pretty much stick around here in the hopes of saving up some money (instead of cashbombing the hotel industry) and being in the area to promptly intervene when my parents do something stupid. It’s definitely when, not if. They got really stupid about home fires shit last winter, and I can only hope they do better this year, or pray the hours. Maybe some Vermonters who aren’t obnoxiously fucked up will hire me to do something or other that will pay me enough in 2016 to vest the federal premium kickback on my KaiserPermanente health insurance plan. Or some Saratogans. I don’t have to stay in California, but I do have to live there, and I do in fact live there.
If you understand what I’m saying, it’s probably because you’re a poor, too. Really, it’s just like #TCOT wintering at the Villages but living in New Hampshire for tax purposes, except that there are no tax advantages to being domiciled in California, at least none that I’ve found. I’m just trying to lodge myself deep into my first home state’s electorate in order to incrementally abate all the asshats and tools who are setting up a freelance Downton Abbey with the Mexican peasantry. It’s like Bloody Kansas, but with less gunfire, as long as the cholos aren’t running your black ass straight outta Compton. Somebody has to steward that mess, too, and I’m not leaving it to assholes who have to exploit Latin America’s wretched refuse because they can’t make ends meet on $300k a year. Lord have mercy, I’d have to fill out like Marlon Brando to spend on Stewart’s buffalo chicken pizza what they spend at Noodles and Company.