In order to discuss the time when I was at my richest, I believe it is important first to define the word rich. What does it mean to be rich? I’ll admit, my initial thoughts went straight to money. To be rich means to possess large sums of money, but upon further thinking, I considered all the various other ways in which one can be rich. What about happiness? What about love? Can’t one be rich in these as well? One who is economically wealthy might be quite poor in the realms of happiness and vice versa; some people are more than happy living a life on the edge of destitution. I will say, however, that during the time when I personally was at my richest financially speaking, I was quite happy. It made wonder if money really can buy happiness, or maybe it was just the weather.
It all began in May. I was fresh out of my freshman year of college, a year in which I might have spent a little too much time acting like I had it all figured out. I dated a boy and then broke up with him; I made some friends and then changed my mind about them; I joined the men’s crew team, got a job, helped start a college chapter for a nonprofit charity, rarely missed class, and went to the gym promptly at 7:30 am four times a week. I waved goodbye to all of that and headed home for the summer, to the Jersey shore.
I had spent the final month of school fretting over a summer job, but luckily one fell right into my lap. I would be babysitting for this one family several times week. The hourly wage was standard and steady and I was content. A few weeks into it, I left this family for two weeks to nanny for another family while their regular nanny went back to visit her home country. I had full intentions of returning to the original family after the two weeks, despite that devil of a two-year-old and the fussiest infant in the world; however, about half way through the two weeks, the mother approached me and said that her nanny has decided not to return to America and would I like to nanny for them for the rest of the summer. I would be payed the same rate that she normally pays nannies, which was, in my opinion and pardon my language, a shit ton of money for an eighteen year old to be making. So, I made a few phone calls, quickly dropped that first family, and began nannying for this household who could easily be considered Ibsen’s A Doll’s House of the modern day.
Yes, this family was all the clichés of upper class: older successful business man, two adorable children, and a young hot stay-at-home mom who needed a nanny so she could run off to do whatever it is wealthy thirty-somethings do these days. (I shall refrain from writing all other judgements I have made about this family.) For one summer, I got to be a part of how the other half lives.
Now, the honest journalist inside of me does not want you to be confused when I say “the other half.” A capitalist society is much more complicated than that. My family’s economic standing makes for quite a comfortable living; however, my mother tells me that unlike this family, she would not be able to afford a babysitter at today’s rate nor be able to dine so frequently at this couples weekly date-night restaurant. I live comfortably while they live lavishly.
So anyway, I got my first paycheck and right off the bat, I was the richest I had ever been. (Mostly because all of my Bat Mitzvah money went into paying for the Bat Mitzvah.) I put all of that money into my bank account and then me and my debit card went to Coach.
I bought a gorgeous leather wallet and signed up to receive emails from them because it seemed like the ‘casual customer’ thing to do. Certainly with this kind of money streaming into my bank account, this wasn’t the first or last time I’d be shopping at Coach. Then my debit card and I walked over to Lucky and allowed the ladies there to use me for their own little games of dress up. I walked out with a brand new outfit, and a big smile. I then took a lovely stroll around Anthropology. I didn’t buy anything from there but it was the first time I’d ever seriously considered it. Finally, I walked to Starbucks and rejuvenated with a cup of coffee because as endorphin-boosting as retail therapy can be, it is also quite exhausting.
As the paychecks rolled in, I penciled in several more retail therapy appointments for myself. I call it retail therapy as opposed to just shopping because a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy can really put one’s patience to the test like nothing else can. They stopped being oh-so-cute after a while and I felt that I had earned myself a splurge or two.
Being this wealthy did make me happy in way. It gave me the freedom I needed to do the things I wanted that would make me happy. The money itself did not give me happiness. Money is security. When you don’t have any money, it feels like cinder blocks have been chained to your ankles and you spend your days trudging along feeling like a victim of the rain. Money is like a soft white cloud. It lifts you up and floats you along, and when the rain does fall, you simply use it to wash your hands of those chains and cinder blocks.
What made me so happy that summer was spending my days off on the beach with my friends, soaking in as much vitamin D as I could. It was going out for a run every morning. It was drinking cheap beer in Carolyn’s basement with the whole crew. It was all the things that had nothing to do with money. What made me so happy was forgetting about my bank account and just acting my age, just being as much of a nineteen year old as I knew how to be.
For my nineteenth birthday which was that June, I threw a charity brunch. More Than Me is the name of the organization that me and a few girls from school worked with to form their first college chapter. It is a nonprofit foundation that raises money to give girls in West Point, Liberia, Africa a scholarship to go to school, eat at least one meal a day, and be given proper medical treatment. The girls they choose to be a part of this scholarship program are those who are most likely to be exploited and work on the streets selling peanuts or often enough, their own bodies. The more I worked with More Than Me, the more I fell in love with it. I was able to raise $625 for my birthday which was enough to keep a girl in school and off the streets for two more years. Making money and floating around on that cloud feels good, but giving it away to those who really need it is a feeling beyond any metaphorical descriptions.