Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Money

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Sophia and I went to a party in Malibu, where we met this woman who was telling us how her husband had just bought his seventh car. Sophia asked if he traded in his car every year, thinking that he was on his seventh car since moving to Los Angeles. No — this was his SEVENTH CAR.   I felt a little uncomfortable the rest of the night as they talked about real estate and their trip to Norway.  You didn’t have to be a psychic to know that the four of us probably wouldn’t be hanging out too much together, simply because of the differences in wealth.

We’re not poor, but we’re not rich, and for some reason, I’ve always noticed that it is difficult to hang out in social circles where others are very richer or poorer than you, just because your lifestyles tend to be different. This is something none of us dare talk about — that money can separate us more than color or religion or age.

Yesterday, I made fun of the categories that the blogosphere puts us in — mommybloggers, etc. But if all the mommybloggers met in a room together, they would less separate into groups of color or age than groups based on income, where the wealthy group would chat about the hippest new stroller and getting their child into the “right” pre-school while the middle-class group would complain about health care.

That’s just life.

I don’t begrudge the guy from Malibu for having his seven cars. It’s actually pretty cool, and I’m sure he worked hard to get where he is. Even though I felt a little insecure talking with him, I can’t say that he was “better” than me. After all, I run a successful blog and he doesn’t. Still, it made me sad to think that our friendship had barriers to it based on money. Growing up, I understood the importance of money in enjoying life, but I never quite realized how much of a role it has in determining your social interactions. Is this just a Los Angeles/New York thing?

As I read your blogs, I notice that some of you go on exotic vacations seemingly every week. Some of you are working two jobs, although I suspect most bloggers are doing well enough to waste their time… uh, blogging.. I find it all interesting. I love that ONLINE there is freedom to walk in different social circles. I’m hoping that race, religion, etc. is never a factor in online friendship.

But, let’s be honest, do you think differences in MONEY would hinder many of us from becoming friends in real life?

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Blogger’s Fashion Emergency

55 Comments

  1. “Is this just a Los Angeles/New York thing?”

    Absolutely NOT. We also “suffer” from it in Toronto…especially at my kids’ private school. I tell people our kids’ school is made up of the “haves” and the “have nots” and oftentimes, never the ‘twain shall meet. I always hope that my kids will have friends who are…in our (simple, middle-class) income tax bracket. It makes a difference…

    In terms of couples, I’ve generally found (although it’s not a hard and fast rule) that money begets money; you come from it, you usually find someone else with it…simply because of the company you keep.

  2. There is no doubt in my mind that this is true. I see it at work everyday. I work on a trading floor (electricity trading) and the long term, huge bonus guys talk wine, Porsches and million dollar homes and the rest of us talk about beer, toyotas and $250,ooo dollar houses. When we have group functions they might as well have two rooms because there is an invisible wall that very few of us ever cross at these thing. Sad but true.

  3. Yes it would. Money has always. Money is a medium for values. The way you use the money shows what values are yours. And friendship is sharing values.

    Someone wealthier than you but who would use one’s wealth the same way you use yours could be your friend.

    It is not, in my humble opinion, a matter of numbers on a bank statement, but a matter of usage. What you tell us here is that you were not in line with a gentleman using his hard work to buy car after car. The same amount of money given in another cause could have made you friends, maybe.

  4. You don’t have to pay for my friendship. It helps, but it is not required.

  5. You can call me, Sir

    February 12, 2007 at 7:08 am

    If money made that significant of a difference to someone and they made that significance known in ways both subtle and obvious, they wouldn’t be worth my time. Money isn’t a sign of character, and character is what counts.

  6. i have a broad spectrum of friends with varying bank accounts. all i ask in any relationship is that it be reciprocal. i find some would rather throw money at the cause than actually work on the actual friendship.

    and if i was thrown into the proverbial room of mommybloggers (a term that i abhor!), i would probably stand in the corner and base my judgement on who to visit with from the music they listen to. this info is way more telling to me than bullshit talk about income, clothing, etc.

  7. No. Not if you take me out to lunch! haha.

    Trying to be funny.

  8. I can make a difference if the disparity is large. We have friends who started out just like us, but then made a lot of money through Internet businesses. We’re still friends because although they have a ton of money to spend, they don’t throw around except to entertain their friends. And they’re still the same people.

    I do think it has more to do with values overall. No matter how much money I had, I wouldn’t have seven cars. And I can’t imagine having anything in common with someone who does.

  9. I have this one friend who makes more money than the rest of us, and she’s always wanting to take these fabulous weekends away and then we all have to say, “Gee, that sounds like fun, but I’d really like to be able to buy food for the next week.” We don’t really mind not getting to go on vacation with her, though, cause she’s kind of a bitch. (If I had a point, I have completely forgotten it.)

  10. One doesn’t need alot of money to live a rich life. One must recognize the things that truly give richness and meaning to your journey; friends, family, meaningful work, health, humor, etc….
    It’s okay to do the meaningful things in a nice car, and home, but, if you need seven cars to prove that you have a rich life, it’s the wrong kind of rich for me.

  11. I dunno. Why don’t we meet in my villa on the French Riviera this weekend and find out?

  12. I often wonder if or how I would change if I was to suddenly become rich. I think those around me would change more than I would. Anybody have an extra million they want to contribute towards my experiment?

  13. depends, can i come stay at their seaside vacation home for free? 😉

    i’ve gone on dates with men who made 6 figure salaries to my measely non-profit paycheck and i’ll admit, i was intimidated. granted, there’s a mess of feminist shit rolled into that but i also saw that we didn’t see eye to eye on some things where money was a factor. throwing down $100 for dinner was a lot to me but chump change to them. it didn’t feel that great (probably because i am too independent and don’t like depending on anyone to pay my way).

    i think class does influence relationships. it’s something that can be navigated but it’s a stumbling block, for sure.

  14. A very good observation. If you took a bunch of strangers and put them in a room and dressed them similarly so you couldn’t get a clue of their financial status by their appearance, I think initially everyone would stay together. As time passed though, the groups you mentioned would separate… based on interests, background, finances and past experiences. Unless the people made a conscious effort to stay around those they wouldn’t normally “hang” with, the stratiation of the group would be inevitable.

    I think I may have had a point… or I just stated the obvious. I may just need more caffeine.

  15. I grew up in a very wealthy area. The type of area where it’s not uncommon for folks to be gifted with brand spanking new BMWs on their 16th birthday. That being said, my family certainly doesn’t have that kind of money and it was weird at times. I couldn’t afford to go to the islands on my spring break, or go to the mall and buy whatever high end item that I wanted, but many of my friends could. It was far more awkward for me in high school than it is now, mainly because after all of those years dealing with those same issues, I learned how to handle the situations. So now when my friend, who could easily buy and sell me 9 times over, buys the whole bar a round of drinks while I strictly budget myself to certain spending limit it’s something that I can laugh about and tease him about. But yes, the barriers exist and sometimes they suck. Especially when they start inviting you on the island vacations and the most you can afford is a day at the beach! For me it has really been a test of friendships that has sometimes really hurt me, but other times been really and truly fabulous.

  16. Money talks, and a lot of money talks really, really loudly.

  17. First, I want to address Neil’s point about people who are bloggers are probably people who have money. I agree. Otherwise, how would we have spare time to do this? On the other hand, I have ‘met’ some bloggers who are on public assistance or live in Appalachia and are quite poor, but I have not seen too many of them. In addition, I agree with many of the folks above who say that class/money do factor into friendships. I have friends from many different worlds, but I also recognize that most of my friends are a lot like me: middle-class, Jewish, white.

  18. I like them and all, but I can’t get through any of the posts of those poor Appalachian bloggers! They always write about the same stuff.

  19. Yeah – I hear you on the money/friends subject.

    For example: I have some friends who have not received quite the career epiphany that I have, nor have moved on from the college non-committal jobs that have followed them from high school. They are on the long-term plan for college, work at jobs that pay – maybe – double minimum wage and are living the starving college student lifestyle.

    Therefore, when I do things like: hire movers to handle the brunt of the hard work of my upcoming move, hire cleaners to tidy up afterwards and buy myself the occasional semi-pricey work jean trousers – I catch their flack. I am suddenly the equivalent of Paris Hilton on a weekend shopping spree with trailing servants abound to carry my bags.

    I could really do without the guilt trips. So yeah, I think it affects things. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t still love them all to death. I still believe that friendship transcends the dollar bill.

  20. I’ve thought about that a lot… and came to the conclusion (as of yet, untested), that *real* friendship knows no such boundaries. I think good friends understand each other’s financial situations and are willing to accomodate so that the other person could participate and feel comfortable. I think wealthier friends (if they are good friends) will make a point of NOT showing off or deliberately dragging their LESS wealthier friends to places they obviously can’t afford… and people can hang out in neutral places. And the poorer friends will also make an effort to understand what concerns their wealthier friends and won’t spend all their time complaining about finances. It’s not about where you hang out, but how good a time you have in each other’s company. It’s also about your personalities and your priorities… how well you understand each other and what you’re truly looking for and value in a friendship. I may sound a tad idealistic since I haven’t actually been in such situation yet, but I think it makes sense.

  21. I think that money is the least acknowledged divide, and sometimes it only comes up over time when we discover that we can’t regularly join friends in pursuits they can afford and we can’t or vice versa.

    I don’t think it necessarily comes down to values. When friends hop off to the slopes for a skiing vacation and I have to consider if I can swing it this year, our values aren’t different; our means are. And over time, not being able to share certain experiences can breed space into a friendship that overwise would not be there…and it’s sad.

    And some friendships are so profound, that nothing can get in their way…thankfully.

  22. Irina — I never thought about this issue at all until I was married. That’s when people start thinking of their family unit as a corporation.

    So, marry rich.

  23. I have always been poor. It does feel weird reading other people’s blogs sometimes when they talk about all the very expensive stuff they have and do. I just got a computer for the first time last year and I’ll be paying it off for the next few years.

    Mostly, I look at most blogs as a window into a world I will probably never see except on the internets and it’s very interesting. I like to live vicariously through others.

  24. Money does make a difference. That being said, I was reared to believe that when I have more I should share. Everyone wants a girls weekend in New York and one can’t afford it? Then those of us who can chip in and bring her along. Or if I’m the one low on funds they chip in and bring me. We are friends and want to be together… It all usually balances out in the end, and no one ends up with hard feelings. As it happens I’m usually the one chipping in, but there were times long ago when I found a plane ticket in the mail.

  25. I believe the only thing that gets between you and your fellow bloggers is that penis of yours.

  26. 1) Very astute observation, that money or “class” is a much more powerful barrier than race, creed or gender.

    2) My wife and I are from different backgrounds (including money/class) and if we hadn’t first met online and become good friends, we probably would never have had a chance together. Those differences now create issues to overcome, particularly in the areas of money and childrearing, but we manage. (Soon, though, she’ll come to realize I’m always right, and then things will be perfect.)

  27. Yes, I believe that money and FLAUNTING that money can make a difference between friends. I consider myself and my husband to be upper-middle class. We have wealthier friends and we have
    “barely-able-to-pay-the-rent” friends.
    HOWEVER, a common ground can be found based on interests. We end up going to art shows, concerts with friends. Also, just hangin’ out at the equalizing Farmers Market in L.A. is great.

    Also, since my huz and I do not have children, we tend to socialize with others who don’t have kids. That’s another (non)-interest we may have in common.

  28. I think it was more the fact that this guy was a showy jerk. Who the hell needs seven cars? What a needless display of power and status.

    When I lived in California, I met some *very* wealthy people and they were generally two types:

    – Ones who were so insecure they needed to constantly show how wealthy they were. These people lived for the approval of others and I couldn’t stand being with them. They were also very boring.

    – Ones who were wealthy and didn’t care about the status that went along with it. They were not materialistic or, if they were, they didn’t want to talk about it much. These people usually had a strong interest in something besides BEING WEALTHY. I liked these people a lot.

  29. I have this ongoing argument with a friend of mine over how much money would make your life better (like how big of a lotto win do you need?) I say that you maybe only want about a million, because that enough to improve your own life (pay off your house, car, etc), do some fun stuff, help your family and save a bit for later. Basically, you don’t change your life, you just make it easier. He thinks it wouldn’t be worth winning the lottery unless you get something crazy like 100 million. He is the simplest guy, no money, likes to go out for a beer with his friends, dresses like shit, loves a vacation in the country at his parents farm- it baffles me that he thinks he would prefer a jetset lifestyle, the kind that goes along with a 100 million dollar lotto win. But I really believe that most people don’t want the big win that would sort of force them into a weird social network that they aren’t used to, but would just be happy making the life they have a bit better and easier. I suspect that we will never be able to test out this theory…

  30. Spare time to blog often means access to the Internet at work.

  31. “I have this ongoing argument with a friend of mine over how much money would make your life better”

    They did this as experiment once – they asked everyone in a company what salary they would like to earn to be happy. Top to bottom, from the CEO to janitor, every employee gave the figure that was 20% more than their current wage.

  32. Neil, this is an awesome topic.

    I have always held that I am a reverse snob. I like nice things and Matt and I are not poor or lacking money, but we choose to live like grad students. Him more than I, definitely, as I do have a thing for nice shoes and good makeup, but generally we have a simple lifestyle. I think we could definitely hold friendships with those who have less than us, but not necessarily the reverse. In my experience (and not everyone is like this, just in my own experience) people with more tend to talk about it more and I find it annoying. I don’t give a shit about how much square feet your house is or what kind of sports car you’re driving. If that’s all you have to talk about you’re a really boring person. You know? (And by “you” I mean generally.) I’m more inclined to befriend someone of any level if they can STFU about what they have or don’t have and just focus on the friendship.

  33. See, this is why I don’t have friends (too many possibilities of being rejected)!

    🙂

  34. Very interesting. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about it…I just don’t know WHAT to say. So I’ll sit here and think about it for a while.

  35. Nope. I think the blogosphere is very democratic in the sense that there is often no telling who has what or indeed does what. Content prevails over style, and wit and opinion seem to matter more than personal circumstances… It’s about being able to engage readers, not about the latest set of wheels or designer handbag. This is how I see it from across the pond, and I am very aware that – despite sharing a common language – Brits and Americans don’t always agree… Go on, slap me in the face with a wet kipper if this comment jars!

  36. Ariel — first of all, I’ve always wanted to try a kipper, so that in itself was intriguing. And I agree with you that ONLINE everything is democratic. I was just wondering what happens when we meet OFFLINE, and we see that one of us lives in a mansion and eats with a silver spoon, and the other lives in Bakersfield and slurps his soup directly from the Campbell’s Soup can.

  37. Oy, this is such an issue for me. I reluctantly admit that I would begrudge the guy in Malibu for having his seven cars even though I’d feel bad for doing it. I often feel intimidated by the incredible wealth of the parents at my daughter’s private school and I find myself making assumptions about extremely wealthy people and then being “surprised” when some of them are really nice and down to earth despite their mega-mansions. I often worry that my own issues about wealth is keeping me from attaining it. I do think it’s true that the blogosphere is the great leveler but you’re right–that level playing field only works in the virtual world.

  38. Money matters whether we like it or not. But I do hope that some friendships will thrive despite the differences. Money makes me uncomfortable, especially since we live a bit extravagantly, especially compared to some of our friends.

  39. Neil:
    I avoid the seven car-guy because of his ostentatiousness, not his money.

    Classy people are not showy or pretentious. They are generous and kind, and more interested in others than themselves. And money can’t buy class.

  40. I have friends of a variety of income levels. It all comes down to shared interests and having a modicum (at least) of class. My mom always told me that having class was the most important thing and is shown in how one treats others.

  41. Very provocative post, Neil. Now, my question to you is – Can career choice be a barrier to forming or maintaining friendships?

    I ask this because over the years I have lost touch with someone I considered my best friend in college. As students we were in contact often despite demanding course loads. After graduation, as we embarked on our chosen career paths – High School Chemistry teacher for me, Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse for her – our time together became less frequent, and it became harder to find common ground, even though we still shared many of the same interests. It’s been 2 years since we’ve spoken, and likely to be even longer before we get in touch. (I know, I know – I could break the ice, but what would we talk about?)

    I’ve also found that contact with my friends who’ve left the teaching profession has become less frequent. Does this mean our jobs were the only thing we had in common, or something else? I’d hate to think my only friends for the rest of eternity would be fellow teachers. It’s nice to have some variety and spice in your relationships. Am I doomed?

  42. This is a point of perspective, and authenticity. If a guy has 7 cars because he lives for cars, they give him joy, and he can afford them…so be it. If he has 7 cars because he is desperately keeping up with, or thrying to fill some void, well then it’s totally different. Money does not have to matter if people know who they are. I like having conversations with people, and not being able to tell if they have a pot to piss in. I grew up with a lot of really wealthy friends. They are just people. Plain old people. Some are cool, some are idiots.

  43. We were on a trip and met friends in Singapore. They traveled all the time so they made the hotel reservations. We show up and my inner radar goes off “WE CANNOT AFFORD THIS.” As we checked in I asked the nightly rate. It was $1500. a night. Gak. We had to explain that while we both are employed- we couldn’t afford this kind of luxery. They felt awkward. We felt awkward. It was all around awkward.

  44. I think it is the character of the person that will influence your decision to be someone’s friend not the amount of money in their pocket. I have friends who are extremely wealthy and those that don’t have much expendable cash. I can’t be jealous of what I don’t have and I don’t flaunt what I do and that enables me to have the circle of friends that I have. However, each of us has to find our on comfort level with money. Remember, money can be taken away very easily (think The Depression). What kind of character do you have?

  45. i don’t know about this. i’m strictly middle class. my kids are being raised to have everything they need, not necessarily everything they want. i went through a period where i was alot more materialistic then i am now, it seems the older i get, the less i want. great food for thought today!

  46. Neil:
    Wendy has a very good point. How do we know that the seven car-guy doesn’t give half his income to the poor and disadvantaged? He probably doesn’t, but how do we know? Maybe he does a great deal of good for his fellow man, while the poor sod who has nothing spends what little he has on lotto tickets and malt liquor instead of diapers?

  47. I would hate to think that I would lose my friends if I or they became wealthy!!

  48. We’ve been through ups and downs of wealth and have noticed that two situations magnify the financial differences between our ourselves and our friends – when we wanted to go out to dinner or go on vacation together.

    When we were grad students in DC, POOR as church mice, we cringed and went into debt to have dinner on New Years Eve at Mortons with our friends who were partners in law firms with huge salaries. It was nice to be able to spend a fun night with them, but I was glad that New Years Eve was only once a year.

  49. I have a friend w/ 7 cars…and he is a car fanatic…so yes it seems a bit much, but he loves cars (he even races them)…so it isn’t a big deal. The thing that I find is that we talk about so many other things…money is just not a big topic. When I first met him I was unemployed and very poor…now I’m not…but our friendship has never changed. Don’t know for everyone, but for me it is more about intelligence and the ability to have a good conversation about many topics! 🙂

  50. My mother is always saying she wants to be rich. She lives in Omaha and grew up in a working class neighborhood in South Philly. I worked for incredibly rich people when I was young (worth $60m and up) and I kept telling her it didn’t seem to make them any happier. Hey, just like that old adage says! But I have noticed that money, and influence, do seem to separate people. We send our kids to a Catholic school and there are separations along two lines, money and culture (Korean, American, Japanese). We hang out with those people who have the same concerns as we do, paying for schooling, saving up for newish cars, etc. Let’s face it, you end up talking and feeling most comfortable with people who are most like you, and that may go, too, for people who grew up rich or middle class. Don’t forget that even among the rich there’s Old Money and New Money. And Old Money sees those New Money people as upstarts. I do think you have a great point here, that in the blogosphere it’s a little money blind. But I wouldn’t be surprised if your favorite blogs turned out to be by people in the same economic class as you.

  51. I had to add my 2 cents, I have a lot of incredibly wealthy friends. While my family is comfortable, my friends are in the extreme wealthy range. That doesn’t stop us from being friends. I think when it comes down to it, it depends on the person rather than their money, and what kind of importance they attach to it. If they love their money they could get all high and mighty, and if they’re practical about it, they make great down to earth friends whose fabulous beach houses you can vacation at 🙂

  52. You all are way to judgemental about owning 7 cars! Maybe we wouldn’t get along in real life because of those types of misconceptions.

    When I first met my future husband I made the same mistake and thought he was bragging about his wealth, since he was had 3 cars, but soon I realized that working on cars was just his passion, and none of them were expensive cars. He collects cars like I collect plants. So now he still owns several old Volvos and BMWs, which he calls “turbo bricks” but that makes him an interesting person to me and not a materialistic person.

    My husband loves to hang out with his blue collar buddy and work on cars.

    I think social class discrimination is replacing racism to some extent. Calling people “white trash” or “ghetto” or “rich snob” is now becoming the most common hurtful stereotype.

  53. Nelumbo, the main reason we wouldn’t get along in real life is I don’t want your new baby spitting up on me.

  54. this makes me laugh because whenever I go back home to L.A., I am shocked by the kinds of cars and well, everything is just so different than in New England. Doh. Although I am “okay” in the financial dept, I own my home, I own my car, I have no debt except my mortgage, which isnt considered debt compared to most people, and I don’t have to work outside of the home (and a single mom), I am very fortunate. Yet, I am contemplating cancelling a snowboarding trip I planned to take alone next week, because I can save a few hundred bucks and buy some art supplies and stay home and watch tv and rented movies and blog, because blogging is in fact, FREE. (if you don’t include the cable internet bill of course, but that is a business write off) Wow, this was long, I forgot I was writing in the comment section, sorry!

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