Recently I underwent the first of two moves in a two month period. After completing my master’s degree I had only a brief interval in which to find a new place and I had decided that rather than jump into the first available apartment, I would sublet while waiting for an apartment I was really interested. The sublet is working great for a number of reasons but undertaking this process resonated with a play I had seen a few months ago, “The Last Cargo Cult” by monologist Mike Daisey. This particular monologue is one of his more sweeping ones and encompasses, amongst other things, the financial crisis, the cargo cult of Vanuatu, American reverence of capitalism and the role money plays in society. The monologue was stunning (and I recommend checking if he is preforming where you live) and in the six months since I saw it I have been thinking about one segment of his monologue in particular where he examines the impact money has on relationships. The topic has come up since then several times in conversation and so I want to explore it a little here. If you have money, you often don’t talk about it, particularly if you’re from the East Coast. But not matter what your economic status is, money is has a way of sneaking into all facets of your life.

Relationships Affect Spending

Sometimes it can be subtle. Tracking your spending allows for certain patters to become apparent; when I began tracking my spending I noticed early on that if I’m spending time with certain people my spending increases or decreases depending on their spending level. Some friends I hang out with tend to eat out more than they cook and often I find myself exceeding my dining out budget because I want to spend time with them. Having a home cooked meal or brown bagging it is a way of bypassing the inclination to dine out. This doesn’t have to be a burden: there are numerous resources online for cooking any type of meal within your capabilities, creating an opportunity to save and learn a new skill set. Cooking with friends is an additionally opportunity to spend time together and learn different things. Recently, my friends and I have gathered together to pay a queer couple to make a house call to cut everyone’s hair. We get a day of community, games, music and food while also celebrating queer identity and looking fabulous. Getting so many people together means that the haircuts are cheaper and the queer couple makes more money. It’s especially nice to feel confident about yourself because of a great new haircut that didn’t break the bank.
Whatever the particular weakness, be it clothes or tools or food, look for an alternative that allows you to stay within your means but still enjoy yourself. Being aware of how your spending patterns are influenced is one of the first steps to curbing impulse spending.

Money Affects Relationships
Ok, that is a pretty obvious statement but one that bears reiterating. When I was younger, my brother and sister and I would lend each other money (we still do, but now that we live in different states it happens less often). To this day we still keep track of what we owe each other to the dollar, this works out because we know that the other person has to pay and because we’re family the relationship isn’t necessarily in danger. Of course, it helps that the money is usually small amounts. Lending money to them, however, was done easily because we knew that we would eventually be getting the money back. Not so in the real world.
I’ll spare you personal anecdotes because I don’t have the consent of those involved (borrowing money can be a touchy subject for many people) but it is a helpful practice when lending money to do so with the understanding that you might not get it back. In order to make the decision to lend money, I have to be ok with the possibility that I might not get that money back and be certain that my relationship with the potential recipient won’t be adversely affected. There have been times I’ve lent money to friends and been repaid promptly or been returned a comparable favor down the road. There have also been times where I’ve lent money and not seen any of it back. Being a grown up involves negotiating these possibilities and dialoging about the importance of being paid back. Some people are in a more financially stable place that allows them to make that sort of investment in a friendship; not everyone is.

Money as Mediating Relationships
One of the points that Daisey brings up in his monologue is that as we acquire money, money has a way of mediating our relationships. He uses the currently very familiar example of moving, saying that when we are young and poor we ask our friends to come over and help and we pay them in pizza and beer and though they are paid pennies per hour for helping us, we help or are helped because we are part of a community. When we have the money or the means we pay people to move for us, bypassing the messy and complicated issues of what happens if an appliance breaks or furniture gets damaged. In paying someone to move for us, we no longer have those messy little complications, but the expense is community. I had a number of friends both offer to help and help during the moving process and it was wonderful to feel that sense of connection with people who were there for me when I needed it. In the process it also provided me the opportunity to share my concerns about moving with friends who were able to listen and reassure me about the whole ordeal, something I would have lost with the clean efficiency of professional movers. However, I was also fortunate enough to not have anything break or anything that I was deeply concerned about damaging. As with so many things, there is a trade off in deciding our course of action. For me, the support and connection I’ve felt within the queer community has overcome any financial concerns and has been more beneficial than any negative monetary impact. Where once I tracked every dollar lent, I know see it as investing in the people I care about, even if I don’t get any return on it.

How about you? How has money changed or shaped relationships? How does money play a part in your community or the ways you interact with your community?