From FinCon to a New Financial Reality

FinCon is a weird and awesome and wild adventure. It’s days of content and connecting “Where Money Meets Media.” In Orlando. Okay…

FinCon

Tl;dr – it’s a bunch of money nerds who open wallets and words to help folks across the Internet do better with money.

Add the brands who want to woo them to their causes. Because who wants to read product details about a new budgeting tool when they can hear why their money heroes like BitchesGetRiches or Cat Alford use the tool to tackle their shit?

To FIRE or not to FIRE…

Not I…and apparently not most folks, who rely on the much-more-obsessed-than-they to guide them to the promised land of FIRE or debt pay down or the ability to Afford Anything.It’s such a feisty set that when Suze Orman talked smack about the FIRE movement, the money-nerd corner of the Internet exploded. Can’t even hyperlink unless it’s to my search results on the topic, which are pages long…

Like a salmon swimming upstream

I was there for work. Paying more than most (all?) on-site would approve. Taking Lyfts to and fro and racking up spendy ‘ritas and hotel Internet and coffee from baristas each MakeItRainday. While others tweeted about going to Publix for groceries and to fill the coffee mugs they brought from home, we had mediocre hotel dinners + room service and a hotel movie, because team bonding. And chicken fingers

Making it rain tax deductible dollars is a good retention strategy, right? And the wine at the happy hours was blech.

I spent most of one day glued to my laptop watching in horror as the Kavanaugh hearings played out and wasting money in the form of connections and productive time because all I could do was not barf or scream.

(I clearly missed the session on layout…)

And then I got home to wildly-overpriced-but-always-home San Francisco and a shoe dropped on my too-expensively-shod toe. The hubs is prolly gonna quit his job.

I make money. I have a dope business. It makes me super proud that I’ve been able to build a profitable business – and employ people! with real jobs! and bennies! – in two years.

But I also optimize for growing the biz versus paying myself; maxing my 401k and tax write-offs versus dollars in my pocket, because the hubs’ current job is crazy lucrative.

As a result, I have let the lifestyle creep so far up my own ass, only a few years after we were envelope budgeting and cutting cords and costs and the things I THOUGHT came with my badass executive-ing… So after having been broke and underpaid for most of my adulthood, I’d climbed to a higher salary than I thought I’d make in my life…and had the tightest budget to-date. Because I hadn’t accounted for four kids, big moves, a nasty ex (his, not mine) and the ensuing costs of custody lawyers, tuitions, and the whole nine.

And I’d entered into a debt-averse marriage with sky-high cost of living.

So the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing on building and re-investing in the biz, while hubs has worked his ass off building inside a big company and functionally printing money because the stock market, tho. Oh, and his tremendous work. But. That stock.

stock market.jpeg

So now, as we’ve cut away every cost-cutting measure and added luxuries from impromptu travel to frequent food delivery to Rent the Runway Unlimited (which’ll be yanked from my well-dressed self when it’s cold and dead) and having (in his words not mine) “money to burn” after we hit our 401k, 529 and other savings goals…we might be looking at a family of 6 (college, private high school, two with a nanny) and an ex (still bankrolled) on a salary that even if I paid out every profit dollar to myself, wouldn’t match what I made when I worked for THE MAN.

So. Time to get real. And reflect. And figure out how to live in the city that I love and enjoy some of the finer things that balance my hectic work-life-circus act, while also ensuring we can do it without simply polishing our golden handcuffs and learning to suck it up until we die.

So that’s me. As of today. Mortgage just under a cool mil’. Lifestyle extended at each edge. Trying to take to heart the teachings of the nerd herd I admire so much and make it work for me.

Next up, reading Broke Millennial and Get Money  — because I know the authors live in expensive cities and are still handling their ish. And I love buying first run books, especially from female authors.

So. Game on.

Economic Empathy and the Women’s Convention

This may be a strange place to write these thoughts.

Here, I am supposed to write about how to ensure my own guaranteed comforts, the financial finagling that’ll grow my share most quickly, or most completely. And as I write these words, I realize that’s not entirely incompatible with the dominant thought I took away from the first Women’s Convention of my lifetime, but it’s hard to marry.

The term/theme that echoes and screams for attention and intention is Economic Empathy. I have long felt its absence in the world, but never had a word for it. Didn’t know it was an actual thing. 

Now that I do, the concept is pretty clear: work to understand and actively feel the financial constraints of people in different scenarios. The focus is on haves really considering the experience of have nots – at the ballot box, when shopping or dining, when hiring, etc. Even when it comes at a personal cost. Or especially then?

An example. As I walked through a small marketplace called Social Justice City, among my purchases were 4 artisanal chocolates. They were made in Detroit, and I felt good about supporting a local small business.

Later the same day, I learned that the scholarship recipient we’d selected in an essay contest had flown from CA with $3. Total. For a three day trip away. She was entirely at the mercy of the conference and her hosts to feed her. To get around.

The fear that induced in me was palpable, but I could imagine it.

Could someone who’d never been without? Who’d never had to consider the ‘what next’ plan of not being able to afford general basics?

And how can I best work toward a redistribution of wealth — or wellbeing — while also working to solidify my family’s assurances (if we can ever claim to have them)?

I know a few ways. Shop with stores and eat at restaurants that pay ethical wages; support small businesses; frequent neighborhoods and cities whose local economies could use a boost. And does paying my housekeeper extra before she takes her kids to Disneyland count? Or would all that money (to her, at the struggling boutique, etc.) be better spent affecting policy? Or in the hands of a nonprofit?

Maybe my goal should be to tighten all spending – most of what I do, if I am honest – that is done with neither intention nor empathy. Or, frankly, with an eye on the investments that’ll secure my future.

This shit is hard. Any thoughts?

Broke vs. Poor and Paying it Forward

So many times in my young, broke life, someone else’s generosity changed the game.

Whether it was a trip or simply a meal out with a friend’s family, or an indulgent meal paid for by an aunt or uncle while I was in college — even the expensive wine and cheeses or celebratory meals my first boss hosted, which I now realize were write-offs that should have been salary! — put a little steel in my spine. It polished my step.

The moments, big and small, exposed me to finer things or let me relax and enjoy in a way that was so hard on my own dime. The warmth to my soul, even now, brought by the gaze and gesture of someone else’s giving, provided a few lessons that I hope never leave me on this money journey.

First. Being broke is barely related to being poor.

No matter how many overdraft charges or late payments I had in my thriftless 20s, I never doubted I’d have enough to eat. I feared making rent, but knew I would never be homeless or put in a compromising position to find a place to stay. And throughout my life I was exposed to riches: amazing arts at the hand of the public programming in SF, home ownership, books on shelves, transit that let me get around, food from every corner of the Earth. Each of these, and especially all of these taken together, make for a very different path. One that points up and has continually boosted me along the way.

The other is the profound gift of extending access.

Access can be to experience or introductions or places or food that sits beyond the reach of another person. Now, as a person of means, I think about that in all kinds of ways. In how and where I spend – on the products of artisans? In small businesses? With women or minority owned establishments?

Sometimes, though not as often as I can. And sometimes (often?) beyond what I need.

But when I consider how much of our culture trains our gaze up – to more and more security, to growing and preserving wealth, to expanding and even exploding expenses – I want to keep track of how high up the pyramid I sit. That even when I felt broke and out of control, I started near its peak and have only climbed. Part of my definition of value is to pay it forward and spread it out.

My goal now is to increase consciousness, so I am not simply spending frivolously or as a quick serotonin hit, but with thought and intention toward these values, and toward more traditional goals.

Becoming a Boss

When I graduated, the economy in my hometown had just imploded. I’d studied what I loved instead of what made for a good resume. I came home to my parents’ house, a broken heart and almost 42,000 in student debt. My first job was mucking buckets and lugging arrangements at a florist, and then an internship at an office, doing what I have done since. Both were earned in large part because of privilege and connections. And at $8/hr., I was looking at 5,250 hours of work to pay back my loan. Without taxes or living expenses. More than 131 weeks at 40 hours a week.

The impossibility of it didn’t help my general fuck it mentality about money and even though I went from hourly to salary very quickly, my salary (starting at $28k) wouldn’t surpass my year’s tuition for several years. So.

I racked up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. On lunches and clothes. On life changing trips abroad. On stupid things and fees designed to take advantage of people like me. On bachelorette parties and bad decisions.

It was my secret shame, shared only with my sister. My friends were much more affluent than I, in school and then as they landed high-paying jobs that paid forward for life and savings, while my meager earnings went down a dark hole.

In my late 20s, I learned about personal finance in great detail and my debt started to give me real anxiety. As I neared 30, I was leapfrogging ahead in my career, and revealed my money mess in a relationship for the first time. To my now husband.

He said, “Seems you may have needed the travel and the clothes and experiences to establish yourself as a peer to clients. But now you are there. So you can stop.”

The recognition was a huge gift, and for the first time I saw my debt as something I could actually leave behind.

Through giant raises, a series of bonuses and tighter reins on my spending, I paid off school and my credit cards by 32. Mine was never the story of extreme frugality or of perfect control, but rather of the dogged pursuit to get paid. That continued through marriage, which brought with it two kids, and through the birth of two of my own.

When I was earning a multiple of what I thought I’d top out at, salary-wise, I also hated my job with a soul numbing pull. With four kids and a new mortgage, I laid myself off to create a career that would let me better balance among my needs: for self, for family and for money (plus a seemingly endless list of other buckets).

I am about a year into the venture, buoyed financially by a husband whose earning surpasses what I left behind. We overspend and under plan and have together weathered years where we live (big) paycheck to paycheck, with our cash meted out in envelopes, as well as years we’ve played fast and loose and fancy.

A decade since he helped me release my debt despair, and 6 years after paying off my final card, I am working to understand what financial independence looks like with so many dependents. And to earn and spend in ways that best support the world I want to inhabit. All while trying to raise kids who are the Opposite of Spoiled, even as I recognize how many of my deeply held values and fears and strengths come from being raised broke.

This is my money journey.