went bankrupt, causing the state guarantor to take over claims, gumming up an already slow process. It took nine months to collect her first insurance check.

Not all households have the wherewithal to prepare themselves for the worst. But there is some safeguarding that everyone can attempt. Here’s where to start:

tools can provide a starting point for assessing your home’s risk to earthly hazards.

Risk Factor has created a user-friendly tool that outlines flood, fire and extreme-heat risks (and soon other perils, including wind) for most homes across the country. Plug in an address, and it drills down to the property level, illustrating potential hazards. For example, it can show the probability that a property might flood, where the water is likely to pool, the damage it might cause and how much repairs might cost.

hazard maps for earthquakes, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program maintain flood maps (which also determine whether a home with a federally backed mortgage is required to have flood insurance). The flood program has recently overhauled its rating methodology, called Risk Rating 2.0, but you’ll have to contact a flood insurance agent who can share more about your property’s unique risk, said Jeremy Edwards, a FEMA spokesman.

You may be able to find more local hazard information, too. Californians, for example, can enter their address into the MyHazards website. And if you’re new to a community, talk to neighbors.

you can do to minimize damage if a flood or fire strike. The costs of mitigation will vary, but it may reduce your insurance premiums. Some insurers, for example, provide meaningful discounts in hurricane-prone regions after homeowners install roof braces or straps, said Alyssa Bourgeois, an insurance producer with MarshMcLennan in Metairie, La.

The Risk Factor website provides suggestions for hazards facing specific properties, and many regions have programs offering residents financial help to harden their homes against specific hazards, though funding is often limited.

Evaluate insurance needs. The insurance market varies greatly by locality and the hazards inherent to the area. Standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover all hazards. Floods and earthquakes always require separate coverage. Wind and hail (hurricane) coverage may carry its own deductible as part of your homeowners’ insurance, or it may be a separate policy, at least in certain areas. Wildfires, meanwhile, are often incorporated into many policies, experts said.

Flood insurance (see Ann Carrns’s guide here) is generally available through the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA manages. Most Californians buy earthquake coverage through the California Earthquake Authority, a nonprofit entity created through state law to provide policies through its member insurers.

enough coverage to replace your property — that is, to rebuild it, not what you’d pay to buy it again, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group.

But many households in the highest-risk areas, including hurricane-prone states like Louisiana and Florida, are having trouble finding affordable coverage as insurers exit the market in droves.

Jude Boudreaux, a financial planner in New Orleans, said he receives calls weekly from clients questioning whether they should continue living there given the increased insurance costs. “A lot of carriers are leaving Louisiana, so people with policies are getting nonrenewal notices, and there are fewer choices out there,” he said.

Until rates stabilize, many people are resorting to the usual strategies to keep costs manageable, like increasing deductibles and reducing some coverage, including on “other structures” such as garages and personal property.

cars and other vehicles. Comprehensive auto coverage, required by auto lenders, generally provides protection against natural disasters. But older, low-value cars may not have comprehensive (and it may not be worth the cost anyway). “In those cases, we’d recommend setting aside the amount of the premium you’d pay each year into a savings account instead of giving it to the insurer,” Mr. Heller said.

home inventory spreadsheet, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a related app, and there are other inventory apps as well.

The least time-consuming method might be to walk through each room of your home with your mobile phone’s video camera, narrating the contents along the way. Don’t forget to open up closets, cabinets and drawers, as well as storage spaces and the garage. Then email the file to yourself, or store it securely online (and perhaps on an external hard drive).

There’s real money at stake: Ms. Gouaux was able to recover only roughly $14,000 of the $53,000 in contents coverage on her wind and hail policy.

“The night we left, someone posted: Make sure you take photos of all the rooms,” she said. “We didn’t do a good job. By the time we got back, everything was all over the place, and it was very hot.”

fireproof and waterproof box. Consider storing electronic copies on an external hard drive (using password protection) or in the cloud.

FEMA’s financial emergency kit has an exhaustive check list of what to gather and protect, along with a 41-page emergency financial first-aid kit that can be filled out online and stored in a secure place. The American Red Cross has a version of its own.

If you have to leave your home, experts suggest taking key documents with you in case you need to file a claim with your insurer or apply for FEMA assistance.

Keep emergency funds. Having access to money for any basic needs is also something to consider. If there’s no electricity and A.T.M.s aren’t working, you’ll probably need cash. Stash some in a safe place.

And if you receive any federal benefits through paper checks, now is the time to switch to automatic electronic deposits. Ditto for any other payments you may receive by mail.

take. Mr. Boudreaux, who has lived with the threat of hurricanes for most of his life, said to walk through your home and think about what’s irreplaceable — it probably fits into a plastic box.

“Define what those things are, or create a list so if someone knocked on your door and said, ‘The fire is coming in 30 minutes’ — what would you take?” he said. “It’s also good life perspective exercise.”

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When Stocks Become Bear Markets

The S&P 500 on Monday dropped into its second bear market of the pandemic, crossing a symbolic and worrisome threshold as stocks plunge following a meteoric rise over the last two years.

Bear markets — when stocks decline at least 20 percent from their recent peaks — are relatively rare, and they frequently precede a recession. This sell-off, dragging the S&P down from a peak on Jan. 3 (which reflects the new bear market’s starting point), comes as concerns mount over high inflation, the war in Ukraine, Covid and the Federal Reserve’s attempts to rein in the economy.

just above a bear market in May before recovering, but stocks fell sharply again on Friday following the latest release of government data showing that inflation had accelerated again.

The worry among stock traders is that the Fed could be forced to constrict the economy’s growth in order to bring inflation under control, leading to a recession. While recessions have often followed bear markets, one does not necessarily cause the other.

“It is not that consumer demand is weak yet — spending has held up,” said Paul Ashworth, who is the chief North American economist at Capital Economics. “The fear is that the Fed is going to go very hard, and that leaves us in a recession at some point.”

800,000 of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of coronavirus-related lockdowns. While rising mortgage rates have begun to dampen activity, housing — generally one of the biggest sources of wealth for Americans — remains strong.

target-date funds, which automatically move 401(k) money into bonds and other safer investments as their retirement age approaches. But 401(k) plans can still take a significant hit in market downturns. In 2008, for instance, as the S&P 500 dropped 37 percent, the average 401(k) account balance for those who were in their 50s fell 24 percent.

People with retirement accounts are keeping more of their assets in stocks now, as opposed to bonds or a mix of other investments. “There has been a growing complacency of people keeping most of their nest eggs in stocks,” said Monique Morrissey, who specializes in retirement at the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute. “There has been a fundamental misunderstanding — returns do not always average out.”

The bigger issue, according to Ms. Morrissey, is that many people have gotten used to the stock market going up. That’s not a guarantee — especially in the near term.

“It’s not just the loss from January; it’s what happens going forward,” she said. “If you were counting on the amount that you have in your 401(k) to continually grow, well, then you may never get to what you had planned for.”

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The Stock and Bond Markets Don’t Yet Know How to Cope With the Fed

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 stock index jumped 3 percent, as though all was right with the world. On Thursday, stocks collapsed, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index plunging 5 percent as though the end of times was in sight.

Things on Friday were only slightly better. The S&P fell again, but only by 0.6 percent, and the Nasdaq lost a mere 1.4 percent. It was the fifth consecutive weekly decline in the S&P 500, its longest streak of losses since June 2011.

If you are looking for patterns in the market’s wild swings, the answer is simple: The financial markets are coming to grips with a stunning policy change by the Federal Reserve.

Over the last two decades, financial markets may have become so accustomed to encouragement from the Fed that they just don’t know how to react, now that the central bank is doing its best to slow down the economy.

news conference on Wednesday that the central bank was really and truly committed to driving down inflation. A transcript of Mr. Powell’s words is available on the Fed site. So is the text of the Fed’s latest policy statement. Check for yourself.

The Fed is willing to increase unemployment in the United States if that is what’s required to get the job done. And while they would much prefer that the United States doesn’t fall into a recession, Fed policymakers are willing to take the heat if the economy falters.

This may be hard to accept, and for a good reason.

millions of casualties worldwide, and it’s not over. From the narrow viewpoint of economics, the pandemic threw supply and demand for a vast variety of goods and services out of whack, and that has baffled policymakers. How much of the current bout of inflation has been caused by Covid, and what can the Fed possibly do about it?

Then there are the continuing lockdowns in China, which have reduced the supply of Chinese exports and dampened Chinese demand for imports, both of which are altering global economic patterns. On top of all that is the oil price shock caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and by the sanctions against Russia.

Until late last year, the Fed said the inflation problem was “transitory.” Its response to an array of global challenges was to flood the U.S. economy and the world with money. It helped to reduce the impact of the 2020 recession in the United States — and it contributed to great wealth-creating rallies in the stock and bond markets.

But now, the Fed has recognized that inflation has gotten out of control and must be significantly slowed.

This is how Mr. Powell put it on Wednesday. “Inflation is much too high and we understand the hardship it is causing, and we’re moving expeditiously to bring it back down,” he said. “We have both the tools we need and the resolve it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses.”

But its tools for reducing the rate of inflation without causing undue harm to the economy are actually quite crude and limited, he later acknowledged, in response to a reporter’s question. “We have essentially interest rates, the balance sheet and forward guidance, and they’re famously blunt tools,” he said. “They’re not capable of surgical precision.”

As if that were not scary enough, for an operation as delicate as the Fed is attempting, he added: “No one thinks this will be easy. No one thinks it’s straightforward, but there is certainly a plausible path to this, and I do think there, we’ve got a good chance to do that. And, you know, our job is not to rate the chances, it is to try to achieve it. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Well, fine. The Fed needs to make the attempt, but given the precariousness of the situation, the high volatility in financial markets is exactly what I’d expect to see.

The Federal Reserve is committed to continuing to raise the short-term interest rate it controls, the Fed funds rate, to somewhere well above 2.25 percent. Only a few months ago, that rate stood close to zero, and on Wednesday, the Fed raised it to the 0.75 to 1 percent range. The Fed also said it would begin reducing its $9 trillion balance sheet in June by about $1 trillion over the next year, and it continues to issue cautionary “forward guidance” — warnings of the kind that Mr. Powell made on Wednesday.

Watch out, he was essentially saying. Financial conditions are going to get much tougher — as tough as needed to stop inflation from becoming entrenched and deeply destructive. The Fed will be using blunt instruments on the American economy. There will be damage, inevitably. People will lose their jobs when the economy slows. There will be pain, even if it isn’t intended.

In the financial markets, short-term traders are unable to make sense of all this. The day-to-day shifts in the markets are about as informative as the meandering of a squirrel. But for those with long horizons, the outlook is straightforward enough.

A period of wrenching volatility is inescapable. This happens periodically in financial markets, yet those very markets tend to produce wealth for people who are able to ride out this turbulence.

It is important, as always, to make sure you have enough money put aside for an emergency. Then, assess your ability to withstand the impact of nasty headlines and unpleasant financial statements documenting market losses.

Cheap, broadly diversified index funds that track the overall market are being hit hard right now, but I’m still putting money into them. Over the long run, that approach has led to prosperity.

Count on more market craziness until the Fed’s struggle to beat inflation has been resolved. But if history is a guide, the odds are that you will do well if you can get through it.

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Do You Know Who That Worker You Just Hired Really Is?

Employers are also facing a moment in which collective angst is driving all kinds of unusual misbehavior. That’s something Tamara Sylvestre, 32, said she realized last year when she was working as a recruiter at a staffing firm based in Michigan and interviewed someone for an engineering position. She did an initial phone screening with the candidate, in which she noted that he had a high-pitched voice. When she conducted a follow-up technical interview by video, his voice seemed to have deepened.

Ms. Sylvestre later asked why his vocal pitch had changed, and he confessed that he had asked a friend to do the video interview for him.

“What were you going to do if you ended up getting the role?” Ms. Sylvestre recalled asking the candidate, bewildered. “He was like: ‘I was really nervous. I thought no one would notice.’ The role was 100 percent remote, so maybe he thought it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Mark Bradbourne, 46, who works as an engineer in Ohio, recalled a trickster who got even further in the hiring process several years ago. Mr. Bradbourne asked a new employee during his first week to do a data visualization exercise identical to one he had completed in his technical interview. The new hire didn’t know how to proceed. When Mr. Bradbourne reminded the employee that he had done the same task in his hiring process, the man jumped up and ran out of the room, then immediately resigned.

Persuading a friend to pinch-hit during a technical screening is an extreme variety of interview fake-out. But organizational psychologists observe that interviewers tend to reward honesty. They recognize when people speak genuinely to the aspects of a company that resonate with their interests, Dr. Bourdage said.

Interviewers are also getting savvier at detecting dishonesty. Meta, formerly Facebook, has in-house psychologists who devise probing questions that would be hard for interviewees to fake. Scott Gregory, chief executive of the personality testing company Hogan Assessment Systems, encourages employers to scrap classic interview questions — “What are your greatest strengths?” — in favor of situational and behavioral ones, in which candidates narrate experiences they’ve had or explore hypothetical scenarios. Meta’s head recruiter said the company expected candidates to turn on their camera for video interviews, though it can accommodate any circumstances that make it hard to do so.

Still, the subtler stresses of the interview process remain: In a corporate culture where a popular term of art is transparency, how much of your true personality can you reveal before you’re hired? Should you be yourself if yourself might not get you the job?

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Your Inflation Questions, Answered

Inflation is high and has been for months. It’s weighing on consumer confidence, making policymakers nervous and threatening to eat away at household paychecks well into 2022.

This is the first time many adults have experienced meaningful inflation: Price gains had been largely quiescent since the late 1980s. When the Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, it was the fastest pace since 1982.

Naturally, people have questions about what this will mean for their pocketbooks, their finances and their economic futures.

Closely intertwined with price worries are concerns about interest rates: The Federal Reserve is poised to raise borrowing costs to try to slow down demand and keep the situation under control.

furniture and camping gear.

That rapid consumption is running up against constrained supply. Factories shut down early in the pandemic, and in parts of Asia, they continue to do so as Omicron cases surge. There aren’t enough containers to ship all of the goods people want to buy, and ports have become clogged trying to process so many imports.

expanding their profits.

In theory, competition should eat away at extra earnings over time. New firms should jump into the market to sell that same products for less and steal away the customer. Existing competitors should ramp up production to meet demand.

But this may be a unappealing time for new firms to enter the market. Established companies may be hesitant to expand production if doing so involved a lot of investment, because it is not clear how long today’s strong demand will last.

“It is a very uncertain environment,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “A new firm stepping in is a lot of investment, with a lot of financial risk.”

Until companies can produce and transport enough of a given product to go around — as long as shortages remain — companies will be able to raise prices without running much risk of losing customers to a competitor.

In past periods of inflation, do employers typically increase wages or award higher-than-average yearly increases to help employees offset inflation? If so, in what industries is this practice most common? — Annmarie Kutz, Erie, Pa.

There is no standard historical experience with wages and inflation, Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said during an interview with The New York Times on Twitter Spaces last week.

lower-wage service industries have been competing mightily for workers in recent months, and pay is climbing faster there.

“The history isn’t so clear that cost of living translates into higher wages, but that’s largely because inflation has been low and stable for a very long time,” Ms. Daly said.

in December projected that price gains will drop back below 3 percent by the end of the year, and will level off to normal levels over the longer term.

are adjusted for inflation, so those should keep pace with price gains. Bonds that pay back fixed rates do less well during periods of inflation, while stock investments — though riskier — tend to rise more quickly than consumer prices. Ms. Benz recommends holding assets across an array of securities, potentially including inflation-protected securities such as some exchange-traded funds or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commonly called TIPS.

“It argues against having too much in cash,” Ms. Benz said. “That’s too much dead money.”

We currently have low unemployment, strong wage growth (largely through attrition / voluntary retirements), easy monetary policy and now rising inflation. What are other periods of time when the United States had these conditions? How did things work out then? — Harshal Patel, Moorestown, N.J.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, pointed to the post-World War II period as a reference point for the present moment.

“Demand was strong, and supply was constrained,” he said in an interview. “That’s a very instructive path for us.”

The good news about that example is that supply eventually caught up, and prices came down without spurring any greater crisis.

Other, more worried commentators have drawn parallels between now and the 1970s, when the Fed was slow to raise rates as unemployment fell and prices rose — and inflation jumped out of control. But many economists have argued that important differences separate that period from this one: Workers were more heavily unionized and may have had more bargaining power to push for higher wages back then, and the Fed was slow to react for years on end. This time, it’s already gearing up to respond.

about price controls in a recent article, and vocal minority think the 1970s experience unfairly tarnished the idea and that it might be worthwhile to reopen the debate.

“This is a great suppressed topic,” said James K. Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas. “It was absolutely mainstream from the start of World War II until the Reagan administration.”

If inflation is being caused by supply chain problems, how will raising interest rates help? — Larry Harris, Ventura, Calif.

Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that a big part of today’s inflation ties to roiled supply chains, which monetary policy can’t do much to fix.

But trade is actually happening at elevated levels even amid the disruptions. Factories are producing, ships are shipping, and consumers are buying at a rapid clip. It is just that supply is not keeping up with that booming demand. Higher interest rates can relieve pressure on demand, making it more expensive to buy a boat or a car, cooling off the housing market and slowing business investment.

“A good part of the supply chain problems, you can’t do anything about,” Ms. Forbes said. “But you can affect demand. And it is the combination of the two which determines inflation.”

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How to Find ‘Stalkerware’ on Your Devices

Fighting stalkerware is tough. You may not suspect it’s there. Even if you did, it can be difficult to detect since antivirus software only recently began flagging these apps as malicious.

Here’s a guide to how stalkerware works, what to look out for and what to do about it.

Surveillance software has proliferated on computers for decades, but more recently spyware makers have shifted their focus to mobile devices. Because mobile devices have access to more intimate data, including photos, real-time location, phone conversations and messages, the apps became known as stalkerware.

Various stalkerware apps collect different types of information. Some record phone calls, some log keystrokes, and others track location or upload a person’s photos to a remote server. But they all generally work the same way: An abuser with access to a victim’s device installs the app on the phone and disguises the software as an ordinary piece of software, like a calendar app.

From there, the app lurks in the background, and later, the abuser retrieves the data. Sometimes, the information gets sent to the abuser’s email address or it can be downloaded from a website. In other scenarios, abusers who know their partner’s passcode can simply unlock the device to open the stalkerware and review the recorded data.

So what to do? The Coalition Against Stalkerware, which was founded by Ms. Galperin and other groups, and many security firms offered these tips:

In the end, there’s no true way to defeat stalkerware. Kevin Roundy, NortonLifeLock’s lead researcher, said he had reported more than 800 pieces of stalkerware inside the Android app store. Google removed the apps and updated its policy in October to forbid developers to offer stalkerware.

But more have emerged to take their place.

“There are definitely a lot of very dangerous, alarming possibilities,” Mr. Roundy said. “It’s going to continue to be a concern.”

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Child Tax Credit Payments Have Begun. Should You Opt Out?

“The advance of the credit reduces the total amount of taxes paid,” said Rob Seltzer, an accountant in Los Angeles. “So there could be a problem with an estimated tax penalty,” depending on how much the taxpayer earns this year compared with last. It may make sense to run a tax projection with a professional to see if it makes sense to opt out.

You need to live in the United States for more than half of 2021 to be eligible for the advanced payments, but expatriate taxpayers can still claim the expanded credit on their return, according to the I.R.S. (The refundable portion of the credit, however, will be curtailed to the prior $1,400 limit.) Military members stationed abroad are still eligible for the advanced payments.

Some households are simply accustomed to getting a large refund when they file, using it as a forced savings plan. If you have come to depend on a big refund, you can opt out of all future payments and receive the full value of the credit when you file your return next year.

“Opting out or making changes to the payment comes down to personal preference of when and how you want to receive the money,” said Andy Phillips, the director of the Tax Institute at H&R Block. “If you prefer monthly payments of smaller amounts, no need to make changes.”

Sheila Taylor-Clark, a certified public accountant and secretary of the National Society of Black C.P.A.s, has practical advice for clients who don’t necessarily want to opt out but who may be uncertain on where they stand: “Drop that money into an interest-bearing account, so if you owe money you can just send that back next April,” she said.

To opt out of receiving the payments, taxpayers should visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one. And if you’re married and file a joint return, both spouses will need to create accounts and opt out; spouses who don’t opt out will continue to receive half of the advance monthly payment.

Besides stopping the checks, the portal can be used to check the status of your payments; change the bank account receiving them; or to switch your payments to direct deposit from paper checks.

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Safety Net Is Coming Apart. Now What?

Distressed homeowners with loans owned by private banks or investors should contact their mortgage servicer to see what options they’re offering. Some of them have followed a framework similar to federally backed loans, but others’ terms may be murkier.

No matter what type of loan you have, the most important action to take now is to reach out to your mortgage servicer to find out when your payments will resume and how much they will be. If you cannot afford them, the servicer can lay out your options. For more guidance, you can also seek out a housing counselor.

The changes made to food stamps — now largely known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — during the pandemic were complicated.

But one significant change, a 15 percent bump in benefits for all recipients, runs only through Sept. 30. So if you currently receive SNAP benefits, they may go down then. (Congress is considering an extension, SNAP policy experts said, and other changes unrelated to the pandemic — including a regular inflation adjustment, along with a potential change to the basket of food that benefits are based on — could also help offset any potential cuts.)

A number of other temporary changes will remain in many states for several more months.

Those changes increased benefits for the program, which is federally funded but run through the states. Beneficiaries have received emergency allotments, which increased their monthly benefits to the maximum amounts permitted or higher. All told, the average daily benefit per person rose to $7 from $4 by April of this year, according to Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the Food Research & Action Center.

Access to the program also became somewhat easier: Certain college students became eligible, unemployed people under 50 without children weren’t subject to time limits and there were fewer administrative hurdles to remaining enrolled, experts said.

The extra allotments can continue to be paid as long as the federal government has declared a public health emergency, which is likely to remain for at least the rest of the year. But the state administering the benefits must also have an emergency declaration in place, and at least six states — Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Carolina — have either ended or will soon begin to pull back that extra amount, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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From the Heart to Higher Education: The 2021 College Essays on Money

Despite the loud busking music, arcade lights and swarms of people, it was hard to be distracted from the corner street stall serving steaming cupfuls of tteokbokki — a medley of rice cake and fish cake covered in a concoction of hot sweet sauce. I gulped when I felt my friend tugging on the sleeve of my jacket, anticipating that he wanted to try it. After all, I promised to treat him out if he visited me in Korea over winter break.

The cups of tteokbokki, garnished with sesame leaves and tempura, was a high-end variant of the street food, nothing like the kind from my childhood. Its price of 3,500 Korean won was also nothing like I recalled, either, simply charged more for being sold on a busy street. If I denied the purchase, I could console my friend and brother by purchasing more substantial meals elsewhere. Or we could spend on overpriced food now to indulge in the immediate gratification of a convenient but ephemeral snack.

At every seemingly inconsequential expenditure, I weigh the pros and cons of possible purchases as if I held my entire fate in my hands. To be generously hospitable, but recklessly drain the travel allowance we needed to stretch across two weeks? Or to be budgetarily shrewd, but possibly risk being classified as stingy? That is the question, and a calculus I so dearly detest.

Unable to secure subsequent employment and saddled by alimony complications, there was no room in my dad’s household to be embarrassed by austerity or scraping for crumbs. Ever since I was taught to dilute shampoo with water, I’ve revised my formula to reduce irritation to the eye. Every visit to a fast-food chain included asking for a sheet of discount coupons — the parameters of all future menu choice — and a past receipt containing the code of a completed survey to redeem for a free cheeseburger. Exploiting combinations of multiple promotions to maximize savings at such establishments felt as thrilling as cracking war cryptography, critical for minimizing cash casualties.

However, while disciplined restriction of expenses may be virtuous in private, at outings, even those amongst friends, spending less — when it comes to status — paradoxically costs more. In Asian family-style eating customs, a dish ordered is typically available to everyone, and the total bill, regardless of what you did or did not consume, is divided evenly. Too ashamed to ask for myself to be excluded from paying for dishes I did not order or partake in, I’ve opted out of invitations to meals altogether. I am wary even of meals where the inviting host has offered to treat everyone, fearful that if I only attended “free meals” I would be pinned as a parasite.

Although I can now conduct t-tests to extract correlations between multiple variables, calculate marginal propensities to import and assess whether a developing country elsewhere in the world is at risk of becoming stuck in the middle-income trap, my day-to-day decisions still revolve around elementary arithmetic. I feel haunted, cursed by the compulsion to diligently subtract pennies from purchases hoping it will eventually pile up into a mere dollar, as if the slightest misjudgment in a single buy would tip my family’s balance sheet into irrecoverable poverty.

Will I ever stop stressing over overspending?

I’m not sure I ever will.

But I do know this. As I handed over 7,000 won in exchange for two cups of tteokbokki to share amongst the three of us — my friend, my brother and myself — I am reminded that even if we are not swimming in splendor, we can still uphold our dignity through the generosity of sharing. Restricting one’s conscience only around ruminating which roads will lead to riches risks blindness toward rarer wealth: friends and family who do not measure one’s worth based on their net worth. Maybe one day, such rigorous monitoring of financial activity won’t be necessary, but even if not, this is still enough.

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