When I was 22, I was a year out of college and living at home. I had no money, and I spent all of my time reading blogs and applying for jobs that never got back to me. But then I received an unexpected major inheritance from my step-grandfather.
I received a lump sum of $66,000 after taxes—more money than I could comprehend, really. My dad immediately took me to the bank and helped me open a CD, a deposit account with a high interest rate, stressing that the money would grow, and then one day I could use it on a down payment on a house. That sounded nice, but also very far away. Buying houses was for old people! I was young, and it had been a hard year—didn’t I deserve something nice now? I put $61,000 into the CD, and $5,000 in my checking account.
I was cautious going into spending the money—terrified of ruining this opportunity. My first major purchase was a fancy DSLR, a Nikon D80, a solid camera that all my favorite lifestyle bloggers seemed to love. I got it off of Amazon with a kit lens for a little over $1,000. I had an interest in photography; it seemed like a practical purchase, necessary, even.
I remember asking my boyfriend if I had made the right decision. That was the single biggest purchase I had ever made in my life, and it seemed like something worth debating. But he insisted that if I wanted to take great photos, nothing would be a greater incentive than an amazing camera. I still remember the day I got it. I felt professional, rich, and responsible. It seemed like a well-reasoned purchase, and I vowed to continue to make practical decisions about what I would buy. If I wanted to be a photographer, a good camera was the perfect starting point. Naturally, all my purchasing decisions would follow as such. Right?
Buying the camera had made me nervous, but I soon found the money easy to spend. With $61,000 in the bank, it seemed like I had a nearly limitless supply. I started with small things: A pretty porcelain vase here, a Thread Social skirt there. Those lifestyle and fashion and design blogs I loved—the beautiful things posted on the sites were suddenly attainable to me. I bought $200 ban.do flowery headbands, ridiculously ruffly silk collar necklaces, even hideous Jeremy Scott leggings with gas pumps on them. If I was even slightly interested in it, to my house it came.
I always intended to return the things I didn’t love, but I rarely returned anything. I’d look at my bank account and it just seemed like I had a never-ending flow of money that rendered returns irrelevant. I even started my own fashion blog, convinced that if I owned cute, quirky things, I would somehow develop the interesting, artistic life that I wanted. I overlooked the fact that I was living in a boring cookie-cutter house in the ‘burbs, and spending my days doing nothing but perusing the Internet and shopping. A highlight of that time was when Tavi Gevinson commented on my blog, complimenting one of my purchases. That meant something to me.
That initial $5,000 was gone in a month, and then I started tapping into the reserves. I was allowed one withdrawal every three months from the CD, but I started taking out $5,000 every few weeks, losing any interest I’d accrued and blowing through my money. I felt so guilty talking to the guy at the bank that I kept making up excuses like, “Oh, I’ve had a lot of medical problems recently,” or “My dog needs surgery.” I didn’t have a dog.
I became obsessive about shopping, thinking that buying something new would make me feel better about myself and my life. I would see something, and freak out over needing to own it. I had no self control in my life when it came to spending, which I did frivolously and with abandon.
I did have big dreams and aspirations. The money meant opportunity to me, if only I could make a decision. I wanted to move across the country, I wanted a nosejob (I know this sounds shallow, but it is what it is; I’d dreamed about it since I was 12), I wanted to completely change my life and surroundings. But I couldn’t commit to anything. I may have had grown-up clothes, but I was really just a scared little girl. Spending a few hundred dollars at a time on tangible things seemed more rational than spending thousands of dollars on one big idea that could turn out to be a giant mistake.
But it wasn’t a continuous flow of funds. After two years, I was down to a few thousand bucks. And then a few hundred. And then it was gone. Now, four years on, it’s more than gone. I have a credit card with a $7,000 balance, and I had to borrow money from my dad to pay my taxes (I’ve never told him point blank that the money is gone, but when I call him up to borrow $100, he must know).
I have nothing to show for my windfall. I don’t even have my little DSLR anymore; I sold it recently to pay for car repairs.
I probably think about the money at least once a week, more when I’m stressed. Sometimes I regret not making a big change in my life; sometimes I regret not getting that nosejob (I still think about it); and sometimes I regret spending thousands of dollars on clothes before I’d come into my sense of style (now impeccable, I’d say, but which does not include gaspump leggings and ruffly collars).
Mostly, I wish I had tried something risky while I had a huge cushion. I’m thinking about moving to Austin now, but it’s tricky; I’ll need a job before I get there to make it work, and even then I’ll struggle to cover moving expenses and new rental costs. If I had the money now, I’m sure I’d still buy things—it’s my nature—but I’d also take advantage of that safety net. I’d make a move. I still will, it just won’t be as easy as it could have been.
Allison Cintins is a public health researcher in Richmond, Va. She takes issue with Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems.”