I’m at work, looking for plane tickets. I’m speaking at a conference in February and though the conference is paying for my ticket, I need to book it myself. As I look through options, I see a $132 flight and a $400 flight available, both at about the time I need to fly at. The cheaper flight is on an airline with a reputation for crappy service and uncomfortable seats. The more expensive flight is on a better airline in upgraded section, so I’d get more leg room and an extra beverage. The conference asked that we try to keep flight costs below $500, so technically I can choose either option.
There is a part of me that thinks this is an obvious choice — you choose the cheapest option, always. I think of this part of myself as my inner poor kid, the one that is permanently marked by the feeling of there never being enough growing up. My inner poor kid whispers in my ear late at night and tells me that even though things are financially okay now, they can always get worse.
This is the part of me that tells me that three crappy t-shirts on sale at Target are better than one quality shirt for full price. This is the part of me that remembers living in a shit hole studio apartment in a sketchy area because the rent was $300 and crying over a box filled with credit card bills. This part of me feels vaguely guilty because I only have one job right now.
I sat there with multiple tabs open for longer than I should have, knowing that I wanted to get the better flight but worrying about it. I had this whole vision of the conference coordinator getting my invoice and then checking to see if there were cheaper options. In my head, she rolls her eyes and mutters something like “greedy” as she updates my file, circling my name in red ink.
(I suspect the reality is that she gets my invoice, checks that the days are correct and that it is under $500 and doesn’t think about it again. But this reality is so much less shaming than my vision, so why would my brain go there instead?)
Sometimes I think about the fact that my kids are growing up in relative economic security and I wonder how that will shape their relationship to money. Will they absorb any of their father’s inherent cheapness and tendency toward wondering if there is an expense we can cut? Will they grow up having the same Pavlovian response to an orange clearance sticker at Target that I do? Or will they have their own set of money worries, fears, and anxieties that don’t have anything to do with mine?
I think about how my nine year old sometimes worries aloud about my student loan debt, even though I’ve never expressed any concern to him that we can’t make the payments of that it is a problem. I’ve always been matter of fact about them (yep, I have student loans, yep we are paying them back, yep it is gonna take awhile…) but he still worries that we aren’t doing enough to pay them off. Where does that come from? Is there insecurity imprinted on their DNA, like some sort of Dutch Hunger Winter but for money?
(Side note, my Dutch mother was in utero during this winter, so I’m fascinated by the epigenetic work that has been done in this area. I feel like a very non-scientific read of this means that I can blame the Nazis for size of my pants. Nazis ruin everything.)
But people are adaptable. So maybe they won’t have anxiety. Maybe I’ll lean into the fact that I have enough. Maybe I’ll get used to just having one job. Maybe I’ll do some more thinking about this on my flight to Florida, when I’m not too busy enjoying my extra drink and six more inches of leg room.