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Awkward Wealth
Old 09-05-2014, 11:39 PM   #1
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Awkward Wealth

Today it happened. The first time I felt very awkward about being (relatively) wealthy.

Back in the spring, I found myself having coffee with two neighbors. We all have kids that attend the neighborhood elementary school, and we also have younger kids around age 2 or 3. The two neighbors are discussing finances and one of them (let's call her A) reveals the financial difficulties she's facing. They are about to lose their used car due to missing one payment too many. Her husband can't find work and has been scraping by on day laborer jobs and occasional handyman stuff.

I kept my mouth shut about why it was 10 am on a weekday and I'm hanging out shooting the breeze over coffee (I'm ER'd). The other neighbor knows I'm retired but she didn't toss that fact out for discussion (she has tact).

I see A while walking to school and at school functions and consider her an acquaintance. I forgot she worked at the local Trader Joes until I bumped into her this morning at TJ's (again, around 10 am). I chat with her a bit and then proceed with my shopping. Capers, marinated artichokes, wine, champagne, cheese - the regular things you get at TJ's that aren't cheaply found at Walmart or Aldi.

Crap, I can't find any caviar. I don't even know why it's on my grocery list other than DW put it there (it wasn't me!). After looking everywhere for the caviar, I finally decide to ask someone. The only person around was my acquaintance A. I tried to make it sound less expensive by asking "do you know where the fish eggs or caviar is located?". I already had my cart full of all these clearly luxury goods by this point. "A" told me the caviar is in the cheese section, but it's seasonal. Check back around Thanksgiving.

It felt awkward. And I felt a little guilty. I know I shouldn't feel guilty though.

Anyone else have those awkward wealth moments?
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Old 09-05-2014, 11:52 PM   #2
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During conversations, some people say "TGIF" meaning of course, glad the w*rk week is over. I usually say, "Yes" then change the topic

I remember when first "breaking the news" to a few friends that I was retired. The expression of some of their faces were "gosh, you must be rich" and that felt a bit awkward as I really don't consider myself rich but that I w*rked hard to put myself in the position that allowed me to FIRE.

I got no problems with caviar as you'd see me in the canned tuna and canned sardines section anyhow
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Old 09-06-2014, 04:07 AM   #3
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I wouldn't feel too bad about it. After all, if you weren't shopping there she wouldn't have the one steady job that is probably keeping their family afloat.

Might be nice to invite them over for dinner or something, though. Maybe during the conversation you can bring up some of the things you do to live a nice life on relatively little cash.
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Old 09-06-2014, 07:42 AM   #4
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You are a southerner. Take them a casserole or a cake sometime with an encouraging note attached.
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Old 09-06-2014, 07:55 AM   #5
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Back when they were offering an "economic stimulus" rebate in the US, my husband was talking with our dentist and his BIL as they were on their way to a church campout. (Dentist is also a member of our church.) The dentist and his BIL were talking about what they were doing with their money and asked DH what we were doing with our rebate. DH said, "We didn't get one- we're over the income limit". They asked him what the income limit was. DH gracefully sidestepped the question by saying he wasn't sure, but that between my wages and his SS we were over it.

So then I knew I probably made more than our dentist- and he's a darn good dentist. For the most part, DH and I are really careful of giving any indications of how well we're doing. That revelation was a bit of an accident.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:08 AM   #6
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The only person around was my acquaintance A. I tried to make it sound less expensive by asking "do you know where the fish eggs or caviar is located?".
It just HAD to be caviar that you couldn't find, hehe! The quintessential luxury food.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:17 AM   #7
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After I hit my first million, I quit hanging with the little people....


But seriously, we keep a low profile. Just replaced a 10 year old car and some acquaintances were surprised that we bought new.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:19 AM   #8
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We're the wealthier ones in our extended family. We just don't talk about it but we discreetly help out when we can. We'll send gift cards from Santa to needy families at Christmas, maybe make a car payment if we have enough info, buy dinner, telling everyone we had a good week but we don't flash our money around and we live LBYM.
There is nothing wrong with being successful and I don't feel guily. I worked hard, saved and earned every dollar I and my family have. We give to charity, enjoy life and are thankful. So, why feel guilty. I do feel bad for those having financial difficultiies but I was once told that poor folks in the U.S. live better than 75% of the people in the rest of the world. So, comparatively speaking, you may have more than your friends but they have food on the table, a roof over their heads and a social support system to assist them. What's our choice? Why feel guilty? Great question, however. In closing I think the successful should remain humble.....and quietly thank their "higher power" for their health, family and financial success.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:56 AM   #9
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I forgot about the stimulus rebate! I think the income limit was $150k for 2. I didn't get one, but I'm single.

When I got a new Nissan, I get asked what my payments are on it. What's the mortgage on my house. I don't pay those.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:14 AM   #10
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It just HAD to be caviar that you couldn't find, hehe! The quintessential luxury food.
She probably thought, this guy is really rubbing it in, what a jerk.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:22 AM   #11
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Hmm, I don't remember those economic stimulus checks. I searched on it, and it looks like they started phasing once your AGI got above $75K, for a single taxpayer. I'm not even above that now, so I wonder if I got one and just didn't remember it?

I do remember them dropping my SS contribution rate from 6.2 to 4.2 percent, for a couple years, though.

Were those checks something that you actually got in the mail, or was it something that the tax man should have been smart enough to factor in, when he did my taxes?

As for wealth embarrassment moments, the only one I can think of recently, was when I got a bonus check at work, for $1,000. I think it came to about $425 after they took out taxes, 401k, etc. I was chatting about it with one of the secretaries, who's on another contract, so she wasn't eligible for one. I know she's not in good financial shape, so I don't like to rub good fortune in her face. I didn't bring it up, but one of the other secretaries, who is on our contract and got a bonus check, bragged about it to her. She wouldn't mention how much she got though, so this first secretary was curious, and asked me about it.

I told her that mine was for $1,000, but it was only $425 after they took everything out, and I probably said it in a nonchalant manner, without even realizing it. She said that she would LOVE $1000, or even $425, because it would really help her a lot.

That made me feel awkward, that I was taking the "only" $425 attitude, where to her it was a really big deal.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm still grateful for the $425. I'd rather have it then not have it. But to me, it's nothing earth-shattering.

And, every once in awhile, I've brought up the topic of house-hunting, with various people. I usually set the search parameters on the real estate websites as two acres or more (willing to go one, though, if I see something I REALLY like) and no more than $700,000.

When people hear that $700K figure, their eyes often bug out, and they ask if I could really afford that? I tell them no, but in the next 5-6 years I should be able to, plus using my current home as a down payment. I also remind them that $700K is the absolute upper limit...I really want to go as low as possible!

Anyway, I've learned to cut out the house-hunting talk. And also, it might seem a bit foolish to be looking now, when I won't be seriously in the market for 5-6 years. But still, if something I absolutely fell in love with came on the market for, say, $400K, I might jump on it now.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:22 AM   #12
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If it's ever brought up again, caviar is fish eggs. Tell them you were looking for salmon caviar, it's cheap, some eat it, some use it for fish bait.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:30 AM   #13
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Pour moi, being poor, means never having to say "I'm sorry".

It's one of those unappreciated benefits.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:49 AM   #14
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A question I am 100 percent sure I will never ask: where can I find the caviar?

If you don't feel jealous of what others have, there is no reason to feel guilty about what you have. You have control over only one of these two situations.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:58 AM   #15
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We mostly live low profile, about average for our area. So we don't have awkward wealth moments too often. I did get caught flatfooted when another parent at the kids' school congratulated me on finding a new job (DW mentioned it). I sort of feel funny about even taking this contract, and didn't bother telling anyone other than immediate family. It got even a bit more odd when it came out in my response that I was not currently working. Since I haven't shaved in a couple of weeks and I was wearing a 10 year old pair of pants that have developed a fringe of strings at the bottom of the legs, I am sure all she thought was that I was an unemployed loser.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:59 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Sarah in SC View Post
You are a southerner. Take them a casserole or a cake sometime with an encouraging note attached.
I'm thinking about throwing some handyman work to the husband. Then I can sit on my a$$, dine on caviar and champagne to the sound of someone else hammering away on my house.
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:02 AM   #17
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Hmm, I don't remember those economic stimulus checks. I searched on it, and it looks like they started phasing once your AGI got above $75K, for a single taxpayer. I'm not even above that now, so I wonder if I got one and just didn't remember it?
Oh, they were checks. The idea was instant gratification/spending, not waiting till next April.
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:04 AM   #18
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Andre, as I was looking up in my checking account registers I have in old spreadsheets, I was remembering how those stimulus payments worked.

There was one in 2001 which was more of an advance on one's taxes owed after the 2001 Bush tax cuts went into effect. Single people got $300 back and I got a $300 check that August. I believe the month you got a check depended on your month of birth or a digit in your SSN, not sure which. That $300 turned out to be more of a shell game.

Then there was another stimulus check in 2008. I have a record of a $600 deposit that June. Not sure but I do not believe it was an advance on my tax bill like it was in 2001. I don't think it was phased out as income rose because my 2008 income ended up being over $300k after I cashed out cmpany stock for my ER.

Then there was that short-lived Payroll Tax holiday in 2009 which lasted a few years. That lowered the FICA tax by 2% to 4.2%, increasing one's take-home pay for a while. That might have had a phase-out but I don't know because I never had to file that form with my taxes (I had already ERed).
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:05 AM   #19
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Back when they were offering an "economic stimulus" rebate in the US, my husband was talking with our dentist and his BIL as they were on their way to a church campout. (Dentist is also a member of our church.) The dentist and his BIL were talking about what they were doing with their money and asked DH what we were doing with our rebate. DH said, "We didn't get one- we're over the income limit". They asked him what the income limit was. DH gracefully sidestepped the question by saying he wasn't sure, but that between my wages and his SS we were over it.

So then I knew I probably made more than our dentist- and he's a darn good dentist. For the most part, DH and I are really careful of giving any indications of how well we're doing. That revelation was a bit of an accident.
My dentist is always talking about how broke he is and how his wife spends all their money. Shopping, vacations, private school, etc. I feel a little guilty for asking about a 10% cash discount they offer. And feel guilty when they throw in a free service like buy 4 fillings get the 5th free (congenitally week teeth for 1 kid).

Of course I know his HH income was at least as much as ours was while working, they just spend money very differently from us.

The freebies and discounts might be coming to an end since DW let slip that I'm retired and she's on the way out the door. That was the day we paid $800 for DW's 2 crowns (no discount there, and they actually charged us $50 too much according to the insurance). I'm still trying to train her on the ways of the stealthy wealthy.

I had just fibbed to the office manager at the dental office about returning to work. I told her how we ended our 5 week vacation a couple weeks early just so we could come home and relax. She responded "Wow, that must have been nice to have a few weeks at home to catch up on life before returning back to work!" I just said "Yes."
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:15 AM   #20
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A question I am 100 percent sure I will never ask: where can I find the caviar?
I'm not really interested in eating it, but DW wanted to try it, or maybe put it on homemade sushi.

The Trader Joe's where A works is on the border between the somewhat poor part of town (where I and A live, less than a mile way from TJ's) and the very very wealthy part of town. I can imagine A encounters plenty of people who are wealthy (or at least spend as if they had a ton of money). I guess my question was par for the course in her store.
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