Money is a map

money I have a strange relationship with money.

On the one hand, I've been fortunate enough never to run completely dry of it. My dad made enough money to pay the full boat on college, and even modestly subsidize me in my first New York, advertising job. (As they used to say about starting out at Y&R, "It's a nice place to work if your parents can afford to send you.")

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that part of the reason I've never been flat broke or in debt is that I am terrified of both. Literally. I have one waking nightmare, and that is the fear of being bonked over the head accidentally-on-purpose, forgetting who I am, losing touch with all friends and family (who for some reason, have all stopped looking for me) and ending up pushing a shopping cart through the streets of New York City (and yes, it's always New York, even after I moved to Chicago and L.A.).

So I'm not exactly a cheap bastard, I like stuff too much, and I enjoy being generous with friends and family, but I definitely have weird frugal streaks. For example, last year The BF got three things for his birthday:

  1. a cashmere sweater
  2. two months of guitar/piano lessons with my favorite teacher
  3. and dinner out at a nice restaurant

If you're doing the math, you can see that this wasn't exactly cheap. But...

  1. I got the sweater with a Bloomie's gift card earned with accrued points on my Yahoo! VISA
  2. the lessons were an excellent value and by spending cash money using a friend's service, I keep the money in the family
  3. I, well, I got hosed on this one, but The BF is worth I put it on my Yahoo! VISA, thereby earning points towards new underpants from Bloomie's, which I desperately need

Now, someone who was bona-fide frugal, say, my ex-husband, who is UBER-frugal (and I say that with nothing but admiration, trust me), would call 'bullshit', pointing out what, on the surface, are frugal anomalies:

  1. I have digital cable (in the bedroom AND on my computer)
  2. I regularly blow spectacular amounts of money on whatever the hell strikes my fancy at Trader Joe's
  3. I not only enjoy dining at Houston's, home of the laughably overpriced hamburger, but often drive 10 miles for the privilege

And Bona-Fide Frugal Person would be right, because fancy burgers and the ability to watch Judge Judy reruns in two rooms at once aren't exactly up there with air and shelter when it comes to basic needs.

But I finally settled on the idea that real frugality (for me, anyway) was having an awareness about money and what it can do, mindful spending, if you will, as opposed to mindless penny pinching. Like every other component of my life, the clearer and more honest I get about who I am and what I want, the better choices I find myself making and the happier I am both with my relationship to the thing itself and my life, period.

Do I like that I think it's reasonable to pay $90/month for television when there are people starving in Darfur or, for that matter, four blocks south of me? Good lord, no, I'm a constant and egregious source of humiliation to myself every hour of every day. I am a person more willing to blow $90, NINETY DOLLARS, PEOPLE!!!, on vile entertainment even after admitting that I have a recurring waking fear of pushing a goddamn shopping cart. Forget selfish and greedy; I'm a flat-out moron.

The thing is, I know Whereas I used to pretend I wasn't a moron, the same way I used to pretend I was happy (I wasn't) or had my shit together (I didn't) or was fearless (hahahahaha!), I maintain a heightened sense of awareness about my ridiculous attachment to television and, as long as I'm not being reckless with money (e.g., not giving away an acceptable-to-me amount, not having enough to take care of basic needs, not being able to offer food or shelter to a friend in need), the hell with me and my little TV addiction. Let it ride.

It's a far more honest, "clean" way to work, and ultimately, I think it will get me to where I want to be (free from stupid cable) than hammering on myself (dumping stupid cable before I am ready).

In fact, I trust that as I move towards a real understanding and acceptance of who I am, three things will happen regarding me and money:

  1. I may have more of it, but I will "need" less
  2. I may have less of it, but I will fear less
  3. Regardless of how much or little I have, I will have more room in my life for joy and goodness

Ultimately, I want from my money what I want from every other aspect of my life: happiness. But it's not the money that will do it; it's my relationship to the money. If I approach it with fear (or avoid dealing with it at all), like most relationships, things aren't going to go so well. If, on the other hand, I approach it with respect, awareness and care, I'm pretty sure it will flourish.

And so, my friends, will I...

xxx c

Photo by Amin Tabrizi via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license