Money Come Money Go
You can literally stand in front of her, waving a fist full of hundos, saying ‘I’ll buy you whatever you want’, and she’ll stand there panic stricken like you’re waving a dead rat in her face.” James bursts into laughter over his eggs benedict and I shoot him some side eye at this unflattering and entirely accurate description of myself.
“I’m just not a great shopper, ok? Sheesh Papa Fat Stacks.” I screw up my mouth and concentrate on pushing the French toast around my plate to soak up the optimal amount of syrup.
Not a great shopper is an understatement. More like I’m a terrible shopper. You send me to the grocery store without a plan and I return home proudly packing a scented candle and an IPA with a name I found funny. Dinner be damned. You take me clothes shopping and I’ll ho and hum over a white t-shirt wondering if I’m really getting the best deal, if it’s good quality, if I actually need it, how great the need is on a scale of 1 to 5, what other inventory of stores may provide a white t-shirt, the cost benefit analysis of said shirt… until I either give in and guiltily stare at the bag for the rest of the evening, or walk out feeling like I just escaped a shotgun wedding.
James might as well be in a Lil Wayne music video instead of Revolvr Clothing. He is MAKING IT RAIN people. No shirt is out of question if he likes it enough. Never mind he has five of nearly the exact same Scotch and Soda tee, this one is new. N.E.W. And he’s going to buy it. And the shorts that match. Hey, let’s get two. And why don’t you go ahead and throw in those shades?
I suppose you expect me to tell you that James is being irresponsible and you need to carefully consider each and every purchase like me. But the truth is I’m envious of his abandon and pure joy when it comes to spending. I wish I could be more like him. Even when I dryly point out that his $400 NRS River Wing is in fact a glorified tarp with sticks, he fails to feel disappointed with the purchase. He’s pleased as Kim Jong Un on a fish-pickling tour with his $400 tarp. So why do I have to be Scrooge McDuck and he gets to be the fun guy? Why do we behave as we do around money?
None of us were born with a concept of money. When I was six I wasn’t performing a cost-benefit analysis on the Barbie Jeep I was dying for. James didn’t pop out of the womb flinging cash off his palm into the hands of the doctor. On second thought, he might have. I’ll have to check with his mom on that one. The point is this: All of our behaviors around money were learned, whether we realized we were being taught or not. We very rarely think to question these values or where we might have picked them up.
That accounting class you took in high school taught you that money is a bunch of lines and numbers in black and red. That money is a very linear and straightforward concept. What you aren’t told is that money is emotional. I can sit here and tell you all day long to put 10% of your paycheck aside every month and you may nod, agree and still never do it. More than likely it wasn’t because something major happened to you, you just didn’t do it.
So how do you discover the money scripts that you live by? How can you take a good look at your behavior and identify how you are shooting yourself in the foot?
On a piece of paper, draw an egg.
Think back to your earliest memory of money, good or bad, and come up with a symbol for that experience. Draw it with your non-dominant hand in the bottom of the egg and section it off. (Like you’re making a quilt).
Like you just did, think of your next experience with money, and draw a symbol (non-dominant hand!), section it off. Work from past to present up the egg until your egg is full.
Go back to the bottom of your egg. Picture each situation and using your dominant hand, write down a words or phrase that describe the emotions you felt regarding that experience. If you have a hard time knowing how you felt about it, picture that situation happening to someone you love and write how they may feel.
Looking at your egg, write down what lessons you may have learned about money over time. “The moral of the story about money is…”
The egg isn’t a magic fix-all-my-money-issues thing. But it does help you see how you learned about money and your emotional ties to those lessons. The next time you scream at your child for leaving the car at a quarter of a tank, you might remember how you struggled for gas money when you were in college and swore you would never run out again. You can justify your reaction with things like ‘everyone knows you should never let it get lower than a quarter’ or ‘I’m just trying to teach them to be responsible’. Neither point I’ll argue with you, but it’s important to acknowledge that part of your over-reaction is probably due to your anxiety about not having gas money when you were younger. That anxiety can cause carelessness with the gas tank to feel like a personal affront.
At the bottom of my egg sits a Barbie Jeep. My mother told me we couldn’t afford it and I didn’t need it. Does that mean I can blame my mother for having a continuous case of buyer’s remorse for my entire adulthood? Not quite. There are a lot of other factors that combine to make me do what I do with my money.
But I’ll give you one guess what kind of car I drive.