I started feeling like an adult when I began spending like one. I’ve never spent my money on clothes – despite my penchant for overpriced trainers and oversized jewellery, I’ve never been a massive shopper – but instead, I spend my money on life. On nice food and theatre tickets, on gigs and proper bedsheets, but also on rent and bills. While, as a writer, I’ve never been anything close to rich (or even well-paid), I spend my money on things that I enjoy because I can, and I recognise what a huge privilege this is. For lots of people – people like most of my own family – this is a privilege they have never had. As I’ve grown up, I’ve found myself coming to terms with my money-related privileges, and these thoughts are perhaps what make me feel like an adult more than anything else.
Despite how easy I find it spending money on myself, money has never been something I’ve enjoyed thinking about. Like my working-class immigrant parents before me, I think about it a lot. I dream about money. I worry about money. I cry about money, and laugh about money, and love and hate and obsess about the money I have and the money I don’t. For someone who doesn’t earn anything close to a high wage, I feel like I think about money far more than I should. Perhaps this is just the way the world works. Those of us without much money, or those of us who grew up without it, know its value and so devote much of our time to thoughts of gold coins and crumpled blue paper. I know I have. And like all freelancers know, keeping an eye on money matters isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.
I wonder how selfish it is to have a precarious job that could leave me in a position where I can never afford to support my parents
My money-related worries are also linked to thoughts of my family. My parents drilled the importance of money into my brain but if I’m honest, it’s not exactly their money talk that has helped me to grow up. Morphing into your parents is one of the big markers of adulthood, but for me, my journey was more about realising how different I am to the people who raised me. While I might worry about money like my parents did, and while I also don’t earn very much like them too, there’s one main difference: in lots of ways, I chose the life I lead.
I choose to be a freelance writer because there’s nothing else I can do that would make me as happy as I am with my life – and I am happy with my work, in spite of the endlessly delayed invoices and the constant hustling. Whenever I begin moaning about my work, I can’t help but remember how lucky I really am. Choice when it comes to career, or work, or even a salary, is something that my parents simply never had. My mum and dad had me to feed and clothe, bills to pay and large families back in Ghana that needed money sent to them on a regular basis, so they worked the best-paid jobs they could get. There wasn’t any time to consider if their work was their calling.
I have a very different relationship to money compared to my parents because we earn our money differently, and we work in very different fields too. My understanding of this, and the fact I subsequently made the decision to do what I do (despite the risk I’d be broke and hustling forever), was a hard choice to stick to. In lots of ways it feels like a choice only an adult could make – albeit a privileged one. Now, I often feel doubly guilty when I think about money and my family: on one hand, I wonder how selfish it is to have a precarious job that could leave me in a position where I can never afford to support my parents. On the other hand, I feel guilty about earning more than what my mum would have earned cleaning offices late at night, a job that is definitely much harder than typing on a laptop. When I grew up, I began to recognise that my money was not just about me.
Money makes me feel like a “real” adult, in the best and worst possible way. I’m in my late twenties, at an age where I’m more aware than ever of the options in front of me, and the knowledge that lots of these choices – having kids, travelling, changing career, finding somewhere permanent to live – are expensive. Underneath all this is the fact that I’m not the only person who’s growing older: my parents are, too. I’m an only child, and I have a feeling a big part of my growing money anxieties revolve around the fact I know at some point, I’ll be the only person who has any real responsibility towards my pensioner parents. A few years ago, when I could spend three figures of my student loan on a frivolous night out, caring for my parents in their old age was something I had never even considered. Today? It’s something I think about with every passing day, and something I share with a lot of adults all over the world.