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