Money. This is a difficult subject for a lot of folks. 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. 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. Also the amount of time my mother spent shopping, I was surrounded by all degrees of it. Water, water everywhere…
The Problem With Money Being Taboo
I recently read this article, sent to me by the only friend I talk to about finances. It’s about, as the article describes it, the “hollow middle-class” and it really hit home. They spoke about how both the rich and poor talk about money often. Though 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 major financial decisions in my life.
How I’d be making a living was probably the most important decision never talked about. But also how to negotiate salary, ask for raises, ask for benefits, know my monetary value… The list goes on. All I knew was that I needed to work hard, make sacrifices and to just be thankful that someone was giving me money. Or that I had a job at all.
Not Knowing What Your Time is Worth
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. And I believe this is what was holding us back from discussing how we should be compensated for our work. If we didn’t find value in ourselves, why would someone else find it in us.
So it was with this mindset that I entered the workforce. And subsequently earned far below my capacity. 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. Mostly for fear of seeming like I didn’t belong and wasn’t the responsible adult I was pretending to be.
Not Having Guidance Managing my Worth
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 and find guidance? We spend so much of our time at work, that if we’re scared to talk about compensation, or scared to take time off for fear of seeming not dedicated or replaceable, this can make for a miserable work experience. Not to mention 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 and 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 crisis, I racked up a lot of debt. 115k to be exact.
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. With three hours a day, and a huge library of past shows and his large community on social media, it’s easy to feel that support and get some sound advice too.
Finding Support From Friends
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. Just hearing about his path about retirement and savings has been a huge resource for me on 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 famous or hip-hop artists and start utilize it in my own life.
Not Being Defined by Our Wealth
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 enjoyment from the buildings they build or gardens 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. Accruing interest, paying it back and do it all over again was the norm. It never even crossed my mind that I should have an emergency fund or save for retirement! I was living paycheck to paycheck. Completely oblivious to how close I was to economic ruin. But with no one to give me any guidance, how was I expected to know or act differently? The short answer is, I just didn’t know any better. Lessons usually taught by the familial unit.
The Places We Should be Learning Money Skills
There is merit to the idea that basic money 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 caring for those neglected. An updated curriculum with focus on basic life skills would be a great avenue to explore. Making sure the kids are safe and set up to succeed should be first priority.
Schools and Supporting Those With a Lack Of Support at Home
But also, that’s when it’s 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. Or what it looks like to plan for you’re financial future, as was the case with me. And I also recognize that it wasn’t my caregivers faults’. They weren’t given the guidance they needed to succeed either.
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, be it the 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 the one friend I talk to about Dave Ramsey and he took to it too. 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.
Talking about Money is What Really Matters
Regardless of whom you tell, it’s important to talk about money. Maybe you have a group of friends you’re close with. Bring it up while you are hanging out. Or if you have couple friends, it could be worth looking into retirement plans together. Or make a plan with your S.O. to get a consultation from a financial adviser and then talk about it over dinner. 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 and 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 about your financial goals.
And Talk 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 them 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 learned from our families.
I’ll be putting some resources I found to be useful when dealing with money on my community 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 to help with your finances. 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 on financial products. 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. 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