amw (amw) wrote,

money and identity

Something i have been trying to write about for a while but never found the space is this issue of net worth and class.

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

My parents came from good backgrounds - their fathers were a diplomat and a corporate executive. My father was an officer in the British Forces, then later a senior manager in business. My mother was a housewife, then later a teacher and university dean. We had our times of relative poverty, in particular living with mom after the divorce as she worked her way up from assistant lecturer to professor, but we never had it really hard.

My sister and i are downwardly-mobile from our parents. My sister jumped around a dozen jobs and for a long time never seemed to find her calling. I think she is a freelance life coach and runs a neurodivergent support organization now. I am a software developer who - despite 20 years in the business - has never stepped up from line manager roles.

I also have never had a net worth of six figures until a couple of months ago.

It's not because i am loose with money. I am extremely spendthrift. I do not own much stuff and i do not spend much on entertainment. The reason why i have never had many assets is because i move internationally relatively frequently, and usually i couple that move with a bunch of touristing around until all my money is back to zero again.

But something happened over the past eighteen months. Living in Poor China while getting paid in Rich China meant that i had an entire year's salary sitting in my bank account, untouched. (I'll use Canadian dollars for convenience here, but for Americans just multiply by 0.75 and Europeans by 0.6.) When i transferred a year of salary over to my Canadian account, it bumped up by around $50,000.

The other thing that happened last year was my mother died of cancer almost immediately after retiring. Just before she died she sent me $50,000 as a lump sum. And a couple months ago i got another payout from her Australian assets, my share of which was around $150,000.

This is all ballpark because i can't log on to my internet banking right now to confirm it, but you get the idea. Basically i went from a few thousand dollars in my Canadian bank account, which was my emergency bailout fund, to around a quarter million dollars. And there is more to come, as my mom's European assets get distributed amongst her beneficiaries.

It has left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I have spent 20 years not bothering to put a single cent away for retirement, and now suddenly i have enough money i could live for years without working.

I never had this kind of money before. I never pictured myself having this kind of money before. Of course it has always been a dream to never have to work again, but it was only ever a fantasy. In reality i knew that my life would involve slaving away miserably for 3-4 years, enjoying a year freedom, then repeating the cycle, until i die at 60, just like mom did. I'm 40 now, which means i got maybe 5 more years of freedom to look forward to before death.

Except now i actually have 5 more years of freedom, that i could take consecutively, right fucking now.

And i want to take it, because i don't feel comfortable with the idea of amassing more wealth than this. I don't even like the idea of having this much wealth in the first place, especially because i didn't earn most of it - i got it by accident of birth.

Even though my income has usually put me into the top 10% of society, my assets have always kept me in the bottom 50%. I never owned a house. I only owned a car once in my life and it was cheaper than a decent laptop. In fact, for most of my life, my computer has been my most valuable possession.

The median net worth in Canada is around $300,000. It's somewhat higher in BC and Ontario because they are the rich provinces. This includes families, which bumps the number up a lot. For single people the median net worth is $80,000. Which means i am no longer on the lower end of the Canadian middle class - i am about to slip over the top when families are included, and i am comfortably over when it comes to my unattached compadres.

And i don't know how to deal with that. Obviously i know how to fake it in upper middle class society, because i grew up there. Almost all of my colleagues are there, and many of my internet friends too. But as an adult it feels a bit remote to me, because my real-life friends have tended to be on welfare or working class. I think i avoid upper middle class social events because it annoys me when they start complaining about the government and taxes, making out like they're average joes, when the statistics clearly show otherwise.

I mean, it shouldn't matter, i guess. Class is about more than just assets or income. I don't magically become an asshole just because a quarter million dollars dropped on my head. But... somehow it does change the way i feel about myself. It changes how i define myself and how i look at the world. Should i be thinking about investments now? Should i buy property? Fuck, i never wanted to worry about any of that stuff. I still don't. Life was much easier when i lived day-to-day, month-to-month, but now i couldn't even get back there if i tried. No way i could blow this much money in a day, or a month, or even a year. I could live in a condo hotel all year long and not spend it all. It's disgraceful!

It's such a weird space to be in. I tried to talk about it with a friend on Skype drinks yesterday, but she didn't really get it. She has a 200k apartment that is fully paid off, plus another few hundred in the bank for retirement. Maybe she came to terms with all this when she put down a deposit for her first house a couple decades ago. Maybe she never had to come to terms with it, because she never thought about it. I notice a lot of North Americans don't really think about class the way that people who grew up in the British cultural sphere do.

This is going to be another strange culture shock, i think, when i finally get out of quarantine and can talk to people. Every restaurant, every bar, every hotel i find on the internet is pretty much unaffordable for working class people. There must be a whole nother world outside that isn't on the internet, for people who can't spend $20 on a burger and fries. From what i remember, in North America that basically means fast food chains and not the mom'n'pop dives i'm used to. But i'm rich enough now i could completely ignore that world.

Lordy, getting out of here is not going to be easy.

I don't know who i am any more.
Tags: anxiety, canada fuck yeah, simple living

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