So You Have a Trust Fund…That Must Be Awesome. Right?

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(This originally appeared in St. Red Magazine.)

So you have a trust fund. That must be awesome.

There are negatives, of course. People might treat you differently if they knew. You wouldn’t have a right to complain about things then. Everyone would think that you have it so much better than the rest of us. But still every month, money from nowhere drops into your checking account. It must be nice to not have to work for your money.

But for some, that isn’t true. For most people having a trust fund is a job. If they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, they could be fired. They might not have to go to the warehouse and punch a clock, or sit in their cubicle and prepare pointless reports, but they do have a boss, and sometimes that boss can take their income away in seconds.

Secrecy is one trait that seems to be necessary for this job. If one is filthy rich, that is something that is often flaunted in our society, but the average trust funder keeps their financial situation deeply hidden—so much so that many of them become the dreaded “trustafarian,” which is slang for privileged white kids who subscribe to the hippie lifestyle, since they have no worries about money or a job. They can then devote their lives to eating organic food, listening to Phish and working, albeit briefly, with disadvantaged populations.

The financial amounts of trust funds vary, of course. Some trust funds might be as little as a couple thousand dollars a year, while some are enough so that the beneficiary can live like a rock star. The majority of trust funds sit firmly in the middle ground, and offer enough cash that the recipient can live a comfortable, middle class lifestyle. Many people with trust funds work a traditional job, to make even more money, or for personal fulfillment, while others live entirely off the proceeds from the trust.

“Rebecca” gets a trust fund of around $75,000 a year. That amount used to be quite a bit more, but it has been cut over the past few years. She is a woman who comes from a very wealthy family of the old school type, the type that owns paintings by the masters, and owns thoroughbreds. Rebecca lives in a nice, but modest suburban home, although there is a classic Corvette hidden in the garage.

Her trustee is a member of her prominent family, and she is threatened often with a loss of income if she doesn’t toe the line. The trustee is a bit of a bully, and when he is around Rebecca, he expects her to hang out with him at his whim, no matter how unpleasantly he may be acting.

“I think it’s interesting to use the metaphor of a “real job” to describe my situation.  I’ve had plenty of jobs other than this one, and there are similarities.  I know that this is a cushy job for sure and believe me, I am intensely aware that anything I say will sound like whining.  But in my case, it’s like working for a place that has a morality clause, or a non-unionized company that cares about its employee’s politics.  When I was younger, I quit this job several times, only to be drawn back in.  Now that I have kids, one with significant medical needs, I’m more willing to put my own wishes aside in order to maintain that income.  My “boss” is erratic, and I’ve seen other “employees” make mistakes that I’m careful not to make.  I don’t contribute to political campaigns or issues that could be considered controversial because that could affect my income. I write fiction, but I do so under a different name.  I volunteer for organizations that would make my boss very unhappy, but I’m careful not to have my name mentioned when I do so.  I also moved across the country, away from my boss, in order to minimize the chances I’ll make visible mistakes.  One never knows what might happen. Everyone in my family has very thin lips.  You can see the thin lips in 200-year-old portraits of family members in some museums.  A cousin of mine got lip augmentation surgery and was temporarily cut off, ostensibly for not being proud of her family.”

So while trust funders don’t “work” in the traditional sense, many do have to jump through hoop after hoop to get their monthly check. Some might just have to smile constantly, during an occasional lunch with someone they despise, to get paid, while others must decry everything they believe in to get their check. Others don’t have to do anything but live with constant guilt. It might be a good job, but it is a job nonetheless.

Rebecca continues, “What I notice the most in having extra income is convenience.  So, let’s say my flight is delayed and I miss my bus.  Without the trust, I’m sleeping on the floor of the airport.  With the trust, I’m renting a car or getting a hotel room.  It’s easy to forget that most people don’t have that option.”

“My income from the trust has varied over the years, depending on the level of disappointment the trustee feels about me.  During the years I was receiving more income, in my twenties, I didn’t buy a lot of things, but I would take nine friends to France… for three weeks.  I try not to regret those impulse splurges, but I really do.”

“The sad part is, my boss is a family member and, because of the “work relationship,” our real relationship is completely stilted.  I’m close to everyone in my family, but this one person.  I always hope that one day I’ll be able to quit, partly so I can have an authentic relationship with this individual.”

“Melissa” is a woman in her late 20’s who works a low paying job in social services in a small city in the Northeast. She was relatively poor a few years ago and was into the natural food movement, and even apprenticed on an organic farm. Then a member of her family, who she wasn’t close to, died. He owned a large GMO farm that operates out of the Midwest.

Melissa got a large lump inheritance, and a trust fund, that she gets around 80 thousand a year from. She is lucky. She has no financial worries at all. She also feels like shit a lot of the time.

She says, “ I am very aware that the practices of the farm that I get my income from are hurting our soil and earth, and that the policies of the farm contributes to global warming. GMO farms cause Americans to be fatter and sicker than ever. My whole thing used to be caring about organic food, eating local food, and leaving a small footprint. I feel like a fraud much of the time now.

“I feel bad about it constantly, but having the extra income has allowed me to do a job that I care about and buy my own place. But with all that said, I feel guilty about it all the time; I don’t want anyone to find out. The thought that people might know about it freaks me out.”

One of my best friends has a girlfriend that receives a trust. She is in her early 40’s and has never worked, to my knowledge. She isn’t wealthy, though; she just scrapes by, and does her thing. For the purposes of this article I was curious as to what she might have to say about her job, about what she has to do to get her money.

I emailed my friend to ask if he thought his girlfriend wouldn’t mind talking to me for this article. He freaked out. “Dude. Please don’t do shit like that.  Really?  You already know a ton of trust funders, and you need to ask my girlfriend about this?   I’ve told you that she’s sensitive about this shit.  If you ask her she’s going to have a meltdown.”

I begged forgiveness; of course I shouldn’t have asked. But still, I have known these people for 20 years; why would me asking her about how she makes her living cause her to have a meltdown? What is it that makes her so sensitive about her situation?

With all this said, though, trust funders do not expect, or need your pity. They know they have it good.

Rebecca made sure to say, “Every single day I’m grateful for the income, and I’m intensely aware of how fortunate I am.  I never take it for granted.  “

Brian Whitney is the author of Raping the Gods.