On money and shame

Hello, my name is BGIM and I am a recovering spend-a-holic. There I said it and I mean that in all honesty. Over the years in this space I have shared a bit about my financial stresses and the reality is that more than half of those stresses were due to my lack of control and planning. Sure, we got hit in the economic downturn when I was let go from my shitty teaching gig and the Man Unit lost several large clients. But the reality is had I bothered to plan ahead for the rainy days we probably could have weathered the financial storms a lot better.

It’s taken a lot of internal work for me to get to the place where I can truly own my bad choices and say this openly without a bit of shame but it hasn’t always been easy and lately I am learning that frankly there are many people out there happy to shame us when we own our shit.

The truth is having grown up in a family where my folks did many things well, the one thing they did not do well was impart any meaningful guidance when it came to money. The result is I entered adulthood carrying a shitload of baggage around money and when I finally started having money in any substantial quantities, I used that money to make up for what was lacking in my childhood. The result was closets full of clothes, most never worn and money squandered on dumb shit.  It also meant I was never comfortable admitting that I needed to live within my means and in my late 20’s and early 30’s I made emotionally sound but financially irresponsible choices with money.

However the past few years have been a journey as we struggled to get out of debt and when we finally decided to go the Donald Trump route and get a second chance, I went in knowing that I could never ever go back to my old ways. It’s one of the reasons that when I finally got a credit card this year after several years of living on a cash only basis, I was probably as nervous as I imagine a recovering alcoholic is the first time they enter a situation where alcohol is present after giving up alcohol.

Yet this year thus far as I have held my own, slowly rebuilding my credit, realizing that a credit card does not mean free money, it’s a loan that must be repaid ASAP. The result is I am making wiser choices and feeling pretty good with myself.

Though I am realizing in this process that there are many well-meaning people out there looking to sabotage recovering spend-a-holics like myself, and it really is not cool. For starters we live in a culture where it seems there is almost a certain amount of shame in admitting you have to live within a budget. Whether it is the “friend” telling you surely you can afford that meal out or people trying to sell you on shit you don’t need. Too many times though, it feels so bad to admit our limitations when it comes to money that we don’t do it, so we go out and spend money we don’t have, knowing that is a very bad idea.

In my case in the past several months I have had several situations where I was intentional about my financial limitations and made to feel like shit. In one instance, it was a much desired retreat where I was told I could make a payment plan yet in the end the plan I proposed was not enough. I was told that I needed a larger upfront payment and while I toyed with the idea of putting it on a credit card I made the decision not to go but not before I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. The person meant well but they didn’t know my financial situation and telling me I could make something happen if I want it enough is not helpful at all, in fact it feels like a snow job.

I was upset that I couldn’t go but with a large old house, a kid in college and the main breadwinner being a full-time freelancer, in our family, large extras must be saved for in advance or something that can be paid over time. It is our reality and for the most part I have no shame about it because we have what we need and occasionally we even get what we want. I see people daily in my work who don’t have what they need including food more times than not and seeing that keeps me from indulging in my own private pity party.

Now, I wouldn’t have thought anything of the retreat situation until a couple of months ago, when we realized that we would not be able to make our yearly pledge to our church. We are members of a church that requires you to pledge in advance how much cash you will be giving and this year shit happened. So we informed the proper folks that our pledge would need to be adjusted downward and I have to say the feeling I got was so funny after that exchange that I haven’t been back to church. To be honest it left a real salty taste in my mouth.

Look, I am a pastor’s daughter and I head a faith based agency, I know all too well about the budget issues but making folks feel bad when they can’t make their pledge is far from being Christ like. In fact I would expect that my church family would understand the most, but sadly too many churches are just social clubs, but that is a whole other post.

My point is that too many times people are made to feel less than if they can’t do X,Y and Z financially and that ought not to be. I can only imagine how many people this holiday season are spending money they don’t have on people, they can’t bear to be upfront with because of the shame factor.

It’s only taken most of my adult life to get to the root of my money woes and trust me debt and scarcity is far worse than being honest and intentional about money. Money is an energy that can be good or bad or sometimes neutral, and once I learned that, it changed my life. I admit it is always momentarily awkward being upfront about my financial limitations but being in the closet is not an option. On the other hand, if someone tells you they can’t afford the dinner, the trip, the retreat or whatever, please respect that and don’t make a person feel less than because they must live within their means. It’s not cool.



10 thoughts on “On money and shame”

  1. There is nothing to be ashamed of. If more Americans were as transparent about their lust for consumption, we’d be in a better place as people. While listening to NPR in my car, there was a segment comparing how we in the U.S. spend versus how Europeans spend. In the U.S. we spend excessively, and we spend on BIG things that do not last; since everything here is poorly made these days, we constantly have to replace them such that we are forever caught in the cycle of spending. But the segment said something the we all already know: spending doesn’t make us happier. It just creates a desire for more things.

    I’m also a recovering spend-a-holic. I know that when I spend thoughtlessly it is an indication that something is lacking in my life. When I start to spend excessively, it should be a trigger that something is amiss.

    Anyway, one of the things I’ve been meditating on is the need to spend money on things that actually are transformative for me. I’ve started to make a list of things that REALLY make me happy in mind, body, and spirit. Things that are indispensable to me.

    Every time I eat out, I am taking away money from the things that truly make an impact on my mind, spirit, and body. For example, one meal at a restaurant is the equivalent of one–or two, depending on the price of the meal–yoga classes.

    I enjoy spending time with friends. So, why not cook at home? That’s something a group of friends and I started to do. If there are friends who insist on eating out, I’ll join them after I’ve already eaten. And I’ll get a beer or a glass of wine instead.

    Books I can get at my university library, since I’m an academic. So, there’s no need for me to be dropping excessive amounts of money on books unless I really, really need them.

  2. BGIM,
    I look forward to your daily posts as I have come to see several similarities your have expereinced within my own life.
    To this post on money and shame, I say, AMEN!!!.
    I have had to switch congregations due to an inability to keep up with the financial obligations set forth by the church leaders.
    Indeed, as I attempt to be more Christ-like in forgiveness, behavior, attitude, and sho-nuff-gett’n-my-house-in-order-before-I-can-help-anyone-else approach to cultivating my heart for service; I recognize I am not the one to be chastised about my giving, by those who a s’posed to be “leading the flock.”
    Shame is a tool that only affects certain generations–those of us over 30, I believe. Elders use shame to control, and push people toward a certain desired outcome. People under 30 have no true concept or value of ‘shame.’
    Thank you for venting today, but God knows the heart of the shamed and the disgusting piety of those who would visit shame upon others.
    I am encouraged by your awakening regarding money and its psychological intentions. Thank you for schooling me!

  3. I have yet to figure out how to teach my kids about good financial mgmt skills. My parents’ had horrible spending habits and my mom had the closets of clothes and new things she just had to buy because she went most of her life without. If I can teach my kids to do the opposite knowing my small retirement account is still better than nothing, it will help break our family cycle.

  4. Gr8 article! I can relate especially this time of year. I guess for me its shame when it comes to my kids. Wanting this, wanting that. Too young to understand financially we r strapped. But still want to make them happy.

      • (Figuring out how “reply” works)
        Nate, kids may always want something more, no matter how much you can afford. When mine ask, I try to hug them, love them, and agree that the thing they want would be cool…but today we need our money for…fill in the blank(food, our house, the gas station ) I’m trying to give the gift of learning to budget and manage without shame. It’s not easy. But i think kids can get over “no” faster than instilled guilt and shame.
        I read somewhere that Sarah Jessica Parker’s mom borrowed outdated New Yorker magazines etc…from waiting rooms for her kids to read. I admire that resourcefulness.

        • I agree, the biggest gift we can give our kids around money is honesty. My son is in his 3rd year at a college that he is not fond of, why? They gave him a financial package that meant we could afford to send him to college. He knew early on that some of his choices at almost 50K a year were financially not possible.

          Thankfully he has always been aware that we have to live within our means and frankly he is the better for it. I wondered did I take the right approach with him but in many ways he is far wiser than I ever was at 20 about money. Christmas or whatever holiday is only a blip in time, living daily is what matters most.

  5. I am early 40ish and paying off my student loans finally this year. I have asked people to keep gifts to cards as I can’t reciprocate and they have had a negative reaction. I think that many are still living in an illusion of security, and bringing up budgeting messes with that. People need to think how many hours did I work at something I do not like to buy something that is ridiculous? We keep throwing stuff at the hole in our soul. You should feel no shame sister. You are on a higher path to peace. Frugal is awesome. That church ought to be taken to task.

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