Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Big Money Lie: A follow-up

The point of my post about money was quite simply that even though I say money is important to me, my actions say otherwise. That while money is important as far as taking care of the essentials like food, housing, transportation, clothing, etc., beyond that it is simply NOT a main motivator for me. I know a few people who are totally motivated by money (and I am not talking about my children!) Folks who went to school with the sole purpose of earning a degree that would allow them to make the most money possible. Then they entered the workforce and made their career decisions based on their ability to make money.

Traditionally this has been a man's domain, supposedly. However I know plenty of women who are (or were) money motivated as well. Many of these men and women are successful. Certainly more financially successful than I. But that is exactly the point - money clearly is not that important to me. And yet, it seems like it ought to be much more important based on the percentage of time I spend thinking and complaining about it - how much I need, how little I make, how to make more, how to spend less, etc.

So, here is the conundrum of the day: If money is indeed not all that important to me then why don't I drop the charade that it is important? I think if I were able to do that I would be happier. If I was more conscious about my decisions around money and how I have made them perhaps I would feel less intense emotion about money issues. If I were able to be really, deeply satisfied with my choices and be OK with how they have affected my financial situation then would that free me at all from this feeling of lack?

Initially I dropped out of the workforce because being a new mom and working full-time proved to be too much for me to handle and it seemed as if we could manage financially. I worked part-time so we were able to avoid massive childcare costs. I worked for a while as a freelance writer and then, as that didn't pay much and I felt I needed to contribute more to the family's financial bottom line, I took another part-time job. After being there for a while I got pregnant again and when my son was born I continued to work for the same agency on a very part-time basis.

Then I decided to get my teaching credential. I believed teaching would be a family friendly profession. Frankly, I was also concerned about the stability and long-term future of my marriage and made the conscious decision to rejoin the workforce in the event that I would someday need to support myself and my children on my own. I took most of my classes on-line at night and clearly remember putting the kids to bed, dozing off with them, hearing my wristwatch alarm go off at 9, getting up to brew some coffee and then doing homework until midnight. This was a difficult time, but I believed in what I was doing and I always loved taking classes so for the most part I enjoyed it. Come to find out this was one of the most difficult times for my then husband and things that were put into motion then eventually contributed to the final demise of our marriage years later. Clearly, considering my intent when I began studying for my credential, this was not a total surprise.

Teaching was indeed a family-friendly profession. Even though I began my career in a different district with different academic schedules there was enough vacation overlap that our family functioned well. Money was decent and I was happy to be contributing to the family kitty. When the time came that my marriage did end, and I did need to support myself and my kids, the work helped. I was working only part-time at that point, so money was tight, but the schedule was ideal. By this time I was working at my kids' school and the fact that I got to be at school with them and see them even if they weren't at my house that day was invaluable. Truly priceless.

Cut to today - I have a job that I enjoy. I appreciate the potential stability it offers (once I make it off probation in a few weeks) and the opportunity to put money away and rebuild savings that have been decimated through divorce. I enjoy the people I work with, the work engages me but doesn't consume me, I don't have too much responsibility (I really hate pressure) and so far it is going well.

The money, on the other hand, is not so good. Considering my years - and level of experience - in the workforce as well as my level of education I am grossly underpaid. That said, my pay is appropriate for the position and I know several people here in this office who are in similar positions. The job market is tough, so I am thankful for what I have...most of them time. :-)

As my close friends have gently pointed out given my history of job unrest - work happiness is priceless!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Big Money Lie

Next to my unexpected, unabated mid-life weight gain the thing I stress and complain about the most is money - specifically, my lack of it. I have always had money anxiety. I suppose this comes from being the child of a young mother who supported us with food stamps when I was young. I grew up hearing “we don’t have the money” more times than I can remember. It’s not that I grew up wanting for the basics – we always had food and clothing and were well taken care of – but the answer to many of my requests was, “we can’t afford it.”

It is my understanding that the things we hear over and over as children and youngsters become ingrained in our minds and our psyches and continue to influence us throughout our lives. If a child’s parents tell them that they are worthless or stupid they will continue to hear that tape in the background of their daily lives for a very long time. Further, those critical voices can wreak havoc later in life when the child has grown – maybe the idea that they are stupid will prohibit them from having confidence in school. Constantly being told they are worthless can affect how they interact with others and what type of treatment they are willing to take in social, work, or personal interactions. Constantly telling a child there isn't enough money leaves a child feeling a sense of instability and lack. At least it did to this child.

There is a tape that is constantly looping in the back of my mind – the one about money – or lack thereof. The soundtrack that tells me I can’t afford it, that money is tight and always will be. That tape has most certainly affected me and how I have lived my life, handled money and interacted with people who I percieve "have money". It has affected my perception of what I am worth, and what I can accomplish financially. When my sweetie and I discovered a great opportunity that would allow us to move in together with our assorted children and animals I nearly shut us out of the chance before we even tried. The kids and I drove to the neighborhood to check out the house and it was a neighborhood I had never been to before. The houses looked huge and fancy and much, much nicer than anything anyone in my family had ever lived in. I began to panic – I mean I literally had an anxiety attack. I got tense, my palms got sweaty on the steering wheel, and I felt extremely anxious. “Oh,” I said to the kids, “we can’t live here. No. Nope, can’t do it. This is not our neighborhood. Sorry.”

Meanwhile my kids, bless their unjaded hearts, were like, “What are you talking about Mom? This is awesome! Look at the grass and the houses! They are great! We want to live here! This is totally where we are living.”

A couple of nights later I had a dream…it was like a dream state epiphany in which the fallacy of my belief about the neighborhood was made clear to me. It was a strange event – not really a dream, more like a revelation - where the glass ceiling, the limits that I had put upon myself for no good nor logical reason were shown to me. The absurdity became real and fully visible. It was astonishing.

Long story short, we live in that house now. It is a wonderful house with plenty of room for all of us to be together – and apart as well – but I have come to realize it is just a house like any other. And frankly, we don’t use all the space we have. But it was an important step for me to live in a house like this and come to that realization for myself because I had always assumed, for whatever reason, that people who lived in houses like that were not like me and that I would never live like that. I believed that it was beyond me. That I could never afford it.

The other thing I have come to realize in the past year since we have lived in the house is that I say money is important to me - in particular making more money. Now that is true, to an extent. I have recently had to make changes in my work life to adjust to changes in my personal life and I do want/need/plan to become 100% financially self-sufficient in the next few years. It’s extra challenging living here, in expensive Santa Cruz where most families require two good incomes to live comfortably. The price we pay to live here is high.

And yet, no matter how much I complain and worry about not having enough money (and complain and worry I do – just ask my friends and sweetie) the bottom line is this: as long as I have my family’s basic needs covered I am not willing to sacrifice time nor sanity for more money. I have realized that for all the time I spend ranting and raving about being broke, or near to it (is that reality? Or is it an old tape playing? Perhaps a little of both. The soundtrack always makes the monster seem bigger.) I am very clear on what I will and will not do for more income.

I made the switch from part-time outdoor work to full-time, indoor, cubicle style 8-5 highly secure work, but the secret is this: I really like the new job. Even though I bring home about the same as I did working part-time, I have to acknowledge that I am also contributing to the security I so desperately desire: a retirement account, pre-tax dependent care, accurate tax withholdings, good health insurance.

Would I leave this job that I like (which is HUGE for me) for more money elsewhere? Perhaps, but it would have to be the right job. I would not drive further than I have to drive now – too much time on the road, too much distance between me and home and my sweetie and my babies. I don’t want to take on a position that has a lot of responsibility because I am enjoying the rest from having a job that did (teaching is a big responsibility – even though it seems like fun, it is a very serious undertaking to hold the little one’s lives and psyches in your hands and learn about their fears and scars and homelives.) I enjoy having the freedom that comes from a job where you don’t arrive before 8; you take your breaks, don’t skip your lunch hour and leave your desk – no matter what – at 5:00. There is some very real freedom in that. The mental space I have now gives me time to think. I have even begun to hear something I haven’t heard in a while…the whisper of the Muse. And that, as you well know, is worth a lot!