|How can you live on $31,500 a year?||June 14, 2005|
I recently had to think about this because its what my dad kept asking me over and over again when I called him up to sheepishly ask for a small loan. It’s been an expensive month—had to pay an early termination fee on my lease and a security deposit on my spot in the Oasis, and then some college buddies were meeting up in Vegas over Memorial Day where Luck, like my ex-girlfriend, was not being much of a lady. So when my 1993 Ford Taurus started having troubles with the transmission, I didn’t have the extra six hundred bucks to make sure that I could get to work every day. My tax return was long gone—probably somewhere in Vegas, now that I think about it—and not having a car was not an option, so I called home. And, as I expected, got hell.
It’s this game we play, me and my parents. Here’s how it goes:
(1) I tell my dad my car needs repairs and could I borrow $200 for about three weeks;
(2) he says I shouldn’t be wasting time working a dead-end job and why don’t I decide already about graduate school;
(3) my mom, who’s listening in, tells my dad that he should have just bought me a new car when I graduated and not let me drive that eyesore every time I come home;
(4) I think about telling my dad that there’s no way in hell I ever want to be a corporate lawyer, but I decide against it, and I settle on saying that working at a law school is basically the same as being enrolled in it except a lot less debt.
(5) My dad starts saying that he went from rural Pennsylvania to Harvard without a penny of debt and
(6) in the background I hear my mom writing out a check, so I end the conversation quickly and two days later a check for $450 comes in the mail with a note telling me to have someone detail it while it’s in the shop.
But I digress.
The question was originally, how can I live on $31,500 a year in the first place?
Here’s the best answer I can come up with: maybe I should just become Mormon. And here’s my reasoning. I don’t know how to say this politely, so I’ll just say it. My roommates are the cheapest bastards it’s ever been my privilege to live with. All except Abe, who probably has hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt from maintaining about ten girlfriends simultaneously. I don’t think they’re cheap on purpose. I think it’s just something inborn, some tribal characteristic passed down through blood. Take, for example, my roommate Adam. He’s in law school, and he’s going to be very rich someday. He’ll probably be the corporate lawyer my dad has always wanted for a son. But he rides a bike to school and he brings cans of green beans for lunch. Take Seth, the engaged. He eats every meal at his fiancee’s house. Maybe he buys the groceries, I don’t know, but what I’m saying is that he doesn’t have to eat out every night like me. Take Nephi. Bless his heart, I don’t think he’s ever bought real butter in his life. In fact, I’ve learned that the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spray can easily work for toast, pasta, and cookie dough (although you have to unscrew the lid for that).
I know you’re thinking that I’m laughing at my roommates; I’m not. I am genuinely impressed by how little they’re able to get by on. Some of their behaviors could just be laziness—I’ve had roommates before who would put anything on pasta, including Hershey’s chocolate syrup, before they would go to the store to get what they needed. But I can’t help but think that there’s some embedded Mormon computer chip in which the default setting is, as Nephi sometimes observes, “I’m going to have 13 children someday; I’d better start saving now.” So I figure, if Mormons can make it with 13 kids and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” I can make it with $31,500 and a busted transmission.
Maybe that’s what I’ll tell my dad the next time he calls.