This Might Be Working

Audio: This Might Be Working

This coming out of the closet about money might be helping me. Here’s why I think so.

I have two core fears that motivate much of my behavior around money (and maybe other things, too).

I’m afraid I will end up like my father, smart and broke.

And also,

I’m afraid I will end up like my mother, wealthy but living as if I am impoverished.

My mother buys all her clothes from the thrift store. If she spends $3 on a sweater, that’s a lot.

My father blew through the inheritances from his mother and father and brother. When he ran out of money, he asked my mother if she would give him back the $100,000 he gave her when they divorced twenty-five years earlier.

The solution for me might be (this is new for me, so I am testing it out) to accept that both these people live in my head. They both chatter their fears whenever I get close to money.

Instead of attempting to banish them from my brain, I can acknowledge they are here. Then, with that awareness, I can choose a different alternative.

Since I was able to retire at sixty-two, I am, so far, not going the way of my father. But I am also—still!—petrified of becoming a bag lady, living under a bridge, and craving a hot shower.

If I face this fabricated reality of mine in a way that takes away some of the melodrama, I imagine a man on my left shoulder, ringing bells (there is a story about the bells which my mother can tell you), tossing money into the air, saying, ‘Spend it! You don’t deserve to have it! It’s all a crapshoot!’

On my right shoulder is a woman curled forward, guarding the dime she grasps in her fist, saying, ‘Save it! You don’t deserve to have it! Life is scary and money is the only defense!’

Acknowledging these two figures, both acting from their fears, both wanting to protect me with their advice, allows me some space to look for a different path. I can check in with my heart and my mind and my gut and decide what I want to do. I can quiet the din to hear my own voice.

For example.

I have been managing my allowance since I was 10, my earnings since I was 13, and my investments since I was 25.

My dad tried to teach me how to pick stocks and time the market. For the average investor, this is a recipe for bankruptcy. Exhibit A: my father.

My mother followed Uncle Emil’s approach to wealth: don’t touch what you are given and live well beneath your means so you can add to it. Do this for decades.

I’ve been struggling to manage my investments. I allocate my assets but then hesitate to rebalance, because who wants to sell something that’s going up to buy something that’s going down? And ‘tax loss harvesting’ is a mystery.

I feel insufficient and overwhelmed.

Dad would have told me to keep managing it myself and spend six hours a day doing it, if that’s what it took. That’s what he did.

Mom would have said to leave everything where it is and slash my expenses. That’s what she did.

If I delegate managing my investments, the fees will reduce their value. (This document from the SEC has two great charts that show the impact of fees.)

But if I don’t rebalance and tax loss harvest, if I cannot robotically execute decisions about my investments, they won’t grow as they might and could shrink.

Last December, I talked with the financial advisor who knows me. She asked, “How long do you want to keep managing your money?” I told her I didn’t know.

Today I reached out to her. I told her I wanted her help and the support of her firm.

This decision would disappoint my father and my mother.

But it’s right for me.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Close up of a white orchid with hints of lime green and pink
Thankful for “this is beautiful” from Dr. Heiden as she deftly ran the ultrasound over my neck. Those are the same words she used last year and the year before that and the year before that and I will never tire of hearing them.

2 thoughts on “This Might Be Working”

  1. Your “coming out of the closet about money” has helped more than just you. It has prodded me to look at not just my view about money, but about how our backgrounds influence some decisions we make, don’t make, or run from. Thank you.

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