At a family get-together one year, an older relative asked me what had been the most exciting Christmas present of my life. My first thought was the PlayStation console one of my mom’s boyfriends got me when I was little. I remember finally feeling like one of the other kids, the “normal” kids who seemed to get nice things at every holiday.
I’m on the older end of the millennial spectrum, and while a lot of us are assumed to be digitally savvy, I wasn’t until later in life. I bought my first smartphone with Christmas money after I graduated college, and I’ve had it for five years now. I was slow to adopt social media, and only joined Instagram when I started pursuing photography about a year after I bought my phone. I avoided using the new gadgets, or apps, my friends did because I didn’t see the point. I’ve had the same laptop since 2009; I paid for it with my student loans, loans I haven’t even started paying off yet.
My parents divorced when I was four, and doing without was common in the two households where I grew up. My mom worked at a bank, my dad as a general contractor, and neither of them made much money. (Later, I’d find out there was another culprit behind our perpetually tight resources: alcohol. But that’s another article entirely.) There was little room in the budget for luxuries like the internet.
At my mom’s place, where I lived until I was 16, we’d use something until it broke, then use it some more, patching it together with Band-Aids and workarounds. She wouldn’t spend on anything, even when it made sense. My dad’s spending depended on how much work he had.
Research has shown that just being poor puts people in a state of chronic stress and impedes their ability to make decisions.
By the time I had to pay for my own stuff, I’d internalized their flawed behaviors around money, often paralyzed into inaction whenever I had a few dollars extra to spend on anything beyond necessities. I saved what I could when I got my first job, but there never seemed to be enough. I didn’t understand how to invest in things that would help…