I will never forget the person who changed my relationship with money.
No, not a parent.
No, not a boss.
It was my first…
My friend Roy referred me to Wardie back when I was twenty-something, broke-ish, and realized that if I ever wanted to truly become a self-sufficient adult, I needed to woman up and stop passing off Tax Duty to the accountants most broke-ish twenty-somethings use: the parentals.
I was a lucky, lucky girl to have parents who would take on this task for me. I recognize and understand my privilege, and how closely I toed the line between Uninformed Young Person and Stereotypical Spoiled Millenial. I think it was when I realized that I had a choice between the two – owning my uninformed-ness and learning, or making someone else do my dirty work and staying in the dark – that I took a deep breath and got myself my very first (non-relative, non-unpaid) accountant.
Wardie had been in the business of money for over fifty years. His office was perched on the third floor of an inconspicuous putty-colored building, sandwiched between a production company and a plumber’s HQ. I vividly remember driving up one Sunday and parking in a spot reserved for the production staff. The irony that I was there to take control of my finances yet practically asking for (yet another) parking ticket was not lost on me. *This* is how I got broke-ish, I thought.
I ended up using Wardie as my accountant for years, up until I moved to Manhattan. Walking into Wardie’s office was a little like walking into a page out of the I Spy series of my childhood: books upon books and knick-knacks randomly scattered around the shelves. A framed set of coins, a USC championship banner from who knows when. Old family photos and Hemmingway anthologies. Notebooks and textbooks and file folders galore. The haphazard space was strangely calming, the lack of outward order making me sigh with relief every year – because once I sat down at his desk, I knew he had my back. His hands shook slightly more and more each year, and he used the same calculator he’d had since 1984.
And when I expressed concern or asked a question, he reminded me to Not Worry; that I had things under control – a reminder I needed, because much like his office, my exterior world could sometimes feel a bit confusing.
Money: it’s a topic most of us tap-dance around, even with the people we trust most. There’s a sense of shame associated with not having as much as you feel you should…or not being able to afford what you once could…or not be able to afford what others can…or looking at your paycheck and seeing how much is taken out from taxes…or doing your taxes and realizing you owe more than a few paychecks’ worth and not really understanding why. Mo’ money, mo’ shame. Less money, mo’ shame. Basically, Money and Shame are the toxic dynamic duo who just won’t quit.
And hey, it’s not ENTIRELY our fault we let Money Shame beat us up so bad. Managing personal finances in a balanced way is something most of us never learn how to do until we’re deep in the weeds. Whether that’s because our practical-education system is flawed/nonexistant, or because most of the adults who came before us carry Money Shame and pass it onto us…? I don’t know. It’s probably a little of both.
Money Shame scares us into scarcity mode in more way than one. We latch onto poor financial advice without doing research or getting multiple opinions, because it’s something. We hang onto time-sensitive monetary guidance for longer than it serves us, sticking by principles or processes that might have been appropriate a few years back but are since outdated for the life we lead in the present (and hope to create in the future).
Oh, and don’t forget the other side of scarcity mentality: the idea that a full bank account (or desire to have one) is greedy or narcissistic. Even when we ARE in a comfy spot when it comes to money, we cling to our old, dusty financial fears. Even if we’re blessed with abundance, we adopt a less-than mentality. We’re starved for an open conversation; we’re conditioned to make money our enemy.
It does not have to be this way.
I remember my second year working with Wardie. He looked over my numbers and pulled out my prior year’s files from one of his many floor-to-ceiling file cabinets. “Look at that!” he exclaimed. “You made DOUBLE this year what you made last year. You keep this trend up, you’ll be a millionaire in five years and we’ll be having all different kinds of conversations!” Hm. I’d been hustling and stressing so hard all year, I hadn’t even registered that I was literally bringing in more than double what I’d been earning the year before. That one little comment from him, while a liiiittle exaggerated, was the first time I’d heard any sort of positive reinforcement when it came to how much money I made – or was able to make.
It’s very likely that if the thought of checking your bank account balance makes you break out in cold sweats, you’ve got quite a few people around you who are reinforcing this. Family, friends, coworkers, media personalities, Money Shame is everywhere. Just like Casual Negativity, money problems can be a way of bonding with others: commiserating over how expensive something is or how you really can’t afford such-and-such or UGH taxes amiright??
It can be a relief to know that you’re not alone…but it can also be damaging if you’re not devising a game plan to shift into a more positive and proactive reality. Here are some tools to break out of financial fears, shift into a rich mentality, and stay…shall we say…ACCOUNTABLE.
Let’s talk about CENTS, baby. Or for a more current pop culture pun…
FIVE WAYS TO MAKE MONEY MOVES
1 – REVISIT YOUR OWN FINANCIAL HISTORY.
Think back to a time you felt as if you had nothing. Then think of a time that felt more abundant. Remind yourself that money ebbs and flows just like the weather and the waves of the ocean. Everyone (even Oprah!) has had these ebbs and flows – we just don’t hear about them. What might feel hopeless now is just a low spot in the cycle of your financial flow. No, you can’t just sit back and wait. But as long as you’re being proactive, not reactive – even, ESPECIALLY, when it’s toughest – more IS on its way.
And ps…I’m not talking Oprah status, speaking of Oprah. A lot of times when we think of abundance, we think of a Scrooge McDuck-type wealth where we’re suddenly diving into a sea of gold coins. Maybe a sea of coins is in the cards, I have no idea…but if you’re so stuck on that one singular image of “wealth,” you’ll miss out on so many literal value adds that happen in your life throughout your life. When I say more, I’m talking MORE. More than what you have when you’re feeling low. More than you have when your finances don’t seem to be flowing. More than now. More than then. Just…more. No one season defines you, and no one season is forever.
2 – FIERCELY EDUCATE YOURSELF.
Abundant mindset is awesome, but nothing beats good ol’ brainwork. Schoolhouse Rock was right: Knowledge truly is power – and wealth. Get some. Even if everything you read sounds like a foreign language at first (and it probably will. the acronyms definitely will.), just read. Or listen to a podcast. Or watch a lecture or a TED Talk. We’ve got so much information at our fingertips, and most costs virtually nothing to access. My favorite resources are personal finance guru Suze Orman, who is a favorite of the Big O herself, and money maven Kate Northrup Watts, who gives brilliant, grounded financial advice that’s both relatable and attainable. And never be afraid to ask around, whether it be from a professional financial advisor or just someone you view as having it “together” who you can confide in without fear of judgement. It can be scary to seek awareness, but that feeling too shall pass. The more you know. Literally.
3 – PARTNER UP.
If you’re one half of a dynamic duo, it’s ESSENTIAL you and your partner create a safe space to discuss money. Not only is this healthy for your mind and bank account – it’s healthy for your relationship! Sit down during a neutral time (not when the actual problems arise or big decisions need to be made) and have a conversation about your current respective attitudes towards money and how they have been formed over the years through upbringing or experience.
Most financial fears stem from a place that goes waaaaay beyond dollars and cents. Aim to understand each other’s views and emotions surrounding money, then discuss how you can help each other shift into a positive space together. There are few things worse than feeling as if you cannot share deep-set worries or fears with the person you love most. Make sure each other knows you have a safe, respectful place to turn and strategize when you’re anxiety-ridden.
4 – GIVE MORE TO GET MORE.
This might sound counterintuitive, but when you feel financial fear making its way into your mind, spend a little on someone. It can be anything from donating to a friend’s marathon efforts to buying a coworker her morning coffee to donating to a cause you believe in or a random GoFundMe campaign that hits all your heart’s soft spots. To combat feelings of having nothing, we must actively create a sense of positivity and worth.
It doesn’t have to be much – you don’t even need to spend more than a couple dollars for this to work. The amount is NOT the point. It’s about cultivating worth and value. That means showing someone else they’re valued. The fact that you are able to give enough to make someone else smile can set off a chain reaction in your brain and heart that makes you feel truly rich.
5 – PRACTICE THE ART OF BENCHMARK BUYING.
While researching/acting upon return policies is a MUST when necessary, sometimes the act of making a return when the reason for return is finance-related (been there, done that) can reinforce that poor person mentality we’re trying so hard to break. Am I saying keep the thing if you can’t afford it? Hell no! But there’s gotta be something more to halt sub-par spending in the first place.
Spender’s Remorse usually comes from impulse buying, which usually comes from feeling a lack of control in some other part of life OR this idea that someone else’s opinion (salesperson, friend, family, that ad you saw on Facebook) matters more than your own. Enter what I have coined Benchmark Buying. It’s essentially this: if you have a certain amount of money that you CAN spend, how do you choose to spend it? If a new outfit costs as much as a plane ticket to Los Angeles to see my family, it BETTER be a damn good outfit I’ll be wearing for years to come. If I’m taking my husband out on a date, I’d rather pay for a quality intimate experience than a bunch of sub-part cocktails at an ultra-hip new hotspot known for its Instagrammableness. If I’m feeling lazy and want to pick up my lunch twice a week instead of make it, that convenience is probably not worth more to me than the boutique bootcamp class I could take later that costs the same amount. Comparing and contrasting the ways you spend your money not only encourages you to slow down your impulses, it empowers you to feel control over the direction in which your bank account is going.
Moving from Los Angeles (an expensive city) to NYC (an even more expensive city) made me revisit my financial fears all over again. I knew I could do this…but what was it really going to take? And as someone who was part of a partnership, partners who were equal teammates but had totally different relationships with dolla-dolla-bills…what did financial success mean to me?
I realized that financial success in New York City was this: not letting it control me. It meant being able to fully support myself and understanding what all iterations of that would look like. It meant not letting my experiences with money – lots of it or littles of it – rule my emotions and dictate my quality of life.
Breaking out of financial fears is not about a specific number in your bank account, a figure on your paycheck, or a lucky winning lottery ticket. It’s about being tired of the control the mere THOUGHT of money has over both you and the people you love. Be your own positive example of what a healthy relationship with George, Abe, Alex, and Andy looks like. You might not have any plans to be a CFO or accountant or the next Wardie Jr. – but you CAN work to be a money-spending, money-saving maven and shift from Shame to Worth. No matter what the ebbs and flows of your finances look like, the act of feeling in control is something that only appreciates in value. That’s a richness that cannot be taxed.
Now I wanna know…what are some ways you keep yourself in CHECK when it comes to checks? How do you stay ACCOUNTABLE when it comes to your bank account? What keeps you SANE-ing when you’re SAVING?
(How many more bad money-related jokes can I write? That last one didn’t even make much CENTS…)
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