When, 7 years ago August, I sat across from two folks who volunteered to help me look at my finances, I went as a ball of anxiety, misery, and defensiveness. (I’m sure that was great for them!)
But, in truth, every one of us pairs that sits with another person to help organize and plan their spending knows that we’re stepping into a very sensitive place for that person. If they’ve ended up on the other side of this table, they’re not flying in on the wings of victory, and it’s natural that they may feel all sorts of uncomfortable.
As time has gone on, I have met again with several different pairs of folks to look at my spending and saving, to parse out my goals, to find where there is pressure and help make a plan to relieve that pressure (the groups are called “Pressure Relief Groups,” PRGs, anyway!). And even with all the years of doing this work, I can still feel anxious and defensive, particularly in places I don’t understand that well or feel particularly hopeless about.
As I stall on uploading my numbers spreadsheet to my new financial planner, I notice similar feelings bubbling up. Thankfully, not the hopeless bit, but the anxiety and defensiveness are up. It reminds me of those hoarders tv shows where people may have collected a whole bunch of stuff, but the particulars make no difference: it’s the feelings, and fears, that matter.
I feel fear that she won’t understand the spreadsheet I keep for my numbers, so I’ve been stalling uploading it. I fear that she’ll judge me because it may look like chaos to her, when it looks like order to me (hard-won order, at that). I also fear she’ll tell me I have to spend less money, to live smaller, which was my overarching fear at that meeting 7 summers ago.
But, frankly, I’m not the worst ever seen, and even if I was, it’s her job to help me sort it out! My way is not the only way. And I don’t have to live smaller, ever.
The ultimate message I received at that first PRG was that I was “underspending” in all sorts of categories. That “underspending” was even a concept was foreign to me! I’d imagined that because I could not make ends meet on my meager income, it meant these two folks would tell me to spend less, to somehow—even though I was living so close to the bone I was perpetually leaking blood—they would say: less, smaller, tiny, infinitesimal you.
Of course, you may have guessed, they did not say anything of the sort. In fact, they said I needed to double what I was spending in categories like food, entertainment, clothing. (Apparently $40 a week on food was cruel, not prudent!)
Deprivation is a place I’ve been uncovering for several years. Being smaller, hiding who I am, fearing judgment, reprisal, and shame. Naturally, the path to the origin of these beliefs is clear as hell, but that hasn’t erased their existence and it also doesn’t particularly help me in forging a new path.
My PRG said I needed to spend more. And I replied, “yeah great, how [a**holes].” At the time, they didn’t say anything. That wasn’t the point right then (though ultimately it was to earn more, which I have). They just said, continue keeping track of your numbers and we’ll meet next month.
And so we did. Again and again, with different pairs until present day when one of my PRG folks said, Hey, here’s a financial advisor’s number.
The road to today is paved with stepping stones that were impossible and invisible until each one was laid down. The path 5 years hence will look the same to future me — and as impossible and invisible to today me.
As I dicker around on sending my spreadsheet to my advisor, I have to hold myself with compassion, not judgment, for “not knowing how.” And I also have to consider myself with buckets of pride over how far I’ve come. Every step, no matter how sporadic, has led me here, and I have to trust that this woman has seen far worse and can help me to far better.
Here goes nothing.