Dear Meg

How to live within my means?

How do I accept the lifestyle I have and face the reality that I am not rich?

Dear Meg

The sender is in distress, and we want to encourage help-seeking behavior. Please don’t forget to be kind if you’re leaving a comment.

Other suggestions about saving up (except those that involve perpetuating the capitalist system) are also more than welcome.

I edited their letter for brevity.

Thank you!

I would like to share a personal distress that has been bothering me for the past few years.

I am a working student enrolled at a prestigious university. I am surrounded by rich blockmates, who have regaled me with stories of indulgences that I know only the affluent can afford, and with whom I enjoyed rare and lavish opportunities.

I come from a middle-class family. I can’t say we are poor, but we are also definitely not rich. I am extremely grateful for my parents and their efforts to provide me and my two siblings education and a home, but sometimes, I feel financially insecure.

I can’t help but feel pressured to adopt the lifestyle of my friends. At first, it was just buying clothes and makeup at mid-range stores to be able to look like them, to prove that I belong. But later on, I found myself purchasing products at high-end stores, going on trips, and going to expensive restaurants, even with my bank account hanging by a thread.

Worse is the the lengths I’d go to earn money. Every day I am faced with the challenge of eating one meal for the whole day or not at all, so I can buy the next product on my wishlist. I am forced to think of ways to planning my expenses so I may feel validated and remain part of my friend group. But I’ve also noticed that even without their validation, I find myself veering towards an expensive lifestyle. So maybe I really am the problem. My parents are not imposing financial responsibilities on me at the moment, but when that time comes, I wonder how I’ll be able to give up on this kind of life I’ve gotten used to.

The other part of me wants to end all of this chase of the lifestyle I so desperately want. I may have to sever ties with my friends and let them know of this burden I’ve been carrying, which is something I am so ashamed of sharing because I would never want them to adjust their lifestyles for me, and I don’t want to be pitied.

I am tired of being financially insecure. I am tired of having to starve myself just to earn extra money.

Please, Meg, I would really like your advice. How do I accept the lifestyle I have and face the reality that I am not rich?

Thank you, Meg. Your words mean a lot to all of us.

Thank you so much for writing, and for sharing your troubles with me. I appreciate the honesty and openness.

I want to say, first and foremost, that I understand what you’re going through, and I hold no judgment. I think it’s very human, to desire for nice things in life, and to be liked and accepted by people we call friends. We all have a need to belong.

I could offer quick tips around finances, such as for you to be on a strict budget, and to eliminate the conditions that make you spend. I respect not wanting to be pitied, so I think you can tell your friends you love their company, but that you can meet up every so often, because you’re saving up. You can also explore removing store apps on your phone, and committing to buying only preloved.

But clearly there are deeper issues here, and I believe you will make better progress if we strike at what looks like the heart of your struggle.

Z, there is no shame in having less in life. It’s purely arbitrary, if we think about it, that someone is born poor, in one sense (in another sense, of course it’s by this economic order’s design that one class lives off another’s hard work). What I meant to say is, perhaps let’s begin with a wholehearted acceptance of yourself as worthy of being loved as a friend, despite your circumstances.

You are not your purchases, you are not the things you can buy. You are your values, and what to choose to do each day based on these values. You are your dreams for yourself and for your community, and the courage you muster to fight for them. If you believe in this, I think you’d be less ashamed of your situation, even in having your friends adjust to your it. Instead, you will trust that whoever wants to be around your smart and kind and fun-loving self will also want to meet you halfway.

You are not your purchases, you are not the things you can buy. You are your values, and what to choose to do each day based on these values. You are your dreams for yourself and for your community, and the courage you muster to fight for them.

I think such a perspective will also urge you to, as a matter of principle, reclaim control of your life. I say this because in your letter, several phrases betray a feeling of helplessness about your situation. (I find myself…, I am faced with the challenge…, I am forced to…”). Yes, most of our struggles under this System are based on something deeply entrenched. But precisely because it’s not our fault to be poor, we will refuse to be defined by its parameters, and be resolute about our own.

I urge you to reflect on the all-important question: What kind of a human being would you like to become?

Ultimately, we want to be accepted for who we are, and to be surrounded by the people who share our values. Otherwise, some rethinking of our present bonds should be in order.

I’m not saying your rich friends cannot be your lifelong ones, who may be perfectly decent and wonderful people worth keeping. I’m saying there’s a way to decisively turn your friendship around and anchor it on something more meaningful and lasting, instead of on experiences defined by your household income. Here is an opportunity to unlearn unsustainable habits, and envision an alternative culture of friendship with people who embody the person you want to be.

When you spend time with them, do you ask them about the brands of their clothes, or any expensive thing they just spent on? Or do you do the same validation of their expensive choices?

I think you can start changing the course of your conversations by initiating these topics: how are they getting on at their jobs? How is their relationship with family? What can you do together for the community?

From there you can transition to discussing your goals, the challenges you’re facing, and how you can be there for each other. You can be creative about these meetups so that you don’t spend much, but still have fun. You can plan picnics, home cook-offs, or film/book clubs. You can hold sessions where you share your skills – sketching, repairing things, carpentry, etc. – with each other. Or you can do errands together. The key is to normalize these activities within your friend groups, and help build a relationship where people will feel welcome, no matter their economic situation.

I want to fully reassure you that you have what it takes to change the course of your life from hereon. By deciding on your values, and picking the right people to surround yourself with, you can become the person you want to be. As an adage goes, “We borrow our good side from friends.”

Thank you again, Z, and I wish you the best of luck in your journey!


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