What’s Your Money Story? Part I

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In the world of personal finance, people (especially those of us who are half of a couple) seem to get divided into two basic categories:

Spender or Saver. Nerd or Free Spirit. Right or Wrong.

There’s no wiggle room, no personality, no life history.

I believe that our relationships with money are so much deeper and more complicated. Events in our individual lives shape the way we view and interact with money. It goes way beyond whether we enjoy spending or saving, or if we like or dislike budgeting. I am learning this more every day, as I try to work together with my husband to pay off significant amounts of debt and change our financial future. We don’t always agree about money matters, and that’s okay, because our money stories are different.

What’s your money story?

Have you thought about the experiences that have colored your money views?

what's your money story?

Here are a few of the experiences and differences that shape the way my husband and I view our money.

Gender role models

I was raised in a home with two working parents. I remember my mother working my whole life, just like my dad. I never imagined myself not contributing financially to my future family, and I enjoy earning my own money. As a child I went to work with both of my parents. I saw their offices, I watched them pack for business trips. They both also did bath time, read bedtime stories, brushed hair, cooked dinner, and drove me to ballet class.

Childhood money lessons

When was husband was a child, he wanted a scooter. Wanted it really, really badly. He asked his parents for it and they told him if he worked hard to raise half of the money, they would pay the second half. He spent his summer under the hot sun, mowing lawns. He brought his hard earned cash to his parents, excited to go get his scooter. And they didn’t follow through. They told him, despite his hard work, that they wouldn’t buy him the scooter. He ended up blowing his hard earned money on miscellaneous stuff. His parents missed an opportunity for a great life lesson about work, the value of money and responsibility.

My parents let both my sister and I start working at a very young age. I babysat, I taught dance classes before I could even drive myself to the dance studio, I stuffed envelopes for a neighbor’s business. My parents had to sign a special work permit so I could work my first job at the local mall at the age of 14. I worked in retail for years selling everything from clothes and vitamins to books and video games. I worked at a gym, playing with kids in the daycare, signing up new members, and scrubbing mud off of treadmills on rainy days. My sister got a job in fast food as soon as she was old enough and continued to work long shifts on her feet even when she fell pregnant with my nephew at a young age.

Our parents provided us with many things, but not everything. We knew we had to work and earn our own money if we wanted to make our own purchasing decisions. Also, since we began working at a young age, we experienced many different jobs and forms of earning money. If you’re curious, my sister is now in the insurance industry and I am a relatively new stay at home mom after a career in higher education.

Planning for the future

My father passed away from stage four lung cancer in December 2014. He was relatively young (only 64) and still working full time with no plans for retirement. My mom had been retired for many years already (an early retirement) and his income was their only income. His illness was quick and devastating (he got sick in September, was diagnosed in October and was in hospice care for only 6 weeks). However, during his final weeks he “got his affairs in order.”

Though devastated by the sudden loss of her husband of over 4o years, my mom was left in a good place financially. The house she lives in is paid off. The car she drives is paid off – and is a great quality vehicle at that, a 2012 Subaru Outback. The practically brand new car my dad had been driving was quickly sold. A second home (one of my childhood homes) in another state was sold shortly before he died. There was money in the bank to cover all of the costs associated with end of life care. There was a life insurance policy.

Many of these things were due to good decisions made in the years leading up to his terminal diagnosis. Others were wise decisions put into action quickly, by a man severely fatigued by cancer that had spread throughout his body. If he could have, he would have done more. I know he was disappointed he didn’t have the energy left to file his taxes one last time (he always did them by hand).

It makes me think a lot about my husband and our children and the steps we need to take to ensure a good future should the unimaginable happen to any of us.

Coming back from rock bottom

Before we met, my husband was homeless for a period of time. His homelessness was the result of drug addiction. He lost a career that he had been in for ten years. When we first met, he was nearing one year of sobriety, didn’t have a car and was working as a waiter. I watched as he got his first job in sales, and then a second as a side hustle (we were paying off tax and credit card debt and saving money for our wedding). His part time side job quickly became a full time gig and within two years he moved from sales associate to general manager. The company even sent us on an all expenses paid trip to Las Vegas based on his performance. A year ago he moved to a new company and continues to excel (he received a promotion last week!).

His experience with building his life back up from nothing actual gets him down on our hardest days. He finds it difficult to still be struggling and worrying about money after all he has been through and all of his hard work.

A cross country lay-off

My father was a geologist with a lifelong career in the oil and petroleum industry. He experienced two major lay-offs and my family relocated because of them. When I was in elementary school we lived overseas, in the Middle East, due to his job. One day, he received a pink slip and my little world was forever changed. The company he worked for owned our house and car, and we had two weeks to leave the country. It was summertime and most of my friends were already on vacation, so there was no chance to say goodbye.

I didn’t understand everything that was happening (I was eleven), but I did feel the stress as my parents had to figure out where we would live, where we would go to school and what jobs they would work.

As an adult I have a strong, almost desperate desire for security and stability, which I believe can be traced directly to these events.

Medical debt

When my second son was born, we had the shock of him being critically ill. A few days into our NICU stay (which ended up lasting 19 days), I googled “average cost of a NICU stay.” The answer was upwards of $3,000 per day (and we would far surpass this!). I read that number and I didn’t panic. We had come so far financially – paying off state and federal tax debt, credit cards and my student loans. I had also just been fired two weeks before our sick baby was born.

Why didn’t I freak out over the inevitable medical debt we were rapidly accruing? It was so unlike me. I’d freaked over debt in the past, and hated how we would pay it off and then more always came.

Our baby was born with lung issues and needed a lot of help to breathe during his first weeks of life. If you recall, my dad had recently died of lung cancer. I sat next to my dad, hugely pregnant, during his hospice intake meeting. The hospice nurses gave me sympathetic looks as they asked about my due date. During his final days of life, I fed my dad water with a q-tip, rubbing it on his dry lips to keep him comfortable as his body failed. Two months later I was in a hospital rubbing a q-tip dipped in pumped breast milk on my baby’s lips. I cried with a NICU nurse who shared that she had recently lost her dad too.

This time the money owed doesn’t matter. We have our son.

Self-reflection

Phew! This post was difficult for me to write! It was emotionally draining and I had to take a few breaks. I believe that proves my point, that our relationship with money is a deep, complicated topic. It’s not just bills and payments! Reflecting will help me understand myself and my husband better as we fight to get out of debt in 2016.

I’d love to know: What’s your money story?

what's your money story?

Stay tuned for part II as I continue to explore the stories that shape how my husband and I interact with our money.

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34 Comments

  1. Oh my gosh…the parallels between your dad and your son brought tears to my eyes! How heartbreaking!

    What a terrible shame about your husband’s parents not following through on the money lesson. They did him a huge disservice. I bet it took him a very long time to get over that negative lesson. We have some similar experiences with my own husband’s family that took a while to relearn.

    That just serves as a reminder that what we say and do as parents is SO important. What seems small to us is very big in their eyes.
    Jamie @ Medium Sized Family recently posted…5 Ways We’ve Saved Money This Week 19My Profile

    • My husband is in his 40’s and still mad about it Jamie! It made a huge impact, so you are right, we need to stay aware of what we do and say for our kids’s sakes. Thanks for reading <3

  2. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I think one of the biggest impacts in my own story is divorce. After being well established for decades, I suddenly found myself starting over from square one. But that gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I really value and need, and build my life around those values.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Did Your Healthy Lifestyle Habits Fall by the Wayside?My Profile

    • Thanks for reading Gary. I’m sure divorce was a huge life change, I know my husband was greatly affected by his. Hopefully you’re living the life you want now! πŸ™‚

  3. I completely agree that who we are and our relationships with money are generally more gray than the categories we hear about. For example, in some areas, I struggle with being a spender, but there are other areas where I happily cut back as much as we possibly can.

    Your story is so emotional and interesting. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Wow Erin! What a post. You’ve certainly had your struggles and so much pain with your father’s diagnosis and passing πŸ™ You both have definitely come through some low times and so I’m confident you’ll get through this debt situation again.
    Julie S. recently posted…How I Re-branded My Blog, Part 1My Profile

  5. This post is so touching! You had me in tears. I can’t wait to read part two.
    Sylvia @Professional Girl on the Go recently posted…First Investment of the Year – My HealthMy Profile

  6. What a powerful story, My money story isn’t nearly as moving
    Tyler @ I Am The Future Me recently posted…Week In Review #3My Profile

  7. Wow. That was a lot to share! Thanks for trusting us with it! And that’s so cool that you lived in the Middle East. It seems like a really interesting place.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #126My Profile

    • Thanks for reading Mel, I know I tend to overshare πŸ˜‰ I loved living in the middle east and hope to go back to visit some day.

  8. This story made me cry. You are a strong woman and I commend you and respect you for all that you have been through. I know it was hard taking care of your sick father while pregnant. Then shortly after giving birth to you son who needed care.

    I also admire your husband. It shows that no matter situation happens he can make it through and work his way to the top. I admire you both and appreciate you sharing your money story.
    Healing Mama recently posted…My Experience With A Doula Part 2My Profile

  9. Great post. It is really hard to constantly struggle and just be tired of struggling. It seems that even if we make it through one thing there is just a different struggle around the corner. I guess it is just life.
    Carolyn recently posted…How to set Parental Controls on NetFlix – Learned After a Big Mommy FailMy Profile

  10. Hi Erin, thanks for sharing your money story here, you’re so right that finances aren’t as straightforward as just bills and payments. There’s a lot more to how each and every one of us develops an understanding (or not, as the case may be) about money matters. I was really moved by your story. I hope that your son is now fit and well, I can’t imagine how heartbreaking all that was that he went through with his lungs, after what happened with your dad.
    Hayley @ Disease Called Debt recently posted…How We Save 50% of Our IncomeMy Profile

    • Thank you so much for reading Hayley! Yes, my son is super healthy and happy now and turning one at the end of February! πŸ™‚ You’d never guess he was in the hospital at all!

  11. This post really does tell the story behind why you act the way you do with money and anyone in general. My mom was the only one that worked when I was growing up and my stepfather was an alcoholic…we went without a lot and lots of evictions. I promised myself that I wouldn’t lead a life like that ever again. My husband and I have been married for 6 years and bought a house this year after staying with family for a year after he separated from the military.

    Congratulations on your husband’s promotion! And good for you for appreciating the fact that you have your son even if the debt stuck around longer than you would have liked.

    • Thanks for sharing part of your money story Miranda and for reading mine. Sounds like you took your bad experiences from the past and turned them into a very positive future!

  12. Wow Erin, so moving. Thank you for sharing your story. I agree with you that the way we view and handle money has a long history associated with it. Your parents sound like they were great role models for you. I was just about to write a blog post about the “nerd and free spirit” since budgeting is on the forefront of my mind in 2016
    Angela @ Setting My Intention recently posted…Meal Planning from the PantryMy Profile

  13. That is so true about keeping your promises to a child( regarding your husband and the scooter.). The same thing happened to me, and I still feel resentful sometimes.

    Great post

  14. Beautiful post! That is so nice to see you being so open, so honest and writing something that can really open up covnersations for people. Thanks!

  15. That’s really brave of you Erin to share your story. You’ve obviously been through a lot of heartache and you are absolutely right, there is more to life than money. Stick with it. You’ll get there.

    Sally @ Life Loving
    #LifeLovingLinkie
    Life Loving recently posted…Gravity MaidstoneMy Profile

  16. Erin, I never really thought about my history with money as my money story. I know that when I was young I spent what I made on little things, and I tried to fill up with things. I I’m not sure why I felt that way both my parents were very good with money and so were my grandparents. My brother followed in my parents footsteps and so did my youngest sister they are both really good with money. But my sister and I used money to fill us up and until we found our current husbands we continued to use money in place of love. We are both better at it now and at loving ourselves. Isn’t it funny how until we’re whole we can’t really treat money as a tool for our future. I hope my children learn from how their father and I handle our money and budget. And I really hope that they learn how to show their emotions so they don’t feel empty. Good luck on your journey, it’s amazing how is astute you are about it.

    • I can totally relate to that feeling of using money/things to fill yourself up. I see it in myself and in other women in my family too. Contentment is so important. Thanks for sharing part of your story Nikki <3

  17. Hey Erin, stopping by to let you know I’m featuring this post on today’s Sunday Blog Hop. It will go live around 5. Thanks so much for linking up!
    Jenn Peters recently posted…Why I Installed Alexa On My Blog #BloggingTipMy Profile

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