Our Relationship with Money

One of the biggest hurdles we all have to overcome in this life is our relationship with money. My own encouragement would be to tackle it head on from wherever you are at, and preferably to do so before retirement. I will share my own journey and how money and me get along, just to help you have a reference for your relationship with money. None of this is about right and wrong, so I’d encourage you to leave that notion at the door. I also think money is a more touchy subject than sex, at least here in the United States.  And, because we don’t talk about it often enough, it can be controlling us, versus allowing us to be in the drivers seat.

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Some of the important parts of having a quality life

So here are some of my first memories of money

  • I got my “Saturday dime” as a kid growing up. We each had chores, so if we did them we got the dime. I was an over achiever, so I don’t think I missed one Saturday ever.  We would promptly walk up the hill in Monterey and go spend it on candy. I often bought Necco’s or a candy necklace. So my age is probably showing about now, and that is fine.

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  • I do recall getting a “cost of living raise” on our allowance as time went on. It went to 25 cents, then a dollar.  And I remember saving for a radio as one of the first things I ever saved up for, around the age of 10.  I rode my bike all the say to the Sherwood Shopping Center and found I was a few cents short of having enough money for that radio.  But the kind clerk who had helped me with my huge pile of odd change, chipped in the difference I owed and I walked away with the first purchase I ever made on my own.  I have content cosy memories of being up in a fort in our garage listening to talk radio on my new purchase.
  • I also recall 2 points in my life where I wanted something and I didn’t have enough, so I stole items.  One was near the age of 8 where I saw this small figurine that I wanted to give to my sister.  It cost about a dollar, but I didn’t have a dollar.  I was in a store close to Cork N Bottle that had lots of knick-knacks.  It was small and fit in my pocket and so I kept it there with my heart beating wildly as I exited, trying to be calm on the outside.  I gave it to my sister and hoped no one would ever know my secret about how I got it.  The other stealing episode was as a teen at Dick Bruhn’s clothing store downtown.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be using the names as they may come after me, but giving full disclosure feels more important right now.  To fully recall those key points, the hows, the whys and the feelings.  I was with a few friends and one friend came up with the plan to take some items we wanted.  This was more about power than money and, as I exited the store, I saw one of my Mom’s friends which made my own guilt and fear escalate to sheer panic.  I got out without getting caught, but felt bad and never wore the clothes I had stolen.  It left me with feelings of shame versus power, so that was the end of my career as a thief.
  • I made my first big money when the church we attended decided to pay me for the babysitting I had done at church.  They paid me $2 a Sunday, and it was retro to two years back when I started doing the babysitting, giving me $200 in one chunk!  To be honest, I did the babysitting to avoid going to church, as I liked the kids far more than the sermons.  I was doing what I loved, never asked to be compensated for it and yet I was grateful to receive their kind gift.
  • When I graduated from high school I was given $100, not as one bill, but in 100 one dollar bills.  This made it seems like a big hunk of money.  I remember flipping through it, admiring it and even laying them all out side by side on my waterbed and taking a photo of the bills as a way of remembering this big event.  I also learned it is far easier to spend 100 one dollar bills than 1 one hundred dollar bill.

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  • In 1979 my partner Dave and I bought our first television together on credit.  It was a Sony Trinitron and it cost $325.  The credit was through the store at that time and we were diligent to pay it off so that we owned it free and clear.  That television lasted close to 20 years!
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Our Sony Trinitron TV was our first credit purchase in the late 70’s

  • In the late 70’s I recall using my first ATM.  We would go get cash out when we needed it.  Then the bank said we could use it even if we didn’t have money and alas credit was becoming a new option for us (and for everyone).  Dave and I preferred to pay cash as credit “seemed too good to be true.”
  • In the mid 80’s my boyfriend Tom treated me to nice meals and fun events.  I saw how he laid down the plastic to pay for these, so when I wanted a new blue Peugeot 10-speed bike, I laid down my plastic for the first time and paid in credit.  It felt kind of magical to be able to spend money I didn’t even have!  And over the next year or two, I made my monthly payments on time and paid for the bike.
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My blue bike bought on credit

  • I went on to school to get my masters in the late 80’s and during this time I found it difficult to be a single mom, to work full-time and go to school, so I cut back on my hours at work and began to use credit to fill that gap.  At one point I got a flyer on my windshield while at school that said they helped students find scholarships to fund their college education.  I got good grades and felt my situation would qualify me for a scholarship, so I paid them $200 to help find a good scholarship match for me, only to find 2 weeks later, they didn’t exist.  Nothing like hurting a girl when she’s down!  I reported it to the police, but have no idea if they ever caught the Bradford Associates scammers.  I was getting a masters in Educational Technology, so we needed a computer.  We could use the ones at school, but I lived about 30 miles away and that became harder to do, so I bought my first Mac SE computer on credit.  I also bought school books on credit and sometimes gas and groceries.  It allowed me to live comfortably, but the balance was growing and at that time I didn’t fully comprehend that 25% interest was a hole I wouldn’t be getting out of soon.
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Mac SE Computer 1988

  • I went to my family to borrow money, but was turned down.  I was very hurt by this as I had been financially independent since age 18 when I moved out of my parents home, using the GI bill funds from my father’s death to help pay for most of my college and I had worked throughout college to fill in any gaps.  I had never asked for any money from my family.  At that time I felt I had earned some help and it was very hard for me to admit I needed help and to ask for it.  I was offered a gift (not a loan) of $100, but I turned it down as my debt was closer to $17,000 and that wouldn’t make a dent in it.  I went to a meeting about getting out of debt and was introduced to budgeting, using envelopes with cash for each expense category and asking creditors for any special deals they could offer.  I did a budget that included my income, rent, utilities, my car, gas, etc.  I kept trying to balance the budget, but was having challenges.  There weren’t any places I could find to cut other than groceries…so I cut back on food and actually began eating less than I really should.  This only added to feelings of not having enough, so I met with my boss to ask for a raise.  At that time my boss was someone I knew and trusted, and I did breakdown and share some of these details about the debt, what I had tried that wasn’t working and my frustration.  She said she would see if a raise was possible.
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Plastic became more popular in the 80’s and 90’s

  • What I didn’t realize at that time is most companies that I have worked for have a specific cost of living and bonus plan.  If you don’t fit the criteria, you won’t be able to go up in-between times or at a rate different than your peers.  So my boss broke the bad news, but also said she had another offer for me.  She and her husband had come into some inheritance and they offered me a personal loan for my full debt of $17,000 at 4% interest.  I broke down crying as I really was a wit’s end.  To see a light at the end of the tunnel and to feel the offer of help nearly overwhelmed me.  I took their kind offer of the money and paid off all my credit card debt.  Each month I sent my loan payment to them along with a card of thanks.
  • In about 3 years I was able to send in my final payment on that personal loan.  I wish I could tell you this was the happy ending to this story, but it is not.  During this same time I had moved in with a friend to cut costs, but as time went on I felt I wanted my own place again for myself and my daughter who was a teen at the time.  We moved to a place that was one of my favorite homes as it was private, rent was reasonable (but twice the cost of sharing) and it offered a view of the ocean which was very healing.  Fast forward a bit and I found myself once again supplementing credit for income which has no other place to go other than debt.  This time I didn’t get into so much debt, but I saw it as a wake up call that unless I made some more permanent changes I would be in this same problem the rest of my life.  So I began to budget again, track what was owed on each card, cut up all my cards and pay off the smallest debt first.

I was headed in the right direction with being debt free as my number one top priority when 2 things happened:

  1. I almost married a man who I found out a month prior to the wedding owed the IRS, and several others significant money.  He had been driving me around in a car that had no insurance and his car was due to be repossessed at any moment.  Worse yet, he knew how important being debt free was to me and he had lied to me.  I made the tough decision to postpone the wedding as this was so against all my “be debt free” goals, only to later find this was only the tip of the iceberg as you might imagine.
  2. My landlord, who had our property on the market for sale, took it off the market and increased our rent 50% (from $1,000 to $1,500).  We lived in a nice neighborhood and there are no rent control laws to make this illegal.  In fact I had had a good deal for a long time and this increase was putting my rent up to what most of my neighbors were paying.  I will share more about this in a future blog.  
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Cardiff apartment (upstairs)

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Beautiful Cardiff driveway view

So you can see my relationship with money is complex.  I share my story as a way of being open and real about the twists and turns that we all have.  To be able to make conscious choices about money it is very helpful to unlock any unconscious patterns you may have around money.  To help you do that, I have some questions below.  I would encourage you to write down or share with your partner or a friend (and have them share too) about your own relationship with money. IMG_7525 Explore your relationship with money by answering these key questions:

  1. Did your family give you money (as allowance, loans, big gifts, etc)?
  2. What did you have to do to earn #1 above?
  3. What feelings about money, deserving and generosity did #1 above leave you with?
  4. Did you ever steal (or consider stealing) to get something?
  5. If you did steal, what was the motive?  And how did it feel?  Did you ever make amends?
  6. What debts do you owe?
  7. How do you feel about those debts?
  8. Looking back at the above answers, what are your beliefs about money?

Some of my core beliefs about money after all of my experiences are:

  • I have to be self sufficient versus expecting someone to save me.
  • Stealing isn’t worth the price.
  • I won’t be debt free for good until I uncover my patterns and beliefs about money.
  • Being debt free is an important freedom.  In fact, so important to me, I am willing to adjust my life to maintain that freedom.
  • Scammers and challenges exist in real life, so embrace that and be alert for them.

Anything that annoys you is for teaching you patience. Anyone who abandons you is for teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet. Anything that angers you is for teaching you forgiveness and compassion. Anything that has power over you is for teaching you how to take your power back. Anything you hate is for teaching you unconditional love. Anything you fear is for teaching you courage to overcome your fear. Anything you can’t control is for teaching you how to let go and trust the Universe.”

– Jackson Kiddard

I will be blogging more about money, as having a healthy relationship with money is vital to having a good “3rd Chapter” of your own life.  Answering the questions above will begin the process of understanding your own unique relationship with money.  Please share any learnings or challenges you had in the comments below.


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10 Comments

  1. Beckett says:

    Thank you for sharing Kathy. Money in indeed a controversial subject although here in Europe it’s becoming less and less of a taboo.

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  2. Sharon Day says:

    Well said!

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  3. Sharon Day says:

    Is that Cardiff-by-the Sea? I used to live in Carlsbad. We are selling things now to pay off our mortgage, which is our only debt, so that we can retire and play more. : )

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  4. Miriam says:

    Such an interesting post!

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  5. Tom says:

    Beautiful essay. Ttank you.

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