I just finished Martha McPhee’s novel Dear Money, which chronicles the life of an author as she transitions into a high-earning mortgage trader during the early 2000s. India Palmer has a charmed life, living in a rent-controlled Manhattan apartment with her artist husband and two girls. She teaches at a university, sends her daughters to private school and intermingles with New York’s best and brightest. On the verge of publishing her fifth novel, Palmer is also on the verge of a financial meltdown – keeping up with the Joneses has put her in the poorhouse. So, on a bet and a whim, she becomes the protegé of a mortgage trader, gives up her writer’s life and begins to earn.
The novel made me think about my ideas of luxury – things worth scrimping and saving for, things worth going into debt for. There’s no doubt about it, life is nicer with finer things – who wouldn’t rather curl up in soft cotton bedlinens rather than pilly polyester sheets? Food tastes better when presented on lovely dishes, and winter is more bearable with a cashmere scarf. Or is it? Sometimes it’s so easy to start confusing wants and needs.
I’m trying to figure out where to draw the line when it comes to the idea of worth. First off, I have way too much stuff. Too many clothes I’ll never wear. Far too many shoes that I’ll never set foot in. I’ve got glasses and dishes and bric a brac that means nothing to me, collecting dust. I’ve got cds and records that haven’t seen the light of day in years. And so on and so forth. Stuff. Things. Items I once didn’t think I could live without, and now I don’t even realize I’m living with – because they’re packed away, out of sight.
Still, there are some things I know I’ll always splurge on, if I can. A good, reliable car with heated seats. Massages. Decent shampoo. Cable (totally, totally worthless). Food. Travel. And while I certainly can’t afford the top of the line with most things, I do try to get the best I can.
What about you? What will you splurge on? What is worth it to you? And what can you live without?
Dear Money is very good, fyi, if you're looking for a summer read. Books are definitely one item I could never live without, but thanks to the library I can indulge without affecting my budget.