Thursday, May 21, 2009


Recently I spent a girls night out consisting of dinner and a chick flick with a friend. While feasting at the Olive Garden, we soon found ourselves divulging personal details as girlfriends are prone to do when the husbands aren’t around.

“You know, we had to sell one of our cars. I have to walk to work now.”
“Oh, well we had to cash out a retirement account to pay the credit card.”
“Yeah, we had to cash out a life insurance policy to pay the mortgage.”

In the midst of this conversation, what struck me as strange was not the secrets themselves, but rather the competitive attitude with which they were being divulged. It was as if we were trying to win the “My Life Sucks More Than Yours Does” title. Despite the dire straits many of my friends are currently in, we seem to actually take a strange delight in being forthcoming about how bad off we are.

Our parents and grandparents would never let on to their peers if they were having “money troubles” as my mom calls it. Their generations would scrape and scrimp, work second and third jobs, and find a way to NOT let their issues be known. They weren’t going to take any handouts from anybody. They had a different sense of pride. To them, financial duress was failure in their role as head of a household or family. But not us Gen-Xers! I don’t know if it’s a lack of pride, or a just stronger ability to roll with the punches, even when the punches are ruining our credit record.

But it’s not as if we’re miserable people. We’re happily married, some of us have kids, and we all have stable and supportive families and friends. The difference between us and our parents is that most of our financial woes are attributed (okay, blamed) on everyone other than ourselves. Companies had mass layoffs, health issues brought stacks of medical bills, jobs were outsourced to India, a sinkhole swallowed the neighborhood. And while all of these are very real and valid contributing factors to our respective fiscal fiascos, I’d like to see a show of hands of how many of us don’t have some purchases or creative financing in our recent pasts that should have been delayed or foregone altogether. We’re not entirely blameless in our money woes.

Nonetheless, Gen-Xers don’t feel the need to hang our heads in shame when we come to realize our money has gotten away from us. Instead we see it as yet another way to compete with our friends…even if in reality, the “winner” of this argument is the one who’s the worst off. Maybe we just have a strange way of empathizing. We were always taught it’s not nice to brag, so we take it to the other extreme and try to assure each other that we are far worse off than they are. Trust me, you don’t want to see my savings account.


  1. You're right on, Ms. Confetti. My family is the same way. Comes with the territory, I suppose, when growing up amongst commercial fisherman - they never talk about money coming in or going out.

  2. I hate to admit it, but I think the "brag about your woes" thing comes from a certain sense of entitlement. Our grandparents believed that success wasn't easy to come by; it took a lot of extra work and commitment. So they wanted people to see them as successful; it meant they were exceptionally smart, industrious, admirable people.

    But with our generation (and sometimes our parents'), I think there's a belief that abundance is just supposed to "happen" as long as you do what you're told and don't screw up too badly. When it doesn't work out that way for us, we feel that the universe has cheated us. And if all our friends are having the same problems, we feel even less culpable for our mistakes. ("I shouldn't feel too stupid for taking that subprime loan, because a bunch of my friends did the same thing.")

    Maybe the bottom line is that our grandparents wanted to rise above their backgrounds and circumstances, whereas we're content to just perform in line with them.