The Catalogue: No. 11

Friday, July 20, 2018


This week in C.R.E.A.M.
Sorry to expose CL and myself, but we fucking love judging people for their spending habits. Like, oh, that's nice that you got Coachella tickets and eyelash extensions and weekly manicures, but have you maxed out your 401K? And I know a lot of this comes from a place of weird privilege that's not necessarily class-based. I might be more financially literate than my (still college-educated) peers, but I've arguably also had to worry more about both immediate and long-term financial insecurity.

But I also went to an expensive, need-based private university (on a full scholarship), where 71% of students came from the top 10% wealthiest families in the United States, and less than 1% came from the bottom 20%. For four years, I was surrounded by extremely "comfortable" young adults who made decisions about money that I would never understand -- even if they were smart ones, like maximizing the returns on institutional wealth. (I don't know what the fuck that means beyond the abstract. In case it was not clear, I am not the proud owner of institutional wealth.)

Then again, I managed to graduate college debt-free and with no contribution from my parents, so any snooty opinion I have on how other people pay down (or don't) their student loans is invalid. I get that.

The point is, I have zero right to secretly judge how other people "invest" their money (I also have a long diatribe about the bastardization of "invest," like no Caitlin, a pair of Gucci slides is not a fucking investment, but nobody asked, so I digress). But, like some of the articles below, I think it's worth exploring why we feel entitled to qualify, or even police, how others make financial decisions. I'm interested in how we tend to crucify poor people (primarily of color) for indulging in manicures instead of higher education, or designer belts instead of health insurance, with little to no analysis of how poverty affects our priorities.

I also think there's something to be said about how filial duty, compounded as it is in Asian cultures, complicates our relationship with real and imagined debt towards our parents. About immigrant children and their children who pay remittance upwards and outwards.

What I'm trying to say is, I wish I were a journalist to explore these further, but since I'm not, here is my weekly roundup of interesting reads.

Why We Love to Judge The Way Women Spend | Lindsey Stanberry for Refinery29
Money remains an emotionally fraught territory – triggering anger, jealousy, inadequacy, resentment, pride, gratitude, and self-pity in a split-second. Money Diaries, and its notorious comments section, provides a platform where women can overshare, vent, judge, and maybe even achieve catharsis. It’s often a difficult conversation, but an absolutely worthy one.
Women's Media is A Scam | Josephine Livingstone for The New Republic
Women’s media has also run on the first-personal travails of women. Though it sets a wildly different editorial tone, the Money Diaries invoke the ghost of xoJane, which exploited readers and writers alike by holding a “contest” for the best “It Happened To Me” first-person story. What happened was that it ran an endless stream of unpaid blog posts in which readers were invited to offer up their most traumatic experiences in return for zero dollars. The site came to represent the worst of the Personal Essay Industrial Complex, in which a publication creams the profits off women’s trauma, especially women of color, in the name of feminist solidarity.
Money Diaries: Is Privilege the Real Issue Here? | Phoebe Maltz Bovy for Refinery29
It’s my sense that the people most candid about their privilege – sometimes thoughtfully, other times less so – are young women, who are privileged to varying degrees, but not all that powerful. Even the language of spending is gendered: Women “splurge” when they spend, while men “provide.” From the reaction, it’s clear that too much of the conversation about class privilege winds up focusing on the trappings of wealth and day-to-day consumption habits, often those associated specifically with young women. The purchases that come across as super-privileged aren’t even the unattainable ones, just the ones that seem the most predictably millennial.
The Big Business of Being Gwyneth Paltrow | Taffy Brodesser-Akner for New York Times Magazine
Why mass-market a lifestyle that lives in definitional opposition to the mass market? Goop’s ethic was this: that having beautiful things sometimes costs money; finding beautiful things was sometimes a result of an immense privilege; but a lack of that privilege didn’t mean you shouldn’t have those things. Besides, just because some people cannot afford it doesn’t mean that no one can and that no one should want it.
Refinery29, Kylie Jenner, and the Denial Underlying Millennial Financial Resentment | Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker
Young women, who are constantly asked to present themselves as likable, tend to be hyper-aware of what other people think about them. And in this era of world-historical inequality—and in this country, which is psychologically addicted to the idea of bootstrapping—it is not “cool” to be blindly privileged, to have lived your life on the soft velvet cushion of family wealth. Rich people who are more or less aware of this reality negotiate around it in odd ways: they try to portray billion-dollar wealth as a cultural disadvantage, or they call themselves “self-made” when they have enjoyed advantages that others could only dream of. They try vaguely and often unsuccessfully to conceal their advantages, looking for a walkup instead of a doorman building, telling a Times reporter that they always pack their lunch for work.
 White College Graduates Are Doing Great With Their Parents' Money | Adam Harris for The Atlantic
The differences that they found between black and white families were stark. “Among college-educated black families, about 13 percent get an inheritance of more than $10,000, as opposed to about 41 percent of white, college-educated families,” Taylor said in a release announcing the new research. More specifically, white families that receive such an inheritance receive, on average, more than $150,000 from the previous generation, whereas that figure is less than $40,000 for black families.
TBC (maybe), because I used to work in a behavioral economics research lab and have more to share! Though this delves into decidedly less sexy territory.

With great love and frugality,
LC

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