Well, Mr. X told me that he bought a new car this week. Not just a new car, but a brand-spanking new car — one that costs about $30,000. He traded in our 2008 Subaru Outback to get a younger model. I’m driving a 2002 Honda Accord that my grandmother bought me when I graduated from college. I love Goldie Honda, but I’m seething over his clean upholstery, 2015 gadgets and gizmos, stain-free floor mats, dent free bumper, and mostly the fact that he can get from point A to point B with unbridled certainty.
When we were together, he was training for a job that would pay him six figures in the transportation industry. Shortly after he moved out his salary skyrocketed. And mine stayed the same — perpetually depressed. Financially, things were so much easier when we were together. I could buy pretty dresses; a new pair of shoes; and even the I’ll-make-you-twenty-five-again face cream, because we’d still have plenty of money to pay for things, like, say, rent. Now, not so much. Because there’s no we, there’s only me. I know the trade I made: The hope for real happiness in exchange for financial security. And it sucks.
It all makes me wonder: Can money can buy happiness? Or at least make you forget about what you’re missing emotionally by filling the void with shiny new things? With Mr. X, I could have had a big beautiful house in Oakhurst (which is a fantastic neighborhood five minutes north of downtown if you’re looking to buy). I could have had dreamy dresses from Anthropologie and whatever wine I fancied from Central Market. Plus dinners out, late night happy hours, and crab cakes. Oh, crab cakes.
By comparison, on Wednesday night I made a grill cheese sandwich complemented by some damn fine $10 wine. Earlier that evening, my daughter and I went to Hulen Movie Tavern to see Inside Out, where I silently sobbed uncontrollably in the dark while my daughter sat happily on my lap with her hand stuffed inside a box of Raisinets. The film is a funny but poignant peak into the emotional intensities of childhood — emotions are the leading characters, after all. I’m glad we went, but food and movies cost a lot when you’ve only got a little. So I ordered wine to wash away my tears, which made the bill even bigger.
How much money does it take to be happy? A study cited in The New York Times says a household income of $75,000 is just right. In the United States, that’s enough money to provide folks with a “comfortable standard” of living. Making more dough doesn’t really do much to add to the happiness equation. But it usually adds more stress to your life and less free time to be with the ones you love.
In my past, pre-baby and pre-freelance writer days, I had jobs that paid pretty well. The initial thrill of a fat bank account always wore off, but my love didn’t. I was married, and had a partner to come home to at night and adore with kisses, cookies, and stories from my day. It’s hard to say how much money played a role in the joy we shared. There was less stress financially but I wasn’t fulfilled professionally.
You know, it’s not so much that I want a new car or even need one. I just want to know that if I needed to buy one, I could. And the dream — silly as it may be — of leather seats and a GPS inside a car that speaks to me could be in my not-so-distant future.
I’ve never considered myself materialistic and I try to shun consumerism at every turn. But there’s something about a new dress that can’t be underestimated. It’s the way you feel: the confidence, the pleasure, the fabric, and the financial freedom of being able to buy it for yourself without having to choose between fashion and food.
I’ll imagine wearing that new dress in a new car pulling into the Thrift Town parking lot (because buying vintage is just so much smarter). But for now, my 2002 Honda Accord has a lot of places to go. And luckily, life’s an open road.