My Relationship with Money

Photo courtesy of (public domain image)
Photo courtesy of (public domain image)

I have to admit, even thinking about this post’s topic makes me a little uncomfortable. So that tells me it’s something I need to face and to write to get some clarity for myself.

I’ve started listening to a lot of personal finance and simple living podcasts lately and one of them usually asks the guests what their relationship to money was, growing up. I definitely have an answer for that but it’s longer than just a one-word answer.

Here’s what I remember: my dad made the income out of the house and my mom was careful with it. My parents split and later on, my mom went to the bank to withdraw some and found out it had already been cleared out. (My dad is not an evil person, and yes, that might have been a fact I was better off not knowing, but my mom sometimes has a tendency to be a little bit too honest.) So there arose one feeling about money – mistrust and a feeling of scarcity.

My grandmother was born in 1908, so yes, she remembered well the Great Depression. So well, that when she would go grocery shopping, she had two different cabinets to buy for – the main one, and the “Reserve” cabinet.  Whenever you removed something from the reserve cabinet it would get written down for the next shopping trip, and she always knew which item went into which cabinet when we returned home. So yes, another feeling of scarcity and frugalness by necessity.

I remember Christmases of many years ago. We always had to be very careful when opening Christmas presents so as to not ruin the wrapping paper so my mom could use it again the following year. That’s one thing about that holiday. Another thing – we always had so many gifts under the tree. When my mom had money to buy things for us, she did. She went all out. Looking back, a lot of it might have been second hand, but who cares? I certainly didn’t know, and now that I’m an adult on my own, I’m glad if they were second hand. I think that my mom liked splurging on us, and that because she didn’t grow up with any siblings she liked to buy lots of presents for us. Christmas was never a time when I felt any feelings of scarcity

I remember hiding in the floor of our car many times as my mom would say “oh look, children, I wonder what that person is throwing out! That could be worth something!” And then she would proceed to pull over. God I remember that feeling of immense embarrassment, and the horror of thinking that someone we knew might recognize our mom picking through someone else’s trash.  Now that I’m older, I realize it was nothing to be ashamed of at that time; it’s something a lot of people do nowadays, and it really is true that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

I remember when my mom finally admitted to us kids that she had been working as a cleaning lady during our school days to make ends meet. I think she was embarrassed, or maybe she thought we would be embarrassed. I know it’s not something we wanted to shout about in a crowded school hallway. But I do know it taught me that you do what you have to do to get by. That’s why I’ve never been afraid to work more than one job at a time, even during college, and most recently, for the last few years before I moved to the southwest.

I think my mom felt feelings of security at times when she would buy things in bulk, or when they were on sale, or when it just seemed like a good deal, even if we didn’t particularly need it. I see myself acting the same way sometimes now, or at least I did a few years ago. You see, about five years ago, I left my marriage. It was terrifying for me to think of doing it, for so many reasons. Our bank accounts were joint. We owned a house together. Our cars were owned by both of us prior to the marriage, so we had those kept individually. And thankfully for my ex-husband, I kept my student loans just under my name. (There was no way I was going to bind him to that mountain of debt.) I really had no idea how he would react if I had to withdraw money from our account just to be able to find a place to live. A breakup can bring out the worst in people and that’s what I feared. It was also so expensive to live in Boston – did I really think I could afford a place on my own? What if I needed to pay both rent and the mortgage for a while? How would I make a go of it? And what to do with my pets while I was finding a new place to live?

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was also clinically depressed. When you are going through depression, all the above questions just keep coming and coming and coming at you and it’s very hard to stem that kind of panic. And if you’re wondering how my ex reacted, well, he was upset when I took out $700 from our joint bank account – he got a notification of it immediately from the bank. (And yes, I did fear if he would think I was trying to “clear us out” like my dad had done to my mom so many years ago.  Things from your childhood really can have a lasting effect if you let them.) But when I explained to him what it was for, while he wasn’t thrilled, he understood. While he was hard to deal with on certain matters about our split, in the grand scheme of things, I was probably pretty lucky when I look at how other divorces can get so nasty. We figured out how to split our finances within the first week and took care of it ourselves.

When I left, I remember taking so many things from our house – always stuff that he knew I was taking- I didn’t try to sneak things. Things like extra towels because I needed that security of knowing I had “extra”. You know, in case I wasn’t able to afford to buy extra towels in the future if money got tight. Extra blankets for when it would get cold at night. Things that I knew I could always eventually sell if money got tight. My wedding dress which had cost me almost $1000. You get the idea. They  were all like a comfortable security blanket in which I could wrap myself. A security blanket of stuff.

If you’re wondering, yes, I did run up some credit card debt at this point in my life. Between rent and paying half a mortgage for a few months, things were very tight. After subtracting for rent, mortgage, student loans, etc., I think I had about $539 per month to cover things like food, utilities, gas, insurance, car repairs — pretty much everything. The card allowed me to replace things that I felt were necessary, like a TV when I realized the one my husband had let me take had probably been broken in the move. Looking back, I realize I used that card from a place of “Want/Lack.” Spending money made me feel more “normal.”

For the past few months, having undergone such a major life change and having moved so far, distance-wise, I feel like I’ve been hemorraghing money at times. (My AC unit died, and then we had a weird heat wave where it was in the 90s every day. Out here, AC is a necessity, so I had to spend the $1K to replace it. Ugh.)  And I’ve been able to rationalize spending money on things because of how much I got rid of when I left. I figured things would be cheaper to replace than to physically move them. And to some extent, that is true. But I can see how people can lose control. How I could lose control again.

One thing that is frustrating about the new income – we get paid on the 1st and 15th of the months. Because I’m now hourly, my check amount will change based on the hours I’ve worked in that pay cycle.  So it’s not like before when I had the certainty of every check being the same exact amount. I’ve heard the amount usually differs by about $50, give or take, so I will budget based on the smallest amount the check could be, and if there’s extra, use that toward paying off debt or going toward savings.

So in a nutshell, what I saw, or maybe felt is the better word, toward money was moments of scarcity and excess. Extremes. I want and need to get to a feeling of stability again where money is concerned. I had that for the past year or so where I was saving, saving, saving. I will get back there again. I am determined. 

Ok, I’m going to end this post here as I could go on and on, and it’s already taken me in directions I didn’t plan to go when I first started writing it.

What is your relationship with money? Can you put it into words? Please drop me a line below, or hit like or share, and thanks for reading, as always. 

5 thoughts on “My Relationship with Money

  • It took me until age 49 to break the poor money habits I had witnessed in childhood, and put into place at age 16. I was in debt from 16 to 49. Reading your post, I see a lot of what I struggled with before drawing a line in the sand and saying to myself, “no more”. Good luck on your financial journey, I hope you realize financial peace sooner than I did.
    Debt free since July 23, 2011.

    • Thank you so much, Mike, for taking the time to comment. I am glad to know I’m not alone out there with all these issues with money, but I’m glad you have broken free of it now. I know how I felt when I cut up my credit cards a few years ago. Such a sense of relief. That’s what I want again.

  • Terri-
    It has been said that “perception is reality”. The things you perceived in the past have shaped your behaviors and become your current reality. In this post you have delved much deeper than just your current money situation. As it is clear there are emotions tied to some of the events of the past- you might consider working on those as you work on the money matters. Perhaps a conversation with your mom (opened up by her reading this blog?) to talk about how you perceived those events vs how she remembers them. Perhaps even some questions for your dad about his role in those events that you recollected here. ( from a stance of perception vs reality ) What about possibly even siblings (asking how they remember the money stuff)?

    As you work towards making changes in your future – so can you begin to heal some of your past. Emotionally and financially! Thanks for putting this out there, and making such big strides!

    • I have to admit, I am a bit leery about letting my mom know of this blog. She knew of my last one and would make judgments sometimes about what I wrote and let me know of those judgments. At one point, I even asked her to stop reading it. But I like the idea of talking to my siblings about some of this stuff. And yes, I do have a lot of stuff to keep on working through, for sure. I’ll be writing a lot more, going forward, as I’m finding it is helping me to process stuff.

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