Starting the conversation: Money in Marin

The bustling halls of Redwood are filled with chattering kids, backpacks and Louis Vuitton totes as they are slugged from classroom to classroom. Nike Air Force One, Converse and the occasional Golden Goose shoes scuffle down the checkered floors. The spitting image of Marin County’s youth is congested into a yellow concrete building – the social hierarchy and expensive trends splattered among the student body.

The social pressure of high school already runs rampant in any community but with one so focused on affluence the pressure of fitting in financially becomes another burden on students. Marin, although generally affluent, isn’t a hub of wealth for everyone. Nonetheless, the topic of money is often thrown around with the assumption that we all have a six-figure income. This perception of wealth in Marin is damaging to our community and self-view. If people move out of Marin, their skewed perception of money will follow, and their inability to respect others’ financial abilities will impede new connections.

Digitally illustrated by Lily Reese

Being able to understand that not everyone comes from the same socioeconomic class is a key component in life and despite what many believe, you don’t have to leave Marin to see it. According to the Marin Economic Forum, “37 percent of households in Marin do not earn enough income to make ends meet.” Many Marin families are focused on providing food and basic necessities.

The social worries that many teens have about meeting social standards create an environment of poor self-worth. Not being able to afford food let alone new trendy clothes often leaves teenagers feeling outcasted or shameful of what they don’t have. But in reality, if money was discussed in an appropriate manner and in a safe, judgment-free environment, these material items may seem less important. Yet this idea is often not thought of and neither is the reality of Marin – a third of our population is struggling to make ends meet. 

Conversations around wealth are often tense and awkward, as we are rarely taught how to not rub our privilege in others’ faces. According to a March 2023 Bark survey, 42 percent of students are uncomfortable to an extent when talking about money with friends. A study done by Morningstar tested the effects of comparing finances on emotional well-being. Behavioral economist Sarah Newcomb discovered that “participants who compared their financial situations with those they deemed better off were less satisfied, more stressed and felt less capable of handling the pressures of their financial lives.” 

 On top of financial pressure at home, individuals have social pressures to keep up with the Marin lifestyle. According to a March 2023 Bark survey, 16 percent of students have a job specifically to provide for their own families, while the rest of the students with jobs have them so that they can pay for their own things like clothes and outings with friends. While some students work to fit into the social expectations of Marin others work for their families. But in stark reality, the majority of some of those paychecks will only make it to housing bills.

Digitally illustrated by Lily Reese

With 51.5 percent of Marin residents paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, there is an inability between financial responsibilities and recreational activities one can partake in. Living in one of the richest counties will always increase the standard of living. Money is present here and it would be ignorant to look past it. Yet, the lack of acknowledgment of varying financial situations creates a weak sense of community and takes an emotional toll on fiscally insecure people.  

Money will always be a difficult topic, a pain point. Some will always have more and others will always have less. Learning to discuss money and finding cheaper alternatives to outings and experiences may help ease a friend’s worries about affording Marin. Cooking dinner together instead of going out, or going on a road trip instead of asking a friend to purchase a plane ticket to Italy may ensure comfort for those who aren’t as financially secure.