Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Scribblings #25 - Money

"Knowledge is like money: the more (s)he gets, the more (s)he craves."
Henry Wheeler Shaw


I hate thinking about it.
I wonder why I have such anxiety when it comes to cash.
The discomfort runs so deep that I take a flight or fight approach to money.
That means that usually I just avoid thinking about it, and end up not fully considering my financial options.

On the one hand, I'm super frugal. I buy all my clothes second-hand, and ride my bicycle everywhere I go to avoid paying for gas and car maintenance. I do my grocery shopping at a discount supermarket called "No Frills", get free haircuts by being a hair model at Vidal Sasson, don't buy fancy gadgets or electronics and skimp on any unnecessary expenses.
But whenever I need to make a major purchase, I freeze.

I crawl out of my skin with impatience at the idea of having to think about parting with lots of money.
My strategy? To make impulse purchases. To just buy the first thing I see, without doing any price comparisons. Yes, it's an awesome way to get taken, I'm fully aware. At least I'm aware. Awareness is the first step towards change, correct?
My lack of research drives my husband crazy, so often he takes over and does the "paralysis by analysis" thing by obsessing over the "best" price (yes, he has his own money-related issues, easily summed up as 'net worth = self worth'). I haven't quite gotten to the heart of my own financial neuroses yet. Funny how it's easier to sort out other people's problems than your own....

Money was always quite a secretive topic when I was growing up.
We used to get these boxes of envelopes at church. You had to look on a table full of boxes for the one with your name and number on it. Each week we were to bring one of those 52 envelopes with us to church, sealed with our "offering" inside. I think the church kept a record of how much cash you dropped. The more dollars and cents that were in that envelope, the closer you were to heaven. It was a kind of money-buys-godliness type of a deal. Yet it wasn't ok to talk about how much you were giving with anyone else. These were private matters. Between you, the financial secretary, and God.

I used to wonder how much money my mom made at work. It really couldn't have been much - she worked for the Salvation Army as a Social Worker. I would ask her occasionally, and her response didn't change. "That's personal", she would say.
Ok, so that reinforced that money was not to be discussed. The secrecy linked money with a certain evil. If it wasn't ok to talk about, then perhaps it was a bad thing?! And yet, if it was such a bad thing, then how come it was linked with such saintly-ness in the church? I still feel like that 6 year old asking about money and then feeling like a sinner for doing so. My little brain is not able to sort that message out quite yet.

I'm also reminded of the concept of "self-denial". There was a certain time of year, I think maybe each spring, where we were to deny ourselves of things so that we could raise more cash for the church. The envelopes were not enough during this particular campaign. In addition to regular giving, we were encouraged to renounce some other worldly thing so that we could beef up someone's bank account. Well, that's how it felt. It really was forced giving. I didn't have a choice. I didn't get to say, "yeah, this is a good idea". I can remember questioning this, even at such a young age. Nonetheless, I was shamed and peer-pressured into it because it became a contest. Funny how that early life lesson somehow instilled a sense of lack of entitlement. It seemed I interpreted this process of actively witholding pleasure as a sort of punishment for being happy. That I should deny myself of self compassion. I'm not suggesting this was what the church said to me. My innocent and impressionable mind just felt that way about it.

I can remember times when I was quite fixed and rigid about my bank account. It was when I was doing my undergraduate degree. I was working part time for a bank, and my bi-weekly paycheck was $300 and change (wow, I don't think I make that much money now!!!). I diligently split those earning in thirds; saving in my RSP, saving in a mutual fund account, and allowing for some spending money. Those were very calculated ways. I wonder where those habits went?

Remember allowances? My allowance seemed to be a tool for reward or punishment. Be good, and you'll get $, be bad, and it will be with-held as punishment. Complaining too much bought me total financial autonomy at a certain age. When I was about 12, I became quite fussy about my clothing. Fed up, my mom gave us our "baby bonus" (a dependent's stipend offered by the Canadian Government back in the 70s & 80s), and had us buy our own clothes. I still remember that $33.33 being carefully spent at the end of each month on things like Jordache Jeans, Polo Shirts, Beaver Canoe sweatshirts and boat shoes.

I've been witness to the dissolution of relationships because of it. The legal system exists because of it. It drives a lot of people. It makes people suffer, it can be addictive, and it can weigh your wallet down.
I'm not a big fan, but I don't much have a choice.
I can't pay for my Jet Fuel lattes or my bike tune-ups or my oatmeal 'n bananas without it.

p.s. Buy nothing Day is November 23, 2007


  1. Excellent post. I buy all my clothes second hand too! I guess I'm pretty frugal and big purchases scare me, but I really try to be sensible about researching prices before making a big purchase. Then the ethical aspects come in so its not just about money but about 'is this fair trade?' 'is this organic?'

    Thanks for the reminder for Buy Nothing Day.

  2. I will remember Nov 23!

    I like your post. Vey true and reflective!