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Let's talk about money — even though it's sort of taboo in American culture. But in Chinese culture, it's actually pretty normal to talk about money. It's not really considered rude to ask how much someone's engagement ring cost, or to discuss salaries casually at dinner. It's not quite as simple as that (there's usually some level of bragging involved), but the fact is that money is nowhere near the sensitive topic that it is in the US.
Why has our culture evolved such that talking about money is rude? Is it because we're afraid to uncover the serious imbalance of wealth in our country? Or is it because we're all anxious about the crippling amount of student debt many of us have? That's a whole 'nother issue we'll have to unpack in its own post someday.
Whatever it is, one thing is clear — the thing with money is that there's never enough of it. More money, more problems. No money, even more problems.
I am extremely blessed to have a job and no student loans. This is no accident. I chose my school based on where I got scholarships, and went to my state school for undergrad because they basically had a formula for who got full rides. I just had to check two boxes to get a full ride: get a certain SAT score and a certain high school ranking. I gave up going to Harvard for grad school so I could attend the University of Michigan, who gave me funding for some weird reason. 🤷♀️ But it turned out to be the best decision of my life because now I work here. 🥰 Sure, I'd make more in industry, but I don't care because I'm well-paid for an academic researcher and get to work on cool problems with awesome people. My team's goals and meetings are centered around doing effective research, answering public health questions, and solving problems, rather than figuring out how to extract money from consumers.
It's probably weird that I'm posting all of this on the internet. It's considered extremely personal stuff. But in my mind, how is this more personal than anything else in my life? These are just facts. Now that I think about it, probably part of the reason I'm so open about money is because I'm an academic researcher. My salary is posted on the public internet anyway. Seriously, you could Google my salary right now if you wanted to. My name is there next to a number. So there's really no point in being private about it.
If we can start talking about money, we can start coming to solutions, figuring out what doesn't work in the system, and offering each other support. I believe that most of us can live within our means if we make some small changes that benefit us in multiple ways simultaneously. Buying less stuff and being a mindful consumer not only saves you money, but also reduces your impact. I used to think that I was barely making any money because I was always comparing myself to people who had more than me, like people I knew working at Facebook or Google making six-figure salaries. But I make more than enough to get by and living an amazingly full life. There are others with less than me. There are others with less than you. Just like there is always someone with more, there is always someone with less. We all do what we can to get by. We can learn from each other and use what we do have to better our own lives, which includes bettering our society.
I realize now that I am privileged financially. I have disposable income and the ability to choose where I eat, what I eat, what clothes I wear, and where I live. I don't have all the choices available to me of course, but I have a decent number of choices. I am able to donate to causes I care about. My friend and ex-housemate Alana once told me, "Every dollar is a vote." I didn't understand her at first, but now I try to spend my money on businesses and products I truly believe in.
Buying sustainable and local items sounds expensive. But if I cut down on and live frugally in certain areas of my life, I can enrich other areas of my life. So for example, I started buying fewer clothes, limiting myself to one or two new items a year, because clothes aren't a huge interest of mine and because I can thrift or sew my own clothes if I really wanted new ones. This not only reduces my impact but also saves me money. I use that money instead to buy organic foods and donate to causes that I care about.
When I started gradually bringing mindfulness to my spending habits, I realized I had more money than I thought. I found I was able to do more with the money I did have.
Companies have teams whose job is to figure out how to get you to buy things; how to convince us that we need something that we in fact do not need at all. As someone with disposable income who uses the Internet and social media, I am a prime target, and am bombarded by the output of these teams, in the form of ads, on a daily basis.
Now I save money in certain, specific areas of my life, so that I can instead have more freedom to vote with my dollar.
© if you know you grow 2023.