What’s your relationship with money?

I had a complicated (and unhealthy) relationship with money and like a lot of issues that need examining, this one starts with childhood.

At home

My mother is obsessed with it. My father was frugal, but beyond that he hasn’t influenced me like my mother because he died when I was very young. I knew he was good about eating leftovers for lunch, and even if the leftovers were small and hardly worth saving, he’d save it anyway. This was probably because he grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution.

On the other hand, I suppose my mother’s preoccupation with greenbacks stems from growing up poor in rural Thailand. She was determined to get out of her small hometown. Although, she was strangely enough a picky eater when food was scarce. She’s worked many jobs.

My stepfather (as I call him out of convenience as he and my mother never married, but he raised me for a good part of my childhood) also grew up poor. He had seven siblings like my mother. His father was abusive when he was around. And my stepfather dropped out of high school during his first year because he decided selling drugs was more lucrative.

As far as I could tell, neither of them had a good relationship with money. One of them tried to run away from their debt. One of them barely made any money. Neither of them have ever collected unemployment. They’d have to be at death’s door to not work, and I’m not entirely positive they’d rest even then. Both of them were “working class heroes” doing the best that they could for us. I wouldn’t trade them, but I’m writing this to unravel my attitude towards money so that I can understand my unconscious ideas and blind spots surrounding it.

Realizing I have a problem (and I’m different)

I think it was sometime around college (obtaining my liberal arts education) that I realized I hated rich people. I resented the imbalance of the world. I decided that rich folks must have lazily inherited it or were immoral in their means to attain it. This was an unfair bias and it was an uncomfortable awareness to see in myself. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous “the first step is admitting you have a problem”.

When I was a Waldorf teacher I became acutely aware that I was working for primarily upper middle class and well-to-do families. But what really struck me, even after visiting their homes and seeing how they lived, was how they treated their children. It could not have been more different than my own childhood. My eyebrows rose when I saw what some of them brought for lunch, when the children were assertive, and not only that, when they were believed over others – including adults.

Children were seen, but not heard in my days. I went to public schools where the majority of us ate school lunches for 45 cents. We didn’t snitch on our classmates. We didn’t bother telling our parents how our day went or what happened. If we did the answer the question “how was school?” it was “fine”. We had to listen to adults. There was no choice in the matter.

Ultimately I was fired from that job, but looking back I see how much class differences, and maybe even cultural ones played into the divide between me and school. I didn’t belong. But I wasn’t the only working class teacher among the affluent student body. There were a total of four grade school teachers, three of us were fired, and the other one quit sensing the problems on the horizon.

This situation certainly did not help me have a better relationship with money, and my perceptions of people with money. I remember during this time I told my stepfather that I was making more money than I ever had in my life ($28,000 before taxes), and him warning me that the more you make the more you will spend. It turned out to be true.

Credit cards: Learning the hard way

When I was in college, I was given credit cards because I was receiving financial assistance from the government, so I suppose my “income” looked wonderful. I had no education regarding managing money and used the card freely, learning the hard way that spending money you don’t have is one hell of a drug.

After I graduated, I would worry about my debt from both credit cards and student loans. I look back at how poorly I managed my money. At one point I was working non-stop, at three jobs in an effort to cut into my debt. One night I couldn’t sleep tossing and turning over the fact that I couldn’t pay for things, my shame in suggesting to a friend if I should ask all my friends to help me out and chip in like $5 or something. Then I told myself that credit cards companies do not lie awake at night worrying so why the heck should I?

Eventually I did pay off my undergraduate student loans and credit cards. I only charge something if I know I can pay off the balance completely before it’s due. But this isn’t a success story – yet.

Other people’s money

My longest relationship was with a man who made good money. Prior to him I was dating creative types, guys who rode their bicycles to work, and subsisted on PB&J’s, and other people’s lunches. People like to say it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one. I don’t know. The rich ones were never around as far as I could tell. And even if he was, I wouldn’t be turned on.

Years ago, there was a couple that I spent a lot of time with. He was making very good money and he’d always pick up the tab when we ate out. It didn’t matter how much we protested. And I told myself I want to be like that. For a short time, and it wasn’t even a lot of money, I was able to return the favor to friends I knew were making less than me. Then when I was down on my luck, they picked up the check reminding me of all the times I did in the past.

Looking within

When life did throw me the opportunities to walk into a fancy hotel or an expensive restaurant, I’d looked like a scared rabbit. Then I’d joke, “Oh, they know I don’t belong here.” I immediately put up a wall, felt self-conscious, and told myself that I didn’t want to belong either.

Then one day a fellow expat said to me, “You have just as much right to be here as the next” and that shook off my stupid “I’m not worthy” coat that I had been wearing for decades. These days, I’m much more comfortable with finer living (hahaha) and hold my head up high. Well, not too high.

Since living abroad, I’ve been in contact with many more people from different economic backgrounds. It’s been good for me. I’ve had old twisted ideas challenged. People with money are all colors, shapes, and sizes. I’ve gotten to know these people. We catch each other during snapshots in time. I can’t help the way I was raised and nor can they.

I don’t want to resent people with money or who grew up privileged. I know that I’m privileged too; it just depends on who you compare yourself to. And man oh man do we do a lot of comparing.

It’s time to believe I’m worthy of money. I deserve money. It’s not wrong to want it, but it’s damaging to believe that living at poverty level is the best I can hope for. It’s time to change the inner channel that I’ve been playing in my mind, and tune into something bigger, greater, and more fulfilling.

What’s your relationship with money?

32 thoughts on “What’s your relationship with money?

  1. I’ve never desired it too much other than now, with children, it would be nice to feel comfortable & accomplish some of our dreams. Unfortunately, I never wanted to find a rich man, they seemed to consumed by money & not humble enough to be true family men. That probably was the influence of my sister & brother in-law who she always complained cared more about money than spending time with her & the kids. I like living simply, but it would definitely be nice to have more because life’s goals would be much more attainable if we did😉! Great post Lani and grateful to know we have similar opinions of this necessity in life💸. Make it to spend it & the cycle continues🤣!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think part of the reason why I’ve been thinking of my relationship with money is I teach primarily teens who seem to be obsessed with it. Kids these days grow up with social media and that ‘outside looking in’ feeling of ‘everyone has it better than me’.

      At the same time, as I get older I can’t help but worry about where $$$ is going to come from when I can’t work anymore. I was told decades ago not to depend on social security – it would be gone by the time my generation needed it.

      But there is the feeling of WORTHINESS. Am I worthy of money? Is it weird to want it? I wouldn’t want to abuse it, but…

      In the meantime, I have no problem living within my means 😉 I do feel lucky. Thanks, Anne!

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  2. I grew up in the 50s in a small town. That was when the United States was more seriously middle class and when the middle class lived simply but didn’t feel poor. That was my impression. So I didn’t need much–a doll, a cheap bike …, and I didn’t think or worry much about money. In those days we picked strawberries for a few weeks in the summer so we could buy a Pendleton skirt and sweater for school. The richest girl in my class was the fastest berry picker.

    So I still don’t think or worry much about money. I’m not a big spender, so I’ve never had to worry about debt. And I still feel solidly middle class.

    Living abroad, however, did cause me to feel uneasy about social classes. In the Philippines, it’s common to have a maid, and that felt very strange and upper class to me. Getting paid an expat salary, as my husband did, throws you into another world that doesn’t feel middle class anymore.

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    1. Yes, the other side of the world does that. I felt like, hey, we did okay back home. I understood why my mom brought back so many things to her family.

      But these days, Thailand has a solid middle class so things changed quickly! Sometimes I wonder if the West still has outdated ideas of how the rest of the world lives? Almost everyone has a smart phone whereas before it felt like a privileged item, if that makes sense.

      Ah, the 50s. The BF is going through an American nostalgia phase. He’s been watching B/W movies. We just watched To Kill a Mockingbird with G. Peck. Simpler times! ❤

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  3. My parents grew up in poor families as both were refugees (father’s family left all their land, businesses and property in Pomerania which is now Poland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Pomerania_(1815%E2%80%931945) while my mother’s family comes from the region around St. Petersburg called Karelia and Ingria which were nearly 90% Finnish natives/ speakers before WW II or even belonging to Finland (Karelia) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karelia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingria
    So as their families had to leave everything behind my parents had pretty much nothing. So when I grew up money was also always tight which only changed towards the later years.
    My relationship with money is also all about saving it but I tend to spend rather much to make the kids happy or to improve something at home. It all depends on the situation I guess…come to think about it we go out eating perhaps 4-5 times a year, tops!

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    1. Wow. I didn’t know that about your family. I’m glad you shared. I felt like I was taking a risk writing about something so personal, but I hoped some readers would be game and open up too!

      I think growing up in a frugal household is alright as long as it doesn’t feel like the family is suffering. So much of money is about attitude, I’m learning.

      As a young father it’s natural for you to want to spend money on the kids 🙂 but I’m surprised that you don’t eat out often! But with the little ones, it might not be worth the hassle yet. 😛

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      1. I have a post about my families history planned for a few years already but I just don’t find a way to make it a bit interesting for the readers thus far.
        Oh and about personal when it comes for example to money/ income : in Finland they release each year a public paper (also available online ) with every person earn8ng more than 100.000 euros and how much tax they paid!

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      2. Now, that is fascinating.

        But I know what you mean about having a post or two and not knowing where it goes or if it will be interesting enough. That’s how I feel about my memoir right now. Hahahahaha. But family histories I think are interesting!

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      3. yeah family histories are always interesting, especially for the one who writes about it. Other people might not be so interested at all in such matter (such as my wife, she doesn’t even have a clue about her grandparents names and stuff like that)

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      4. Yeah, depends on the person. I like hearing about family histories and even looking at pictures of people I don’t know. 😛

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  4. I have had a messy, sometimes abusive, relationship with money in the past. Something that I have been slowly trying to heal and improve, sometimes by doing small things such as thanking the money for the ‘job well done’ whenever I take it out from my wallet to pay for something, donating in a small scale instead of waiting until I have enough money to make an impactful donation. The hardest thing money mind-set I am currently working on is reviewing my credit card statements and thanking each line of the charges.

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    1. You bring up a good point, one that I wished I had included, and that is being grateful for the money you have.

      I’ve been learning to give thanks as well and to remind myself that I have always had enough to get by. Sure, there have been lean times, and I don’t like that paycheck to paycheck living, but I’ve been doing okay lately.

      I have to remind myself not to compare myself with others or speculate what I think they might have, etc. Since last year was a tough year of moving and trying to get our lives settled down again, I’ve been staring at the bank acct, but again, we’re okay. We’re lucky. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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  5. I was privileged because both my parents worked and made more than enough to live comfortably. I always got the toys I wanted, I had pocket money, and we went on holidays every year, but this didn’t made me spoiled and I didn’t become a big spender either. I’ve always been super careful with money and I like saving. I hate expensive and flashy things and just the idea of having debt makes me very scared. I’ve never bought anything I didn’t have the money on hand to pay for. Now I’ve been learning for some time about investing because I don’t want to be caught off guard when I retire…

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    1. It sounds like you grew up in a normal stable household that has influenced your adult life and choices. Nice. I would imagine your parents were good financial role models, too. Maybe even Spanish culture, too?

      As expats, we get to experience how other cultures see money and spend it. These days, life feels rather abundant because I’m now in the epicenter of second hand markets, so there’s so much shopping around. But I’m glad it’s not new stuff – we have enough of it here as well.

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      1. I would love to buy more second hand but it’s not really a thing in China (except hand me down clothes for my baby, for which I was very grateful).

        In Spain it is indeed the norm that parents pay for your college degree, so we are debt free when we start our adult life. College is also way cheaper than in the US, I think my whole degree was less than 4000 USD.

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      2. Yes, you bring up a good point. Americans carry a lot of debt soon after they graduate. Now, some are fortunate enough to have their parents support them, but others aren’t. Esp if they want to get a higher degree. So expensive over here. Really wish they’d bring back free secondary ed. My BF remembers when community college was free. And when I went to cc it was hella cheap.

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  6. When I was in my teens, I felt annoyed by children that grew up being given pocket money, or not having to work (I started working since I was 14 or 15). But, then I remember when I was 18, I felt grateful learning how to manage my own money, and having the independence of earning your own money, you learn so much from it.

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    1. Like you, I didn’t have an allowance. And I started working as soon as I could. Wanting my own money definitely was part of my American upbringing, it was common for teenagers to have a summer job. These days, not so much, they’re being cared for by their parents…I actually did some research on this because I was surprised to learn this.

      And it’s true, earning your own money is freeing. I remember my mom telling me, ‘don’t rely on anyone else for your money’.

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  7. I didn’t get any allowance as a child/teen. It was only when I started working part-time as an older teen I learned spend tiny amount and save rest….for tuition.
    My parents were very united in saving money. They did discuss about money (In Chinese 🙂 ) in front us children. We were poor. So I know how to get by cooking properly, sewing (which now I rarely do)….on a budget. I’m certain I live simpler than many other women who spend on fashion, makeup, etc. The idea of splurging is for me: a good haircut, a pair of quality shoes or boots.

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    1. I hear you. Sometimes I wonder what my colleagues spend their money on when they’ve spent all of it and are waiting for the next check.

      I also remember reading the average amount of jeans a woman has – and I fell very short. I think it was like 10 – some crazy number. I have one – Hahahahhaa – and recently acquired another from a friend re-gifting it. I’m also certain I fall short in the shoes department as well. Now to be fair, I’m in a tropical climate, when I lived where it got cold, I’d have more warm clothing.

      It sounds like you and I splurge on the same things 😉

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      1. Hmm, I have 4 prs. of jeans of different ages. 1 pr. already the light spandex has loosened up. 😉 Nice to still keep them for bumming around.

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  8. Money is frustrating. My relationship with it is that I know it’s necessary and I know I need it, but I really loathe it. I hate working for it, I hate spending it, I hate thinking about it… it’s the worst. And yet because it is so integral in life and literally nothing can be done without it, it’s constantly there. Now I’m going to go watch videos about self-sufficient farms to make myself feel better.

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    1. Hahahahhaa. I know, it’s not a topic that I like to broach. I think that is why when I decided to look at it, I uncovered some tendencies and attitudes towards it that needed adjusting.

      Learning budgeting skills does make one feel better. As does learning to be more self-sufficient, I think that’s why the idea of ‘getting off the grid’ or farming for your family is so appealing to many. It certainly appeals to me!

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  9. Such a thought inducing post!

    I think I had a very similar upbringing to you, but with parents who handled money differently (let’s just say, they maxed out credit cards and never thought about the future).

    As I’ve met people from various economic backgrounds (also a result of living abroad!), I’ve realized that upper-middle class families usually produce children who are good with money–and that’s because their parents give them financial prep and planning. Honestly, it’s all about education. Many of my friends from upper-middle class families said their parents started investment funds for them in high school, or taught them how to buy/trade stocks at an early age. Not to mention they didn’t have to take out student loans.

    I’m also upset that the US doesn’t teach basic finance class in high school. A good chunk of millennials graduated at 18 with no financial knowledge whatsoever and were offered a $60k student loan and multiple credit cards. I mean, that just sounds like a recipe for disaster. I grew up thinking I should avoid the stock market because a. it was for “evil, rich people” b. it was like gambling or c. it was too complicated and hard for me. It wasn’t until I moved abroad and met others that I realized the stock market is basically how you generate your retirement fund in the US. I didn’t start investing in stocks until I was 28 or something, while many of my friends had started since 18 because their parents gave them the life lessons to do so. Now that’s inequality.

    I hear you on feeling like you don’t belong. But honestly, it’s all a facade. Doesn’t bill gates eat at wendys or something? Haha. Sometimes the very people who eat in those fancy restaurants are the ones with massive credit card debt–cause they spent their whole paycheck on trying to be something they’re not.

    Long comment–apologies!

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    1. No apology necessary! I, too, didn’t get into stocks until I dated a guy (from a well-to-do family) who taught me how to do it.

      But I got scared (and we broke up) and I took my money out sooner than I should. Made money, too! It would be really good for me to get back into it again.

      Funnily, because I also worked for the college I attended, they automatically enrolled me into their investment funds, but I haven’t been able to figure out how it works. Something I really also need to crack into.

      Thanks for the reminder, encouragement, and for sharing Mary! Truly. xxoo

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  10. Have you read You Are A Badass At Making Money by Sincero? It’s one of the books that has helped me most in working through my terrible, terrible toxic relationship with money.

    So yeah, my relationship with money is pretty sour. Most of it learned, inherited, absorbed. I never hated rich people, I was envious of them because I thought that though they had problems, at least they didn’t have to worry about money (that’s wrong too, but, you know, kid brain). Nowadays I’m still struggling to let go of all those old thought habits and patterns, and it’s been hard to come back to having less money than in Korea where the cost of living is so much cheaper. When I’ve been really stressed I tell myself I could always go back there and make money, but I hate that last resort kind of thinking.

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    1. I fairly certain I watched a podcast with her on it and that is what got me thinking about my relationship with money! *high five*

      I have to admit that is one of the reasons why life overseas works for us. I can work (part-time) and still have a pretty decent life. Now, I’m not saving for the future by doing this – I feel like that’s what side hustles are for. Or investing as Mary pointed out.

      But a lot of money for me is about being grateful for it, reminding myself that I’m okay, and letting go of old ideas around it.

      I’m glad you found the book and have worked through your way through it! Forget Korea, you can go back to visit, because you seem so much happier and healthier back home. Life abroad doesn’t provide any guarantees…if I had to do it again…but hey, the show ain’t over yet 😉

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      1. True that! I keep reminding myself of all the things I’ve done and how much my life has changed in a very short period of time (five years is a short period, after all), and that’s always reassuring. I can’t live all my life in one moment, but I do keep trying!

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  11. I learned from a budgeting class I just took that most people, when started with credit, first use a secured credit card. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t know about that when you were younger, since putting a set amount on your first card could’ve prevented that stress. When I started getting disability payments around a year ago, after a lifetime of severe poverty, I had a similar reaction to you, when you first got more financial access; I felt like a kid in a candy shop and went haywire with my spending. It’ll take time to fix my financial mistakes, but I’m taking encouragement from your story about how you eventually got out of debt.

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    1. OH, I am by no means a success story and who said I was completely free of debt? 😛 I just paid off a few credit cards and one of my student loans. It’s a battle with interest rates and folks trying to make their own money off of you. Totally heartbreaking the amt of debt college students graduate with these days. But I’m glad you found some encouragement – I do hope things continue to improve!

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  12. I think all of us at some point think “if I only had a little more money then my life would be easier and I would be happier”. I know I certainly could use an extra $100,000 but more money definitely causes more problems. My relationship with money is fairly balanced. I work hard so I can provide for my family but I also live a simple life so monetary demands and expenses are low. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your way of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things.” So I strive to be content. I don’t have designer shoes or bags but I buy good quality things that last. I’m content with food, clothing, shelter, good friends and a relationship with God (1 Timothy 6:8; James 4:8; Proverbs 18:24).

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    1. Yes, it is so important to be grateful for what we have. It’s been journey and a practice that I’m trying to keep up. Thanks for stopping by Heather!

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