Catching Up–my thoughts on money and life these days

For a writer, the act of sitting down and writing feels torturous. The act of opening up YNAB and updating my budget to get a sense of where things stand feels worse. It is easier to move slowly through my messy house, straightening piles of things that have nowhere to go.

My divorce will be final in December–two months away. The state disability I’ve been receiving for the past year just sent me my final payment–$335.15. I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to take for the long-term disability provider to decide whether they will accept my claim–the process has been ongoing for two months. Whether my new mortgage gets approved so I can buy my almost ex-husband out of his portion of this house I’m living in will be determined by the disability decision. If I don’t get the disability approved I will go back to work, in a new position with my long-term employer because my health can withstand the grief and travel and time spent in hospitals required by my last position. If I go back to work I will have to find childcare for the kids on my days.

My ex moved off this property three weeks ago and we’re in the process of transitioning to 50/50 custody. I got my first child support payment this month–$587 plus the $200 I asked him for in exchange for my continuing to watch the kids during his days as we transition.  I suggested a slow transition because I knew it would be hard for all of us, for different and similar reasons. I knew I was offering more than I was getting in exchange–my energy and care in exchange for money–and I waved the mental red flags away because it felt important and worth it. After two weeks of providing most of their meals and doing almost all of the drop offs and picks up and trying to be a safe space for the many emotions coming from my four kiddos, I got resentful and sick and asked to speed up the transition. This weekend was really the first time I faced my quiet house and stayed here when they’re not here–I’ve run away every other time. Run to San Francisco where I can hide out and be a couch potato. Not deal with my life. Not deal with my house. Not deal with my aloneness.

This month I also became a landlord for the first time. I took over all the bills for my own house that’s not quite my own yet–car insurance, water, garbage, electricity, cell phone, cable and internet. All of those things were in my husband’s bucket when I had a husband. I’ve called the home warranty company twice to come fix things in my house and now my tenant’s house. I’ve paid the house cleaners twice to have them come make this place look beautiful for the few moments before the kids and I come in and destroy it. I’ve watched the pool get greener and murkier because I wasn’t dealing with it for a while and because the filter needs to be cleaned and that is a monumental task I have not been up to.

I’ve fallen off my special, restrictive, health-improving diet because the act of shopping separately for food for me to eat and food for the kids to eat felt over-whelming and expensive. Even though eating well made me feel cared-for and energetic and healthy.

I’ve been spending money and treating myself and eating what I want because it’s felt like the way I’ve wanted and needed to be cared for. Even though to take care of myself, to truly practice self-care, I need to feed myself well and look at my budget. It just feels too hard and too scary.

That’s where I am right now. Slowly cleaning my living room, noticing that I would like more light in here and wondering if I can afford a new light and what kind I would want.

Money learnin’

We decided it would be useful to write about what blogs or podcasts or books each of us has used to learn more about personal finance. This is an easy one for me because the answer is. . .none! The exclamation point does not denote pride or enthusiasm but rather surprise and emphasis around the fact that I have spent so many years bemoaning the idea that I am bad with money. . .while doing nothing to learn more about how to be good with money.

The internet is new to me. . . ha ha that is only somewhat of a joke. It wasn’t until my last two years of college that I started using email and browsed AOL for the first time. Each time I clicked an arrow to take me to a new page I got freaked out that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to where I started. How will I remember how to find all of these pages? Since then of course the internet has become a big part of my daily life–for personal communication, work, Facebook, celebrity gossip, booking travel, finding a destination. All of this at my fingertips but it’s only been the past two years where I’ve really been using it to educate myself. I’ve read an article or two about personal finance if it popped up on my feed for some reason but I’ve never gone searching. I’ve read lots of blogs, mostly about motherhood even before I was a mother. But I never thought to look up blogs about money. I’m not sure it even occurred to me that there were people writing blogs about money.

A year or so ago my sister-in-law Lady BlueOak sent me the link to The Frugalwoods, telling me how much she loved it. This might have been in response to a specific money conversation we’d been having but I can’t remember. I read one or two essays on the blog and I liked them but I didn’t fall hard for Mrs. Frugalwoods or her subject like my sis did. And there you have it–the sum total of my personal education on personal finance.

Oh wait. I did once start reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad almost twenty years ago when the older man I was dating, appalled at my lack of awareness, recommended it to me. I didn’t finish it.

I met with a financial planner several times about ten years ago. She gave me many tasks to complete, most of which are undone.

I created a Mint account around the same time and it helped increase my awareness of my own spending a little bit. But I never did much with it.

I’ve never read a book about personal finance. I’ve never listened to a podcast. I’ve never taken a class. I don’t remember any conversations with my parents about savings or interest or investment. There was no focus in college on the topic either. All this time I’ve put money in a category of things I’m not good at and don’t want to think about and then I’ve just left it there. Considering how much I love learning–how excited I get to acquire new skills and see my knowledge grow–it is pretty astonishing to me that I’ve done nothing in this area. No wonder I’m not so good at it.

The Lola Retreat was my first foray into a world of people, and more importantly to me women, focused on kicking ass on the personal finance front. I felt like a kindergartner in a room full of grad students. I was shy and embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. . .and I was also inspired and excited by the peek into a world I was for the first time interested in being a part of.

Kids and Money

One of the hardest parts of parenting for me so far, four years in, is dealing with the fact that my kids will be affected by my flaws. Yes, I have a brutal inner critic. She has only gotten more vocal in motherhood. I’m working on befriending her rather than letting her beat me down. But for the moment I still actively find myself wishing that I could pass on the good traits I possess while directing my kids to better qualified teachers in the areas I could use some work.  Like money. One of the many things I worry about is passing on my less-than-ideal approach to money. I’d like to fix it in myself, not just for me but so I can teach them good habits.

Money and appreciating what we have wallops me this time of year, as I think about Christmas presents and wanting to create a magical experience for my children but not wanting to inundate them with more stuff (they have a lot of stuff). I remember wanting certain toys as a kid and not getting them, feeling disappointed when I got to school after Christmas vacation and instinctively worried or noticed that my presents didn’t measure up. I can only imagine that all the other kids were worrying the same. When I got older I was surprised to discover that Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies didn’t cost that much money after all. Hey! I can buy a lot of these. Although even still my decision about how much I can afford is not based on a true understanding of what money I have available–it’s based on a long-standing habit of overspending during the holidays, using credit and paying it back.

What do I want my kids to know about money? I’m not even sure but so far the idea that most resonates with me is one I learned at the Lola Retreat in August–about money being a flow of energy and it is up to us to determine how to use that energy to best serve us in terms of meeting our goals and living our best lives. So yeah. I want to learn how to do that and then I want to teach my kids how to do that.

This is a mini-post because I have to think a lot more about this topic. For now, ta da!




The Last Thing, The Biggest Thing

My life has been absolutely falling apart and I want to put my hands over my eyes and shake my head shouting “No! No! No!” It all feels way too hard and I just want to be through the pain and out on the other side, looking back at all that I’ve learned. But here I am, continuing to slog through because I’m still in the unraveling, still in the lessons. Boo.

My health is not good and my doctors have given me orders to change how I live my life. I need to put my health first for the first time in a four decade life, three decades of which have been characterized by illness that has been as ignored as possible. I know what I need to do: do regular yoga, eat healthfully, rest, be outside. I’d like to start seeing a functional medicine doctor. But the money. . .

Part of putting my health first at this point means leaving my full-time job and finding ways to relax. This freaks me out largely because so much of my identity is wrapped up in my self as a working person, and in this job in particular. And the money. . .

My marriage is ending. Seven years of knowing one another, five years married, four years parenting more kids than we can handle. I am raw and gutted, full of doubt and fear and loneliness. Worried I’m walking away from something that is good because I want something better when maybe nothing better exists. Worried about how it will affect my kids. Worried about how we will co-parent as the separation starts to sink in. And the money. . .

I feel like I should be in a mental institution. No, really. Depression, anxiety, panic. There is what is falling apart in my life. And there is the fact that the three things above do not mention what is going on in the world and how I feel called to help in at least one of the many pockets (like my own backyard) where people are desperate because of racism and poverty and sexism and politics. My body feels slammed daily by the news or the comments on the news I see on Facebook. My mind constantly races and I try to stop the spinning to take a deep breath and figure out how to keep it moving. When all the messages I’m receiving are shouting it won’t keep moving like this anymore girl. It’s time to build a new train and some new tracks.

The last thing I want to focus on is money and how to manage it. The biggest worry I have is money. So interesting.

The Lola Retreat, which we all plan to write about sometime soon, was the origin story for this blog. And the place where I was surprised to find myself asking “Could my way to alignment with my true self, my true values, be through learning how to save and spend my money?”

It can’t be. Can it?

Saying yes, saying no

My mother calls me a shapeshifter, she has for years. The term was applied with an admiring shake of the head each time I showed up with a different look—different hair, different outfit, different vibe. I liked this description. Now I wonder if I’ve always had many shapes or if I’ve never known who I really am.

I wasn’t aware of wanting to erase myself. But I did want to leave as much space as possible for the people around me to do their own thing, unencumbered by anything I might do or say. I collect people—their stories, their faces and body language when talking about something that moves them. I drink them in. I want to see everything, taste everything, travel everywhere, learn everything. I have a hunger that is hard to assuage. Maybe this is because I came close to dying when I was a young woman. Some of it is certainly a result of that experience. But more and more I think it comes from a need to feel ok in myself. To compare myself to others and understand whether how I feel is normal or whether I’m having a totally weird life inside this skin of mine.

This endless hunger, this searching, this wanting inside me means I don’t often say no, I say yes. Yes to drugs, yes to picking up and leaving on vacation. Yes to fancy dinners, to another round of drinks, to another partner. Yes to things I should say no to, and then yes again because I don’t want to be governed by should. I’ve been feeding a bottomless need for more. More life, more feelings, more knowledge. And money flows through my hands, making it happen. I don’t like limits. When someone tells me I can’t do something it makes me want it that much more. And I’ve lived most of my life sneaking around the limits, keeping secrets, telling myself that the happiest I am is when I can do what I want.

My approach to a budget was and is “How much more than zero do I have?” I took out some loans for college, the rest my parents covered. I made increasingly more money over the four years, working in restaurants and bars. Not one dollar I made ever went into savings or towards my loans. I spent it all. It hasn’t changed, despite being a 40-year-old married mother of four. My husband came into the marriage with no debt other than mortgages. I still owed some on my student loans, plus I had credit card debt. I’d been to many countries, had wild and fun adventures, eaten many great meals and a lot of truly great cups of coffee I didn’t make myself. I had a 403B with some good money in it, the result of following a friend’s advice years ago about maxing it out. That’s the only good thing about money I’ve ever done. The rest I spend.

Turns out, I don’t really know what I want. Turns out, the limits are there whether I acknowledge them or not. Turns out, there might be happiness that comes with recognizing the self that I have and making choices that honor my own values—even if it means saying no to things I want. I’m starting to see that without saying no I give all my power away. Everyone has limits. Why don’t I know mine?

A deep anxiety has been my constant companion, causing medical issues for years long before I recognized that the constant monologue running in my head  had a name. The relentless assessment of situations–wondering how to be, how to be liked, what other people want or need, how to be a good wife, how to be a good mother, how to be a good girl who doesn’t make other people mad—it’s been eating me up from within. My deep self has been here all along, waiting to be noticed, sending me messages folded into illness and depression. Shame runs through me like fat marbling meat, judging myself for not being good enough, comparing my insides to other peoples’ outsides, wondering where my lack comes from. Throwing out the desire to be happy because I decided it wasn’t even a thing a person could be.

I’ve been committing to learning to pay attention to my deep self for the past seven years. It’s hard work and regularly frustrates me with how slow the progress is. On good days, I see and feel how far I’ve come. I’m not sure exactly what the end goal is but I think it’s to feel better. Whole within myself. And it doesn’t matter whether my teacher is my yoga instructor, my therapist, or a good friend. The message keeps coming down to the same thread to follow: what do I want? It embarrasses me that I don’t know.

Money has long been a source of shame. Shame due to debt. To being bad with money. To not knowing what I was doing. To having to admit to mistakes. To not paying attention—paying unnecessary fees, dipping into overdraft, living paycheck to paycheck. My shapeshifter ways have worn me down.  I struggle with appreciating what I have, the grass always very much greener somewhere else. I turn in circles, wanting to buy special treats for my kids that I wanted as a child and then feeling guilty for not living more simply, to not teaching gratitude. I’ve been so afraid of making the wrong choices that I haven’t made many choices at all. A choice implies saying yes to one thing, saying no to another. I’ve just said yes, yes and more yes. Even if the money runs out. Even if it feels bad as often as it feels good.

I thought my money problems were something to be dealt with separately. Attending a financial conference created by women for women brought things into alignment for me, showing me that I can work on getting my shit together financially and be working towards the same goals I’ve been reaching for in other areas of my life. Even though facing my finances scares me, it feels more concrete and achievable than fixing some of the other things in my life that need fixing right now. My marriage mostly. And my self. So I will keep taking hesitant steps forward, trying to remember to listen to this true voice inside of me, asking her “What do you need? What will make you feel good? What will give you ease? What will give you joy?” Let’s say yes to those things. And no to the rest. Is that possible?