Today’s post is from Aja McClanahan of the Principles of Increase. She & her husband paid off all their personal and business debt in 2013. (Woohoo!) Now that she & her husband are debt free, they have the highest quality of life ever.
Growing up, there was one thing my mom drilled into my brain constantly. We are the middle class and deserve nothing less than what educated, professional middle class families deserve. Her parents were professionals who worked hard and sent her and her siblings to posh Catholic schools. They lived in one of the nicer neighborhoods available to African Americans in Chicago at the time of her rearing. Her parents dressed them nicely, always drove nice, new cars and were always able to upgrade their home on a whim based on their ever-increasing incomes. In her mind, there was nothing less that could be normal for her.
My parents divorced when I was 9. I, along with my and two young siblings, lived with my mom. She was a single lady raising 3 kids and still trying to carry the middle class burden. The only problem is that divorce usually ravishes the income of all involved. After the divorce, there just wasn’t that much money to go around anymore. (Note: Here are some things to keep in mind about divorce and money.)
Around my mid twenties both my parents seemed to rebound and start doing pretty well for themselves income-wise. It was precisely around this time they both had ailing parents who needed care who went on to die without much savings. In one case, one passed without even having burial insurance. These events didn’t break my parents but the pinch on their finances was real.
After synthesizing all the memories, experiences and circumstances our family went through, I came to the conclusion that the middle class was a lie and the ambition to get there was as deceptive and as elusive as the fountain of youth.
It was a façade that at best, could only feign an appearance of wealth and at worst would keep people satisfied with being able to make payments on what they should really own outright. This was the middle class lie.
Entitlement thinking kept me broke
I love my parents dearly and I know they love me. I saw them both and try extremely hard to give us the best of what they could. At the end of the day, I think we’ve all been victims of misinformation and they were no exception. When I got my first job straight out of college, I went directly for the car note and obnoxiously high rent. After all, my mother raised me as a good middle class citizen, why would I have less?
That entitlement thinking kept me broke for a long time. Surely, I could not clip coupons because that was for poor people not the middle class “elite” that I was. My car had to be nice, my clothes had to be different for at least 21 days in a row and so on. I didn’t want to be confused with the poor folk my education and upbringing should have separated me from.
After awhile, I realized this pernicious lie kept me broke and lying to myself about what true wealth was. What good is it to be able to afford payments on nice things if you will never own them? Why have the best of the best and not be able to leave anything to your children?
That was the middle class deception at work in my life. I believed that I had come too far to “struggle” when the truth was that I could afford much else but to keep up appearances. I only thought about what people would think about me. How sad!
Leave more than bills to your children
Middle class living is nice but I think we all can agree that the numbers of those laying claim to the middle ranks of society are becoming less and less.
Politics aside, this is happening because the foundation of what middle class life purports to be is shaky, real shaky. If your goal is to maintain that status quo, I can tell you now that life will be increasingly difficult for you.
When you decide to build wealth instead of “faking it” or just being able to afford the payments on it, then you are in a position to help others as well and leave more than debt and bills to your children.
The next time you think you are too good to take a step down for the purposes of becoming firmer in your financial footing, think about the lie you might be trying hard to maintain. Is it worth it? Is it true? It just might be time to change your mental “money script” and escape the middle class lie for good!