Financial Trauma

Recently, one of my favourite YouTube commentator channels, Tiffany Ferg, did a video about the role that wealth and class play in one’s ability to succeed with social media as a career choice. Video here, for reference:

One of the things that Tiffany spoke of in this video is the way that money, or lack thereof, can play a significant role in who we are, and who we become.

So, let’s talk about financial trauma.

The concept of financial trauma is the idea that those from low-class economic status have larger portions of their personality shaped around money than those raised in the middle class or upper class. Essentially, growing up poor or barely scraping by, play a considerable role in who you become.

From a personal perspective, this is absolutely true.

From a societal standpoint, I do believe this to largely be true. It’s one of the reasons, I think, why lottery winners are infinitely more likely to file for bankruptcy than regular folk. The sudden windfall of money is something that they really don’t know how to deal with, especially if lands in the laps of someone who’s spent their whole life scraping by, or just making it pay cheque to pay cheque.

But, let’s backtrack here.

I grew up in what is regularly defined as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. I was one of five biological children and seven total children living in the house. As a family, we were very much house poor. This means that we were living in a house, we had a roof over our heads and were ultimately very privileged in that sense, but the sacrifices made to ensure that roof stayed over our heads meant a lot of sacrifices in other areas of life.

My siblings and I would regularly go out on bicycles after dark to collect cans and bottles from dumpsters, to earn what very little money we could so that my father would have a way to and from work each day. There were actually days in which he hitchhiked to work. (Due to my father’s profession and the location of our house relative to where he worked, it was very difficult for him to find a coworker who was headed there at the same time as him)

Those memories, they stay with you. They define you, dare I say.

Even so, I know that while I may have grown up low-class in an upper-middle and upper class world, I still acknowledge how blessed I was to be in the situation that I was. Sharing a bedroom with three other people was annoying at times, but I did have a room. I had a house. I had a place to come home to. It’s something that I know a lot of people in the city which I grew up, and the world, did not and still do not have. For the sake of this share, I just wanted to acknowledge the privilege that I did/do have.

One thing I distinctly remember from my childhood is that, for the years in which we did have a vehicle (largely my teenaged years), the gas tank was always riding ‘Empty’. My parents had scraped together enough to get the vehicle, but between the vehicle and the house payments, things felt tighter than ever before.

I think this is very much one of the reasons why I didn’t purchase my own vehicle until I was 31 years old. I think this is one of the reasons why you will never, ever, ever see the gas-tank in my car get below the half-way mark. I can’t do it. The anxiety and stress that I get from seeing the gas-tank read closer to ‘E’ than it does to ‘F'(Full) is something that I cannot tolerate. If I cannot afford to fill up my car with gas, to keep it above the half-way mark on the tank, then I won’t drive my car until I can.

This, to me, is the idea of financial trauma. That the socioeconomic status in which you’re raised is something that stays with you, for what I can only assume is your whole life.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I know someone who grew up in a world-renowned mountain town, one famous for skiing/snowboarding, winter lifestyle and affluence. Their parents brought them to this country as refugees and they landed in this mountain town by some sort of cosmic coincidence.

Their upbringing was hard. This mountain town, known for accepting wealthy tourists from all over the world year-round, was one where cost of living was high, while the possible wages able to be earned by a refugee couple and their children was.

They’ve told me stories about working as a bag-boy and shelf-stocker in the grocery store every day of the week from as early in life as they were able to work, with the money they made in week not even being able to afford them the groceries they would want to buy from that very store. And of following their mom and dd to work as janitors at night to help them get work done faster so they can get more done, and thus make a little more money for the family.

This person, a lot of the financial decisions that they make today are the outcome of what they went through growing up. They go out of their way to ensure that living pay cheque to pay cheque will never again be their reality. They also go out of their way to ensure they don’t/won’t work in any industry remotely related to the jobs they worked growing up. The way in which they grew up has played a big role in defining the decisions they make today.

To an extent, I think this idea of financial trauma will be present in anyone who has lived, or is presently living in a situation in which money is not something that allows them to be comfortable. And, when you really stop to think about it, it’s something that really doesn’t affect those who come from a higher-level socioeconomic class. Because they’ve never had to worry about money, they’ll likely continue to not worry about money, or the choices they make with their money. Not unless they suddenly fall into bankruptcy.

So what shapes them, then? What shapes the upper half? If they’re not plagued by the choice of which bill to decide to pay this month, how do they discern how to make difficult decisions in life? I’m not too sure, really. I can speculate. But, since I’ve never experienced being in that place in which I don’t have to worry about money, it wouldn’t really be fair for me to do as such.

Also, I just want to point out that this is not my shaming of people who come from, or presently reside in, upper-half socioeconomic classes. Money is a wonderful thing. And, if you’re able to reach a point in life in which you’re comfortable, which you have a cushion in your bank account, I think that’s a very good thing.

I wouldn’t say that I have a cushion, where I’m presently at in life. But, I did manage to pay off my debts earlier this year, so I reckon I’m probably in better financial standing that many people my age. That feeling of having no debts, that feeling is unlike anything I’ve ever achieved before.

Funnily enough, my parents, in their late 60’s, have officially paid off all of their debts this year as well. While I’ve noticed a certain ‘lightness’ to them that I’ve never experienced before in my life, I also notice that there are certain things they’re unwilling to do. There are certain decisions being made out of the preservation of their present status in life, to ensure they never go back to their state of financial trauma.

I’d also like to note that financial trauma affects everyone differently. For some people, I think financial trauma manifests itself in hyper-consumerism. People desire to have things to showcase their status. For other people, financial trauma can manifest itself in an unwillingness to buy anything.

As much as money can’t buy happiness, it doesn’t play a very large contributing factor in who we grow up to be. Whether we went through financial trauma in the past, or we’re presently going through it now, money affects every decision in our lives, to some extent.

I’m not really sure how to close this, so I’ll just leave with an ideological thought that’s been on my mind for years. Internships should be abolished. The concept that young people should be forced to work for free and that University, College or High School credit, or ‘experience’ should be enough of a reason to force them through financial hardships should end. Free labor/labour should not exist in the western world. It shouldn’t exist in the world at all, actually. But that’s a discussion for another day – something I need to do a lot more research on and learn a lot more about. The concept of forcing a young person to work for free, ‘to pay their dues’ whilst they’re still required to pay their bills, their rent and they still need to eat is wholly unfair. At the very least, interns should be paid minimum wage in the industry for which they work.

At what point in time do we stop wishing for younger generations to ‘pay their dues’ (a grossly misguided belief) and start saying ‘perhaps the favour I can do for future generations is to ensure they don’t have to go through that which I did’.

Fin.