Introduction: A bit overdue


I was raised by a teacher and a social worker, so when I decided to study personal financial planning I felt as if I was turning my back on my family’s entire cultural identity.  As a child, my parents taught me about the injustice they saw and experienced each day as the lower classes (us, and the people that they served at work) were left behind while the rest of society chased after industry.

My grandmothers, on the other hand, were both trust-fund babies – daughters of men of science who made great advancements in the film and energy industries.  The money my family had in previous generations served as a thorn in my parents’ side as they watched their mothers dwindle away in loveless marriages, and yet cling to the ‘society’ that money allowed them to keep.  Remember, they were women in the 1950’s – not a time of great tolerance for ‘subversive’ women. By the time I was born, there was a clearly defined culture in my home that assumed money was a necessary evil, but was not something we were permitted to desire, respect, or focus our attention on – if we were to be ‘good’ people.

It is no great wonder, then, that I was a financial mess well into my twenties.  I had no financial training, but what’s more I had been indoctrinated into the message that so many of us hear, “You either care about money OR you care about people.  Your choice will define who you are.”  It was this message that blocked my way to personal financial progress for many years.

At 27, I held a degree in Mathematics, so I couldn’t blame a lack of ‘number sense’ for my financial disorganization. I wanted to get control, but it wasn’t a budgeting class that I needed, it was a new way of thinking about money. Only when I was exhausted from the strain of financial worry did I finally defy my family culture and take the plunge into financial education.  The personal journey I took from hand-to-mouth living and massive credit card debt to becoming a financial counselor and educator is just as important as the financial skills I’ve gained along the way.

I had to challenge one of the most basic messages I’d ever been taught.  I had to decide to believe that I could care about people AND still care about money.  I believe firmly that we cannot create lasting financial change in our lives without personal reflection on how our money attitudes and habits were formed.  It is my experience that drives me to reach out to others.  We have a culture that marries financial success with personal value, yet many hard working people will die of starvation this very day.  It is my opinion that financial education must address the human side of money if it is to make any deep or lasting impact. Not everyone will become a financial expert, but I work hard to both teach and empower people to have a stronger, healthier relationship with money so they can work with all of their resources to create the world they wish to see.

Because we each have a unique personal history, this type of introspection is not easily taught in a classroom or consulting format.  Couples facing bankruptcy in their mid 50’s through debt or business investments that didn’t grow as expected need more than a budgeting course.  Teenagers looking to find their place in the working world need something better than “Spend less than you earn,” to guide them.  I have little confidence in traditional money management classes to create lasting change in people with destructive spending habits.  Those who need it most are usually the least likely to listen.

However, as I have worked with the community over the past 2 years, I have seen teenagers, young adults, business owners, and couples connect deeply with the topics I raise.  The sense I have overwhelmingly received from clients and students is a sense of relief that they can finally talk about money in a way that is relevant to them.

I am especially grateful for the tears that near strangers have shed when speaking about their feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness when dealing with money.  I take care to connect with people where they are at, and empower them to take the next step toward financial freedom by looking deeply into how they got where they are – not just through circumstance, but thought, attitude, and emotion.   I believe that we need to consider the whole person when talking about a financial plan.

I hope that my future studies will serve to put science behind my theories as I test my hunches against the scientific method.  My greatest fear these days is that I’ll find out I’m completely wrong, and I’ll be back at square one.

And who are you – reading this?

Transition


Waxing philosophical in this, the latest snowstorm of a very snowy winter.  I found this quote from Kafka, “Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made.”

I taught a finance seminar last Saturday.  I was expecting nearly 20 people from the number that had emailed me for details and directions.  One problem: There are TWO Corbett Halls on the University of Maine campus.  Corbett, and DP Corbett (the newer one in the School of Business building).  My seminar was in the second one, and only three of the 20 found the room.  I was shaken, but undeterred as I faced these three women who had wandered the campus, found each other and saw they were looking for the same thing, and then walked another quarter of a mile together in the snow to be there.

We sat and had coffee in the classroom together and instead of presenting at the whiteboard, we had a great conversation for 2 ½ hours about how we feel about money and society and who we are, and who we want to be – how we want to be seen vs. how we believe we are seen by others – and how it interacts with our spending habits.  We laughed a lot together, and there were some tears, and expressions of feelings of failure and inadequacy.  It was a true Oprah moment for me as I saw for the first time in my (quasi)professional life that I really can reach people, and help them move forward toward the personal changes they’ve been wanting to make.  All of the fears of failure I was struck with when I resigned myself to the reality of such a small group were gone.  I’d done it.  I’d taught my class to three complete strangers, and they’d walked away moved. Small

They were wonderful women.  A young professional, looking for direction as she branches out into the world to make her mark. A divorcee with two children who has decided to make a statement by leaving a higher paying job for one that meets her personal needs for autonomy and peaceful work relationships.  She faces the stress of coming up short every month, while needing to express herself and live her life in a meaningful way that honors the value of relationships more than the value of money.   The third woman wanted to learn more ways to pass on good financial habits to her nieces and granddaughters so they can take good care of what they have all worked so hard for.

They were each in search of the next step for them – and they wanted to remove the road blocks they saw that were holding them back from their own progress.  Sometimes, the roadblocks we face are external or circumstantial.  Sometimes they have their roots in our perspective, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are – or are not – capable of.  These three women all believed in progress, even if it had not yet been made in their lives.  They walked away more confident that they will reach their goals, and for that I am very, very grateful.

I decided that small groups simply have to be a bigger part of my work.  Presenting a class makes a small impact on a lot of people, but Saturday, I made a big impact on a few people, and it brought with it a very different, and deep sense of satisfaction.  Sigh.

Smile.

Back to Kafka –

“Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made.” And another,

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

And so I’ve seen this month that if I’m going to continue eating out less, I have to embrace the transformation stage.

Transition is the hardest part of childbirth.  As I labored with my daughter, I heard my midwife say to my mother (a mother of four – all naturally, bless her heart) “Transition is the part where your body shifts from the muscles that open to the muscles that push. It can take hours, or it can take 15 minutes, we’ll just see how she does.”  Zoe was born 45 minutes later, in the living room.  It was intense, but because I was surrounded by people who loved me, people I could trust with my life, I could let go and have my baby in peace.  It WAS peaceful in spite of how much it hurt.  That’s the best kind of transition I think we can have.  The kind where we breathe deeply, gather our courage, and move forward through a transformational experience.  Breaking a habit (at least for me) requires that I let go of something I’ve been holding on to.  Doing things by habit is just easier than changing your life.

But the truth is, breaking a habit WILL change your life.  It just has to.  You’re going to have to come up with new things to do when you’re not shopping (or, in my case, when I’m not eating out).

As to progress – we can’t make progress if we don’t have a goal.  Otherwise, it’s not progress, just movement.  Progress is movement toward a goal.  My goal: To save at least $100/ month by eating out less.

January: SUCCESS!

I think we spent less than $100 eating out in the whole first 3 weeks!  We’re slipping, though.  I’m getting lazy about planning my days to include homemade food.  I never did gather my ladies lunch group together.

As far as progress – I need to move my target.  I reached the $100 goal easily by changing my attitude about convenience food.  I’d rather have quality than convenience.  Ok, what now?

I think I need to get a plan for the savings.  Decide on a goal for how to invest that $100 savings each month in a way that’s going to maximize my ability to reach my non-material goals.  That way, when I’m tempted to eat out just because I can, I’ll be more motivated to save the money and invest in my goal instead.  Maybe I’ll put the savings into the publication of the book I’m endlessly editing?  Maybe pay off my car loan sooner?  I think the more I get excited about the goal for the savings, the more stable and lasting this change will be for me…

Enough for now.  Back to watching the snow.

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