*Guest post: I’m lucky to have readers with some legit writing chops. Today I’m happy to share a guest post from one such reader, Ann, who talks about the one thing she didn’t have growing up. I might not have had lunches lovingly packed by mom when I was little, but I always felt I was capable of doing things by myself–whether it was learning how to ride a bike or filling out forms for college. And after reading Ann’s story, I feel reminded how fortunate I was to grow up with that sense of self. If you’ve ever felt scared to talk about money, because of taboo or shame or whatever, then this post is for you. – Luxe*
Luxe’s post on the one thing she wished she had growing up hit me like a punch in the stomach. I somehow had the insane fortune to never want for anything as a child. Unlike Luxe, I had the fancy lunch box (a purple L.L.Bean one that matched my backpack). I had my mom who packed it lovingly and had both the time and the luxury to pick me up every day from school. She and my dad sent my two siblings and me out into the world every morning with constant reminders that we were well-fed and well-loved. Always. With one short post, Luxe had me thinking about what I wish I had growing up, and the list is wonderfully short in terms of material things. But the one thing I’ve now realized was missing?
I was so taken care of that when it came to taking care of myself, I usually failed miserably.
Despite growing up with my incredibly strong family who told me daily how much I was loved, I never had the confidence I needed to truly thrive on my own, away from the security and safety of that kind of support system. It’s taken me far too long to learn that confidence isn’t something you’re born with or given; it’s something you have to learn and practice day after day. This lack of confidence has shown up the most in my financial life. I’ve always felt ashamed to talk about money—not because I was taught to be ashamed but because money can naturally feel pretty shameful and dark. But it doesn’t have to be. Over the last few years, I’ve taken ownership over my money in a way that feels good and right and deeply personal to me.
This is the story of how I started—and how anyone else can.
I moved to New York City when I was 24. I had gone to college in my hometown of Charleston, SC, and I knew if I didn’t leave then, I probably never would. I had a job that sounded fancy and glamorous that in reality was paying me $35,000 per year—meaning my parents were transferring most of my astronomical rent into my bank account each month. I knew I owed it to them and to myself to do better. I started learning a lot of things about myself in New York (barely any of them flattering), and I started confronting the things I didn’t necessarily like about myself. That first year, after meeting a string of boys who made me feel less than (and one in particular who told me he could no longer be my crutch in NYC), I fell in love with someone who was wildly independent and curious, and I envied him for that.
So, if you’re here and wondering how I learned to talk about money, I started simply by talking. Quietly. To my boyfriend, who encouraged me to talk more. Who very annoyingly (or very amazingly, I can’t quite tell yet) believes in teaching me to fish and now refuses to answer any more personal finance questions until I’ve read that hundredth article he sent me on the benefits of an HSA. (Spoiler alert: I’ve had one for two years, and I still have no idea what it really is or how to use it.)
I learned how to be curious in an excruciatingly slow fashion that made me feel like I was running in place most of the time, lagging behind others my age who were lapping me in terms of salary and wherewithal. So I learned how to use the free resources available to me. With my boyfriend’s help, I opened a Vanguard account and started living on significantly less of my paycheck so that I could reach my savings goals, and I’m now saving 45% of my paycheck. I learned what a podcast was (far too late in the game), and I got hooked to say the least. I listened to So Money, Afford Anything, and Honest Money Conversations, and I found people online whose money stories resonated with me. I started reaching out to strangers on the internet, like Luxe, and I found this community of people who supported me, either directly or indirectly, and inspired me over and over again to be better.
Once I got a little more confident, I talked to my dad, who has always been my model of financial stability. He was the one who taught me to always pay with cash. To never rack up consumer debt. To work hard and keep my head down. To always have an emergency fund. But even with all of his support, I never once thought to ask him about his own money story—mostly because I didn’t know that I could. In his tried-and-true fashion, he never skipped a beat. He answered every question I threw at him: how he bought the house I grew up in, how much he paid for it, when he started his 401k, how he feels now that he’s semi-retired, and what in the world I should teach my future children about money.
Once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. I became that friend you probably didn’t want to go to dinner with because of my incessant questions. I asked my friends how they were affording NYC rent or how they went about asking for that raise. I started declining things I couldn’t afford, and I tried to be honest about why I wasn’t going. I told my friends my financial goals so they could hold me accountable. I taught myself how to be fearless when I didn’t want to be. I asked for raises at work and began going after what I wanted and needed. All of these questions eventually led home, and I started asking myself the truly hard stuff. Whether I was okay with not making enough money to survive and accepting entirely too much help from my parents. Where I saw my career going. What steps I would take to get there.
Choosing to prioritize my financial health had a domino effect. Four short years later, I’m 28 now and living in San Francisco, 3,000 miles away from my family, and although I’ve never been this homesick in my life, I’ve also never felt this sure of myself. I’m prioritizing my mental and physical health more than I ever have. I’m learning fun facts like if I spring for the slightly more expensive health insurance, therapy will be wildly cheaper. I’m signing up for classes and forcing myself to try new things and make new friends. I’ve started running again. I joined a book club. I’m (half-heartedly) learning how to cook. And I’m learning to have faith in myself that I can pay my own bills and somehow thrive in this painfully expensive city.
As you start asking yourself about your money story, keep in mind that all you have to do is start. Start by talking, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you or the other person. Whether that person is your therapist, your parent, your partner, or your friend, you just have to make the first step. Get curious. Check out books from the library. Ask the questions that everyone seems to know but you. (Like what in the world is an HSA. Not asking for a friend. Asking for me.) Listen to the people you love. Listen to podcasts. Talk to strangers. Talk to your HR department. Absorb everything you can, from anyone and everyone who will give you the time of day. And most importantly, know that nobody can be your crutch like you can.
How did you or will you start talking about money?
Ann is a writer based in San Francisco. You can connect with her on Instagram @anndesaussure.
Feature Image: Unsplash