What money really means

shame shame shame One of my dirty little secrets has to do with money: I'm afraid of it.

Between role models who lived it up with cavalier disregard for cash, dying either in debt or indebted to loved ones (myself included) for covering them towards the end, and others who destroyed their health and emotional life in the pursuit of money, it's a miracle I'm neither pushing a shopping cart nor wedged between walls of newspaper, tying used paper bags together with twine against some future disaster, like a Depression-era baby gone whack job.

While I'm not rich, I'm also not in debt, and there's no wolf at the door. For my age and considering my nutty career trajectory, I'm actually doing well, living proof of the magic of compound interest. I socked away whatever I could as a Young Corporate Tool, living in rat-traps (okay, mouse-traps) in Brooklyn on overtime meals and happy hour appetizers while maxing out my 401k contributions. And this was back in the golden '80s, with dollar-for-dollar matching employer funds. Yes, you heard me: dollar for dollar.

And I've never exactly been a slacker. I was fortunate enough to have my college paid for, received gifts of cash here and there from my generous relatives and yes, I was subsidized to the tune of $50/week for the first six months I lived and worked in New York. Still, I've always worked, and never lived off the largesse of a partner or spouse. There were fat times and lean, but I managed to stay afloat, buy and sell a condo, keep clothes on my back and food in my gut, have health insurance (the good kind) and, while I've never been one to live high on the hog, even enjoy some luxuries like nice dinners out, nice food in, travel, cars (every one of which, of course, I've owned outright).

So this is not the story of someone who suffered the financial equivalent of being raised in a locked closet and never knowing light or human touch until age 16. I was good, I was fine, I looked completely normal, even together, compared to some people I know.

And yet, I am so conflicted about money, so filled with anxiety and conflict and trepidation, I cannot balance my checkbook. I mean, I have, at times, but I won't do it consistently. I've let money languish in low-interest accounts rather than make the simple step of moving it to a higher-interest vehicle because somehow, keeping it vague is more comfortable to me that keeping it real. I stubbornly resist getting a handle on my money which, believe you me, is not the best modus operandi for anyone, much less a sole proprietor.

But I've never really understood why until today, when I read something Suze "Yes, I'm Gay!" Orman wrote in her column for the March issue of Oprah's magazine. Orman was counseling a woman who's in a relationship with a guy who sounds kind of creepy about money, and she suggests that maybe this chick should bolt, because...

When a person can't share his financial life, I question his ability to share his heart. The way we handle money is a manifestation of who we are inside, and how he approaches the subject signifies his love and respect for you.

I tell you, I almost burst into tears reading this. Because it suddenly struck me how much of my life I have lived in fear, how worthless I have often felt about myself and my abilities, how much better it felt to look somewhere, anywhere, else, to tap dance a little faster, instead of sitting in the feeling I was really having until I owned it and could move on.

I have a lot of work to do yet, but I feel like the worst of it is over. Because at least for this last stretch of uncovering myself, thanks to a freshly-out financial guru to the masses, I have some direction and a little more light to find my way...

xxx c

Image by Simon Pais via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.