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With the economy in a downhill spiral, gay people seem to have a unique ability to make everything in their lives look fabulous -- and that's not necessarily a good thing.

With the economy continuing to slow, conventional wisdom tells us that "now is the time to invest" in real estate and other undervalued forms of property. But while this is potentially a great opportunity for the select few who continue to enjoy disposable income, or have robust savings accounts from fairly recent days of prosperity, investing is out of the question for those struggling to pay the rent, mortgage, or even the electric bill. And believe it or not, DINKS (double-income, no kids) and SINKS (single-income, no kids) -- who comprise the majority of the gay population -- are experiencing this very situation.

If you've been caught in this vortex of rising costs and loss of income, you're not alone, although you may feel as if you are. Despite a steady stream of television commercials featuring happy vacationers chirping about cheap hotel rooms and airfare to exotic locales, and seemingly sensible Americans suddenly purchasing eco-smart "green" cars, this is not reality for the majority of people. Taking a vacation or buying a new car is the last thing on the minds of most Americans, gay or straight.

Have you ever noticed that we gay people are really good at making everything look fabulous in our lives, even when it's not? Maybe this ability comes from our survival mechanism of ignoring ridicule and minimizing the pain of being disowned by our families, co-workers, or society. We've learned how to hold our heads high, with dignity, no matter what might be falling apart around us. But do not for a second believe that you are the only one in the gay community who is hurting financially. It's happening to almost everyone.

The danger of pretending that your financial belt doesn't need tightening right now -- or believing the pretense of people who continue to spend money they don't have for the sake of appearance -- is that you're making the situation worse not only for yourself, but also for the economy. If we as a community were to invest even half the amount of money we spend on "going out" into mid-level return securities, the positive financial benefits over our lifetimes would blow our minds.

As I explained in my book Here's What We'll Say , I believe that early life experiences of suppression, hatred, and discrimination causes many gay people to spend more than they have. According to , there are four groups with different "spending reactions" to growing up this way. "Ghettoists" is the word used to describe people who pay to join special interests groups that help them forge an identity different from that in which they were raised. "Assimilationists," on the other hand, use their money to buy acceptance, by buying into consumer society; these are people who actually believe advertising hype. "Isolationists" tend to seek security in things-objects-furnishing their homes as fortresses against the harsh world of their childhood, where such things, or the feeling that things give them, were nonexistent. Those in the fourth group, called "A-gays," often invest in fantasy lifestyles adorned with symbols of superiority.

I'm going to add a fifth group to this list: "Bribers." These are people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on friends or family who might spurn us if it weren't for our generosity.

I'm not pointing fingers or saying there's something wrong with you if you spend for any of these reasons. These are normal responses to what you may have experienced growing up, and frankly, some of it does a great deal for others, moves the economy, and may give you a damn-comfortable life. However, we tend to go overboard in these spending reactions. Taking someone out to dinner to prove you're generous despite your sexual orientation may make you feel great, but do it once, not every day. Live in a nice apartment or house, but don't let it rule your financial life so that you can't travel or give back to the community.

You can improve your situation and make it through the long haul of this world economic disaster, but the first and most important piece of advice I can give you is to be honest with those around you about your situation. Yes, swallow your pride and let your friends and family know that you're cutting back because things are tough right now. What you'll find by being honest is that people around you-even those you would never expect-will actually chip in to help you. Whether it's your wealthier friends insisting you come out to dinner and then paying the bill, or a beloved aunt, uncle, or even parent sliding you an extra $100 or even $1,000 to get you through a tough time, these great financial assists happen more often than you may think. Your friends who aren't doing so well financially will bond with you over the challenges you're both facing, and you'll find ways to have fun without spending $14 on a drink at the baraEUR|four times in a night.

This brings me to my second most important point: Stop paying so much for alcohol and eating out. In an urban setting like New York or West Hollywood, a bar drink can run anywhere from $14 to $22. Bars remain symbolic in our community as the place to be social, be seen, and meet others. We just don't have gay mini-golf courses and bowling alleys that would afford us hours of social time for a small fee. If you go out three nights a week, dropping a hundred bucks each night, it can easily total $1200 per month, or over $14K per year! For that kind of money, you could drive a pretty flashy car. Better yet, if you invest this in an IRA starting at age 21, sooner or later the market will turn around, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a multimillionaire by the time you're ready to retire.

This doesn't mean you have to stay home. Instead of going to expensive places, find a bar with drink specials at $1 a beer, or extended happy hour discounts. These actually exist, I assure you, but please give your car keys to someone beforehand.

Another idea is to buy a bottle of wine and go to an alcohol-permitted park. As spring evenings get progressively warmer, there are plenty of free concerts in parks. Or buy yourself a cookbook and throw BYOB house parties or potluck dinners. Learning to cook at home will expand your wallet while it shrinks your waistline.

Before I close, let me point out that we should be spending less not just because of the economy, but also because of legally imposed financial challenges to the gay community. Since we can't legally marry, employer-based health plans exact tax penalties to cover our partners. We can't give military benefits to our partners while we're alive, nor extend social security benefits to our partners during our lives or after we're gone. Until rules changes, the best way to provide security for your partner in the event of your death is to write an inclusive will leaving your partner a cash inheritance from an account or life insurance policy.

Before we think about dying, however, let's think about living and living right, within our means, as tough as that may be for many of us. Let's identify ourselves as spenders and understand why we spend the way we do. Let's be honest about that spending and our current financial situation and social challenges, and find ways to have fun without laying out ridiculous amounts of money on alcohol and food. With these simple life changes, we can turn our gay financial lives around for the better. I'll see you at the concert in the park. Feel free to come over to my blanket, and I'll pour you a plastic cup of my tasty $5 cabernet.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreAdvocate Magazine - Gio Benitez

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