money

Ignorance is Bliss, My Blog Makes Me Face the Nightmare

Oh hello, you may remember me as the person who said she was going to keep this blog.

Here I am again.

Why haven’t I been here in a while? It’s here I have to face reality.

Why have I slacked on using YNAB? It’s there I have to face reality.

Why do I keep wasting time on Instagram? In there, I don’t have to face reality.

 

Oh Pauli P, you’re up to your old shit again my dear.

 

We had this problem growing up in my house. We’d set up a system, a chore chart, usually, and we’d say, this is what we’re going to do. And then… we would not do it.

I’ve always wanted to become the kind of person who did the things she said she was going to do.

In a large part, I have. I graduated college, I completed two years in Peace Corps, I finished my book. I’m going at doing the things I say I will do.

I’m still bad, however, at not doing the things I say I’m not going to do. Kelly McGonigal calls this “I Won’t Power” in her great book The Willpower Instinct. This year, I said I won’t spend the money that should go in my Fuck Off Funds.

And that, my friends, is going terribly. On paper.

Here’s what paper says:

  • I’m now almost $8,000 in debt from not saving for my taxes, and having to do a business loan, which is a fancy way to say I had to borrow money from my mom.
  • I’m back to my regular penpal, those little NSF slips

Here’s what my heart (or my denial) says:

  • This is a building year, building my reputation, my network, and my “brand”
  • I wrote an entire book, two years of work, for a take-home pay of about $5,000, so no shit I’m broke.

 

Here’s what my inner hard ass says:

  • Are you fucking kidding me? Quit spending money you don’t have. You are poor-ish. Act like it.
  • You could be working harder and spending less. But you’re not
  • Shut the fuck up.
  • What the fuck is wrong with you?
  • You’re a spoiled little shit.

Well that’s not very nice. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. Either way, the truth is that right now, I’m failing to make it as a freelance writer business.

Knowing you’re failing is good. You can change course.

Things I did today:

  • Redesigned my Excel spreadsheet with a fully separate personal and business financial section
  • Upgraded from Excel 2011 to 2016 to get the latest tools
  • Did a “fresh start” in YNAB
  • Signed up for Quickbooks
  • Wrote this blog post
  • Made these scary charts:

 

 

January Wrap Up: What We Learned This Month

In January I worked with Amanda Clayman, financial therapist, to figure out what the fuck is wrong with me. Here’s what she had me do, and what you can do:

Unearth Your Money Story.

I talked to my mom and aunts and uncles. I unearthed an old recording of my mom interviewing my grandpa about his life. I found out my great grandpa only saw the sun on – twist the knife – Sunday. He woke up before sunrise, walked four miles to the coal mines, worked until after sunset, then walked home. Somewhere in there, he did the farm work.
My great grandmother on my dad’s side left Russia for the United States at 16 with her sisters, and with her mom running after the train, which is the last time they ever saw each other.
The angle at which I saw my life shifted. Each generation worked their ass off in ways I will never even begin to comprehend to give the next generation a better life, and the next, and now here I am, a writer, with no need to ever feel desperation, given the gifts I’ve received from 100 years back. So why do I keep making myself feel desperate?

Examine Your Self-Talk

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of yelling at myself when I fuck up. I’ve successfully added to this positive self-talk, more of a “Come on buddy, let’s just get to work, you’ll be fine.” But then I slip back into my other nickname for myself, bitch. “Bitch you knew you could not afford that lunch out with your friends, why did you go?”
Amanda told me to bring it in, to watch out for those times when you split into the “you,” as if you’re yelling at another person. She says that’s just another way to avoid solving the problem, to which I get a huge, mom-watching-Oprah style HMMMM.

She provided the following guidelines on identifying and managing your moods with money:

Identifying and Managing Moods:

Situation
  • Describe the situation in detail.
  • Specify emotion(s) in this situation, such as sad, angry, afraid, helpless, etc. Rate degree of emotion 1-10.
  • Identify and describe relevant historical information pertaining to self-defeating thoughts.
Self-Defeating Thoughts
  • Record thought(s) that occurred prior, during, and after the situation. Rate belief in thought 1-10.
  • Identify self-defeating underlying belief that generates self-defeating thought.
Styles of Thinking
  • Analyze distortion present in self-defeating thought.
Balanced View / Constructive Action
  • Write realistic, not ideal, response to self-defeating thought.
  • Identify new constructive or realistic underlying belief that is an alternative to the self-defeating underlying belief.
  • Choose appropriate action, such as calming counts, gathering more evidence, replace self-defeating thought with realistic thought, consider ways to handle or manage the situation differently, etc.

Quantify What You Want

I feel general panic about never being able to get a house, wanting to retire, this hole in the only pair of jeans that I can breathe in. So Amanda encouraged me to actually quantify how much I need to do what. I made a Pinterest board, and it was quite fun, actually, to look at it all. I made a list of what I want soon, within a few years, and someday. I also made a section of things I want and I already have.

Set up a Time to Review, Predict, and Plan

Set up a recurring, weekly time to sit down and look over the last week, predict how much you’ll need, and make a plan to get where you want to be. I started slacking on my monthly money check-ins, but I’m going to re-instate those.

Here’s my checklist, as a freelancer, but you can adjust it to your needs:

Review:
  • Earned last week:
  • Saved last week:
  • Personal Checking Balance: $0
  • Business Checking Balance: $3
  • Fuck Off Fund Level:
  • Weekly wins:
Predict:
  • Look at all bills due this week
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB)
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money.
Plan:
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account

The best part is, Amanda says I get to pair it with something fun. So maybe I get a Monday morning café hangout.

After talking about all this, Amanda asked me: You know what the fuck is wrong with you? Nothing.

We just have to keep moving forward.

So, to recap, first steps:

  • Find out your family money story
  • Examine Your Self Talk
  • Quantify what you want
  • Set up a weekly date to Review, Predict, Plan

 

Podcast episodes from this month:

Jeri Can We Talk About Money

Mom And Sis Can We Talk About Money

Amanda Clayman, Can We Talk About Money?

Mom Can We Talk Family Money History

Mom Talks To Grandpa About Money

Aunt Janice, Can We Talk About Money

Uncle Jon, Can We Talk About Money?

Amanda, Can We Talk About Why I Call Myself A Bitch (Second Session)

Amanda Can We Talk About Maximizing (Third Session)

Amanda, Can We Talk About Keeping Myself Accountable (4th Session)

Amanda, Did We Figure Out What The Fuck Is Wrong With Me (5th Session)

Recovery Assignment: Make Your Own Financial Money Tree

Where did your money story come from?

Your attitudes, habits, and beliefs about money didn’t just pop into your head magically. They’re heavily influenced by the events your family experienced both in your lifetime and before. For example, my grandma, who couldn’t drive to town during the Depression because no one had a quarter for gas, was always telling me to just use a dime-sized dollop of shampoo.

Amanda suggests drawing what’s called a Financial Genogram. This is a visual representation of your family history with money. You’ll be listing out your family members, showing their relationships, and writing about anything that happened to them regarding money to better understand where you come from.

When you have the family structure in place, write a few words about their attitudes and experiences with money in the space provided. You might include details on how they earned a living, their lifestyles, and any significant events (e.g., job loss, inheritance, medical issue) that had a major impact on their financial life.

The following questions are provided courtesy of Amanda Clayman:

Journal Questions

Questions about People:

For each person in the financial genogram answer:

  • What was happening in the world around him/her?
  • When and where did s/he live?
  • What type of work did s/he do?
  • What was his/her lifestyle like?
  • What do you remember him/her saying about money?
  • What significant financial events happened to him/her?
  • What was his/her attitude about earning, spending, managing, saving, and investing money?
  • What were his/her goals? Did s/he attain them?

Questions about Relationships:

For each family grouping answer:

  • How did money play a part in showing love or approval between family members? How was it used to punish or exclude?
  • Who was in agreement about money? Who argued or fought?

Questions about Family Culture:

  • What was your family’s attitude about money?
  • What kinds of financial behavior were admired?
  • What were you not supposed to do or talk about in terms of money?
  • What was seen as more valuable than money (e.g., education, art, passion)?
  • Is there a particular story about the family’s financial history?

Questions about You:

  • What’s your earliest memory of money?
  • When did you have your first job?
  • What were you expected to do with your income? Did you do that?
  • What were you taught about money?
  • Did you understand and agree with how your parents approached money?
  • Did you feel frustrated with your parents for their financial circumstances or choices?
  • Were you and your siblings treated equally and taught the same things about money?

 

Here are some things I found out about me and my family:

What was your family’s attitude about money?

It was a facilitator of fun. There would always be more where that came from, and we were doing well. Until we weren’t.

What kinds of financial behavior were admired?

“Doing it up,” buying big shiny things, earning good money.

What were you not supposed to do or talk about in terms of money?

We didn’t talk about the fact that we were going bankrupt in the year of it happening. That made it all the more frightening.

What was seen as more valuable than money (e.g., education, art, passion)?

The love we had as a family. I never doubted that I was loved. My mom used to always say, “We rich in love, right honey?”

Is there a particular story about the family’s financial history?

We were living high until the sandcastle came tumbling down, and it took us almost a decade to dig ourselves out of the mess.

What’s your earliest memory of money?

My dad letting me keep the change at restaurants. Ooh, or passing the tithing basket in church. The pile of cash and checks held by my tiny hands for just a moment.

When did you have your first job?

I started working at an ice cream store with a few of my best friends when I was still 14. We made minimum wage and our creepy old boss complained that he would pay us less if he were legally able to. Maybe he was right, considering how much ice cream I helped myself to.

What were you expected to do with your income? Did you do that?

By the time I was making any money, I was so desperate to just have some spending money of my own. No one talked to me about saving it. I lived paycheck to paycheck, because I was a teenager.

What were you taught about money?

Once we went bankrupt, my mom would call me over to see the outrageous interest rates on the credit card offers we were sent.

Did you understand and agree with how your parents approached money?

We all realize we weren’t living right.

Did you feel frustrated with your parents for their financial circumstances or choices?

I did at the time, but I’ve fully forgiven my parents for the mistakes they made. My mom has since done a lot of work to get to a better place.

Were you and your siblings treated equally and taught the same things about money?

I think my dad was a wee sexist and favored my brother a bit. But also, I was a daddy’s girl, and in high school, I could pry a twenty from his wallet with just a smile.

 

Why Do We Need To Talk About Fuck Off Funds…Again?

Life Since The Fuck Off Fund Became a Thing

I was sitting in my cubicle the day one of my stories, written as part of an exchange with another writing friend who was also in a slump, got published. In the web browser screens hidden behind the proposal for an environmental engineering company I was writing, I saw on Facebook that a few local writers I respect had reposted it. Around 9 a.m., when Jezebel posted a story about my story, I whipped around and looked at the office, as if someone were playing a trick on me.  

Cue everything I’d been working toward for years and years and years: Getting enough freelancing writing work to quit my job. Offers to write for The New York Times and Marie Claire and Cosmo. An agent who wanted me to write a proposal for a “financial memoir.” A publisher who wanted to make my writer’s course a book.

Then some big life changes. New Year’s Eve of 2016 was the last night I spent in the apartment I’d shared for five years, and then I went out on my own. It was more conscious uncoupling than Fuck Off. Also, deaths in the family, over the last few years, in quick succession: my mom’s mom, my mom’s younger brother, my mom’s dad, my mom’s older brother. Then, a man who bragged about groping women’s p-words, they way I learned we could be groped at a concert when I was 15, became the president. All around me, structures collapsed, floors I thought were solid gave way. 

I still had my Fuck Off Fund. My uncle who’d been the traveler and hippie left me $6,000 after his death. My grandpa, the hard worker and saver, left me a gift of $10,000. With all my work finally online and no apartment lease, I decided to take the trip I’d promised myself while in Peace Corps and struggling through the mental crucible that was learning to speak in Spanish: three months through South America, ending with the visit I’d promised my host mom. I would be one of those digital nomads in the shiny photos, easy. 

I zoomed out to all of the continent on AirBnb, and asked where I could stay for $20 a night. I found a spot in the hills of Colombia I’d ridden through on a bus from Bogota to Medellin seven years before while kind of looking for work teaching English, and I reserved a month in a house with a backyard where I could work through a first draft of my book. I would earn US wages and live on South American prices. I would spend what my uncle left me on the plane tickets, the way he would have wanted me to, and save the money my grandpa left me for a down payment on a house, the way he would have wanted me to. I would earn my keep as I traveled. My Fuck Off Fund, of course, would not be touched.

The trip worked out beautifully, at least in the photos. I flew to DC to march on January 20th, then headed down to Colombia. I got my first draft of my book done in that backyard and walked two hours a night to train for Machu Picchu.

I got my mom down to Ecuador, to hear her laugh while boogie boarding in the waves of the Pacific. I got my most scared friend down to a bamboo house where she had a bilingual love affair in which I got to play wingman and interpreter. I wrote a 4,000-word review of eye makeup removers, I rode the salt flats of Bolivia with a group of Italians. I wrote personal finance content marketing, I galloped on a horse again. I interviewed experts on children and technology over Skype (roosters crowing in the background), I learned a little Quechua. After 7 years, I just showed up at my host mom’s house in Paraguay, which is one of the best things I’ve gotten to do for anyone.

In short, it was the year I became this woman, and this woman is the only woman I’ve ever dreamed of becoming:

But…

But the money was going out faster than it was coming in. This is something I thought I could cure myself of, various ways. I thought Peace Corps would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I would truly understand my privilege. I thought being The Fuck Off Fund Chick would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I had so publicly stood for something I thought was so important. I thought setting up a system of passive income, tracking my spending on Mint, living for a while in South America. But no, I still was not cured of the thing that has followed me my entire life: I am bad with money. Bad doesn’t cover it, but we’ll get to that. 

On my way home, one of my clients paid for me to come to a credit union conference in New York, where I hung out with the brilliant personal finance writers and businesspeople I’d gotten to know through the Fuck Off Fund: Jane Barratt, Kristin Wong, Erin Lowry, Stefanie O’Connell and more. Standing in the lobby of Ellevest, Sallie Fucking Krawcheck, who once got a severance package worth $6 million, said, “Todd! Todd! Do you know who this is? This is the Fuck Off Fund Girl!”

Being bad with money had landed me here, among the money geniuses, dancing with a man in a tree costume at Tavern on the Green, with Bolivian dog bites on my ankles not yet fully healed. 

Life was hysterical.

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Then back to Seattle, where I would live as a single, freelance writer for the first time. And where I found a $650 flight to Italy, to visit the Italians I’d met, and just booked it, laying in my friend’s fold-out couch where I was staying while looking for a place. Because: impulse control issues. I hadn’t yet touched my Fuck Off Fund, and I was sure that I’d be able to pick up work and get back into regular life in one smooth sail. 

A long-time follower of the tiny house movement, I found a tiny place two blocks from my old apartment in Capitol Hill. Literally 150 sq feet, a 10’ cube with a galley kitchen and a shared bathroom. And here, May 22, is when I first breached my Fuck Off Fund. $2,000 for the first and last. Then $1,000 again on May 29, a fold-out couch from IKEA. Then May 31, June 5, 11, 29, $1,000 more, $500 more, $500 more. Patches stretched over the gaps in my spending. That juggle of dollars and time. 

I would stop soon, of course, because I was the Fuck Off Fund Woman. I would put it back real soon.

Only I didn’t. Only the opposite. A patch here. A patch there.

Meanwhile, my “financial memoir” didn’t sell. “Publishers wanted a prescriptive book,” my agent told me. Which was laughable. I’m a writer who’s bad with money. I can’t tell you what to do. I just now happened to know a lot of people who could. Guys, I never meant to become someone people mistook for a personal finance expert. I only wrote about my own weaknesses, and people mistook them for my strengths. 

Back and back I retreated to old ways. Complaining to mom about money, and her saying, “Do you want to use my credit card to pay for your insurance this month? You can pay me back.” Because it wasn’t “borrowing money,” but instead the cozy euphemism “using my credit card,” I did it, and then I somehow owed my mom $2,000 again. So that $2,000 I had left in my Fuck Off Fund wasn’t real.

It is shockingly clear to me that I will spend whatever money I get my hands on, no matter how much that amount is. Because something is wrong with me, something I haven’t been able to fix by living in country where people live on so much less, something I haven’t even been able to fix by getting 15 minutes of fame for being the woman who inspired a million other women to practice financial self-defense, something I’m scared will lead to serious fucking ruin, the kind my family knew when I was a kid, if I don’t do something serious. The kind I would never want to repeat if I had kids of my own. The kind I fear will land me as the one in every six women 65+ living alone and living in poverty.

In some ways, it was the best year of my life. I think the loss of financial power was masked by how much I grew powerful in other ways. Suddenly I had a voice, I had many options for work, I had a bit more confidence with each country I traveled through alone. If you could graph these happiness, aliveness, and gratitude, they were off the charts. But they don’t pay the bills.

So Welcome to This Blog

I have a new idea for a book, which we’ll start at a blog. We’ll be writing something prescriptive, here, but I’m not the one who’s going to do the prescribing. I’ve asked my financial friends to help me get to the bottom of being bad with money, to talk about saving myself, and to help me rebuild a fuck off fund of $10,000 over 2018

Because what I realized is that I’ve never saved a Fuck Off Fund, little by little. I got out of debt little by little, paid off $20,000 with a job at a tech company. But the Fuck Off Fund I had at the beginning of this year I had earned in a chunk, and I put that chunk away. I didn’t touch it back then, because life was easier back then. I lived the DINK lifestyle for a while, then worked on my art with a supportive partner. Now I’m freelance writing, living in the city, on my own, needing to make choices day-by-day about putting my financial security ahead of the lattes, the lunches out, the new dresses. I’m back here again. Fall down a million times, stand up a million and one.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” said Tonya Rapley, of My Fab Finance at the Lola conference on women and money. “You just have to be committed.”

In the lobby at that conference, while I stood waiting to get breakfast with Kristen, author of the forthcoming Get Money, I went to get money out of the ATM and found my balance: -$200.

Oh life. 

Me with my money ladies at Lola

The thing is, I’m right in the life I’ve always wanted, freelancing, traveling, and writing, and if I don’t do something drastic, I’m going to lose it.

Plus, we should mention the fact that 2017 became the year of the #metoo, the year we were all reminded of the need to keep ourselves as powerful as possible.

So here I am, naked financial fuck up, committed again to being the one practicing financial self-defense, to getting up, to forgiving myself even when I’m so far from perfect there should be a name for whatever I am, something with money that feels like an alcoholic is with gin.

Are you like this, too?

If so, see you January 1st.