Out In The Open

Feeling guilty about your money and ability to spend it

Gwen Merz experienced poverty as a kid and feels both pleasure and guilt about her comfortable life now.

Until the age of six, Gwen Merz says that her family was on every form of social assistance you can imagine.

Her single mom worked at a large retail store while supporting three kids. 
Gwen Merz (Courtesy of Gwen Merz)

"We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Basically, cheap but filling foods," says Gwen.

Things changed when Gwen's mother married into the middle class. 

Gwen says she still worked hard in high school to get a college scholarship and that she worked during college to graduate with no debt. She was able to secure a high paying job early on in her career and makes around 70,000 USD.

But, that time living with very little still influences her relationship to money. Having a disposable income is something that gives Gwen a sense of both pleasure and guilt.

"On the one hand, I feel really proud of where I've come because I worked really hard for everything that I've got...But on the other hand, I see that my friends and family work just as hard as I do and they're not reaping the same rewards that I am."

Gwen remembers a moment when her sister — who Gwen says lives comfortably because she budgets really well for her family — had to ask Gwen for a loan because of unforeseen circumstances. 

"I felt a little guilty because I had far more money than I needed to take care of myself on hand and was able to very easily give her the money and I didn't miss that money at all…

"Her job doesn't pay anywhere near what mine does, even though she's the main breadwinner for her family, whereas I'm still single and don't have anybody to support and earn far more money than she does."

For Gwen the pleasure of having disposable income comes from not having to worry about money. The guilt comes from the fact that those you love still do.