A Friendly Chat With a Rich Person
Logan Sachon: You are a young person who makes a lot of money: TRUE OR FALSE.
Rich Person: TRUE! I mean, you know, for certain definitions of “a lot”?? I do not have a yacht, and I live in an apartment. But yes I actually was looking through tax paperwork this morning and last year I made something around $140,000. Which is a very large looking number, if you ask me.
LS: Yes. To me you are basically a billionaire. I cannot distinguish between you and Warren Buffett.
RP: Yes I mean this is how I feel too! It is A LOT OF MONEY for a person of my relative youth and charm. (26, Super Charming.)
LS: SO YOUNG. SO CHARMING And so much money. How much money is in your checking account right now?
RP: My personal checking account, which is for day-to-day shit like “eating out” and “buying drinks” has $1,045.27. The joint account, which I share with my wife, that all my checks get deposited in is at $76,707.42. The joint savings account is $32,477. Our plan is to shift a lot of that out to, like, CDs or whatever, for mid-term savings once we meet with the CPA.
LS: So tell me. How did you get to a place where you were making this amount of money?
RP: So I am lucky, which is something successful people like to say about themselves if they’re not assholes (I heard that in an audiobook my dad was listening to), but is also very true. I am a contractor in the entertainment industry, and I make animated logos, commercial graphics, what have you, for film and TV. I used to want to be a video game programmer, then I learned I don’t actually enjoy programming things, I’m just good at it. So I changed to computer game ARTIST, which I spent a long time trying to get good at.
In high school, basically, I was self-teaching myself 3d animation programs, and I was soooo baaaad at it, but I was also dumb enough to not realize this, so I slowly got better and better until I was able to get an unpaid internship (!) the summer before college working at a company that did graphic animation stuff for television. They basically took advantage of me, but also taught me to use more animation tools. So I was able to keep doing work with them, and then other tv animation companies, while I was doing school. So school became, like, my day job, and then I got my actual education at night, working for these companies.
LS: When did you start getting paid?
RP: Let’s see … sophomore year of college I talked them into upgrading me to a paid intern, which meant I was getting paid literally minimum wage to do complicated animation things. It was such, SUCH a scam. I now know that the work I was doing was worth about 300 dollars a day in NY or LA, or maybe 200 if I was worse than I remember, but they were literally giving me 7 dollars an hour or whatever. But then on the flip side, I learned SO MUCH. All of my book-learnin’ college education was just, like, art history and context, but I learned all of my actual day-to-day skills on the job. Which I think is how it is for a lot of people? College gives you a foundation but the actual day to day skills are learned in an office.
LS: Yeah but not generally while you’re still in college! Did you know how lucrative this career could be eventually? Were you tempted to drop out and just get to work?
RP: I had no idea. I graduated in 2008 and was offered two jobs in the same state I was in school in: one at a game company, one at a smallish animation studio. Both encouraged me to drop out to work for them, both offered me around 50,000 or something like that, which straight out of college is a good deal! But I decided to move to LA, instead, where I got a job making I think it was 65,000, as a staff animator. Good money! Great money! Only later did I realize how low that is relative to what contractors make in this field. At every step I just felt lucky to have found a field I was good at, and that I enjoyed doing. Making money was, you know, a broad goal, but it’s not like I was my buddy who went to pharmacy school to get rich.
LS: What were your other friends doing during this time?
RP: Right after college I had one go to work at a defense contractor, making more than I was out of school… a bunch of art types went to grad school. Oh gosh, they ALL went to grad school. Imagine Ginsberg’s “Howl,” but about grad school. I know so many artists who decided that they weren’t gonna get work and went to get an MFA instead.
LS: Did you have loans from school to pay off?
RP: I did not, thankfully — I am, as I said, extraordinarily lucky. I went to a small state school nobody’s heard of, who paid me to keep my GPA over 3.25, and let me double major in what I wanted. So I treated them as, like, my 9–5 office job, while I was working on the side. I mean, also, I was crazy.
LS: Where did that work ethic come from? It just seems so wild to be in college and working that much, if you didn’t have to.
RP: I did about six years of school work in four years. I have no idea! I’m very lazy or I should say I’m very lazy, unless there’s a sort of systemic motivation. So in college, I was on a full ride scholarship that ran out after four years, so it was in my interest to milk that dry for four years and then leave. I took on these internships and low-paying side jobs because I knew I wouldn’t teach myself anything on my own, but if I had a company I owed work to, I’d do it for them. Basically I leveraged my worst psychological traits (anxiety, guilt) and used them to force me to work harder.
LS: Wow. That’s just really really smart reasoning for a college kid. Are your parents really hard workers?
RP: Yes. They are both management-types and both very successful. I grew up outside DC, where the assumption is you WILL be a successful meritocracy type person — lawyer/doctor/politician. So there was just a lot of hard work around me. Now I’m in LA and it’s hard for me to get used to the different expectations of what “hard work” means.
LS: So it sounds maybe like you found a thing you liked and were good and it was just lucky it wasn’t like … abstract painting. That the fact that it was also lucrative was a happy accident?
RP: Yeah, although on the flip side I put a ton of work into figuring out how to make a career out of what I liked. Like up until I graduated, I was thinking I might still do programming stuff, because I was gonna have a degree in it and I was good at it. So if it looked like I’d be scraping by not making money I don’t know if I’d have stuck with it.
The other thing is what I do is not really comparable to abstract painting — like I COULD use the skills I have to make animated shorts and try and get NEA grants and make little art pieces, but instead, I do commercial art. Because at the end of the day I like doing both of these things, but one of them will make money, too. I totally get that a lot of people won’t like the feeling of “selling out,” but for me that’s not really a problem. So I channeled my creative energy into a way to use the things I liked doing to get paid, too.
LS: I’m really interested in your peers, your friends, and how or if your success/their going to grad school changed things in your relationships.
RP: It’s funny, it did to an extent. I’ve found the people I knew in college who didn’t have a solid idea of what they were doing next tended to drift away from me a bit more. I mean part of it is how I moved so far away, too, but I’ve found the people I keep in touch with on the east coast all tend to have, at least somewhat, an idea of what they’re gonna do — whether that be teaching, or working in games, or whatever, they have a plan beyond “get an MFA.” I dunno if that’s a self-selection thing, or just coincidence, but that’s how it’s played out.
In LA it’s a little different. I didn’t know anybody here, and had to make a ton of friends out of nowhere, so there’s a big range of like… position-in-career. I have friends who are in the same field as me, and friends who are struggling writers, and friends who don’t really have a plan beyond paying rent. And it can be awkward.
LS: Let’s talk about THAT.
RP: Let’s! I mean if nothing else, in LA in your 20-something crowd you’ll have people making anywhere from $15,000 a year to, I guess, $140,000 a year in my case, so finding things to do that won’t be awkwardly expensive, finding ways to buy rounds without getting weird about it, it’s all gotta get navigated.
My wife and I have taken to hiring our friends to catsit for us and, like, it is a valuable service we are paying for, but I get awkward about how much they feel like they’re becoming our SERVANTS because we’re paying them, and we make enough money that I’d be so uncomfortable NOT paying them.
LS: Do you feel like there’s an expectation from your friends that you’ll buy dinner or drinks or whatever when you go out?
RP: Sometimes! Not always, and not in a way I’m uncomfortable with.
LS: I have a few friends who make A Lot More Money Than Me and I do find myself falling into that expectation sometimes, just feeling .. um this person will probably be getting the check and then being kind of surprised if we split it. NEVER OUT LOUD. But like I said, six figures to me sounds like INFINITE MONEY.
RP: Listen I make six figures and it FEELS like infinite money…until it’s all gone. Like, yes, everyone knows we make more money! And I would rather pay for a friend than have them not come to an event. But, also, obviously this doesn’t apply to EVERYTHING, right? A friend just had her car break down, and part of me was like “We could just… pay for that! Right now! Out of the checking account!” But then where does “giving your friends money” stop? I do not know!
LS: Yeah! That actually seems to me to be a stressful situation to be in actually.
RP: It can be! I got married last year, and my wife is in grad school and is way, way, way better at not-spending-money than I am. She was able to save more money than me while making 1/3rd as much before we got married. So as a result, we did a big Finances Unifying thing, and now I have a monthly budget. Which is usable for, like, personal things, which includes buying people drinks and paying for meals. And that new budget is a tiny fraction of what I actually make per month. Soo as a result now I feel like I’m spending less on friends than I did, but also saving a lot of money to use for things like “maybe buying a house” or “not starving to death if I run out of contract work.”
LS: Do you friends make rich people jokes to your face? Do they constantly describe themselves as poor?
RP: Some friends are always describing themselves as poor, but I’ve also basically learned to never trust someone’s “emotional description” of how wealthy they feel. Everyone feels poor sometimes, and unless you know why they feel that way it doesn’t mean much! I don’t really get many rich people jokes, but that’s probably more because I am in an apartment and I just have one practical car. I know guys in my field that drive crazy-ass Audis and they definitely get a lot of “rich white dude” jokes.
LS: Do you think having money made you more mature? It seems like maybe not since you were so mature before. But … do you feel like you’re more mature than your friends without money? And is it the money that made you mature? Or are you more mature by nature and and … therefore have money? Can one be poor and mature?
RP: I am really hesitant to answer this just because, you know, what is maturity? But I guess I can say: I feel like everyone kind of has an “internal age” of what their brain acts like, and mine is definitely something around 32 years old. Has been for years! That said, if I lost my money tomorrow I think I’d still be mature, just way more stressed and worried and anxious, all of which acts to keep you from acting maximumly mature.
LS: Were you a rich person when you met your wife? Is your wife a rich person? I guess you are, collectively, now Rich People.
RP: She has basically seen a broad arc of my career. We started dating before I came to LA, so she saw me making no money on internships, then making a good amount and then in the last two years, when I went freelance, making A Lot Of Money.
LS: Can you talk about that transition? Was the money the reason?
RP: In part! There was a lot of shaking up at the company I was at. A lot of people leaving. The work wasn’t as satisfying as it had been when I started, and I had this buddy who was a contractor who kept saying he was making $600/day. Which I literally did not believe, but now, being out in the contractor world, is completely reasonable (“reasonable”). So to compare I was making… $78,000, I think, when I quit. I immediately jumped from that to six figures aaand have been raising my rate since.
LS: What small things changed when you hit six figures — anything? Did you upgrade to $20 bottles of wine instead of $10 or $15? Do you shop at J.Crew now instead of the Gap?
RP: My wife’s spending increased tremendously — she’s in grad school, so having disposable income changed her life a lot, in terms of material goods. For me, I mostly stopped caring about how much I spent on things like eating lunch out, or buying books and video games, or whatever. Furniture got a big upgrade, too, just cause all my stuff was Ikea moving-to-a-new-state stuff from four years ago. Switched up to Room and Board instead. (Privileged people sentences.) I also started spending money on fine liquors, and throwing parties for friends, because I like hosting and it’s a lot easier to do that when you can just buy $200 in alcohol without it being a big deal. Now I find I’m trying to ratchet myself back down to my sub-rich-dude spending so I can work on paying for a house eventually.
LS: Did you become a republican?
RP: NOPE. I’m proud to pay taxes. I am firmly of the… “jesus, that is a lot of money, who cares if the government takes some” family. And also, when you aren’t doing W2s, you start to realize how many things are actually luxuries that you can choose to spend money on or not, like, knowing what I spend on my vacation days, or being able to just take a month off if I like.
I might technically make “less money” doing that, but it is still a thing that has value, you know? There is more to being successful than the biggest paycheck. Ironically, getting a bigger paycheck is making me realize this.
LS: Do you describe yourself as middle class?
RP: NO NO NO NO NO. I AM RICH and I don’t LIKE having to say it, because this is AMERICA but I am definitely rich and that’s ok and maybe if I remember how lucky and good I have it I’ll be able to help other people more than pretending that I am just an average joe.
LS: Do you consider yourself part of the 99 percent? OR THE ONE PERCENT.
RP: I mean I feel like socioeconomically, I’m really in the one percent, but that if you are even willing to consider this, then maybe you can avoid the gross trappings of one-percent-ness? E.g. spending all your money on sending your kids to private school and then acting like this is a BASELINE NECESSITY, and thus calling yourself middle class?
LS: Do you do stocks and stuff? (“stocks and stuff”)
RP: My favorite big box retailer! We have money in retirement funds (Roth IRAs) and we have index funds. I know a lot of the guys I work with are stock jockeys. They do day trading shit and get real intense about like 2-hour get-rich-quick things in the markets. III… don’t. I’m young! I can make money over a long period of time. That said, we’re gonna be meeting with an accountant tomorrow to talk about incorporating. So maybe he’ll be like “go buy every stock” “build yourself a throne out of stock certificates”
LS: “Just buy the stock. All of it”
RP: “BUY! BUY!” he’ll shout.
LS: Is there anything else you have to say about being rich?
RP: Just that… if any of YOU dear readers become rich, work really really hard to remember that you are rich. Also, buy higher thread count sheets. They are WORTH IT.
This Particular Rich Person lives in Los Angeles.