Here's the thing. Some stuff that happens is ok for me. Like a stock market drop. I don't actively wish for it to go down like this. But I'm not sad when it does. And that makes me feel bad.
In case you haven't been paying attention, the last week has been pretty much a bloodbath on the stock market.
Many of us have been expecting this — for at least two years. It's not rocket science. You never know exactly what will be the trigger, or when the trigger will come. But, sure as shit, markets are cyclical and there will always be a down cycle on the way.
But, the fundamentals have been, er, not great, for a while now. Stock buybacks from a tax-plan-that-totally-didn't-help-the-middle-class-as-much-as-they-claimed-it-would artificially pumped up the market for a time. The drop that should have happened two years ago is happening now, fueled by COVID-19.
Will it last? Who knows? Will it trigger a recession? Again, who knows?
I do know one thing, though. The liberal guilt is strong with this one, and I feel it at a time of stock market drop because I'm not necessarily sad this is happening.
Feeling Bad About Money and Privilege
I have a lot of financial privilege. Am I rich? Depends on who you're comparing me to. In Idaho, I do relatively well. I've been fortunate enough to build a flexible and reasonably lucrative career that affords me a lot of freedom. My area has a low cost of living, but I don't have to rely on the even lower wages to make ends meet.
I've managed to get in such a position of financial privilege that I can make flagrantly stupid mistakes and still come out ok, able to do the things I want to do.
And sometimes I feel bad about that. This isn't a feeling confined to just me. My friends Ben and Kat have talked about this with me on the regular. We often talk about how we look around and feel bad that we are fortunate and others aren't. Life's not exactly hard for us (we all have our challenges, but money isn't among them at this point). We feel bad, but we don't deserve anyone's pity.
Because what a thing to feel bad about.
We try to assuage our feelings by donating to good causes. We acknowledge our privilege. But sometimes you just feel bad about money.
Look, I Know I'm Not More Deserving Than Others
If I'm being honest, I have to acknowledge that:
- I work hard
- I'm smart
- There's some writing talent in there somewhere
- Training, by way of j-school, has helped
- I started writing about money on the internet at the right time
- Some of my breaks have been extremely lucky
- Others work harder than I do
- My support system is amazing
All of these things are true at the same time. There's no one thing that creates results. I can work hard and still benefit hugely from my privilege. The fact that I spent a few years scraping by doesn't negate the fact that I grew up mostly white suburban middle class — and benefited from that.
There's a lot going on there.
But part of the reason I feel bad about my money situation sometimes, especially when people around me aren't in the same position, is due to the fact that I'm aware that I'm no more deserving than others.
In fact, the reality that I'm in a place where I can now work less, and earn more, sometimes makes me feel worse. After all, there are plenty of people working way harder than me — sometimes at two or three jobs — and still not making ends meet.
And there's always that nagging feeling. Yes, I do a pretty reasonable amount. But am I doing enough?
How Does This Relate to the Recent Stock Market Drop?
So, how does this fit in with the massive stock market drop earlier this week? Well, I'm not really sad about it. I've said I'll be poking around looking for bargains. Maybe, if it falls further, I'll get some more stuff on sale.
Here's the thing. I don't cheer for a stock market drop. But I also don't get super sad. And that also makes me feel bad. I'm young-ish. I have time. And, really, it's better for me, personally, if we get this whole stock market crash thing out of the way now, before I need to use the money in my son's 529 to, yanno, pay for college.
But then I feel guilty. Because there are people who need to take the money out right now for things like living expenses. Retired folks need to do some cashing in. People with kids in college now need to liquidate their own 529s. Others, without the same risk tolerance, are frustrated about this upset to their plans.
I can blithely say, “Well if I take some money out of my travel fund now, I get a tax deduction!”
Not everyone is in that boat. And so, when I say something like that, or talking about bargain hunting on Twitter, a few minutes later, I feel bad. Because I know that not everyone has the same financial privilege. It sort of feels like I'm throwing this in their faces, even though I don't mean to.
Thoughtlessness is something I'm trying to get beyond.
But I also know that, in most ways, the less-financially-advantaged are not my audience. I don't create (and make money off) content for the budget-strapped. I've never been a frugal blogger. Most of the things I write about and the strategies I use only work if you have privilege.
And I feel bad about that. Not bad enough to stop making money and using that money to feed my son and help position him for a decent start in life. But I do feel bad.
So, this stock market drop isn't a big deal for me. In fact, I have to admit that I feel a little relieved. Because the timing works better for me. It's selfish, I know, but here we are.
Emotions Around Money are Complex
We like to pretend that money is just numbers. I started writing about money back when I was a science writer. I said I had no training or knowledge, specifically, related to money. And the person that stumbled upon me pointed out that, “Science and money are just math. If you can do the math, you can do money.”
But money is more than math. There's a lot of emotion there. Some of it's good. Some of it's bad. Lots of it is just there. It is what it is. And sometimes we make terrible decisions because of emotion. There are times we feel bad about our privilege — but not bad enough to eschew everything and set different lifestyle goals.
Do I put my political work behind policies that I feel promote a more equitable future? Yes. Does this mean that I might pay more taxes in the future? Yes. But that doesn't absolve me of some of the thoughtlessness of my public statements about money in the wake of the recent stock market drop.
And it doesn't erase the fact that there's a certain amount of schadenfreude I feel at the stock market drop finally coming. Because let's be honest, it's been a little frustrating that this drop didn't come sooner.
The stock market is not the economy, even though pundits treat it like it is. And if you look at the underlying fundamentals of the economy, and really analyze some of the things that have been happening, you know there's no valid reason for the bull market to have lasted this long.
So that's another complexity to all of this. When you've been ranting about shitty fundamentals for two years, you might feel a little vindicated. Even though this drop, and any subsequent recession, will be harmful to others.
So, What's Next?
Basically, I'll try to be more mindful. Will this change my feelings around a stock market drop, recession, or any other thing? Probably not. But I can try harder not to be an asshole about it in public. It's a tall order, but I can try.
Additionally, the fact that I feel bad is still something I'll have to keep wrestling with. I'm obviously still working to succeed in this field. I'm launching a new business venture. The stock market is still going to be an integral part of my long-term financial planning and I'll benefit when the current volatility resolves itself into a continued march upward.
I'll feel bad about that, too.
In general, while I like that I've been able to create a lifestyle I enjoy, I'll also feel guilty about it. Even though I try to do things with my time and resources to support causes that I feel will bring more financial equity to our society. There's no getting around this weird emotional mix around my money and what I do to earn it — and what I do with it after I earn it.
It turns out that I, like most people, am far from perfect. And still have plenty of progress to make.