What We Worry About When We’re No Longer Broke
Nicole Dieker

My wife and I are DINKs, and both our combined incomes and net worth put us solidly inside “the 10%”; some calculators put us right around bottom of “the 5%”. We live a lifestyle about half as expensive as what we could “afford” (maybe a little less; I know our cars certainly aren’t upper-middle-class, I drive a ’04 VW station wagon, and the wife an ’06 Camry.) My wife’s income alone is around twice the US median household income, and I earn more than she does. I’m not saying any of this to brag, but rather to make clear where I’m coming from.

I’ve never known poverty (my Dad made a pretty good income, but poor money management meant we never left the smack-dab of the middle-class, lifestyle wise… the smallest townhouse on our block and a pair of cars as old as I was, but in a decent DC ‘burb) My wife and I both got good jobs right out of college, and have never looked back.

Despite all this, I’m convinced that no matter how much you make, worries about money NEVER go away, if you are the type to worry about money at all. Do I worry that I’ll wake up one day and discover I’m broke? No. (I’ve planned well enough, that even if horrible things were to happen, well, I’d be better off than most people, even if not as well off as my retirement plan hopes.) Money doesn’t keep me up nights, but certainly I worry more than I probably need to.

But I certainly DO fear suddenly being forced to make painful sacrifices to my standard of living and plans for the future. Yes, I understand there’s a difference between going from “well off” to “less well off” vs. from “poor” to “destitute”, and certainly the latter has a LOT more ACTUAL pain to worry about than I do.

I’m of the theory that each of us has some sort of pre-set “worry level” when it comes to money, and no matter how much you have (or don’t have) at the time, the net amount of anxiety stays about the same. You got folks that have nothing that spend as if there’s plenty more where that came from, and you have billionaires that toss-and-turn sleepless wondering if it’s all going to crash down around their ears tomorrow.

Is it rational for me to spend much time worrying about money? No, not really. There’s no reason for me to stock up on canned spaghetti sauce when it’s on sale for thirty cents off. (I know what you are thinking… there’s no reason to EAT canned spaghetti sauce! But it’s actually better than a lot of the jarred stuff.) There’s no reason for me to spend more than a couple minutes trying to decide between BrandNameGadget for $13.56 and what looks to be an equivalent BrandXGadget for $12.37, but I do.

My wife and I both grew up in families where money was always tight, even if we weren’t poor, and worrying about money is part of who we are. We aren’t tightwads or misers, so I wouldn’t say our attitudes are unhealthy, but I would say that on the spectrum of “worrying about money” we definitely trend towards the “careful” end vs. the “spend as if it’ll always be there” end.

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