Do you see your money choices?

I was on the phone with my friend, “I have reservations for 6:00 on Saturday. Wanna go?” She said. The restaurant she’d picked was awesome, but I wouldn’t get out of there for less than $100. Damn! What should I do? I could lie and say I had plans already, but I hate doing that. I could say I couldn’t afford it, but then what would she think of me? “Sure, sounds great, I’ll see you there.” I said.

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In that moment, the truth, my truth, didn’t even occur to me! The truth was that I didn’t want to spend my money that way. Yes, I really wanted to see my friends, but I would have been happy for vodka tonics on the porch.

It never occurred to me that I could choose. That I could choose to say “No" simply because I wanted to spend my money my way, according to my priorities. Some money choices look much more difficult than a dinner out and some come with a lot of cultural expectations attached, but there are so many times in life where we don’t even see that there is a choice.

For instance, it’s easy to say “I don’t have time for that.” Without realizing that time is just another currency we wield. The truth of the matter is we do choose how to spend our time in the same way we choose how to spend our dollars. Even if that choice is by not making one, by “going with the flow,” or by letting someone else choose for us.

My father was a dentist and his patients would tell him that they couldn’t afford their dental work. Then ten minutes later start talking about the new houseboat they'd just purchased. We all have priorities, it’s always a matter of which priorities we align with consciously and which we follow blindly.

Like everyone else in the world, I grew up with a household rhetoric around money. At my house, money was scarce and hard to come by: a necessary evil. No one was talking about budgeting, planning, saving, or compound interest.

And yet I could see that my Dad’s self-worth was clearly tied to it. After all, money makes the man, right? And overspending was okay if it was “Deserved.” Now let me be clear, I don’t fault my Dad at all! His parents were both poor immigrants who worked their way up in the world the best they knew how and had children while they were still teenagers. They didn’t have many money management skills to pass on!

When it was my turn to take care of my own finances, I was lost and didn’t even know it! I had no systems or plans in place. I would check my bank account balance and make decisions on the fly.

Getting married didn’t help. My husband and I had very different ideas about what was important, and while we’re both good at math, we think about math differently, so working on budgets and spreadsheets together became a nightmare. Our solution was to stick our heads in the sand and ignore our balances and spending completely. You can imagine how well that worked out!

We’d pop back up every once in awhile to do damage control, but that was about it. I have to say, we did keep trying, kind of like yo-yo dieters. It took us a full 18 years to figure it out. Wanna know what occurred to me that’s helped the most? Here it is: It’s okay to hate it!

It’s okay to hate the process, the doing, the figuring, the compromising, the recording. I can’t say that I like any of it. But I don’t blame my husband for it anymore — it’s certainly not his fault that he has different values and sees numbers differently — and I don’t try to hide from it anymore. Being okay with hating it means I don’t have to conjure up willpower or positive self-talk to get going, I can just surrender to the bad feelings and move forward.

So instead of searching for a hundred and one ways to change my attitude about it, or waiting until I’m in a better frame of mind, I can simply get the job done. The cool thing I’ve noticed, is that with this acceptance, the hate often dissipates. In fact, there are many moments when I actually enjoy figuring out how to fit everything in and it doesn’t feel oppressive. There are even times when we do align and can make easy progress.

And with every step I take, I can see the choices unfurling before me. The choices that I didn’t realize were mine to make. The choices that will shape my tomorrow.