Money shame. Yes, it’s a real thing and it affects not only how you view your finances, but also your career, self worth and can even spill over into your relationships. Sadly, the conversation of finances among non-investor, non- Wall Street, non- suit wearing types has been a mute point since, hell, probably forever. When was the last time you had a nice chat about your 401k strategy with a friend? Try and bring up the subject, especially with an older generation, and you’ll likely hear:
“It’s a private matter.”
“You should never talk about money.”
“My finances aren’t anyone’s business but my own.”
While I think we are starting to pull our heads out of our asses about finances, we are not as open as I think we should be. It is true that you shouldn’t share your financial status, i.e. how much money you make a year, with any ‘ol Joe on the street, but you should get comfortable talking about how you’re growing your income, sharing ideas about investing, discussing debt and telling others about your retirement plan.
Broaching the topic of money with close friends and family gets you thinking about where you actually are and what you are actually doing. It brings the truth forward and it allows you to hear others thoughts and ideas about money. If we aren’t in a financial position we are proud of it makes talking about money feel impossible and shameful. So in honor of openness and practicing what I preach, I will tell you my money shame story.
My Money Shame Story
Growing up I was a dreamer just like any other kid. I remember playing librarian (hello, nerd!) and thinking that would be the greatest job in the world. Unfortunately, choosing a career path was not so simple. In high school I had no freaking idea what I wanted to do to earn a living as an adult. I just knew that I was going to college. The importance of college was ingrained in me since my librarian days when I also wanted to be named Skye. So I went and still had no idea what I was going to do besides learn some shit about some shit.
My decision making about the major I selected went like this, “I guess business would be the best choice. You can always use that, right? Economics and finance… that seems too hard. MIS… I don’t even know what that is so no. Business management… I don’t wanna manage people so that’s out. Marketing… okay.” Done.
Do I have some shame around how I chose my major? 100%. Do I wish I would have had more direction? Abso-freaking-lutely. So I went back and got a masters. Did my decision making process look different? Sort of.
This time it was more about the money. My parents helped me obtain my bachelors so I escaped with little debt. I knew I didn’t want to have astronomical student loans so I chose a new career path with that in mind. I decided teaching small children would be a good idea. I did my student teaching, graduated with honors, had a new loan payment and then never stepped foot in a classroom again. I interviewed for a 5th grade teaching position in one of the most prestigious districts in the city and was told I’d be making $29k per year. Fuck off and not a chance in hell.
You’re probably wondering where the shame is at. When I said fuck off to $29k per year, I was 30 years old working at a retail store making $30k per year with two failed degrees and debt. I was straight embarrassed about my situation. My friends were getting married, buying houses, working jobs they loved (in the field they got their degree in) and I was renting, driving the same car I had in high school and trying to keep up using credit.
Even the thought of talking to someone about my financial situation was scary. I have always had a budget so it wasn’t that I didn’t know where my finances were, it was just that I wanted to keep up financially with my peers and found myself routinely frustrated with my direction. Making more money seemed like the only way and to this day I have to fight myself to keep out of that mentality. Managing your money is the only way.
Opening Myself Up
It was my fiancé, now husband, that actually brought up the topic of debt. I had shared with him my budgeting methods a year prior so although we weren’t sharing finances it already felt like a safe space to talk about it. He knew where I was at and my struggles and I knew his. Together we came up with our own individual plans to start crawling out of the debt hole. Since we were both already budgeting, the conversations were more about living within our means, trying to increase our income and spending every last penny on paying off what we owed.
I can honestly say that if my fiancé hadn’t had that conversation with me about getting out of debt I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to start the process. Thankfully he was willing to go out on the limb, get a little uncomfortable and talk about money. Once we got married we rolled our finances together (which I realize is not for everyone) and began dreaming about how our life would look without our debt payments.
We did it. $80k in 3 years to become debt free. Today I am not afraid to talk about money with anyone. Even the ‘ol Joe on the street. In fact I enjoy talking about it. I am excited about my financial goals and I want to share them with others in hope to inspire them to make changes and help them find their way. It’s also amazing to hear what others are doing regarding investments, retirement and/or growing their income.
There is always room for improvement. At 38 I am just now finding my career wings with my business, Numbersmith Solutions. I never pursued careers in either of the fields I hold a degree in, but that’s okay I learned a hell of a lot and use the information I learned pretty regularly.
The difference between today and 10 years ago is that I have removed my money shame. I am proud to have paid off my debts, to live within my means and to talk about this journey with others! I am not where I’d like to be financially, but I have set goals to help me get there and, honestly, I will probably set new financial goals as soon as I reach those that I have currently set.
If you find yourself filled with money shame, know that there is freedom and inspiration in talking about it. Let go of preconceived notions about what you “should” be doing. Find a mentor or friend to begin chatting about where you’re at, where you want to go and how to get there. Begin dreaming with your significant other and motivate one another. If talking to someone close feels too scary, message me! I’d love to talk to you about your current financial situation to help remove some of that money shame.
All it takes is that first conversation to get you started. I thank my husband, Bill, every day for having that conversation with me. It changed my life. Be like Bill.