Greetings from London! I’ll be away until July 1. In the meantime, please enjoy the following guest post from illustrator and writer Colleen on her insecurities with money. Perhaps you have some financial insecurities as well you’d like to share in the comments section.
I was going to write a post about kids allowances. How much do people give their kids these days? Do they tie allowances to doing household chores? Are kids allowed to spend their cash on whatever they want? That’s what I was going to write about, except I was bored before I even began typing.
When I surveyed some friends on Facebook, nobody would say what the going rate for allowance was in their household. People just ignored that first question and moved on to tell me that they don’t tie allowance to chores because they want to teach their kids the intrinsic value of pitching in to take care of the home together (a few found payment for chores more effective—you gotta admit picking up dog poo IS a nasty job worth at least 50 cents).
I wanted to know how much people paid their kids. Surely that’s not a touchy subject like asking individual ADULTS how much they make at their jobs. But the ten people who responded to my survey either did not or would not say. I figured I’d start asking my son’s friends, feeling a little sneaky about getting the answer from the horses’ mouths, but the first friend deftly dodged the question (I asked her twice), so I figured maybe it wasn’t such a great idea being a nosy body, especially when I wasn’t all that interested. I did learn about a three-jar system some folks use to teach their kids money management: a jar to keep cash for Saving, a jar of cash for Spending, and a jar of cash for Giving. I never heard of that before, so I did find THAT interesting.
Cash, dough, bread, greenbacks, cabbage, moola. All these names, but talking money is a big fat taboo. Why? I’m curious about the salaries of friends and acquaintances, but I will never ask the specific number. The question is not meant to be asked. But if we can agree that money does not define who we are, and a salary figure is only one factoid among many that describe us, then why is the subject of personal finance so loaded? Wait, let me take off these rose-colored glasses… Despite the niceties, we know society is still judgmental, and we are insecure about our self-worth. We don’t want to be judged. Not only that, we don’t want to be taken advantage of.
How do we judge thee by thy money? Let me count the ways. In fact let’s use the three-jar system for fun. I’m going to fill each jar with common hangups, neuroses, and prejudices that surround the the topics of Savings, Spending, and Giving.
Maybe your folks set up a trust fund for you. Oh, so your parents have spoiled you, lucky dog. Are you worthy of that million in the bank? You probably have no idea what it’s like to work for a living. You’re a trust fund baby; baby being the operative word.
The grown up thing to do would be to build your own nest egg. Save for a rainy day. That’s being responsible… oh wait are you living from paycheck to paycheck? No? You’re fine? So you have a “real job” then. How much do you put into your 401k? You wonder if you really have to contribute to it because your income is already whittled away by social security, among other governmental pinchings, and social security is saving, isn’t it?
If you aren’t putting more funds aside, are you being irresponsible and shortsighted. What’s an IRA again? Bonds, stocks, CD’s, what? You feel like an idiot because you don’t understand the mechanics of investment, and it’s giving you all kinds of heart palpitations.
How much do you spend? Do you deserve expensive things? Are you mature enough to draw up a budget? Are you careless and spend beyond your means? You purchased your dream house, except now you can’t afford to furnish it. Was that stupid? Do you often buy stupid items? Like expensive shoes that don’t go with anything in your wardrobe, or two gallons of ketchup because the store had a two-for-one special? Are you addicted to the home-shopping network? Gambling? How much of your paycheck goes to drinking yourself silly in trendy nightclubs? Are you extravagant? A first-class frequent flier, a champagne guzzler, and occupier of prime seats for Broadway shows. You might be ridiculously rich, or you might be ridiculously indulgent. Or are you choosing to enjoy life?
Maybe you’re pinching pennies. Are you embarrassed and sick of being broke? When your friends gather, you skip half the time because you can’t afford to eat out every night, and you’re tired of them covering for you even though you know they would. If you have a family, can you support your loved ones without loans or welfare? Hmmm… Shall you preserve your pride or feed the kids this week?
Or maybe you’re a miser. Do you forego taste and quality to save a few bucks? Are you the reason why the group comes up short when everybody chips in to pay the restaurant bill? Do you haggle with every service provider you enlist? From the babysitter to the therapist to the guy who put together your website, you demand a special deal for being a “good client.” Are you a tightwad or do you have better business sense than your peers?
How much do you give? And to whom? Do you give to panhandlers? Are they all lazy unemployed alcoholics? That sad woman on the train who turned 67 on this warm summer day, she’s past retirement and wouldn’t spend your dollar on drugs. You wouldn’t be so callous as to deny a dollar from someone who could be your grandmother? It’s just that three years later she’s still celebrating her 67th birthday and it’s winter. Man, are you gullible.
Do you give to charities? Including NPR and your local park conservatory because you listen to public radio and run past the landscaped trees everyday? Do you respond to street solicitations because you care about the environment? Do you tip well? Even if your waiter was disinterested and forgetful?
Do you give to your friends? Buy them a round of drinks? Dinner? People like you for your generosity. Or maybe you just know that it’s your turn to pick up the bill. When you go to a birthday party, how much do you spend on a gift (if you bring a gift at all)? If you spend less than everyone else, you must be a cheapskate. If you spend more than everyone else, you feel like you spent more than you had to. If you spend a LOT more, you might have overdone it and be deemed inappropriately extravagant. Awkward. You have the right to hang on to 100% of your hard-earned money, but wouldn’t that be considered selfish and miserly?
Having spewed all these hypotheticals, I will now boil down all our money insecurities down to these three fears: Are you tight with your money, thus a miserly being? Are you foolish with your money, thus not to be taken seriously? Does your money speak your worth?
Can you measure a person’s worth with money? You better not, not with women still making 77 cents to men’s dollar. On the flip side of gender inequality, those surplus 23 cents a man makes often go towards buying a woman a drink at the bar and picking up the tab on dates. Many women like to ogle a guy’s paycheck, the longer the number the better. Rich = Successful = Great Mate. Earning power is still half the feathers in the peacock’s tail.
Gender stereotypes are embedded in our gut. Even if a man intellectually understands that his gender does not require him to be the breadwinner in a household, he has a knee-jerk response of feeling emasculated when circumstances shift and he suddenly finds that he must rely on his female partner to survive.
How much money do you make at your job? Does your bigger check mean that your skill is more valuable than mine? More difficult to master? Is caring for people in a nursing home worth less than managing a corporation’s legal affairs? A doctor friend of mine caught a glimpse at her Wall Street friend’s paycheck one day. A little miffed, she observed, “I save lives, but I make $250 grand to her $3 million.” Do you deserve your money? Do you make millions while the folks who assemble your product barely have enough to live on? Are you a slumlord?
The taboo of talking money is there to keep us from kicking the hornet’s nest. I don’t know if the judgement is greater from outside forces or from within. We know we are not our paycheck (or lack thereof), but we can’t help but let it eat at—or build up—our self-esteem.
So please don’t ask me how much money I earn or what I spend on rent. I’m already carrying the weight of my own insecurities and could’t bear the extra burden of your assessment. But I don’t mind telling you that I pay my nine-year-old son a single dollar a week for his allowance (am I cheap?). At least when I remember to pay him, I do. He never asks for it because he doesn’t think about money. Not really anyways, not until he wants something that I don’t want to get him. Then he remembers the green bills accruing in his desk drawer and uses them to purchase stuff like a watch, a harmonica, or a twentieth lego set. That’s what the money is there for: buying stuff. No more, no less.
Readers, do you have financial insecurities? If so, what are they? How did you get over them, or how do you plan to get over them?
Colleen recently started a children’s website kongaline.com that shares her stories, illustrations if you’d like to take a look.
Illustration & Design