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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One person's financial crisis

Megan McArdle points to this New York Times article about a economics reporter who got in economically over his head. An expensive house with a liar loan, spending on overpriced luxuries, overdraft protection, paying one credit card with another... it's all there.

Megan comments that writers and journalists are particularly impacted by a need to live a high status life with an income that's certainly not high.

This is what David Brooks calls "status-income disequilibrium", and unless you are among that happy breed of writers who is married to someone with a high-paying job, or who has a trust fund, you feel it keenly. Everyone you write about makes more than you. Most of the people you know make more than you. And you come to feel that shopping at the farmer's market, travelling to Europe, drinking good coffee, are minimum necessities. Your house is small, your furniture is shabby, and you can't even really afford to shop at Whole Foods. Yet you're at the top of your field, working for one of the world's top media outlets. This can't be so.

This post is most worth reading for the comments. Megan's commenters are absolutely brutal, mostly criticizing this $120,000 a year professional for his horrible decisions (divorce, not talking finances with his new wife, buying a house they couldn't afford, etc.). I agree with them, since I'm in the opposite situation.

Consider I'm not married, living in a home less than 2x salary, with no credit card debt, money in retirement accounts, a cushion in the bank, etc. My main TV dates back to college, and is nearly 15 years old. I keep computers for about 6 years. I have a lightweight jacket that I had in high school. These are all things that function just fine, and don't need to be replaced. But even when I do spend money, I do it sensibly.

For my avocation of playing role-playing games, there are weekend-long conventions across the country, where players can gather to play these games. (GenCon is the biggest and best-known.) I could attend one pretty much every weekend, with a smaller number being more desirable, as they run brand new events. But the reality of cost intrudes on the fantasy of role-playing games.

Conventions have entry fees and ticket costs that vary, but might run from $20 for an event at a college, $40 for a larger event, and $70-$100 for the largest. But travel costs, particularly hotel costs, could significantly add to that.

In college, I was normally restricted to local events, day trips only. Only when I could find a group of people willing to share a hotel room, four to a room, could I afford to go to an out-of-town event for the weekend.

Just out of school, I could afford to travel to more events, even flying to some when reasonable airfare was available. But I attended those events where lodging costs were low. That could be staying with friends or family, getting a group for the hotel, or taking advantage of free rooms for volunteering for a majority of the convention. (Someone has to run so 4-6 people can play.)

As my income increased, I could better afford to travel, even being able to eat the cost of a solo hotel room. But I didn't spend like this when I was earning a fraction of my current salary. I was raised far better than that.


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