When I was a kid it was pretty easy to stick to a budget. I grew up with really frugal parents and I lived in the middle of nowhere (literally), so there weren’t really many places to spend my money. Each year I spent a couple hundred dollars (from my summer job) on back to school clothes and saved $500 or so for gas (back in the day I could fill up my tank for $10, man those were the days!). The rest of my summer paychecks were saved for college.
My first semester of college I was like a deer in headlights. All the sudden there were a ton of new and exciting things to spend my money on. I discovered new foods (sushi and buffalo wings-I told you I was sheltered!), new stores and a whole new set of brands and designers that I never even knew existed.
A few weeks into the school year I met a girl I’ll call, “Sarah”. Sarah and I were both political science majors and we had a few classes together. We were definitely an odd pair, since I was from a small fishing village in Maine and Sarah grew up in one of the most affluent suburbs in New Jersey (think Real Housewives of New Jersey!). Sarah’s parent’s
mansion home was just like the houses you see on the Bravo TV series. Her only “connection” to Maine, apart from me? A summer “cottage” next to the Bush’s summer compound (President Bush). For her 18th birthday Sarah’s parents bought her a brand new volkswagen passat. You get the idea…
For Christmas I bought Sarah a sweater from the GAP. Sarah bought me a Tiffany bracelet! At the time I sort of knew what Tiffany & Co. was, but had no idea how much a bracelet like that cost until my roommate told me. Sarah talked constantly about her name brands and “taught” me everything she knew about designers and expensive beauty products. Soon thereafter I got bit by the “bug” and bought myself a Chanel broach, a pair of Gucci sunglasses and few designer dresses. The only difference between her and me? She could afford that stuff (well her parents could) and I couldn’t.
The irony? While I was feeling kind of insecure that I didn’t come for a super rich family, Sarah was struggling with her own insecurities. She had plenty of friends at home, but they were all from similar socio-economic backgrounds and she didn’t really know how to make “normal” (not wealthy) friends at college. Instead of asking peers out for drinks, or inviting them to a party, she bought them gifts. When I finally told her that I wasn’t comfortable with all the gifts I thought our conversation could turn into a heart-to-heart. I imagined that she share her insecurities and I’d share mine. I’d like to say that happened, we had a bonding moment and we’re still best friends today. But it didn’t and we’re not.
I think we both realized that we didn’t really have enough in common to sustain a quality friendship. She didn’t really understand my background and I couldn’t relate to hers. We didn’t really have much in common and when I stopped buying expensive stuff we didn’t have that much to talk about. At the end of freshman year Sarah asked me to be her roommate the following school year. I said, “no” and we drifted apart over the summer.