It’s an unfortunate reality but for the most part, women are uncomfortable discussing money. Whether that be negotiating a raise or balancing one’s personal finances.
A little over five years ago, I was an intern earning well below the federal level of poverty. However, I was always befriended by people who out earned me (tremendously.) With that, I was often invited to dinners, galas, performances and events that would have required me to spend more than my net earnings for the month.
In the “Oh Wow, this is Awkward” series, I will confront uncomfortable money scenarios and how to address them.
As always, merci beacoup to everyone who voted on theses topics via my Instagram poll.
Scene: You’re spending the day with a dear friend when she receives an email about an event at a museum (clearly I’m the friend.) She is beyond thrilled and continues to rant and rave about how amazing the artist is and how many potential connections you could make if you attend. She starts to detail what you two could wear and just how fabulous the event will be. At this point you’re swooning (or tipsy) and you agree. A week later, after telling your other friends about the event you’ll be attending and searching/buying a few dresses, she forwards you the link to the event.
What do you do?
My heart broke while composing this scenario. I can’t reiterate enough how not so long ago I was the “other” friend. Being an art history minor, and a learner of languages (French, Italian, German, and Turkish) I was often befriended by people who enjoyed the arts as much as I did and more. These friends were season ticket holders to the ballet, on the board of trustees at museums, or names were carved in bronze for their donations to the theatre. In addition to being well traveled and an art aficionado at a pretty young age, I also never dressed in a manner that reflected my income.
I was an avid thrifter before it was cool. I was often adorned in furs, cashmere and silks. The very few times that mes amies met mon fil he was always dressed in wool blend trousers and bowties. This was all thanks to local thrift stores and my Gma.
In my opinion “looking the part” was the worst. I looked as though I had money, in addition to enjoying actives such as the Opera. I was a fulltime student, an intern and a newly divorced mother. I was not a Washington Ballet season ticket holder.
When I first started receiving invites to expensive events, I would lie. Oui, lie. I would come up with a story as to how I had something more fabulous to do and couldn’t make the event. My pride wouldn’t let me tell friends I’d acquired in Chevy Chase and Potomac MD that I couldn’t afford to wash dishes in the venue they’d invited me to.
One day as I waited for the licensed funeral director to return to the arrangement room (I was an apprentice at the time) I decided to make small talk with the family while we waited. I complimented the next of kin on her Italian silk scarf. She then asked how did I know it was Italian. I told her that I was previously a fashion design major and I worked in a silk factory in Como, Italy. She shared with me that her family often vacationed in Como and that they still have an apartment in Milan. Once I told her that’s were I studied, the rest was history.
We became so close that I spent holidays with her entire family. After continuing to lie about why I couldn’t attend fundraisers, galas and opening nights, I finally told her my truth. I simply couldn’t afford it. It took her sometime to actually comprehend what I was telling her. She couldn’t understand how I’d traveled and knew so much about the arts but was “poor.”
It was then that I realized there was so much about our conversations that she never actually heard. That day I had to retell events and emphasis keywords “I WORKED at a silk factory in Como.” “I VOLUNTEERED at the Seattle Museum of Art gala.” It took for me to overly annunciate each action verb for her to understand.
I felt so embarrassed and I had no clue how things would be between us. When I thought our evening would end with an awkward silence, she begin to share events of her very humble beginnings and life before marrying “well.” From that day on, I was her designated plus one.
I am very aware that not all stories will have such a fairytale ending. The point I’ve totally drawn out making is that being honest can truly open doors. Had I continued to put my pride first, I would have never had the opportunity to get to know my friend on a much more intimate level or experience grand events with her.
Financial literacy means everything to me. I have never fell victim to keeping up with the in crowd by accuring debt but I do understand how tempting it can be.
Be honest, with yourself, always.
Is splurging on whatever event worth you stressing for weeks or months to come? More than like it isn’t. If you are forced to choose between paying a bill (that effects your credit score) or a gala, always choose your future.
There are great people in the world. And there are great people in the world who have access to more than you and are willing to share those things for nothing more than a true friend.
What are your thoughts? As always I’d love to hear them.
Ciao for now!
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This profile photo is one of my favorite photos from my time in South Africa. Missing you Jozi.