I hate talking about money. Even mentioning words like budget or bills makes me feel uneasy. I haven’t enjoyed talking about money since I was in grade 8.
In grade 8, I saved like a fiend. I had an after school job at the local public library. I shelved books, ran the circulation desk, and proudly deposited my paychecks into my savings account at the CIBC in town. I remember filling out slips of paper to deposit and withdraw money from my account, using the pen that was attached to the counter with a long chain. I had a gold bank book that slid inside a clear plastic case. It was updated by the teller after my transactions.
I was careful with my money. I would hum and haw over whether to buy that bright blue watch band at the drugstore. Did I really need it? And yet I could easily drop $600 on clothes on a weekend trip to Winnipeg. (I loved clothes and the nearest mall was 3 ½ hours away. Most of my wardrobe would have come from a SEARS catalogue if it weren’t for our Winnipeg shopping trips. We went a few times a year).
Fast forward to university and I was living off of OSAP and working two jobs every summer to save enough money for school. (I’m glad that I did. I didn’t miss too many classes.)
After graduation, I wasn’t thinking about backpacking Europe with friends or taking some time off. I was determined to get a job, make money, and start earning a pension. I decided to complete my Masters of Education degree while teaching my first two years. I wanted to be in the highest pay bracket. I was only 21 years old. It’s funny to think how I cared so much about a pension at that age.
Fast forward to moving in with my husband (then boyfriend). My money was mine. His was his. Growing up with parents who often argued over money, I didn’t want the same battles. If I wanted to buy something, I would buy it. I was not going to check in with my husband to seek his permission or to have a discussion about it. I worked hard in my job and I should be able to buy what I wanted. And I did.
We split our bills. We each contributed to the rent (and later our mortgage). When we went out for dinner, he would pay one time, I would pay the next. I liked it that way. Our families thought it was strange. We got some comments but I didn’t care. There was peace in our house around finances and I loved that.
We continued to have separate accounts until after we were married. Finally at some point, it no longer made sense to me and I suggested that we have a shared account. I think Eric was relieved and secretly wanted that for awhile.
In our house, my husband is the one who pays the bills (which is ironic because I usually challenge anything that is slightly stereotypical by gender). The utility bills. Taxes. Water. Internet. Eric arranged payment for them all. If you were to ask me right now how much our water bill usually is, I would have no idea. When do we pay it? No clue. I just don’t like talking or thinking about money. It stresses me out. My paychecks are deposited and Eric takes care of the rest.
I don’t like talking about money.
I don’t understand investments and how they work. I’m not great at knowing what is a good or bad interest rate. Each month I pay my VISA bill a couple weeks early – when I happen to hop into my app to see when it’s due. I can be really cheap about some things and yet splurge without a second thought.
Where does this all come from?
I have no idea.
My mom was a saver. She tucked money away in investments, bonds, and savings accounts. She bought things on payment plans and always paid their VISA bill on time. I can remember standing in line with her at the grocery store, waiting as she would write out a cheque for our groceries. I can still hear the distinct sound of the cheque being ripped from the book and watching her quickly jot down her purchase in the cheque book. Her cheque book was always balanced.
My mom was and is smart with money. She used to work at the CIBC branch in my hometown. She’s a brain when it comes to numbers. We call her the human calculator. She files her own personal taxes and also manages the budget and day to day finances of the township where she works. I don’t know why I ended up so financially inept.
Rewriting My Money Story
It took one podcast to make me think differently.
I listened to Tiffany Han’s podcast, Raise your Hand, Say Yes. In this particular episode, she interviewed Bari Tessler Linden, Financial Therapist, Mamapreneur, and Founder of The Art of Money. In their conversation, Bari mentioned money stories.
We all have a money story.
It’s that story that describes our personal experiences with money. What did we learn from our families? How do we feel about money and does it evoke fear or stress? It’s interesting to think about the role money plays in our lives and the impact it has on our relationships.
Anyways, the podcast really made me think about my own money story. I realized that I have been a total avoider when it comes to finances and it was time to change things.
It’s Time to Put on My Big Girl Pants
Many times Eric has tried to have conversations with me about setting up a monthly budget. It makes me cringe every time. I don’t want to worry and think about every dollar I spend. It would drive me crazy. It feels so limiting and controlling. So usually when he brings up money stuff, I can tell that he’s trying to broach the subject gently. I usually brush it off by saying, not now.
Eric: I stopped trying to discuss finances several years ago. We downloaded an app on the Mac [to create a budget], and I hoped that would help. I think it did, initially, but it was short-lived. It feels frustrating at times. I think it’s important we talk about finances but we rarely discuss in any detail. I wish we could have two-way open dialogue about finances that doesn’t create quiet tension or anger. I’d like for us to know how much disposable income we have each month (once bills, mortgage etc. are paid). I think we can build on it.
So I think I caught him off guard when a few months ago I said that I wanted to have a conversation about our finances. Just the tone of his voice gave away his surprise.
Eric: I was excited but I was also aware that I needed to manage expectations on what exactly that meant. I also needed to check myself. I think I come on too strong/negative about finances sometimes, and that’s unhelpful.
I want to talk about money with Eric, as a natural part of our life. I don’t want it to feel stressful. I think and worry about finances a lot, especially since I’ve been on maternity leave for over three years. I want Eric to feel like we’re in this together and that it’s not all on him. He’s had to do it on his own for too long now. I need to put on my big girl pants and stop avoiding shit. I’m a grown up.
So I am slowly rewriting my money story.
Eric and I now have Sushi Dates (that’s what I call them). If we want to talk about finances, we have a sushi date once the kids are in bed. We rarely order in anymore, so it feels like a treat; it becomes something to look forward to. Eric picks up a bottle of red wine and we sit and plan our future.
On our first sushi date night we brainstormed a list of things we wanted to talk about (VISA bills, RBC, renos, future planning, budget, etc.) We gave these words new names, an idea suggested by Bari. Renaming financial terms becomes a way of shifting the conversation and feelings around money.
So instead of groaning at the mention of bills, we might call them caring for our home. See, it feels a bit different. Or instead of talking about taxes, we could refer to them as recreation fees (which as a parent, makes a person feel better when you think about the parks you take your kids to and the free city programs you access). I don’t remember the terms we came up with that night, but it did make it easier for me to talk finances.
I’m also a visual person, so during our first sushi date, I asked if I could write things out on a piece of Bristol board versus putting numbers into a spreadsheet. I hate spreadsheets; just the thought of that alone makes me groan. So as we chatted, I doodled and made a visual reminder of our financial goals. It’s something that we can revisit when we have our next sushi date.
After our money talk that night, I asked Eric to respond to a few questions over email (hence his quotes that I included above). He is so patient with my nerdy tendencies.
From his responses, I realized that his behaviour of coming on too strong/negative about finances were a trigger for me. Well our taxes are going to be $____ this month and we also have [ ], we need to be careful…. This wasn’t helpful to me. It made me worry and feel tense. I decided to set some boundaries. I told him that when he says x and y, it makes me feel stressed and worried. Instead, I need him to focus on the positive and talk about how we’re working towards our goals. I have been getting better at communicating my stressors and I don’t feel like our conversations about money have felt as strained. I’ll have to ask him though.
I also sensed that Eric was getting tired of playing the middleman with my investor. I started investing on my own when I was in my early 20s. A co-worker suggested that I meet with her advisor. I remember sitting in an office with a guy who didn’t care about my well-being. He was encouraging me to invest in high risk and he kept talking about having millions of dollars when I retired. It felt like he cared about his own commission.
He spoke to me like I knew everything about investments and I, feeling stupid, sat there nodding my head. uh huh. uh huh. It worked out well because we were able to use my investments when we bought our first home. It didn’t’ work out well in that I don’t want to sit in a room with another advisor again.
So when it seemed like Eric was dragging his heels to respond to our investor’s secretary (on my behalf), I decided to pull up my big girl pants and do something that made me feel uncomfortable. I booked a one-on-one appointment with our new advisor.
I had no idea what he would ask me. I don’t understand half the terms and language they use. And if you want me to make a calculation on the spot, I’m sadly going to disappoint you. Give me a calculator, a piece of paper, and some time to think and I’m good to go. But that’s not usually how these meetings go.
So 2 hours before my appointment, I’m Googling things like RRSP and RESP. I hear these terms all the time; I have a general sense but not enough. I had big plans to learn something investment-like every day this week, but life happens. So there I was 2 hours before my appointment doing my own version of Investments for Dummies 101.
Afterwards, I was actually excited to go to my appointment. I felt somewhat prepared. I was going to take responsibility for my investments and make some informed decisions. I had learned some new terms and I had a better understanding of how investments worked. I was ready.
My one-on-one appointment didn’t go so well.
The new terms…they were not discussed. Instead I was asked to make decisions about the risk levels I was comfortable with and the percent ranges I wanted for annual returns. My usual self-doubt started to creep back in. Let me talk to Eric and get back to you.
No!!! I was so pissed at myself. I sounded so weak and incapable of making a financial decision on my own. What?! I needed to go home and talk to my husband first??? What is this, 1950? Come on, Lainie.
I knew what risk level I was comfortable with. I knew what annual returns I wanted. I knew what the risk levels meant over time and how the market fluctuates. And yet, let me talk to Eric and I’ll get back to you. Ugh. But I wanted to be sure. What if I was missing something? I wanted to talk to Eric first. I trust him the most.
A quick chat at home and I realized that I was on the right track. I hope at my next appointment, I will be ready to pull the trigger on my own. Wish me luck.
I’m rewriting my money story.