Legal pads. If someone were to ask me, “what random thing do you remember most from your childhood?”, my answer would be legal pads.
The sight will forever be etched into my mind of those triple-folded canary-yellow extra-long pages with blue lines and a red margin. These pages, along with a sharpened red pencil, were my mother’s tool of choice for figuring out how to make ends meet every month. And her purse always had at least a few folded pages filled with numbers that were either circled or underlined a few too many times.
Technically speaking, my immigrant parents’ hard work and commitment to professional development proved successful and landed us comfortably into middle/upper-middle class. Unfortunately, it’s not about what you make but what you spend. That’s why those yellow pages stuck around for decades, even as my parents’ incomes increased.
Today, I reflect on my parents’ behaviors, and its effect on me, with two minds. The part of me that graduated with $200,000 of student debt (and narrowly avoided another $150,000 in law school debt) is resentful that they lived beyond their means and didn’t think enough about the future. But the self-aware adult that I’ve become is finally able to understand why it would have been near impossible for them to have done things differently.
Their reason is the same reason why I couldn’t make meaningful changes to my own finances until early 2017. Truth is that even if I knew then what I know now about debt repayment methods, I still would have prioritized moving into my own apartment after college! My emotional and mental states weren’t ready for the rational exercise of evaluating my finances.
More bluntly, I wasn’t happy.
But on the outside, you never would have known. I was a habitual “masked crusader.” It’s a label I slapped on an otherwise depressing state that likely afflicts the majority of the population. We go through life appearing happy, strong, and accomplished but on the inside, we can’t tell up from down and wonder why things can’t just be easier. Is it any surprise why we’re in a constant battle with debt and obesity?
Fortunately, I have found that in addition to “masked crusaders” there are also “kindness lighthouses” and “signal boosters”. The former representing people who, for one reason or another, have been able to let their guard down and seek support. The latter representing people who are genuinely happy at least some of the time and have the all-important added capacity to maintain mindfulness even when the tide changes course.
I believe that a healthy mental and emotional state means being able to flow across all three states of being rather than being firmly lodged in the “masked crusader” camp. Doing so helped me finally pull my head out of the sand and break free from the cognitive bias that behavioral finance experts have dubbed the “Ostrich Effect”.
As a former “ostrich” who put her head in the sand to avoid potentially unpleasant information (AKA don’t move into the city because if you live at home for a little longer you’ll pay more than the minimum on your loan and capitalize on the period of greatest interest savings on your loan) I want you to know I get it. There’s a distinction between knowing what makes financial sense and being prepared to implement it.
That is why I created the concept of Fiscal Happiness. It’s the empathetic understanding that our emotional and financial well-being are intertwined. And you will find elements of both throughout my writing.
I’m not going to tell you the simple steps or the easy path you can take to make things all better. There will be self-evaluation and some simple math involved (gasp!). I also don’t expect you to all of a sudden change your relationship status with money from “it’s complicated” to “married.” Just like with any healthy relationship, it’s a good idea to have self-understanding before you mix up your life with another’s. And I promise you the effort will be worth it.
Understanding who I am and what factors influenced my emotional well-being was essential for illuminating the root cause of my relationship with money and fears about it.
My relationship was defined by the behaviors I observed, my perception of money’s role in life and what it means to “have money”, and the circumstances that drove both the behaviors and perceptions.
Fear is more complicated and can live on multiple levels. Some may worry that they won’t understand their finances or, even if they understand it, that they won’t be able to do anything about it. That wasn’t the case for me, though. Even though I dreaded every finance class I took, it was still my major. No, my fear graduated to the next level: that I would be able to do something about it, but it would be a difficult path.
It wasn’t until the sun shined through the barren trees which lined my path that I was able to trade my ostrich neck for a cunning fox tail and started sniffing around the forest.
And that’s how it all started: with curiosity, a willingness to question common personal finance knowledge, and a burning desire to never have yellow legal pad pages in my purse.
Now it’s your turn. Ask:
1. Are you a Signal Booster, Masked Crusader, or Kindness Lighthouse?
2. What is your relationship with money, and how was it shaped?
3. Do you have a fear about money, and what type?
The troubling way we entered 2021, and what it teaches us about change
Coping mechanisms give us a much needed adrenaline rush, but can lead us down a slippery slope. So, how do we effect…
The (Mis)Perceptions You Have About Yourself
Perception dictates action. It is human nature and it will often influence us regardless of our awareness. So what can…