Saturday, September 20, 2008
I Married Out of Money
For example, I remember my pre-full-time employment days, in which money was a concern, particularly what I was going to do about it if I didn’t find a job in the near future. It was rarely a concern in the present tense, which I mostly attributed to my work ethic and the fact that I didn’t spend my weekends partying, like so many of my college-age peers. It never occurred to me at the time that this was mostly due to federal student loans and the fact that my gasoline expenses were being paid for with an Exxon creidt card whose bill went directly to Mom and Dad.
Then, in the middle of 2003, the most fervent prayers of any liberal arts major (besides a 50-state ban on “reality TV”) were granted: I got a full-time job related to my field. I was overjoyed by this, as were, apparently, Mom and Dad, who didn’t bother to replace my expired Exxon plastic.
This was as gas prices began rising dramatically from the 1990s halcyon days, and at just about the time the federal government began sending monthly notices regarding my student loans that were roughly equivalent to a man with an outstretched hand grunting, “Ahem.” Just as I began receiving my weekly paycheck, gasoline consumption, phone bills, car insurance , fast food intake and gym memberships began taking larger and larger shares of it, leaving me with a pittance.
Moving away from Tennessee to Korea was, until recently, a major financial windfall. The money we received, this time on a monthly basis, was not much larger than what I got at home. However, the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute rid me of most of my financial concerns by supplying me with an apartment, placing me in an environment where I wouldn’t be able to own a car, and giving me a work schedule that would make expensive hobbies – not to mention eating a lot – very difficult.
Then, for reasons that seemed unquestionable at the time, I decided to get married. For the one year between my engagement and the ceremony signifying my domestication, I contributed nearly half of my salary every month toward making said event as upmarket as possible. I longed for day of the ceremony to come, not only for the comfort and support allotted by the institution of marriage, but also because I thought I wouldn’t have to focus on money so much.
How right I was. I got married to a Korean woman, after all, and females of this nationality traditionally take charge of home finances, paying the bills, preparing for the future and determining how much of an allowance to give the kids and husband for weekly expenses.
In the week after we returned from the honeymoon, she promptly seized my bank cards and said that she would be moving all of our money into a single account, which, incidentally, is one only she can access. The week after that was a Korean holiday, leaving me with a shortened work schedule, prompting her to allot me the Korean equivalent of $60 to live on. A visit the ATMs that had been a fixture in my life was now like voting for a third-party candidate in the United States – I could do so out of sentiment or protest, but get no literal value from it.
Suddenly, I knew that money would never again be as readily available as dirty air in Seoul. No longer could I, based on nothing more than a particularly strong jonesing, simply walk into the multimedia store which neighbors my office and simply walk away with the DVD/hardcover book of my choosing. By the next week, my wife had upped my allowance to about $80 and given me a credit card from a Korean bank, making hardcover book/DVD purchases more feasible, but I’d already been shaken to my core by then.
I could probably feel better about it if I were as comfortable using credit cards as my wife is. Whether its for double-digit (in America, at least; it’s more like quintuple in Korea) expenses like filling the gas tank half-full, or spending roughly $2 at a convenience store on beverages, my wife must put her credit card to use a handful of times daily. She always keeps a receipt, and never seems to go in over her head.
However, I just can’t justify the use of a credit card on less than a $10 purchase. If I handed the cashier some plastic while other customers line up behind me in the 7-Eleven or the Korean restaurants, then had to wait for him or her to swipe it, print a receipt and then give it to me to sign, I’d imagine the other patrons silently cursing me, much as I used to do when I was being held up.
Credit cards are also not so helpful when dealing with the homeless people who beg for cash on the stairs and the subways. I want to help them, but so few homeless people carry those card-swiping devices with them.
How I long for some big break to come my way to make things easier. If only I achieved some major promotion or were awarded a six-figure (or nine in Korea) book deal, then my wife and I could handle these financial concerns with ease.
For about a week, anyway, before new ones came along.
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