More Money

I thought I was sanguine about pennilessness but I am not. Posts like these and these terrify me. On the one hand I am tenured and unlikely to be downsized, so there is money every month. On the other hand, I spend it all. I save for specific things, but then I spend that.

Now, for instance, a house repair has killed my research trip and I am stranded for the summer in the town of my PTSD triggers, where we residents have all agreed time and time again it is unwise, for mental health reasons — poor mental health being expensive — to spend any time at all when classes are not in. If I were wiser I would have money saved for the house repair and the research trip, but what I had already ruled out was a visit to my aged parents — a decision which, after talking to them today, I began to reconsider. (This would be on credit, now, you realize.)

Part of why I do not save is that I do not make enough, and I laugh at the economies other people come up with like cutting out cable tv (I do not even have a tv, and cutting it out would not solve my problem). There are other reasons, not all of them strictly good. I have gotten over the ideas that one should not and/or cannot have or create a second source of income, which are two misconceptions I was raised with.

There is a lot to say but there are five things I would like to talk about and they are: 1. saving; 2. impulses; 3. spending, 4. turmoil (and anxiety and dependency) – phantamagorical, and 5. turmoil (and anxiety and dependency) – real.

1. On saving. Amazingly, I was expressly taught not to save. Under our parents the word was, we were spending every cent every month, even when we did not have to. We were worrying, but we were spending. Despite claims of poverty, my ideas of saving for things were discounted: oh no, we will buy that. Then under Aunt V, one was attempting not to spend money. This was the opposite of saving, actually, because it involved scrimping but not saving. And then in graduate school I just relaxed and spent what I made and lived as well as I could afford, because I finally did not have to have anorexic-bulimic feelings about money. And then after that I was in moving mode, startup mode, and did not save. And then Reeducation started, which drained money and stopped me from improving my situation. So part of the situation on my not saving is that Reeducation also hit me there, but then the other part of it is that I learned to scrimp but not save. And scrimping feels anorexic-bulimic, but saving is empowering, and I do not see the difference. And in the family, at least in its public face, scrimping is something one is supposed to try to appear to do, when really there is plenty of money for the things people really want.

2. On impulses. People who talk about saving talk about “controlling impulses” but I do not have that problem. I’ve made poor decisions, like taking on recommended, standard expenses against my own better judgment, but I don’t spend on impulse. I do like things other people don’t, and so I appear to be undertaking luxurious projects when really I am just spending money differently than others might.

3. On Spending. Why do I need certain kinds of foreign travel? Because I need to do fieldwork. Is that a need or a want? I would say a need, and the financial advisors would say a want, and I would say they surely have needs I would consider wants. Call it a want. The fieldwork is the one thing I want and if I cut it out I lose my rudder. So many times in life I have discounted my first choice and every time I have done so the results have been poor.

Is there anything I want more than the fieldwork, though? Yes. We have established that it is savings and of course, to remain debt free. Somehow I have to visualize things differently, not visualize scrimping but paying myself, spending on myself, thinking from the center. Saving and spending are the same, really, but my parents think in terms of scrimping and impulse buying. And I was anorexic when I was living with them, and since then I have hated to scrimp.

4. On Turmoil (and Anxiety and Dependency) — Phantasmagorical Level. Growing up two main topics were that we were broke but we were going to spend anyway. This was not really the situation but it was how my mother thought of it — it was the classically feminine way to think about money, and her performances about it may have been cute and sexy for all I know. I got used to the idea that it was normal to live on the financial edge, and then I was a student for a long time when it was in fact normal.

But in the family it was somehow also indecent to have enough money set aside not to worry. There was and is all this turmoil about money which I now see was manufactured largely for entertainment purposes. In the end there was always money, but this fact was only established after long drama. Also, since the money came from the credit union, I believed throughout my childhood that it was borrowed.

Thus, in a winding way, my having literalized this in my own life — I never have money — is at one level an effort to honor the values our parents taught us (my brother never has money, either). At another, more tragic level, we are acting out for real what they acted largely as sham.

My friend whose parents are also well off says his mother, more or less the same as mine, alleges penury as mine does. He theorizes that the claims of poverty are not actually about the present but about the financial situation these unskilled women would be in if they were divorced without alimony, and about how they would feel generally if they were alone.

It is as though I believed that if I had savings it would hurt someone. Or simply not be refined enough. This, now that I write it out, is irrational and is also superficial enough that seeing it clearly, I can slough it off.

5. On Turmoil (and Anxiety and Dependency) — Real Level. I was an assistant professor on the job market for far too long. Things in life were temporary, tentative, and banking on the future for far too long. The reason for this was living in departments in crisis, this having been the case long after tenure as well. And I was entirely too used to the idea of the state of emergency, one more year of crisis, put off your own plans for just this semester, and so forth, and so on, that I never got to think about my own needs and plan.

But now, yes, it can be a turning point. I always put off my own plans — my career in government, business, law — for the sake of the emergency. And at the same time I was loath to start a new project because that would mean committing to a new tentative situation.

Breathing from the center, what do I want now? An LSAT score, if only to have a current score — they are good for five years. This summer’s research and publications. Next May/June in Mexico. An energizing book contract or a good foundation job. I do not know that I can afford the JD but we will see. Perhaps nothing matters except being in reasonable control of one’s life as it is.

I have only had that in brief glimmers since receiving the PhD and whatever I learned at home, never stuck the way Reeducation did. Verily my financial difficulties began during Reeducation (“money is just paper, do not worry about it, give up control, it is not good for you”) and everything does fit together. I was, however, already grown up then, and I am pressing the restart button now.

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8 Responses to More Money

  1. Z says:

    This is the favored book:

    But I was raised to believe I could never make for myself what I could have given to me if I were very, very good. Even within academia, I should spend and write because if I played this lottery I would ultimately be rewarded. This was what everyone was doing!

  2. Hattie says:

    Your analysis of your money problem is much, much better than the book, which is the Christian, pull your sox up school of money management. When he said gold was not a good investment I realized he was a crock. We have made great profits on gold. We just sold a lot of it. Years ago we used a gold sale to buy a beach property, for instance. The trick is (as the old saw would have it) to buy low and sell high. It’s in holding on to things too long that people lose out. I’ve seen it over and over: that stock starts going down, and instead of selling it right away, the investor waits until it’s worthless and then dumps it and goes broke.

    ***I agree totally. I am of course financially brilliant in terms of analysis of what one should do, even though I haven’t acted well on my own behalf. But I’ve been telling people to buy gold for years.

    ***Re the book: good. So I react badly to it for good reasons (I who also rail against the “time management” solution to life).

    But of course your real problem is that you were taught in your family to spend every cent you earn. When we were in an income situation similar to yours (one salary and few perks) we rented and had no car. This was Europe, of course, and we had two kids. We had no debt. We came back to this country with no assets beyond that beach property in Spain that we bought with our gold windfall. We put that into buying a beach house on the Oregon Coast. We had a mortgage on our primary residence, bought a couple of old Volvos that Terry kept running, and took up life in these United States. Got our kids through college and grad school.

    ***It is odd that I learned that, too, since really my parents in fact both earn, invest, inherit, and save. I learned to earn and spend, and my brother learned not to earn and save. All of this has to do with my mother’s utterly irrational view, discussion, and actions around money.

    Terry was the primary wage earner, and I supplemented our income with teaching ESL. Boring? You bet!!! But we had no debts. And in our mid-50s we were able to come to Hawaii. Both of us continued to work. I retired three years ago, and Terry is still working.

    Now here is the kicker. Terry worked for a start up company and was able to cash out stock options. We also inherited half of our mothers’ estates, which were mostly their primary residences. We sold one house and split the money with my sister. We kept the other house and bought out Terry’s brother’s interest. Now it’s a rental. So the basis of our current financial comfort is stock profits and inherited wealth!!!

    We could have parlayed this all into penury if we had really tried, but we don’t care about impressing people or living in luxury. Not that these things are bad, but they are beyond our means! SS from two countries and Medicare continue to be important to us, because there is never any guarantee that we won’t be hit by some huge expense.
    I retired three years ago, because I just got tired of working.

    Terry is going to retire when we have to start drawing money out of our 401Ks, and then we will travel more. But still, we’re old, and I imagine our accumulation of wealth will mostly end up in the hands of our kids and grandkids.

  3. Z says:

    Very interesting comment! I said some things in it, in italics.

    Most of my non saving comes from living in Louisiana where you have to plough so much income back into the job. At the universities I’ve worked for in other states they had books, paper, etc., for you and research money, and I was always in much better shape then. The only thing, really, besides work I overspend on is food — I’m not luxurious with it but not rock bottom either; it’s because of the depression: there are a lot of weeks in which I haven’t been able to tolerate florescent light, and the stores that don’t have this are not cheap. And like my mother I say, “It is still not as expensive as a restaurant!” — when in fact I could easily live from the local diners for much less (but without vegetables).

    It’s of course added to by the way I was raised and the assurance of an inheritance. I have mostly believed I was too weak to have a real job, so I had to live on a stipend from university teaching and research (i.e. a professor job). It’s this dependent attitude — get a stipend-like salary until you inherit. This is my mother’s attitude but the thing is, what I will inherit will not be THAT kind of inheritance!

    If I had not been raised with the idea that I was weak, couldn’t make it, and looked ridiculous trying, I would be a better budgeter at this very moment. Even just writing that sentence helps clear vision.

  4. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you might enjoy Your Money or Your Life by Dominguez and Robin. It’s an interesting counterpoint, or perhaps complement, to Dave Ramsey.

  5. Z says:

    Yes, I have checked it out although I should again. It’s more nuanced than Ramsey and more about quality of life. Where I have always disagreed with this and some other books is, my goal was never to retire early or even at all. But I might change this — retire to start career #2 — so it is becoming more “relevant.” 🙂

  6. Hattie says:

    Ever think of teaching Spanish in a summer immersion program? That could earn you a few pence without completely infuriating you. It could even be fun, who knows?

  7. Z says:

    No, that is the last thing I would do and I hope I am never in a position to have to. This kind of thing just doesn’t fit in with having a research job, is really low paid, and is very far from my interests or anything I’d like to develop.

  8. Z says:

    On the other hand — I’m about to rent out my second bedroom for a month, which will pay almost as much as a month of immersion aggravation would, and will not take time away from research and consulting! 🙂

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