Thursday, November 20, 2008

Strength, Weakness, It's All in Your Perspective

There is at least one thing in my life I've never aspired to be good at. One thing that, consistently, I've had absolutely no interest in learning about or getting more accomplished at and that is money-management. While math was (and continues to be) a favorite subject of mine, those numbers exist merely as playthings for my mind. Money is as abstract and unreal to me as most of the creatures from Star Trek.

As a child, my allowance always burned a hole in my pocket. I never had anything saved for a rainy day and while there were times when I wished I could be more like my big brother and manage to save a big chunk of it for something truly special, it was never more than a passing desire.

As I got older, that particular issue began to plague me. Living on my own in the dorms as a freshman in college, I jumped at the chance to apply for one of the credit cards offered to new students in the commons. You know, the first month of school the credit card companies all had their tables set up offering water bottles and dinner vouchers and free sweatshirts if you just signed up for their card. You could convince yourself that you'd never have to even use the card after you got the free stuff, right? And the part where they explained the interest rates? I didn't bother with reading it - I had too much studying to do for my classes - who had time for that?

Turns out 21% is not actually a good rate. Turns out the line they fed me about making sure I established my own credit actually wasn't a good thing if I couldn't manage to make my payments on time because the credit I was establishing was not good credit.

When I moved into an apartment with a friend, I decided I needed a bed. The local furniture store was offering "24 MONTHS SAME AS CASH" and I figured that within two years I would be working full time and rolling in cash gifts from graduation so I could pay that bed off in no time. I didn't get the part where they wrote that the interest would be accruing the entire time and that by the time I started to pay the bed off I'd be so far in debt with my 21% interest Visa card that I would be paying for that bed far beyond its usable life.

I was a science geek. What did I know from accounting? Turns out, nothing. Luckily, I found Bubba. A business major. A guy whose parents had taught him about money and how to manage it so that you could help bail your fiancee out and marry her and manage your family finances forever so that you could actually live happily ever after.

Anyhoo, now we turn to the "strengths" part of the story. Bubba has done a stellar job of managing our money and keeping us safe. Indeed, he has managed to ensure that we have never overextended ourselves and that we have made good investments and are able to pay our bills and take care of our children. All throughout the 18 years we've been together, I have never once questioned his decisions for more than a moment or twelve and while I have learned a great deal about how money works and participate in every discussion we have with our financial planner, I still don't really care about money.

So long as we have enough to pay our bills and feed ourselves, I don't care. It's all Monopoly money to me. I realize that's immature and that I'd be nowhere without Bubba. I get that if something should ever happen to him and I had to take over the finances for me and the girls that it would be a difficult job. But it affords me some mental clarity right now.

Recent polls show that 80% of Americans list worries about the current economic climate as their number one stressor these days. Interviews of a cross-section of therapists in the US indicate that their clients are as likely to talk about financial woes as anything else right now. One psychologist noted that the only other time she has seen such cohesiveness in her clients' worries was right after 9/11. Wow!

Lucky me. It's still all Monopoly money. Because I'm fairly indifferent to money, I'm really not stressed. I'm not checking the stock market or my 401K plan daily. I'm still grumbling about packing sack lunches and wiping the dog's muddy feet as he comes in from the backyard. I'm delighting in the sunny days we have had this week because, people, it's November in the Pacific Northwest! Sun. In November. I'm grumping about the stomach flu and ramping up my Christmas plans. But I'm not even really thinking about the economic crisis in the US.

I'm probably being naive. I'm definitely oblivious. I keep up with the news and know that banks are struggling and retail stores are projecting tough times.

I care about the people. I'm donating to the local food bank. I'm letting our family know that Christmas is more about being together than the bounty under the tree. I'm reaching out to those in our community who need our help and offering what I can. It's just that the money doesn't speak to me. Bubba's nervous - having just started his own company, he's waiting for the corporate belt-tightening to trickle down. Turns out that my complete ineptness with money affords us the luxury of at least one of us being able to sleep at night because I'm not stressed about the money. Maybe I should be. But the fact is, I'm not. My blood pressure's normal, for good or for bad. Thanks, Mom and Dad for not teaching me about money. It's proving to be a boon right now.

(For the record, my that humming noise you hear is my father spinning in his urn.)


Michelle O'Neil said...

I LOVE this post. You are so honest and my dear, you speak for many.

It is said that often the thing you fear/can't deal with/most is something you actually have a talent for.

Have you read the book Chicks Laying Nest Eggs? We should totally start a women's investment club. We'd kick butt.

Scott from Oregon said...

I'm good with money in the sense that I am frugal with it, but I am not good with keeping good records of it.

It's the rebel in me that refuses to do paperwork.

Deb said...

I love this post! I love your innocence and your generous spirit. You and Bubba are such a perfect match.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

You guys sound like STM and me, and my father, too, is spinning in his urn!

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