My Relationship With Money

I started looking for jobs when I was 13. Not because I had to, I wanted to. I'm the youngest of four daughters and by the time I came along my parents were doing pretty well financially.

We had a middle-class lifestyle in the 70s.  Nice cars, decent home, family vacations, a ski boat, tickets to see the Ice Capades, Globe Trotters and Barnum & Bailey Circus every year.

Mother was a devoted and loving mother and wife. Also, a great cook who nurtured us with three delicious homemade meals each and every day. I often came home from school to the smell of fresh baked bread or cookies. She was also a talented seamstress and sewed many of our clothes, dresses and nightgowns.

Daddy was a strong masculine figure in a household full of females. He worked hard to provide for his family. He also loved to play. My love of the water, camping and animals came from him. I grew up with dogs living in the house as valued family members. I remember watching this big strong man tear up and cry whenever we watched television shows with animals who were injured or dying. ("Lassie" and "Where the Red Fern Grows")

Overall, it was a good life. 

I knew better than to go to Daddy for emotional support. In fact, if we got into real trouble we would beg Mother not to tell Daddy when he got home. He was rough around the edges when he was upset. I knew he loved me and I knew I didn’t want him to get angry. Even though he never spanked or hit me, I was afraid of his anger. 

As a young girl, I recall many arguments between my parents that revolved around finances. Mother “you spent all the money, now we are broke before payday” is what I heard Daddy accuse her of. He was consistently surprised about this happening even though it seemed to be a regular occurrence. 

I'm going to pause here and say that each of us have a money story - including me and my parents. We mostly learned about money from our parents, and they from their parents. I'm not going to go into details about my parents childhoods in this story. I know of their childhood experiences and can say they most definitely influenced their adult perceptions around money.

Even as I write this, I am experiencing greater clarity about what influenced me as I witnessed my parents money arguments. Mother crying, Daddy angry, asking for an explanation about where all the money went. I can still picture it. I can see and feel how I began to believe that it was really important to have my own money so I didn’t owe any explanations to someone about how I spent it.

At age 13, I began earning my own money so that I could spend it as I saw fit. Since I've never been much of a saver, I can see how my core motivation in making money - even back then - was to spend it freely!

This was the beginning of my money journey. I associated money with freedom. Freedom from having to ask someone for permission to do what I wanted to do. On a deep level, I still feel this way. That's part of why I like having my own business. But over the years I have seen repeatedly that debt, obligations and bills are all taskmasters that I must answer to – even if I’m not answering to a husband. 

How we see, feel and interpret money is very complex. There are emotional and psychological reasons for how we respond and relate to money.

Take a moment and ask yourself:

  1. How do I relate to money?
  2. What are my money wounds?
  3. Have I given money power to dictate my happiness?

I got married young, had my first baby at 17 and my third by age 20. My husband and I were passionately in love. We were also young and stupid. Without a solid plan or any savings, we plunged ahead into marriage and early parenthood. This wasn’t a strong start to financial stability.

The man I married was very different from my father. One of the key differences was that he never asked me about how I spent money. I, on the other hand, constantly complained about not having enough. Shortly after our fifth child was born, I wrote and self-published a book that sold over 100,000 copies. It was a glorious time while the money was flowing in. However, once it stopped flowing, we were left stunned and depressed about what to do next. At the highpoint of book sales my husband quit his job. It was great having him home to help with the children and the business. But once the sales started to dry up, it changed our relationship.

My response to a problem was to talk, talk, talk (and not always calmly). My husband’s response was to shut down. It felt like we were at an impasse. I realize looking back that one of his money wounds was not believing in himself. He didn’t believe he could ever make as much money as we had with that book. 

Our marriage ended in divorce after 16 years. Our youngest child was only 2 at the time and our oldest was 15. I had custody of the children. He took them every other weekend. I was determined to make it on my own. I got a job managing a craft store making $12/hr. With that and the $1000 in child support each month it wasn’t enough to meet all of our needs. Five growing children constantly needing new shoes, coats, money for sports and lessons – it was ongoing. I was always looking for additional ways to make money. It seemed like my best chance was in sales or through my own business. It wasn’t easy but somehow we made it through.

Between 1995 when we were divorced and today, February 13, 2021, my financial life has been a roller coaster. Constant ups and downs. I would start making a good amount of money only to experience a shift back to barely getting by. Honestly that roller coaster is my money story. And I’m ready to stop the amusement ride and get off.

I’m not sharing this story with you now because I have a magic formula for financial success. On the contrary, I’ve tried so many things that haven’t worked. And many of them I’ve done repeatedly. That’s the advantage of living decades, you begin to see the repeating behavior patterns. 

It doesn’t do any good for me to blame anyone or any circumstance. The best thing for me to do is honestly assess my own choices and humanness. And to look through eyes of love and compassion. This can be difficult when I see all of my faults and missteps. The key is to see it as a journey. There is wisdom in the journey when we are willing to see it.

If I were to die tomorrow, and be shown my life highlights in review, I would see two major pitfalls or stumbling blocks throughout my life. One of them is how I’ve related to money and how I’ve allowed my worries and thoughts about it to consume my thoughts and steal my joy. 

I can see that for much of my adult life I’ve been motivated by the fear of being unsuccessful. This motivation is to avoid the shame of being seen as a failure. When I married as a young teenager, people told me that I could never be successful and achieve my dreams if I chose to go forward and wed at such a young age. This stayed with me and caused me to want to have the ‘appearance’ of success even when it wasn’t true. This often-meant spending money I didn’t have. I’ve been so determined to do things my way. Even when it’s been detrimental. 

The good news is I’m still here and I’m still learning. There are many more details I could share about my money story but the main idea I hope you take a way from this is that money is a big part of our life story. I realize that money is only paper or digits in a computer. But we assign meaning to it. As a society we link money to success. I've bought into that point of view hook, line and sinker. I've had to look deep within myself to realize that my most worthwhile traits are not associated with money. There are other indicators of success. Indicators that are lasting - not fleeting and temporary. Indicators like love, forgiveness, kindness, charity. What of those things? The impact of a kind word, a smile, a charitable deed, a forgiving heart, LOVE. These hold much greater value than money. They all have a ripple effect that continues accruing meaningful and satisfying experiences. Where we place value is either strengthening or weakening family, relationships and our society.

I’ve taken several classes about money blocks and nothing has given me as much insight and awareness as me writing about my personal story with money.

In my essential writing course there is an entire section on money with many questions to guide and direct you through your money journey. I hope that sharing my journey has been helpful in some way - even for you to see parts of your journey you haven’t before. 

Whatever we hide controls us, even when we refuse to see it. The more we can know and understand ourselves, the more we can choose to love all the parts of us. Especially those parts that we've been hiding in shame or guilt. I've experienced this personally. The less afraid I am to be seen and share details of my own story, the more free I become to embrace all of me.

~ Michele Brown

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