On Complaining About Taxes and Money

One of the biggest differences between mine and Paul’s upbringing that’s occasionally obvious is money in our childhood–his parents have six kids and have struggled most of Paul’s life, at least, and my parents only have two kids and are middle class, although I grew up in one of Pennsylvania’s counties, where their income is actually on the upper end.

So for Paul and I, both now working adults, this shows in our attitudes about money and the way we spend it. We both feel that money isn’t everything and we’d rather be happy with life decisions and career choices than be in high-paying but terrible jobs, but he’s much more frugal than I am, to word it nicely. If I’m not being nice, he’s cheap. In college, he would buy the same cheap, Walmart sneakers and wear them out within a few months. After a couple instances of this, I said, “Why don’t you just spend money on a better pair that you probably won’t wear out as fast?” He finally listened, and he still has those ones almost two years later. When he comes to my apartment and is looking for something to eat, he’ll occasionally spot something and get really excited and go, “Oh, you got the name brand!” His favorite is my nice, name-brand toilet paper.

That does get to be a pain in the ass if he grocery shops with me, though, because every once in awhile, he’ll comment that I could get something I’m buying for cheaper if I’d just buy the off-brand, which I don’t mind buying for things like noodles that are hard to fuck up and won’t ruin the quality of a meal or life in general (like two-ply toilet paper will).

Combine that with low self-esteem and you get a dude who will almost never buy himself something he wants because either he can’t justify the cost or he doesn’t feel he actually should have something nice that he wants. Then there’s me, who will buy myself almost whatever I want as long as I can actually afford it.

I think this used to concern him when we were first dating because I think he had this idea that I carelessly spend money, but I’m just more willing to part with it than he is. As much of an obvious difference as it is, it’s not actually a problem.

But when you grow up in a house where money’s tight and a regular source of argument and tension, you pick up some other habits, too. The first one I noticed was how incredibly tense he gets when his mom starts talking about money. Then when he got his previous job and I asked how much money he’d be making, he snapped that it was none of my business–he’s technically right since we’re not married or engaged, although if things stay smooth we will be and I didn’t see it as a big deal, especially since I’m pretty open about how much money I make (or don’t make).

You also pick up your parents’ habit of complaining about taxes.

Now, the thing with taxes is pretty much everyone hates them and pretty much everyone would love to get to keep their entire paycheck, but that’s not the way our government–or most governments–works and most of us figure that out pretty early on in life, long before we’re even paying taxes. Taxes are such a common but unwelcome part of life that they spawned that cliche about how the only two certain things in life are death and taxes.

If you happen to be a pretty liberal person surrounded by pretty conservative people, you get the added bonus of them saying, “You’ll feel differently when you start paying taxes” whenever you disagree with each other, which doesn’t make much sense to me since I’m pretty sure taxes have nothing to do with, you know, feeling that everyone deserves equal rights regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. Paul’s mom especially likes to throw this argument at me, even though I’ve been supporting myself and paying taxes for nearly three years, and my planned comeback next time is going to be something along the lines of, “Well, paying taxes hasn’t changed my mind yet, but I certainly hope in the future, they don’t erode my sense of compassion and fairness.”

I also get the added bonus of having a boyfriend who’s so used to hearing bitching about taxes that now he does it, too. He did it a little bit before, but now he’s working a new job with a significant pay cut–and we’ll come back to that–and he’s back in his old habit of picking apart his paycheck, calculating how much he actually earned, and comparing said earnings to how much was taken out for taxes and complaining about it.

Like I said, we all wish we could have that money to keep, but we don’t and we even benefit from taxes, with the exception of the useless PennDOT here. But the catch with nitpicking what you earned versus what you were actually paid is that it’s just as useless as PennDOT is–the taxes are gonna be taken out no matter what. You know this. You know there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re wasting time and energy getting angry about something that’s most likely not gonna change when you could and probably should just accept it as an unfortunate factor in life and move on.

This also means he’s nitpicking about where he wants to move to from his parents’ house–he’s shooting down Pittsburgh for the county’s high taxes, and I’d agree that in this case, taxes actually are an important consideration except for two factors: 1) he’s used to living in a county with a very low tax rate compared to a lot of other areas, so no matter where he goes he’s probably gonna end up paying more and 2) he was applying for jobs all over the country and was completely willing to relocate to an area he wasn’t familiar with without considering the taxes there.

So, back to his pay cut–I think he said he took like a 40% pay cut at this job compared to his previous one, which is pretty big, but again, there are some major factors that come into play. He is paying off a car (although at his last job, he could afford to make double payments) and student loans, plus he’s spending a lot on gas because of a long commute right now, but he’s still living with his parents, meaning those are basically his only expenses, not counting his phone and various things he pays for when we go out (and of course, we try to split costs). For all his dwelling on this pay cut, he forgets that in the meantime, I’m still making less money than he is yet I’m getting by just fine living on my own. The only things my parents are still paying for is my car insurance, which we’ve discussed me taking over soon, and my cellphone, which we’ve also discussed me getting on a plan with Paul instead, but that was put on hold until he started his job. As soon as he figures out relocating and stuff, we can revisit that. But in fact, with two raises about a year apart and a good handle on my expenses, I could even afford a nicer place at this point. It’s just that moving would be pointless if I’m probably gonna get married and want a house at some point anyway, so I’m just gonna stay put until that happens. Plus Brandon would be furious with me because moving me into my apartment was a pain in the ass–so much so that my mom said next time I move, we’re hiring people to do it–and since I went from sharing a house to my own apartment, I’ve got all my own furniture and things now and it’ll be a much worse experience next time.

So, here’s my bottom line: taxes are a thing. Deal with it. If you’re making enough money to cover your expenses with some left over–and not counting thousands of dollars of debt–you’re okay. Don’t freak out.

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