Women, particularly women over fifty, have an uneasy relationship with money. We experience guilt or shame whether we have more than enough or not enough. To make matters worse, we don’t like to talk about these feelings.
I am a perfect example of this dynamic. For as long as I can remember I have said “I don’t care about money. It’s not important. Higher values took precedence. I’ve since learned that this is a fine philosophy if you have enough to meet your needs, and if you understand what enough is.
My relationship with money has been volatile at best over the years. My husband and I started life together with meager but sufficient means. We both worked good jobs and managed to purchase a starter home. We began our family in a place of self-sufficiency.
Like most newlyweds, we watched our pennies. We worked hard and we believed we would be successful. The America Dream would happen for our family. As a product of the 60’s, I deeply questioned this dream. Its subtle influences, however, were programmed into my thinking. As a result, I lived in a different sort of conflict.
OUR FIRST FINANCIAL CRISIS
Our first serious financial stress began when I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom. I did not doubt for a minute that this was what I was to do, for the sake of my children. Willing to sacrifice my career and monetary gain to spend these precious years with my children, I would give them something money can never buy. I remember being embarrassed to say I was a stay at home Mom. Even as I was committed to the process, I felt out-of-place and out of step with the world at large. I was what you might call a conflicted idealist, but my actions followed my heart.
My husband made the appropriate decisions to advance his career and he accepted a job that plunked our family of four into a military region of the country at the time of Desert Storm. Before we had even seeded the front yard of our newly built home, he lost his job. When the troops left, so did the need for employees. There was no work in the area, for either of us except low paying jobs. I worked three retail jobs and he took over the care of the children while he searched for employment. We hung on in this way as long as we could. A week away from foreclosure, we put our house on the market and sold it at a loss. We walked away empty-handed and brokenhearted. Somehow things had gone terribly wrong.
SHAME AND HOPELESSNESS SETTLE IN
I know what it’s like to go from having a sense of financial control over one’s life to overwhelming debt. I know the feelings of shame and hopelessness that flourishes in a person who has to stand in line for food stamps and then hand them over to the clerk at the checkout counter. It was mortifying. We were educated, capable people, but the wound to our self-esteem made it harder and harder to see ourselves as redeemable.
As individuals, our struggles with our “fiscal identity” is unique and multi-faceted. Exploring this issue, in order to remedy it, requires that we go deeper than we like to go. It’s not comfortable, but it’s worth it. Taking the risk to talk about our relationship with money, whether it be with a friend, mentor, or therapist, is the first step in coming out from the shadows of shame.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown
OWNING OUR STORY ABOUT MONEY
As we begin to tell our story, letting out the hurt, the shame, the fear, we will begin to recognize our hidden beliefs, the ones that keep us locked in our suffering. We will see more clearly how we sabotage our efforts to reach a place of financial comfort internally and externally. Separating what’s true for us from what’s true for our culture will enable us to align our actions with our deepest beliefs and do so without fear of judgement.
The economic pressures that have become more common in recent years is no lightweight matter. It may just be the pressure we need to begin a thorough self-examination of our attitudes and underlying beliefs. My experience described above did that for me.
I have deep compassion for those experiencing financial misfortune for the first time. It took me years to come to terms with the humiliation I felt during those years and long after. My husband and I did not talk about our plight. We did not ask for help. At that time, financial misfortune was tied to irresponsibility, laziness, and stupidity. Only the lowest of the low declared bankruptcy. Culturally, it’s more acceptable now, but personally it is often still a nightmare.
I learned many valuable lessons during that time in my life. For instance, I learned that using cloth napkins, emptying and reusing vacuum bags, shopping yard sales for everything from clothes to household necessities made it possible for us to pay the bills and put food on the table for $300 a week. I learned about the pain of not being able to give my children even the simplest gift on their Christmas List and how to make it exciting and happy for them anyway. We all learned, our children included, to make do with the barest necessities. I learned to live without waste and to enjoy the simplest things in life. It took me much longer to learn to live without want in a world of abundance.
Many women now entering their fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties are facing a financial future without retirement, without health insurance, without savings, without a sense of confidence in Social Security or our financial and political institutions, and without confidence in their ability to improve the monetary status. From the very beginning, I have used this website and my social media connections to support small businesses owned by women. Authors, artists, crafters, coaches, and all who make the world a better place deserve our support.
Many women sell products and services online to help make ends meet. All are artists, of one sort or another, committed to their craft and committed to following their purpose in life whether it be to paint a canvas or teach about doing taxes when you are self-employed. The world needs what we have to offer. Let’s open our arms, our minds and our pocket books to one another and support each other financially as well as emotionally. Let’s not assume that everyone else has more than we do. They do not. Let’s also accept that there is enough for everyone and everyone deserves enough. Above all else, let’s open our hearts to one another, and most especially ourselves, without judgement.