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Can you spare a dime, sister? Depends… Comments

  • By Christa Avampato
  • June 08, 2009

Christa is a product developer and writer based in NYC, and loves when art and business come together in equal amounts in her life. You can find her on Twitter, on Curating a Creative Life, her own blog about creativity, and as a weekly contributing writer to The Journal of Cultural Conversation. We first met Christa when she covered DailyWorth for Examiner.com.

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The events of our childhoods often impact the way we look at money and wealth. I've been fascinated by the psychological impacts of money for as long as I can remember, mostly because I grew up in a family that didn't have much of it and then trekked off to college on oodles of financial aid, surrounded by kids with trust funds so large that they'd never have to work. How come I debated about whether or not I wanted pepperoni on my pizza (that added an extra $0.50 to my lunch bill) and they could order without even looking at the prices on the menus at the most expensive restaurants in town?

My annual tuition was larger than my mom's annual salary. As a result, I was a prime candidate for grants, low-interest government loans, and work-study assignments. Those sources of money covered my classes, books, and housing. Then I just had to worry about feeding myself. I signed up for psychology experiments being done by grad students at my university — a few of those in an afternoon, and I was able to get food for the week.

With very little disposable income, I was always on the hunt for a bargain. By my sophomore year, I figured out how to get by on about $50 a week. Food trucks and thrift shops were my saving graces, literally.

Today, even though I am in a very good financial position, that miser of my younger self can still be found in my day-to-day activities. I've put myself on a strict savings plan, socking away 20% of my take-home pay in cash in my savings account (editor's note: GO Christa! Remind us to ask you how you do this for a future post on DailyWorth ... ). I refuse to pay a broker's fee for an apartment. I review my credit card statement with a fine-toothed comb every month. I have yet to ever buy anything without looking at the price tag, from a restaurant meal to an item of clothing to a roll of paper towels. I can save $0.25 if I buy this brand of laundry detergent instead of that one? Of course I want to save that quarter!

I comparison-shop to the point that I can't subject another human being to shopping with me; my endless bargain hunting is enough to drive anyone insane. (Well, except my sister, Weez. One of our Sunday morning bonding activities when we lived together was to eat cinnamon rolls, that of course we bought on sales and in bulk,  while clipping coupons.) Just today, I stopped in to CVS to pick up milk - $1.69 for a quart. In my old, soon-to-be-new again neighborhood bodega, that same quart of milk is $0.79. I actually thought about taking the subway up there to save $0.90. I didn't, but I thought about it.

This is what happens to kids who grow up poor and then work like heck to become adults who have more financial stability. We can take the poor kid out of the poor neighborhood, but that poor kid is going to think like a poor kid, no matter where she lives. During one particularly bad week during my childhood, my sister and I subsisted on saltine crackers and peanut butter every day. To this day I keep those two items in my cupboard in constant supply. Just in case.

What's ironic is that my inner miser never rears her head in certain situations. I take my family and friends out for dinner. I tip generously. I love giving gifts. I've yet to go by a lemonade stand and not drop bills in the basket when a cup only costs about a dime. I contribute generously to charities that I believe do important work. And I love gadgets. I agonize over buying them, but once I take the plunge I will thoroughly enjoy tinkering with them.

When push comes to shove, I am ALWAYS worried about money and always will be. Worried I'll never have enough, that I'll end up on the street, worried that I will lose a job to never find another one again, worried that the poor little girl I was is the poor little girl I will always be. And there's a little embarrassment that always follows me around because when you grow up poor, it's not that you don't just have enough money. There's also this nagging inside you, a tiny little voice that says maybe you're not quite enough, period. In the end, the psychology of money isn't about money at all — it's about whether or not our opinions and hopes and dreams matter, are they even worth having, if we don't have the money to bring them to life.

I try very hard to put away these worries. Over the years I've found a way to stuff those concerns into a drawer, though I will tell you that it is a struggle for me to keep that drawer shut. At any moment, it's on the brink of bursting, which I guess is why my inner-miser is here to stay. And so my daily (personal) worth is intrinsically tied to my daily ability to manage these fears and concerns while also managing all the other aspects of my life. It's a heavy load, and so far I haven't found any way to put this legacy to rest.

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