Fifteen years ago when I was just a single, career-minded whippersnapper, I managed my money. Rather well, I think.
I had a mortgage I could comfortably afford. Direct debit instructions that funneled my wages into accounts marked ‘Vacation’ ‘Christmas’ and ‘Latest Big Project.’ A decent car.
I was in sales so a big chunk of my salary comprised of commission which of course waxed and waned. I avoided the scary financial scenarios of some of my colleagues by covering my fixed expenses with my fixed earnings. And any commission I earned was money I could play with.
My system probably made me less hungry for sales but hey, ho, it worked for me.
Yes, I was pretty awesome.
And then something happened…
A Giant Baby.
How did I do that?
Well, I’ll tell you – I got on a plane and moved to America.
It is a little known fact that flying in a plane to another continent can render a formerly perfectly competent, accomplished even, person into an unable, pretty hopeless, flailing individual. Getting on one of those planes is, for my UK readers, a bit like entering Mr Benn’s changing room – you go in one person and come out another.
When I got to the US, I couldn’t drive properly ;-). I didn’t have a social security number, I didn’t even have a bank account. I had to learn and acquire these basic skills and necessities all over. It was like regressing to being sixteen again although thankfully without the magazines, music and makeup of the time.
Not only that but I was intimidated. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and there are a lot of very intelligent people here. Talk was of start-ups and buy-outs, stocks and exit strategies. For the most part I had no idea what they were talking about. I listened a lot but learned only that it was all very different to what I was used to.
Now, I consider myself a very traveled person but so many new experiences were coming at me from all sides that I was lost. So once again I focused on what seemed to be important in order to fit in and get about. Learning to drive on the right. Getting a social security number. On learning to ski.
At this point I didn’t have a job and I was too busy learning to ski to put my game face on. So earning and managing my own money was well down the list.
On top of that, my husband is a whiz at managing and playing with money, enjoys it, insists upon it.
He’d also developed his own personal financial system over a couple of decades and if you’ve ever taken over a job from someone who’s been at it that long, you’ll know that there’s a lot of idiosyncracy and shorthand that make tons of sense to the jobholder and is complete gibberish to anyone else. I took one look at it and walked away.
Taxes – yuck. Lines of credit – what was one of those? IPOs? I can’t even remember what that stands for anymore (but that doesn’t make me any different from anyone else these days.)
In short, personal finance became a fuzzy cloud ‘over there.’ It didn’t rain upon me, it didn’t block out my light, I didn’t need to concern myself with it and if I did, I might get wet. Besides I was too busy ‘over here’ learning to ski and all.
I went about my life, having been rescued from all that icky stuff. I focused on building a life in the US, going to school and eventually having children.
And that’s pretty much where I am today – fairly clueless about our family finances. But for years a little voice has been whispering at me that this wasn’t a good place to be.
I’m aware that I have fallen into a trap many women fall into – leaving it all to someone else and as a result, not being financially secure and confident as I want to be despite statistically being the one who will suffer most in the event of a death or divorce.
So I made it my resolution this year to overcome that. I hired a financial counselor, took over the payment of bills and learned Quicken. It was a real struggle for me and over the summer I had a relapse.
I enjoyed our vacation, spending freely, and just couldn’t find the resolve within me to purposefully put myself in front of a spreadsheet. Why would I put myself under a cloud when I could stay out in the sun?
But I need to pay bills. On time. I need to understand and protect my financial position. I need to change my relationship with money from one of passing acquaintance to BFF (sorry, chocolate-covered blueberries, it’s me not you.) And because of the confidence and security having that knowledge will give me, I want to.
I mentioned recently that I was to start a new 30 Day Challenge.
I promised to let you know what it would be.
My September 30 Day Challenge is to reverse the process that turned this competent, financially-aware woman into a Giant Baby.
I will spend fifteen minutes every single day attending to my personal finances.
I will get out my checkbook, login to my bank account, pull up Quicken. I will write checks, log expenses, and file. I will read and learn. But most importantly, every day, without fail, I will spend this amount of time working on money. And I trust I will gain clarity, confidence and an excellent credit rating in the process.
At the very least, I’ll get that Giant Baby to stop screaming. She’s loud!
Will you join me in a 30 Day Challenge of your own? Let me know in the comments!