I grew up in a family where it wasn’t just improper to talk about money, it was considered a personal insult to ask questions about the subject (which was the case with most topics really.) When I was young, money was something that was scarce, and not to be discussed. This lead directly to me having absolutely no understanding of how money worked. This seems crazy to me now, considering my father worked dealing directly with currency, and the amount of time my mother spent shopping, I was surrounded by all degrees of it. Water, water everywhere…
I recently read this article, sent to me by the only friend I talk to about finances, on the “hollow middle-class” and it really hit home. They spoke about how both the rich, and poor, talk about money often, but the middle class seldom breach the subject. This is true from my experience, and something that left me in the dark when it came to making the major financial decisions that have come up in my life.
How I’d be making a living was probably the first, but also how to negotiate salary, ask for raises, ask for benefits, know what my monetary value as a worker is… The list goes on and on. All I knew was that I needed to work hard, make sacrifices, and to just be thankful that someone was giving me money and that I had a job. There was a sense of not having any value, or inherent worth in my family, regardless of how hard we worked or how well we did our jobs. No matter what we did, it was never enough.
So it was with this mindset that I entered the workforce, and subsequently, earned below my capacity and under achieved in my jobs. I never thought of myself as having a career, because careers were something that were had by responsible adults. And for all intents and purposes, I still very much felt like a child being thrust into the workplace, under prepared and scared of not only not knowing what to do, but also of asking any questions for fear of seeming like I didn’t belong, wasn’t the responsible adult I was pretending to be.
There were few mentors along the way, and I’m not sure I would have recognized them through the fear had they presented themselves. Which also raises the question, if you’re not talking about money at home, and you’re too scared to ask questions about the subject at work, from whom or where are you supposed to learn this skill? I was raised in a world before Google, so the realm of knowledge laid squarely in the pages of books or with people who had experience. There are those who succeed even in the face of this type of adversity, but they are usually celebrated for being the exception not the majority.
So how do we find out how to talk about the value of our time? We spend so much time at our work, our jobs, that if we’re scared to talk about compensation, or scared to take time off for fear of seeming not dedicated, or as though we are easily replaced, this can make for a miserable work experience and breed a sense of resentment for feeling under appreciated. One place I started, was with Dave Ramsey’s podcast.
Dave helps people to get out of debt, something I had a lot of, still do, with thinking my self worth was contingent on how high my credit score was and taking out student loans at the height of the lending and tuition increase. Without any guidance, it was and is so easy to get caught up in the spending mindset and before you know what you’ve done, you have eight open lines of credit and are up to your eyes in debt. Dave was a good resource, not only for his pragmatic advice on money issues, but also for the sizable community he’s created. It’s easy to feel supported listening to and reading the stories of others in similar situations. And with three hours a day, and a huge library of past shows and a large community on social media, it’s easy to feel that support and get some sound advice too.
Finding people to talk to about money is also so important. As I said above, I have one friend who I speak with about my finances often and at all. If it wasn’t for him, I would have zero real life support. His wife works for a small investment firm so just having him to hear about his path to setting up a retirement savings has been a huge resource to helping me forge my path. Once I realized that money is a tool, something we use to accomplish things like retirement or a better quality of life, I was then able to demystify it as something relegated to the famous or hip-hop artists and utilize it in my own life.
And you are not defined by your wealth just as a carpenter or gardener aren’t defined by the tools they use, but rather the buildings they build or patches of land they tend to. As I said above, money is a tool and only a tool. It carries no other inherent power to define us than the power we give it.
While I was working on increasing my credit score, I really couldn’t think of another use for money but to spend it, accrue interest, pay it back and do it all over again. It never even crossed my mind that I should have an emergency fund, savings or a retirement fund! I was living paycheck to paycheck, completely oblivious to how close I was to economic ruin. I look back and shake my head, but at the time, with no one to give me any guidance, how did I expect to know or act differently? The short answer is, I just didn’t know any better. This was a lesson I should have learned from my family.
There is some merit to the idea that these basic skills should be taught in school, asides from the semester course they may or may not still teach in home economics on how to balance a checkbook. And schools are a great place to do this, since children have to go, and it’s the staging place for the plans we make for living the rest of our lives.
But if you were someone like me, who was already checked out of school due to lack of support at home, the schools would be better off with a platoon of social workers, poised to catch those children from falling through the cracks and catch those neglected. An updated curriculum with focus on basic life skills would be a great avenue to explore, but making sure the kids are safe and set up to succeed should be first priority.
But also, that’s when it’s so important to teach these life skills. When we’re still young and learning what life is all about. Learning how to care for all aspects of our well being, money being one of the more important ones seeing how it has the capacity to do us great harm if not managed carefully. Knowing that we have the ability to care for ourselves, by taking care of our basic needs, should be parenting 101. But too many of us never learn how to create and stick to a budget, what it looks like to plan for the future, as it was in my case. And I also recognize that it wasn’t my caregivers faults’. they weren’t given the guidance they needed to succeed in the same ways I wasn’t.
And if ignorance is handed down generationally, then how do we break free from the cycles of financial insecurity? I don’t exactly remember how I started on my path, but be it grace of God or whatever, I was ready and took to it with tenacity. And once I started bringing order to my financial house, I started telling everybody who would listen. I told my friend, and he took to it, and anytime the subject gets brought up, I try and add my two cents, for people who may not know where to look or are looking to make a change.
Regardless of whom you tell, it’s important to talk about it. Maybe you have a group of friends you’re close with, bring it up while you are just hanging out. Or if you have couple friends, it could be worth looking into retirement plans together, or make a plan to get a consultation from a financial adviser and then go out to dinner to talk about it. You may have a niece or a nephew, cousins or in-laws that you’re close with. Check in with them every once and awhile, see if they’re reaching their financial goals. And don’t forget to talk with your S.O. about your shared plans. I know from experience that shared money doesn’t work without shared responsibility. Make it a date night, or schedule budget meetings. Whatever it takes, just remember to check in often.
Whomever it is that you talk to about finance, talk about it often. Check in and bring a sense of caring and levity to it. Finances are scary enough without being afraid we’re gonna screw ’em up in some way. And the more awareness we can bring to understanding how to care for our financial needs, the better the odds are that we will break the cycles of financial neglect in our families, and with those whom we care about.
I’ll be putting some resources I found to be useful when dealing with money on my resources page. Mostly budgeting tools and a link to Ramsey Solutions. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to pay for most information, and there are a lot of free apps and finance blogs to explore. Spending money can seem counterproductive when attempting to reign in your finances, so do your research first before spending any money, and only if it feels right. I don’t think I spent any money on the tools I use. It helps that I have a written budget that I keep in my bullet journal.
So regardless of where you are on your financial journey, whether you’re just starting out, learning how to care for your financial needs, or have been involved for some time with this area of your life, don’t forget to find and foster a place for this with your close relationships. Because in this case, spreading knowledge could be akin to spreading the wealth and something everybody could benefit from a little more of :]
Peace, and thanks for reading :]
Image credits: “Home budget. Calculating monthly expenses for rent, electricity, phone, grocery and food” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0