I’ve had a pretty active social week so tonight I’m taking it slow and baking some chicken for dinner. Living in the city, though super fun and convenient, can really add up. Between Happy Hour on Wednesday, dinner yesterday and brunch today, I’ve paid about $100 for food in the past few days. So for tonight, some baked chicken, couscous and veggies will have to do.
Money is an interesting topic I think, particularly since, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve amassed contacts in different phases of life, and with different opinions as it relates to finances. And what is particularly interesting is that the richer people are, the cheaper they are. And vice versa: those people making what I expect are lower salaries, seem to be the worst with money.
Case in point: on Wednesday, I met up with three people with whom I attended business school. Two are consultants which means they certainly make over $100K (as the standard salary for post-MBAs is $120K, as far as I know). And all of us sat around complaining about how expensive things are in SF despite all of us making above-average salaries. Or my friend, a lawyer who, despite making (if I’m to guess) over $250K a year in salary, still drives the same car he drove in college. The friends who have sold companies still live very frugally (one couple still drives a Honda Civic). And finally, my friend texted me today asking if I had posted something to Secret. I said no and then when I went in search of what he thought I had posted, I correctly guessed that it was this posting:
So there are a few things about this grouping of frugal people within my circle of contacts. Most of us are in our 30s which means that we lived in the SF Bay area before prices got crazy. We made entry level salaries when costs were reasonable-ish and our salaries paced with the rise of costs. In other words, we actually stood a chance of having money in our savings accounts and were able to save throughout our careers. Most of us have pretty good careers– namely because we attended graduate school or started our careers in blue chip tech companies. And generally speaking, many of us are minorities so many of us grew up having somewhat middle class sensibilities with a strong lean towards saving and being fiscally responsible.
I know another group of people mainly from friends of friends or colleagues. This second group worries me much. I was having dinner with my lawyer friend and we pretty much agreed this group of individuals is totally fucked financially and we wonder why they aren’t more concerned. I feel concerned for them much more so than they ever seem to be. They dropped into the working world when basic costs are through the roof. It costs something like $1500 for a room in SF (give or take, obviously, depending on where you are living). Not including engineers or people working in finance, a general starting salary is $50-60K. After tax, you’re looking at $40K take home. Minus rent you are looking at $22K that you keep. Assuming you are putting about $10K in retirement each year (which you should be– not totally sure that people are). That is $12K a year you are looking at for “everything else money” including anything you hope to put into savings.
So I have been kind of astonished at what these young people are spending their money on. Their roughly $12K per year of money. We’re talking $300 concert tickets. Brand spanking new iPhones and other tech doodads. Trips to South America. Eating out all the time. ALCOHOL. They are UBER-ing and Lyft-ing everywhere. They are paying for their homes to be cleaned.
I once had a coworker (kind of a numbnut, if you ask me) who admitted that he hadn’t put a single dollar into his retirement account that year. But he had spent once $900 on bottle service. I could not believe it. And I had another friend once admit that she wouldn’t be able to carry on for too long if she was to lose her job while also telling me that she was excited to go to an upcoming $300 per ticket music festival.
And I guess my opinion on the matter is part jealousy and part astonishment. I would love to eat out everyday. To socialize with friends and order that 2nd, 3rd, 4th glass of wine. I would love to buy the new must-have piece of clothing, tech gadget or whatever else. I would love to just NOT CARE what things cost and to live hedonistically. But I’m not rich and I know that in order to have a retirement to someday live off of and money in the bank to be able to afford a home of my own one day, I have to be responsible about how I spend. Despite having a healthy salary, I still buy nosebleed seats at the theatre. I still pack a lunch at least 2-3 times a week. I still take the bus.
I look at these young people longingly but with great judgment. What happens when they grow up and have nothing in retirement? What happens when they marry and have nothing to put down on a home? What happens when they wake up one day, an adult in their 30s and realize: for all that I’ve worked these many years, I have nothing in the bank to show for it? And why aren’t they worried??? Why aren’t they worried about these inevitabilities given their YOLO-inspired lifestyles?
Am I wrong? Am I being too tough? Or are these young people ticking timebombs of unavoidable penury?