Technically, under the law, I am a full-fledged adult. I can drive, I can buy a lottery ticket, I can smoke cigarettes, I can vote. (And, for those of you who are wondering, in reality I’ve only ever done one of those things – three guesses which.)
Despite what the law says, I am far from being independent. In no way am I able to take care of myself. Sure, I can cook edible food and (usually) get dressed without assistance, but as far as the finance side of growing up goes, I have the independence of a six year old. (Coincidentally, my weekly paycheck may be about as big as a six year old’s allowance, but I’m not complaining – every little bit helps.)
Really though, I think my biggest problem with this whole idea of adulthood is the concept of money. I abide by the law, I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder in order to get work done, and I can make basic decisions on my own. I don’t have everything figured out to a T, but I think I’m learning quickly enough. Money, however, is a whole different story.
No, I’m not one of those typical college kids without self-control who doesn’t know when to stop spending. Really, I’m not a poor money-manager – aside from school related expenses, like books and tuition and the occasional snack foods, I rarely buy anything at all, and when I do, it’s on sale. But here’s what gets me: I don’t even buy those things myself. Those little things, those little, insignificant things that nobody thinks twice about buying because they’re a necessity – toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent – those are the things that really get me. Frequently, I still have to ask my parents for money to buy that box of pop tarts so I don’t have to skip eating entirely on those days when I don’t have a spare minute for lunch in between classes. I still have to ask my parents for money to give to the friends who give me the occasional ride home on the weekends. And two or three times a year, I’m at my absolute lowest when I meekly pass that tuition bill across the table to my parents. Every time, every single time, I want to snatch it back and say, “I’ve got this,” but the phrase always gets stuck in my throat when I think about what would actually happen to my dreams, to my future, if I did.
In one of my classes, we read a New York Times article entitled “What is it about the 20-something?” by Robin Henig. The article focuses on the concept of “emerging adulthood” which is pretty much this awkward in-between stage of life between the ages of 18 and 24 or so where young people end up caught in this weird area of being treated like an adult but not really being able to act like one. Basically, we’re too old to be coddled but not necessarily able to manage be turned loose completely. For myriad reasons, the finances aren’t there or the maturity levels aren’t there or the stars just aren’t lining up correctly, and all the not-quite-adults get confused about what they really are.
Which is where I think I’m at now. I was sitting at my desk this morning, frustrated and trying to balance my checkbook – a job I absolutely hate. I was so angry as I flipped through the pages of the register trying to decipher my pathetic handwriting, thinking, “Will I ever be able to do this on my own? Just once, can I please do this without my mom’s help?”
Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing that my mother is there to help me with my problems, checkbook related or no, but I couldn’t help feeling defeated by this silly little book. I can ask for help, but I don’t want to. I think it’s this whole, “are you really an adult?” complex thing.
Yes, yes, yes I know that everybody needs help every now and again and that it’s a learning process and blah, blah, blah. Great. Thanks. I still don’t like to ask.
I know that my parents are happy to help. They want me to get an education, they want me to have food in my cupboards, heck, they even want me to have a balanced checkbook. I know that they’re able to help, too. And they know I can’t really stop asking them for help. But I also know it won’t stop bothering me because no matter how I look at it, $20,000 a year for schooling is a whole lot of money.
Now, to make things worse, my parents are talking about buying me a car. For some (possibly idiotic) reason that probably had something to do with this whole, “I want to be an adult,” thing, I decided I wanted to live off campus next year – far enough off campus that walking to class is not an option. When it comes down to it, getting a car is practically unavoidable. (Sure, I could take the bus, but my time is worth something, too. If I have to sit on the bus for an hour to get to and from school when I could be working or studying, that is an hour ill-spent. Even if I did decide to take the bus in and around East Lansing, I would still be next to stranded whenever I want or need to come home. I could rely on friends with cars to haul me back and forth, but that’s already proven problematic. I could take the train, but the nearest train station is an hour away from my house.) Anyway, at this point, a car, impractical as it may be, is my only plausible option.
Imagine that: a teenager who doesn’t want a brand new (used) car. Take a look folks, that’s an anomaly you probably won’t see twice. Two years ago, if you would have asked me if I wanted a new car, I would have said yes just like any other kid. Heck, I did.
But here’s why: to try to keep things fair, my family’s got a system. At certain milestones, you’re allowed do the things your older sisters got to do when they were that age. No wearing makeup or going to dances until you’re in tenth grade. You can have a cell phone when you start driving. Your curfew is whenever you get home, but you darn well better be on time for chores the next morning. You can get a car when you graduate if you cover at least a third of the cost.
Throughout high school, I had saved up enough money that I was willing and able to chip in my share to buy a car. I received a paycheck for the work I did on the farm, and did some babysitting on the side. It wasn’t a ton, but it was enough.
Then, my family sat me down to look at the logic behind it and I reluctantly agreed it just didn’t make sense. (I was living on campus, my car would have been parked at least a twenty minute walk away from my dorm, and I didn’t have a job or any other need to commute anywhere other than home, and that I could manage with friends.) And I pouted, mostly because I didn’t think it was fair that my older sister got a car when she graduated from high school, but I soon got over it.
In fact, I got over it so much that now, when I hear my parents talk about getting me a car, I feel instantaneously ill. I don’t want a car. A car is expensive and, as my daddy told me, a poor investment: the longer you own it, the less it’s worth. Also, I hate driving. Really, I would much rather ride. I don’t like dealing with traffic congestion and people who pass on the right and one-way streets. Most importantly, I just can’t cover my share of the cost anymore, certainly not after two and a half years of college. To be blunt, I’m pretty much flat broke, and to ask for a car, on top of tuition, on top of books, on top of snack foods and gas money, seems to be way too much, to be totally and entirely stepping over the line. But there’s nothing I can do about it. (Heck, at this point, there’s no way around it: my parents have made it perfectly clear that I’m getting a car at some point, and that it might as well be now. Touché, Mom and Dad. My childish attempt to be an independent adult has backfired… Who could’ve seen that one coming?)
All of this came to me as I sat there at my desk miserably attempting to balance my mess of a checkbook. Honestly, I really began to wonder if I will ever reach the point where I consider myself to be a competent adult, when I will have enough money (and I said enough money, not a lot of money) to take care of my own bills, to buy my own snack foods and gasoline, and, most importantly to properly return the favor to my parents.
*Please note that despite the somewhat bitter and confused tone of this post, I’m fine, I promise. Thanks for your concern, though 🙂