Years ago, while living in Portland, Maine, I moved in with a friend of mine. We came from two very different financial backgrounds: she was from right outside of New York City, daughter of a wealthy lawyer and a prominent realtor, and I’m from a small town in Massachusetts, daughter of a low-income social worker. Despite this, we were both students with similar interests working minimum-wage jobs in the same city. By the looks of it, we were in similar positions in life; how different could we really be? Well, the next few months of living together proved very. Perhaps I should’ve known things wouldn’t work out when I learned three of her previous roommates had moved out within weeks of living with her due to financial-based conflicts. Or maybe when I realized her father was paying her half of the rent while I had to earn mine. Or maybe it was her need to split the cost of everything, including the organic food she insisted upon, the expensive security system, and hundreds on random things she’d bring home without consulting with me first. Money quickly proved to be a source of conflict between the two of us, ultimately, resulting in the end of our friendship, followed by my moving out.
My time living in such an environment raised the question of whether or not two people, coming from such differing financial backgrounds, could form a meaningful, trusting allyship? At the end of the day, this is really a question of class privilege and relations. While my past friend and I were independently in the same boat — both working students in a new, expensive city — our family backgrounds, upbringing, and contrasting financial cultures were what proved to set us apart. We had different ideas surrounding what is and isn’t necessary, what was worth our money, and how useful it would be.
Lately, the line between materialism and necessities has become warped, so much so that it’s difficult to ascertain what will actually be a useful product and what is simply overexaggerated marketing. There is an everlasting need for our society to crave the newest, nicest brand and loudly praise it while asserting it’s the best. Influencers constantly rave about certain products, marketing and advertisements claim their products are superior, and our inherent desire to want, to fit in, to prove we’re just as good as anyone else, eventually manipulates us into buying it. These “necessary” products are almost always over-expensive and never really practical, yet we’re still told by the media that we need $200 Airpods, we need a morning iced coffee from Starbucks, we need a more expensive life insurance policy. Unfortunately, only a small few can even afford to indulge in such products. Some are simply unable to pay the extra dollars for “better,” more popular items and simply must go without. However, for those growing up in more financially comfortable households, certain values and ways of living that are above the means of most people have already been ingrained in them, and the support of their parents allows them to continue to live in such a way. They’ve been raised to believe that certain goods and practices are in fact necessary, and that the manner they’ve lived their lives up until then is the only way to live life properly. They are made to believe that security systems are essential, that air fryers are a must, and that you should take special supplements every morning.
Not that there’s anything wrong with having such preconceptions concerning what is and isn’t necessary. We as humans are simply the result of our upbringing, and if we’re taught to do things a specific way, or that certain products are a necessity, then we are likely to adhere to such values throughout the rest of our lives. If you’ve been told your whole life that organic foods are superior and healthier, and if you have the resources to invest in such products, then why wouldn’t one continue to eat and praise organic foods? If one has the resources to, why shouldn’t they continue living in the way they were taught to?
However, these values surrounding money and materialism reach a crossroads when it involves people from different financial backgrounds. While my ex-roommate insisted upon buying a security system, I was more concerned with having enough gas to get to work in the morning. While her view of the world and outlook on money and material necessities was valid and reasonable, it simply was not possible for someone of my financial standing. While I often had to pick and choose the most essential expenses based on the money I had, she tended to see money as an after fact, while the most important objective was ensuring she had everything she needed. Again, there is nothing wrong with having such an outlook, and if anything, it’s probably preferable, but at the end of the day such practices are not the reality for most of us living in financial insecurity.
This brings us back to the question of whether two people from differing financial backgrounds are capable of forming a trusting allyship. Despite my experiences with my past roommate, I do believe it is possible; however, it requires a certain level of understanding, sacrifice, and compromise that can be challenging for many. It requires both parties to take into account the financial status, family background, and upbringing that shaped the other, and to have a respect and appreciation for their values and practices surrounding money. Money will always be a source of conflict between people because it controls so much of our lives, but if we allow ourselves to be thoughtful and understanding of others’ past and present experiences with money, than we have the ability to work and live in a way that suits everyone.