Ain’t afraid of being broke

(U-WIRE) SEATTLE, Wash. – My roommates don’t quite know what to make of me. Before you jump to conclusions and assume I have smelly skeletons in my closet, let me explain.

I’m not disgustingly messy, my friends look sane and I only play my Latvian folk music when my roommates aren’t home. It’s not my personal habits. It’s money.

I live with two die-hard entrepreneurs. Every week or so, they have a new idea for making big bucks. Their eyes light up when they talk about their ideas and if I look deep into their pupils, I can almost see tiny stacks of cash lined up back there.

And my roommates aren’t the only ones in pursuit of riches. There’s the friend, a student, who spent $700 on a pair of glasses. There’s another friend, a waitress, who refuses to buy clothes without a designer label.

It’s not that my friends are greedy. If anything, they’re a little embarrassed about their material desires and they certainly don’t look down on people who – by circumstance or by choice – live more humbly. They just love stuff. They daydream about new cars, new clothes, new gadgets. Stereo systems loaded with bells and whistles fascinate them. They are awed by flashy advertising campaigns.

And they don’t quite understand why I’m not. Sure, I wouldn’t mind being able to jet off to exotic cities at a moment’s notice. I’d like to have a healthy savings account in case I lose my job. I’d love to not worry about rent, groceries and my cat’s veterinary bills.

But the other things – the stuff – just don’t get me very excited. I used to pour over issues of Vogue and fantasize about being in the center of the glamour and glitter. Now it all seems mighty hollow. What’s the point of spending $20 on lipstick, $600 on a pair of shoes or $2,000 on a winter coat? I would feel indecent spending that much money on myself.

Cars make me feel guilty, too. If I ever owned one, I know I’d constantly be wavering between enjoying the convenience and feeling wicked about the expense – both monetary and ecological.

All of this is just as well, because my chosen field – journalism – has a starting salary of about $20,000 a year. When I mentioned this figure to my roommate, he was dumbstruck.

Once he regained the power of speech, he asked, “And you’re okay with that?”

“Sure,” I told him.

I don’t think he’s looked at me the same way since. After all, it’s almost unpatriotic to not buy into the American dream. Money is the great equalizer in this country – if you make enough, every door opens. Being wealthy makes people assume you’ve done something right. It doesn’t help that my generation grew up on television shows like “Silver Spoons,” “Dynasty” and “Beverly Hills 90210.”

I’ll follow the antics of the rich and famous with as much amusement as the next kid, but please don’t judge me by my salary. Small pocketbooks aren’t equivalent to small ambitions.

-Julia Kingrey is a student at the University of Washington.

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