Spungen writes on what she hated most about not having money… and it wasn’t the lack of stuff:

The problem with a lot of people who promote the downscale, simple lifestyle is that they assume it’s all about decreasing consumption. They assume that being poor is merely about living without luxury goods. That’s never what I hated about not having money, though. No, it’s the people you have to be around, and the lack of insulation from them. People who have always been around other functional, educated, upper-income people just don’t get it.

Given that Spungen’s backgrounds are in modest in nature and that she’s had to live around less desirable folks, it’s no surprise that you see that as one of the big benefits.

Thus far I have not really used my resources to insulate myself from the undesirables for the most part. I live in a poor black neighborhood right now, lived in an immigrant community in Colosse, and lived among poor (and largely criminal) whites in Deseret. In Deseret we finally did move in part because of how un-safe we felt where we were living, but that was much more the wife’s issue than mine. On the other hand, if we had kids my attitude likely would have been very different.

Which sort of gets to the points of it. Though for a variety of reasons (thriftiness, convenience of location, etc) I choose to live where I do and when I have kids I can choose to live somewhere else. My situation is different from someone stuck here.

The biggest advantage for money to me is also not so much stuff, but rather security. Making the sort of money that we do and being as relatively advantaged in the job market as we are means that we can stockpile some money and if we have to go a little while without a job, we don’t get desperate and don’t have to take the first job that comes around. That right there is worth a heck of a lot of stuff. I’ve lived without stuff and I’ve been fine. I’ve never lived without security (if worse can to worse I always had my folks house to go back to) but the security that the money has bought me is extremely valuable.

For Clancy the biggest thing that money buys her is independence. When she got her full-ride scholarship to the University of Koroa, more important than the money was the fact that her parents couldn’t hold anything over her. Her career path buys her a degree of autonomy at work because of the nature of the medical profession, but the money she makes also buys here the ability to have more choices that fewer people have any control over. She doesn’t need to worry as much about satisfying the government for Fannie Mae, she can afford to pick up and relocate if she doesn’t like her job at any particular place or we don’t like our neighbors. The only person she has to work with on these decisions is me (and, as we’ve come to discover, the various state medical boards).

My primary use for money and Clancy’s primary use for money aren’t all that different in the greater scheme of things. That’s one of the things that makes our marriage work. One of the more alarming things about Julie and I back when we dated was that she loved her stuff. It was an issue with Eva, too, though she liked money for doing stuff and giving stuff to others.

None of this is to say that I don’t like my stuff. One of the better things about having money is that I can get stuff that I want without having to worry too much about it most of the time. My Pocket PC breaks? I can get another. The car stops running? I can fix it or if I have to start putting money down on another. I can do these things without having to worry about being financially devastated. That sort of brings me back to my security thing (I am insulated from the sound of my Pocket PC breaking) and Clancy’s independence thing (we don’t need to ask anyone for money).

Category: Coffeehouse

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5 Responses to What Money Means

  1. Peter says:

    I went through a two-year period during the Great Recession of the early 1990’s in which “economic security” was a wholly absent concept. My per-diem, no-benefits job paid just barely enough to cover my expenses with nothing left over. I had no savings and absolutely no margin for error. It was a scary time, knowing that I was literally one missed paycheck away from missing payments on my mortgage and car loan and utilities, and all the unpleasantness that would have caused. Not having money for any sort of discretionary spending paled in comparison, though the fact that most people I knew were facing similarly tough times made it a little less painful.

  2. Webmaster says:

    Peter, the unfortunate thing about today’s economy is that so much is built up on the “discretionary spending” and ever-increasing debt. I personally think the monetary policies were mistaken in trying to “prevent recession” for most of the past 8 years; interest rates keep getting pushed down to the point where there’s almost no room left to push, and once the discretionary spending falls, most of the businesses based on the discretionary spending will also fall, and the end result is going to be much bigger than people are paying attention to.

    Looking at the economic indicators, the last time they looked like this was eerily close to October 1929.

  3. logtar says:

    What you describe is what I think of as solvent people. People that have money to have internal peace rather than a bunch of material possessions. Granted, those possessions might already be there, but your goal is to not have money be something to worry about. That is one of my goals and I have not achieved it, but I am on my way there.

  4. Spungen says:

    Oh, man, I just saw this. Guess I missed the boat. Notice how none of the comments discuss the social aspects of being poor, but *still* discuss the issue of “stuff” and consumerism. Which is not my issue. I remain misunderstood (sniff). Am I explaining myself wrong? I should do another post.

    Thus far I have not really used my resources to insulate myself from the undesirables for the most part. I live in a poor black neighborhood right now, lived in an immigrant community in Colosse, and lived among poor (and largely criminal) whites in Deseret.

    Dude, there’s a world of difference between being in proximity with such folks, and having them in your life. Having to look to them for friendship. Having them be your dating pool. Having to work with them and go to school with them, with no group of like-minded allies to socially insulate you from them.

  5. trumwill says:


    No one (here) is accusing you of consumerism.

    Because we’ve never been in the situation that you have, it stands to reason that we don’t see the social aspects as one of the primary benefits. I’m definitely not saying that your reason is less valuable or moral than mine. What I was saying was that different experiences lead different people to look at money (and the benefits of money) differently.

    Good point about the difference between proximity and being stuck. I had thought of the difference between choosing proximity and having proximity thrust upon you, but hadn’t thought of it in the terms you describe. Where I live is a place for me to lay my head. It’s definitely not my social web. Though it actually was my social web in Deseret until I got a job and made friends through work. That always smacked of being temporary, though.

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