Making Up with Money

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately, through personal coaching and self-reflection, trying to undo years of damage I’ve done to my own psyche.  As an educator I have spent years talking about a fixed versus a growth mindset, explaining that saying things like “I suck at math” just reinforces that as a reality, that flipping the script and saying “Math is hard but that just means I need to work a little harder” can completely change a person’s relationship with math.

For some reason, I had never translated that information into certain aspects of my own life, most notably, my relationship with money.  I have had a terrible relationship with money for my entire adult life.  When I think about money, I think about the lack of it and all of the things that having more of it could do for my life and family.  I get anxious thinking about the amount of student loan and credit card debt I have and have a hard time imagining being able to dig myself out of that hole.  You might be thinking “chill out, you’re part of the middle class now” or as my husband often says “we’re fine, it’s not like we’re going to lose our house”.  If you’re inclined to say something like that you’re not wrong.  But let me just add another layer of detail.  When my daughter was just a baby, we (her dad and I) were really struggling financially.  I pulled into a gas station in Prescott, Arizona, where we were living at the time, just as my car was running out of gas – basically rolling in on fumes.  I put in my card and it was denied.  I didn’t have enough money to get gas and I didn’t have enough gas to get home and my baby was in the car.  I suppose it’s fortunate that this happened at the Costco gas station where there was always an attendant walking around.  I had talked to him several times in the past so he came by to say hi and noticed that I was upset.  He lent me $5, which was the most I would accept, so I could get enough gas to get home.  I felt so humiliated.  When I had money again I went back with his cash plus interest (cuz it made me feel better for some reason) and a milkshake, and literally never went back to that gas station again.

I could tell many more stories about being a single parent in Chicago while going to grad school, waitressing, and relying on public assistance to keep us fed, but the story about not being able to get gas is the most prominent memory I have when I think about money.  13 years later, it’s still something I think about on a very regular basis.

So it is true that I’ve experienced financial stability for the last several years, I haven’t been in the position again of not being able to get gas or needing public assistance to feed my family.  But if you’ve ever been in that situation, you know financial fear is a hard thing to shake loose.  I still have mild anxiety attacks when I spend more than $100 in one place.  I still worry that my card is going to get rejected even if I just got paid.  I still lose sleep over my credit card and my student loan debt.  Depending on how well you know me, you may or may not know that when I was a teenager I spent almost a year in Latin America (Brazil, Honduras, and Ecuador).  While there, I saw poverty like I had never seen nor have ever experienced.  For me, the worst case scenario is that I have to move in with one of my parents (I have in fact lived with both parents for short periods of time since my daughter was born).  I always knew that I would never be on the streets or in a state of desperation.  Knowing that there are extremes of poverty that I’ll likely never know, made me grateful for what I did have, but did not change the fact that it was hard and traumatic.

A few weeks ago when my personal coach, Crystal Pirri, sent me this link to a post about inviting money into your life by Martha Beck.  She counsels people to write a letter to money apologizing to it for all the ways that you’ve underappreciated it and all the horrible things you’ve said about it over the years.  It might sound a little corny, but when I look at all the relationships I’ve ever had in my life with people or things, my relationship with money has been the worst.  So I wrote the letter.  While writing, it dawned on me that I’m the kid with the fixed mindset about math.  So here are a few things that I need to stop saying to myself and an attempt at flipping the script.

  1. “I suck at money.”  And yet, I own a house, my car is paid off, and I have a good credit score (finally).  So maybe I don’t suck at it so much.  Instead of saying that I suck at money, I will try “Money has done a lot for me, what else can I get it to do”
  2. “I never have enough money.” And yet, I’m typing this on a computer that we own, on a table that we bought, on a rug that we bought on a floor that’s part of a house that we own, and there’s a kitchen full of food right next to me.  So maybe I could try something like, “I have enough money to provide more than the basic necessities, and am ready to bring more into my life to reach my goals.”
  3. “I’m drowning in debt.”  This is the hardest for me.  I think this ALL the time.  And yet… I don’t know, I really do have a lot of debt but I’m not drowning in it.  I’m making progress, most of the time, and my debt has allowed me to get a Master’s degree, and take vacations, and pay for car repairs, and other fun or necessary things like going to Spain in June for yoga teacher training.  Maybe I should try, “Being out of debt will feel amazing!”

This is all directly related to this path that I’m moving towards.  I’m quitting my full-time job!  And that’s scary as hell.  But I’m also really excited about what I’ll be able to do when I’m choosing joy and being more true to me.

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