For my first year of graduate school in Iowa City, I wasn’t able to get back to see family for Thanksgiving. Motivated by the irony and sadness of spending the holiday alone, I watched a sappy movie and ate a cold turkey sandwich. This sorry state was only amplified by my linoleum/concrete floors that were like permafrost ice blocks for my feet, and the dingy, yellowish light of my apartment. All I could think was, “If I were rich, how would this be different?”
Dreams of a vacation I didn’t have
Presumably, I would’ve sat near the front of the airplane — speeding to my destination. The service would’ve been better, too. Maybe I could’ve afforded a first-class ticket. Perhaps this could be a regular weekend getaway. Luggage fees wouldn’t have been usury and awful — just mere pennies to my millions. Although, I probably would not have needed to pay for those fees anyways, as my credit cards and connections would lead to waivers. Either way, I would’ve been wealthy enough to afford whatever outcome. I would never stand in front of a ticket counter, after buying a ticket online, and be surprised that there’s an additional bag fee — breaking my budget and robbing me of my little available savings.
Finally at my destination’s airport, I would’ve rented a car. Not just any car, but a luxury vehicle to speed around the mean streets — something familiar and like my lifestyle. Again, I would have enjoyed the whisk and breeze of skipping lines, priority rentals, and free upgrades. My parents, family, and friends wouldn’t have needed to worry about me; I’d show up on time, no help and reliance necessary. Time would continually be on my side, as waiting would be heavily reduced.
As I walked through the airport, and saw the nice luggage and bags, I could have looked them up on my phone and instantly purchased my own. I wouldn’t need to hesitate to buy something so practical and helpful. Why not get some class with a Louis Vuitton set? Throw in those shoes, too! Traveling in style feels better.
Going home, I would have been excited to see all the friends and family I could. But I’d have to look sharp. Maybe I could stop by my favorite barber for a cleanup? My photos would be filled with the material goods that ooze success. I could show my parents, in person, what they had raised — that I had picked up my bootstraps and become a capitalistic achievement. They could be proud of my wealth and ability.
Thanksgiving without family, but not without heart
Reality is a cold shower. I can’t remember the last time I purchased something and didn’t feel guilty, nervous, and anxious for the added expense. I had looked at plane tickets for this Thanksgiving, but at nearly $500 plus airport shuttle fees, I couldn’t afford it. In a way, it felt like I was forced into frugality, without a choice (unless you consider debt to be an option, which I don’t).
As my friends and the rest of this consummate college town fled their studies and small-town lives for another location, there was a powerfully isolating feeling to my thriftiness and decision to stay. I fully expected it to be another cold turkey sandwich and night alone, but that all changed when a co-worker invited me to dinner. He knew I’d be here, without plans, and suggested I tag along.
What really matters
In that moment of deep gratitude, the Louis Vuitton dreams subsided. Pictures of first-class comfort and VIP lines faded. Suddenly, I felt humbled by his generosity and honored to be included. I was truly thankful — without any need for material goods, money, or proof of my worth.
Wealth is a funny target. If I only wanted to make money, I should’ve chosen a different career. Instead, I was motivated to help others and temporarily delay earning potential. My path to occupational success likely won’t include boatloads of cash.
Undeniably, if I had enough money available, I would’ve flown to Colorado to see my family. And honestly, if I had the money, I would’ve loved the creature comforts of first class. Both of these decisions would get me spending more money and being less frugal.
But at the end of the break, it was clear and simple: I just wanted to enjoy the day with people who are kind and open-hearted. Wealth just didn’t matter. If I were rich, I would’nt have wanted anything more than to share that moment with those I care about.