If you recall, January is the start of my Happiness Project 2014 and I am starting with money. I’d like to spend January setting up a system that will allow me to not worry about it. I want to simplify
I have a thing about personal finance books. I love to read them so I can’t claim that this is all prep work. They give me this awesome boost of motivation. I am currently reading Suze Orman’s 9 Steps to Financial Freedom and the first step I’m supposed to take is talking about my earliest money memory, when I realized that money had value and how it made me feel.
I was the lucky child. When my brother was growing up my parents were pretty broke and even filed bankruptcy. The hardest financial time when I was growing up was when my father was laid off from Pontiac Motors. I only have vague memories of it but even then he would load me into his beat up pickup truck, take me to McDonald’s 15 miles away, and then take me to the part store down the street from us. I loved the part store because they had stools with spinning seats and they all thought I was adorable. Plus, Dad would take me back in the junk yard once in a while and I loved the strangeness, that forgotteness, of all those rusted out relics.
What I remember most about money when I was growing up was the pleasure it bought me. Sometimes it was a Barbie. Sometimes it was a ride on the penny horse at the grocery story. I used to get so excited about those penny horses and so devastated when they were out of order that for years we would say “Horsey is broke, horsey’s not broke” before I went to bed. Isn’t that a great motto for life? I don’t remember ever being told that I couldn’t have something because there wasn’t money. I was, honestly, pretty spoiled but I did not know it. I grew up around cousins who had less money than me and I always had them over and let them play with my Barbies and that was that. I didn’t really think about money. Money wasn’t what made me happy. I was just as pleased to go play with the trash in the back yard or imagine a kingdom and tell myself stories about it.
I would say my first formative memory of money happened when I was in eighth grade. My grandmother, who was my absolute dearest everything, was in a home by then with dementia. They had a Christmas tea that year and I invited my friend J to come because I was starting to get a little bummed about my grandma’s whole situation. J came and looking back I can see how very nice that was. I cannot even imagine going to a friend’s grandma’s old folks’ home for a Christmas tea. Not even my Bestie and she’s like a sister and I know both of her grandmothers. Anyway, J came along and after the tea we were in the back seat of Dad’s truck play fighting with each other and I said, “Well, at least I’m not poor.”
The whole car went silent.
My mother made me apologize again and again. After we dropped J off, she tore me up one side and down the other. I was ashamed. I had not meant to hurt J at all. To me, money really did not mean a thing. My parents had more than a lot of people around us at that point and we always shared, took my friends to the mall and to dinner and to the movies. I never knew that it was shameful not to have money. That had never once occurred to me. I had just begun to understand that having money was something that I could use to defend myself when people made fun of me at school. One girl actually told me that I couldn’t live in the house I lived in because rich people weren’t fat and weird.
Looking back now, I really do see that money was not even an object to me until that moment. After that, I did not want to think of it as having anything to do with who a person was. Having a lot of it was never one of my goals. My first fiance wanted to have a big house and nice cars and money in the bank while all I wanted was an old house that I could make my own (see the junkyard), a fast car (ok, that’s genetic), someone to love, a room full of books, and cats to cuddle. These were not money things to me.
In recent years I have begun to feel the need for more money but now that I think about it, I can see that I have been trying to compete with people I don’t care about in order to prove that I am better than them. That’s ridiculous! I don’t even care about those people and I treat people way better than they do so perhaps I am already better than them.
So, there. The air is cleared.