Little Cousins, Big Salaries

December 16, 2007 at 3:05 am 1 comment

My brother and I (we’re 15 months apart) are the eldest grandchildren in a large family (well, family gatherings on each side are about 25 people, so whatever size you consider that). We’re both in our mid-30’s (he’s pushing late, I’m still mid!). Many of our cousins are in or just graduating from college.

Now, as several cousins have graduated in the last couple years, and another couple are graduating this year, I’m noticing a trend. Many of them are starting out making more than my and my husband’s current household income. Starting out. At 22. Making more than we make now.

Granted, they are engineers, architects and accountants to our teacher/writer cultural-creative-type existence. But, one has created a highly successful cheerleading mix and choreography practice — certainly creative — and his MySpace page says he earns, well, between equal to and more than we earn.

Does this bother me? Honestly, no. I’m really OK with it because I’m OK with my life. More than OK. I like my life, and we’re not wanting for anything (except, perhaps, some extended family in town to babysit now and then — maybe some of these cousins will pick SoCal?!).  And, I’m happy for them and really proud of them for getting educated and doing productive and satisfying work.

But, is it a little strange to think about this income equation? Honestly, yes. These are kids I remember as newborns, who I held and burped and rocked to sleep. And their starting salary out of college rivals mine as I approach mid-life.  Even the ones still in college seem to have a standard of living (read: disposable income) that’s more than I ever had, even at my top salary days as a corporate copywriter.

I suppose it’s strangest when it comes time for housewarming or graduation gifts, and I’m supposed to be the “elder” helping them get them started in their adult lives. And, really, I can afford less than they can.

To them, $50 gift cards to Crate & Barrel or are expected.  To me, that’s more than we’re spending on our own kid’s holiday gifts this year.  It’s too much. And, yet, to them it’s in keeping with their standard of living. And, they are working for the money (well, most of them).  I don’t begrudge them their desire for $50 gift cards; I just can’t afford them.

What I think I’m going to start doing is just writing something for each cousin — a memory of who they were as a child, in relation to who they are upon graduation.  Maybe send a small token with it. But it will be something I found at an outlet store or craft shop, not a whopping gift card. The great part is, I think they will appreciate it. And, if certain ones don’t, they have plenty of other $50 gift cards to focus on.

For me, I’m seeing that a big part of “having enough” is not worrying about the expectations of others, and not focusing on comparisons to others. Even when those others are the “little” cousins I babysat, who are now taking over the world.  I can truly be happy for other people’s success (especially these young family members’) and yet not feel compelled to participate in their standard of living.

It takes a little more effort to write a long letter, or find a bargain trinket of good taste, and send it to them.  But I hope, in the end, it will mean something — perhaps even more than what they had asked for.  And I hope it sends a message that we can all be content to live within our means, whatever those means may be.

These cousins are graduating into a vastly different world than I graduated into, less than 15 years ago.  I have a lot to learn from them. And, maybe, just maybe, they can learn a little something from me, too.

Entry filed under: Success/Failure, Wealth.

Sharing Plans, Schmans

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Shawn  |  January 5, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I honestly feel like to truly appreciate what you have … you have to hardly have an extra penny to spend. The last year has been so incredibly eye-opening to me after years of working in a career that should have been more eye-opening.

    Hear. Hear. On the wanting babysitting thing. I wish we were neighbors … I’d help you.


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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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