Affluence

 

I’ve just been reading about people in New York with incomes in excess of two million dollars a year who object to being described as ‘affluent’. One woman said ‘having a private jet—that’s affluent.’ It’s easy for me to ridicule her refusal to accept that being in the top half-a-percent of the income curve means you have to cop it when the majority of people see you as wealthy. But am I any better?

I retired recently, and my income is about a quarter of what I had before. That’s a bit worse than many people, because I gave away half my superannuation money in a divorce settlement a few years ago. I admit to feeling a bit apprehensive about happens now; whether I can live well on this. Several people I know well are doing better, with long-term jobs ending in a handsome payout. Am I getting really anxious? Fortunately no, but this article about New Yorkers hit me with a reality check—I am very lucky to be so well off.

I’m still getting more than about 75% of retired people. I also have good friends who live almost entirely on the government pension, who have many less choices than I do. And I have a partner who has retired and has a larger income than me. So, at least while she sticks around, money won’t be a worry. We have no debts, and we don’t pay rent, except on a small on-site caravan in a holiday park. We are planning to go to France and Italy, and maybe also Bali this year. If this was 1950, that sort of lifestyle would mean that we were rich people. In fact, when I was about 40, if you hold told me I would have these comforts at the age of 70, I would have been ecstatic. The fact that so many people have in recent years achieved this level of disposable funds is a lousy reason to look upward at those even luckier, and to feel even the slightest twinge of discomfort.

But, my greedy id whines, if you had more money you could be so much more generous to your kids, and give more to worthy causes. Think of how much joy you could spread around with a million dollars! Hell, in Bali, your pet project trying to kick-start mental health services would be a shoo-in with that sort of money to wave around.

Id, as usual, is a self-serving delusionary, a sort of trickle-down economics believer who ignores the uncomfortable truth that people with much less money than me put more personal and financial resources into the community issues that they care about than I do. All my current giving probably adds up to about 4% of my income. When I was working, it was about 1.5%. Technically, I have become more generous, but that does not bear up under even the mildest questioning.

And in any case, it’s not all about money. Sure, it would be nice to be able to bring more to the table, but it is usually long term commitment that achieves change for the better, not just money. So enough of the frustrated philanthropist already!

I (and my partner) have more than enough to live well, in a lovely house in a great city, traveling once or twice a year, going to restaurants and shows more often than when we were working, and supporting the causes we believe in. I am not going down the slippery slope towards the dissatisfied rich who can only see that others have more. I know that I have enough, and that most people don’t. It won’t be money that gets in the way of a satisfying, comfortable and contributing life for me.

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