What’s Your Money Story?
And more importantly, where’s your money story taken you? We all grew up with money stories from people who raised us and the society we live in. My dad always believed that whatever I put my heart and mind to, I will achieve. That’s led to the high achieving part of me. I owe my practical common sense to my mom. She had the most creative ideas on recycling and zero-waste, back in the 70s before recycling, upcycling and going zero-waste became all the rave it is today. My money story was a combination of both my parents’ outlook on life. It became ‘sure, go after your dreams as long as it puts food on the table’.
Where My Money Story Led To
At some point, I went out of equilibrium. I went chasing after my dream of owning and operating a cafe together with my husband. Up until then, I was always the more level-headed, practical one. My husband was a dreamer, like my dad. Hmm…is it any surprise?But chasing that dream cost us a 6-figure debt we’re still working to pay off. Eventually, I wanted to pull the plug on the cafe and call it quits. My husband, also a product of his upbringing, wanted to give it more time instead, convinced he could still make it work.
He’d grown up having to fight for just about everything he needed, not just for himself, but also for his handicapped single mom and 2 younger brothers. He’s always managed to find a way to make things work. In hindsight, I know he had good reasons for staying invested in the cafe. At the time though, I resented him for it because I was the one working a day job to finance it while he was running cafe operations full-time.
I felt taken advantage of like he had the ‘luxury’ of living the dream, while I slogged in a corporate job to pay for it. It never occurred to me that by wanting the cafe to be a success was an opportunity for him to make my dream come true. Plus, finally, get the approval of my family that he felt he never got.
Between both of us, I was always the more corporate one anyway. My husband, a simple man with simple needs, didn’t mind cleaning out the clogged toilet at the cafe. I would have just paid a plumber to do it. Long story short, I’d been blaming and resenting my husband ever since for the debt we were in and for ‘cornering’ me into playing the role of the sole breadwinning mom.
It’s so much easier to blame someone else for your own bad money decisions than to admit our part in contributing to the problem at hand. Especially when the problem is as huge as a 6-figure debt.
What If You Don’t Listen To The Same Old Story You’ve Been Telling Yourself?
Recently, I was listening to Jean Chatzky’s podcast interview with Cara Alwill Leyba. Cara said one thing that made me realize all the negative energy I’ve been creating by feeling angry and resentful. All I’d been thinking about was the huge debt hanging over my head and how it was all my husband’s fault.
If only he’d pull out earlier, the debt wouldn’t have snowballed as it did, I told myself. The loan was taken under my name since I had a regular paycheck. So I felt the burden and urgency to get rid of it.
I was constantly thinking about how to make more money to pay off the debt sooner. Now, don’t get me wrong, paying off debts as soon as possible is important and should be a top priority. But I’d become obsessed with these thoughts. It permeated every single part of my life. It kept me up at night.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night and start ruminating about how to pay off the debt and find myself building up negative thoughts and resenting my husband again. When my kids wanted an ice-cream, I’d find the cheapest one.
When I felt like having a coffee occasionally, I battled over, ‘should I, shouldn’t I? I should save the money’. All over a coffee that cost $1.90.
And of course, whenever my husband wanted to get anything, even something legit like a new shirt for his new job, I’d say, ‘don’t you have one already (that faded one from 10 years back)? And I’d still resent him for getting a new shirt that was on sale for $20 (which is a really good buy, to be honest).
Money Is Energy – Use It To Help You, Not Stop You
Cara talked about the energy we put into our finances in the way we show up really manifests. Like Maria Nemeth, Cara talks about how money is energy. When we have a negative feeling about money, that’s the world we’ll create for ourselves.
Conversely, when we have positive feelings about money, we’ll put in the work to make those positive feelings about money happen. For Cara, she could easily have said when she quit her job, that she’s just never gonna make it or it’s gonna take her 10 years and she’s not going to have any money.
She would have created that feeling for herself. It would have given her negative energy. She wouldn’t have been able to put the energy into the work that she now is doing. Instead, Cara chose not to listen to that story. She chose to believe she would be successful.
From that point, she was able to create things that would generate revenue. The vibe she was in was very different. Cara believes we cannot create quality content from a low vibration. If we’re in a place of desperation, like ‘I have to make money this month!’, whatever we put out is going to suffer.
It’s just a different feeling and people pick up on that feeling.
How I’m Rewriting My Money Story
Hearing what Cara said made me rethink the story I was telling myself about our financial situation. I decided there and then, in my car, that I’d choose to be successful with money. I’d be successful in paying off the debt. Not only that, I’ll even be successful in making enough to live the life I want.
Rather than remain clueless about money and finance, I’ve since started attending talks about financial planning, investing in the stock market and how to grow multiple income streams.
I got my hands on as many money-related books as I could read. I started listening to podcasts by women in finance.
Maria Nemeth’s book, The Energy of Money, helped me shift my energy from anger and resentment to love and joy by making one simple but powerful change when it comes to dealing with money loaned to friends and family. She said, either allow ourselves to be concrete about the repayment terms of the loan or make the money a gift, with no expectation that it will ever be repaid.
With our debt, I decided I’d make it a gift, to both of us. After all, it was equally my decision to give the cafe a go. We had some really great times and met the most amazing people during the time we ran it. This gift was like a real-life MBA plus a crash course in surviving challenges in a marriage.
Many people pay for college or therapy. I decided our debt was a way to learn about myself, my husband and marriage. Not to mention the commercial side of the business and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
So that would be my new money story. The great thing about being in this much debt was that it forced me to take charge of my money. I was never conscious of money.
Money was just a tool for me to buy the stuff I wanted and pay for our family expenses. It was purely transactional.
I definitely wouldn’t be on this path learning about how money is energy, thinking about what really matters in my life, what’s the contribution I want to make with my life or bother learning anything about growing my wealth if I didn’t go through what I did.
I was glad this happened to me in my 40s rather than my 50s or 60s. Although it’s later than I’d like, at least I’d still have a good 20 plus years to work on growing my wealth. After all, 40s is the new 30s.
How To Rewrite Your Money Story
How would you rewrite your money story? If you find you’re in a place with money that you don’t like and want to rewrite your money story, here are 3 steps I’d suggest.
- Make A Decision – Do You Want To Move Forward or Stay Stuck?
First, you have to make a decision about what you want your money story to be. In my case, I decided to see the debt as a gift to my husband and myself. It’s teaching me priceless lessons about life I would never have learned if I didn’t receive this gift.
This gift has led me down a path to become more financially literate, to understand myself and my husband better. It’s taught me how to have compassion for myself, others and most of all to appreciate my husband so much more.
I wouldn’t have rediscovered my long-lost love for writing, started a blog about women and money, met the wonderful people I have on Medium and in person through interviews I’ve had with other women, be able to tell you what a Sharpe Ratio does, invested the way I have and so much more.
Making the decision to think of the debt as a gift has freed me from the negative energy that was tied up in anger, resignation, and resentment.
- Make a Plan and Take Action In The Moment
As I started making a plan to pay off the debt, I had to figure out what was the ‘right’ and ‘best’ thing for me to do. Making financial decisions about how to allocate our money was new territory to me. In the past, it was simply about waiting for my salary each month, paying off expenses and hoping there would be some money left to have a good meal or go on holiday.
I never consciously thought about how to multiply our money to grow wealth or reviewed our finances regularly. To educate myself, I read countless articles, blogs and spoke to many bank officers. Sometimes, I was made to feel like a real idiot because of my repeated questions.
But I didn’t care. I wanted to learn everything I could about money and finance. Doing this built up my financial confidence slowly.
And gradually, my plan started to take shape.
Here’s what I did as part of my plan:
- Got a balance transfer with 0% interest for 18 months for my credit card debts.
- Refinanced our home loan to lock in a lower fixed interest rate for 2 years.
- Downloaded an expense tracker to start tracking everything I was spending on and making money from.
- Reviewed all my insurance and investment plans to make sure our kids are covered if I couldn’t work or dropped dead prematurely and how else my money could work harder.
All of the above took a lot of hard work and some time to organize and digest.
But after doing that, here’s what I got:
- A realistic and cheaper way to pay off our credit card debt with clear milestone dates.
- More repayments towards the principal on our home loan rather than to the bank.
- A bird’s’ eye view of my spending behavior and habits and where else I could create other income streams. This new habit alone helped me save a total of $4,400 each year in unnecessary expenses.
- Rather than leaving a portion of our kids’ savings in the bank, I started a regular savings plan tapping on dollar cost averaging so our kids could get into the stock market early and reap the full benefits of compounding.
I was so proud of my achievement from being unconscious about money to actually have it all organized that I wrote an e-book to share how I did it with others.
Doing all this made me realize I needed to make more money and value myself for what I’m worth.
So I worked really hard in my job to become a high performer. Then I negotiated for an above average salary increase. That immediately allowed me to make significantly more.
That whole experience in itself forced me to learn how to speak up and advocate for myself as an Asian woman at work.
- Review Your Progress & Realise Life Doesn’t Have To Be So Hard
So let’s say you decided to stop telling yourself the same old story that’s got you where you are today. And you’ve made a plan and taken action to rewrite your story.
Would your life get easier?
We might be tempted to say no, nothing’s gonna change. That you’ve tried it before and life still stayed the same and just as hard.
I encourage you to watch Maria Nemeth’s TED Talk on “Would it be ok with you if life got easier?”.
In this talk, Maria shares 3 concrete actions you can take now to rewrite your story and make your life easier:
- Think of someone you admire. For me, it’s Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Tererai Trent.
- Think of the qualities about them. Are they compassionate? Do they do the right thing? Are they resilient?
- Make the decision to contribute that quality at the moment you’re in, e.g. in the coffee line, with a sick friend, when you’re with family, etc. How can you display that quality in the little moments of life?
Simply shift away from your worries and doubts to those sweet qualities you can contribute to life. That’s when life gets easier. Moment by moment.
It’s always hard to feel like we’re making any progress at the moment.
But if we keep at it in each of those moments, soon we can look back, 3 months, 6 months, a year or years from right now and see the story we’ve re-written for ourselves.