This weekend marked the beginning of my new life as a responsible adult.
To be fair, I’ve actually been a responsible adult for a long time, but I was a responsible adult who was totally ignoring her finances, and there are plenty of people that you’d consider responsible adults who live their lives the same way.
Because they made crappy choices when they were younger. Because we’re living in a shitty economy and money doesn’t go as far as it used to. Because we’re un/underemployed and figuring out how to survive (and sometimes it’s difficult to think of long-term financial stability when you’re worrying about eating and paying rent in the short-term).
You might even be one of them.
That’s the thing – I know I’m not alone. Whenever I’m honest about my finances with friends, more often than not there’s a sigh of relief and an expression of Me, too. They then proceed to tell me about similar problems. Stuff that I was embarrassed to share but that, once I did, I realized weren’t quite as horrible as all that. Or, at least, not as singularly screwed-up.
Obviously, the fact that a bunch of people I know have problems handling money doesn’t make it GREAT. After all, many of us have made some serious mistakes. But, it’s crazy to me that we’re taught to be so hush-hush about money. There are very few things that we DON’T talk about publicly this day and age – and yet, I’m more comfortable publicly talking about the variety of dildos available than I am about my financial problems. I should be able to talk about dildos and money in public with equal freedom! 🙂
And honestly, I feel like the fact that we’re so hush-hush about money is part of the problem. We’re not really taught how money works when we’re little, or even in high school or college when we’re supposed to be learning valuable skills for life. By the time we get to college, credit card companies are lying in wait with promises of “free money” to buy stuff. They offer Minimum Payments that you can make (while continuing to accrue additional debt), so you feel like you’re not actually spending that much when you send in a payment, when the reality is that you’re spending more over time. And they’re counting on that. Because credit card companies don’t make money off of people who pay their bills on time, they make money off the vast majority that don’t. Yet, despite all that, or the fact that learning how to have a checking and a savings account, or how mortgages work, or the basics of how interest works is important, we never really address it – in school, or at home (unless your parents are really on the ball about that stuff. Mine were not). What’s worse, we’re taught that it’s “impolite” to talk about money. WHA?? What does money have to do with politeness? And who does that attitude actually benefit? The whole “it’s impolite to talk about money” thing spotlights the fact that people who have lots of money should feel really good about themselves, people without lots of money should feel really bad…and we shouldn’t talk about having too much OR too little because a) the rich folks might get taken advantage of and b) the poorer folks will feel bad about themselves. And we wouldn’t want either of those things, would we?
Eff that noise.
We broke folks are shooting ourselves in the foot when we don’t talk about money, because then when we have a problem with it, our knee-jerk reaction becomes Cover it up. Don’t tell anyone. If you ignore it, it’ll go away, when we should be seeking out help and guidance from others. Not only that, but it’s silence about money that allows companies to pay us whatever the hell they want, knowing that workers won’t tell each other what they make.
Imagine the hell we could raise if we compared salaries!
I’m getting off track. The point is, problems don’t go away if you ignore them. They may hide. They may disappear for a good long while. But they always come back, and always when you least expect it and when it’s most inconvenient. I know that’s the way it’s been for me. When it comes to me and money, my ignoring it and mistreating it in the past has caused it to not be there for me when I need it. The same way a friend wouldn’t be if I treated them that way. So, I’m looking to repair my relationship with my money – by paying attention to it, learning about it, keeping it safe, and using it for the things that truly matter to me – not wasting it on things that aren’t even that important to me to begin with.
So, after carrying around a huge box of receipts, old bills, and old collections notices through several moves and one long trip across the country (this box made me realize that I’m more Nick Miller than I’d like to believe), I finally sat down with it this weekend and organized it. I listed and categorized each and every single one of my debts, large and small – both to institutions/companies and to individuals – and it’s 29 items long. I’ve organized my tax returns and employment stubs by year going back to 1998 (my first year as a working adult), and figured out when I haven’t filed taxes (Spoiler alert: it’s a lot of years). I’ve created a complete picture of my finances and stared it squarely in the face.
It’s not pretty.
But you can’t kick a problem in the face without looking at it first.
And now, I’m taking next steps. Figuring out my income baseline – which is difficult as a freelancer, but doable – so that I can create a budget. I’m working with a professional to handle my tax stuff. I’m prioritizing my debt and creating a schedule so that I can slowly, but effectively, pay each thing down one at a time, in order of importance.
And crazily enough, I’m reading this book…
I’ve been checking out Kate Northrup’s website for a while now, and while her style is a bit too mamby-pamby-touchy-feely-granola for my taste a lot of the time, a lot of what she says resonates with me. 🙂 Most importantly, that a) money is just a stand-in for the things we value (so why do we waste it on things we don’t actually value?), and b) our relationship with money has everything to do with who we are and what we want. Just like my relationship with food, how I interact with money has to do with things in my life and my history that have nothing to do with money, but that affect me emotionally and make me react in ways that sabotage myself. So, I’m trying to look that squarely in the face, too. Why do I spend the way I do? Why do I eat the way I do?
In addition to figuring out what actions I can take now (after all, my past is past, and I should make decisions in the present), I’d also like to figure out why I do what I do, so that taking those actions becomes that much easier.
Work in progress, blah-blah. 🙂
So, I’ve started reading Money: A Love Story to see if the tips and tricks and exercises she recommends help. Hell, I couldn’t be worse off than I am now by not doing anything at all, right?
Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted…