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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Sophomore grows up surrounded by privilege

To many, the first words that come to mind when asked to describe Saratoga are “rich,” or “affluent.” Maybe “SAT obsessed” if it’s a good day.

The stereotype of Saratoga as a rich school is certainly not without its basis in reality; according to census data the average household income in Saratoga was $147,918 in 2011, while the average household income in California was $57,287. Houses in the city often sell for $1.5 million or more — far beyond the means of all but the wealthiest Americans.

Going to school among the very wealthy at Saratoga are students whose families are solidly middle class, yet feel poor compared to their wealthier peers. While they’re not truly “poor” as the state would define the term, these students nevertheless grow up among peers for whom money is never an issue.

One such student is sophomore Gabby Fontanilla. For Fontanilla, shopping is a privilege, not a careless past time.

At school, dozens of students wear brand-name jeans, drive new BMWs and travel to exotic places on their vacations. Fontanilla sees her friends throw away perfectly good food, while she only gets $5 for every lunch.

Background

Fontanilla’s family lives in a pueblo-like house owned by her grandparents on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road by the edge of the Golden Triangle.

Her mom works at Argonaut Elementary School as a cashier, yard duty, and teacher’s assistant, and her dad works as an executive protector, or bodyguard of one of the top 50 richest people in the country.

For a little extra money, her family rents out the guesthouse in front. She and her three sisters share one bathroom. She also shares a bedroom with her older sister.

When Fontanilla was a child, she never really asked for much. In fact, she only realized that her family was not as wealthy as most other Saratogans when she was in seventh grade, a time when peer pressure dictated the necessity of expensive, brand name clothing.

"That’s when I started wanting more stuff because I’ve seen everybody else [with] all this stuff and I wanted it too,” Fontanilla said. “After a while, my parents were like ‘Oh you can’t and they kind of put restrictions [on me].’”

Fontanilla and her sisters learned to save money at an early age.

“It wasn’t really explained, it was kind of implied,” Fontanilla said. “After a while when you keep asking, [then] you start realizing that you can’t keep asking for all this stuff because you need to save money.”

Frugal spending

Fontanilla watches as her friend throws away a large Peach Perfection Jamba Juice. It cost only $4.99, but Fontanilla cringes as the almost-full drink hits the bottom of the trash can with a substantial thunk. She couldn’t help but feel that it was a waste of money.

When Fontanilla goes shopping with her more privileged friends, she notices that some of them spend money in ways that would be unthinkable for her.

“I feel like they waste money,” Fontanilla said. “Like they don’t [really] want [it] or just buy things for the heck of it, and I feel like it’s kinda stupid.”

Because of her financial restrictions, Fontanilla is sometimes left out of expensive social activities with her friends.

“When my friends plan places to go, if it’s far or requires money, I sometimes can’t go,” Fontanilla said. “And I feel bad since I really wanted to go, but I really can’t. And they’re just like ‘Oh, OK’ and they go instead.’”

Fontanilla does not usually share in-depth details about her family’s situation; in fact, only a few close friends are aware of the particulars — that she and her family are average rather than wealthy. Although Fontanilla tells them her story, some of her friends still do not truly understand her financial situation.

“There was this one time when I told somebody about it and they were like ‘Oh well, okay,’ but they were still inviting me to places that I’d have to pay a lot for,” Fontanilla said. “They still think I have money to go to these places and guilt-trip me into going.”

For Fontanilla, shopping with friends is one of the most difficult parts of life in Saratoga. To her, shopping  involves emphasis on the price tag rather than the style. If the item is particularly expensive, Fontanilla might also put it on layaway, where she pays the price in installments.

"Sometimes when we go shopping, [my friends] have a lot of money,” Fontanilla said. “They have over $100 in their wallet. And then there's me and I have $20. And it's not on a regular basis.”

Extracurriculars and Fundraising

Fontanilla lunges for the volleyball, bumping it back to her trusty partner — the garage wall. It obligingly knocks the ball back to her.

Maybe the garage door isn’t as good of a team as what expensive, thousand-dollar volleyball clubs provide, but Fontanilla can make up for that with an extra hour and a half of practice.

Extracurriculars can be expensive, with a single school sport usually requesting $275 in donations.

Fontanilla gets some financial aid for sports-related activities, but her parents pay for most of it themselves. Fontanilla participates in choir and volleyball, but she has had to make some sacrifices for her activities.

“To make the team here, I have to work harder, because the girls who have [club volleyball outside of school] practice and they have the skills,” Fontanilla said. “I have to practice by myself against the wall or with some friends. It’s not the same, since you don’t have a coach to critique you.”

To be able to pay for choir trips, Fontanilla also must sell more cookie dough or chocolate to raise funds.

"I have to sell a lot because [the trips] cost a lot,” Fontanilla said. “But then there's people who don't do that at all. They kind of just pay it all on their own."

Although they may not afford all extracurricular expenses, education has a higher priority in the Fontanilla family. They have not needed financial aid for standardized testing.

In addition to saving portions of any money that she gets from her relatives, Fontanilla also plans to get a summer job at the AMC 14, Target or T.J. Maxx, like her older sister.

Even though she must work harder than her wealthier peers, Fontanilla still makes sure to find the money for certain luxuries like new clothes.

She makes the best of what she does have and balances her efforts among extracurriculars, academics and fun activities like shopping. Sometimes she has to sacrifice one activity for another she really wants to do, because of financial restrictions, but Fontanilla looks at her financial situation optimistically  as a new opportunity.

“Because of where I'm at I've learned to be more grateful for things but it's also motivated me to work harder for the things I want," Fontanilla said.

Fontanilla knows firsthand that labelling Saratoga as a completely wealthy community is inaccurate. Although she admits that Saratoga is incredibly wealthy compared to many other cities, she also knows that not everyone lives an easy, privileged life.

“There are many people who are pretty wealthy, but there's also many people who are average, like me,” Fontanilla said. “I don't ever feel like I don't fit in. Everybody who does know of my financial stuff accepts it and it’s not like a big deal to anybody.”

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