Who Picks Up the Check?: Talking to Expat Entrepreneur Jesse

who picks up the check in mexico

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In our second interview asking who picks up the check in the lives of singles pursuing financial independence, we talk to Jesse, an expat entrepreneur. Jesse owns his own spa in Ensenada, Mexico. We talk about the difficulties of being FIRE in a small town and dating across cultures. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about your first memories about money. 

When I was 11, my parents divorced. My dad lived nearby. My mom ran the family finances and did all the grocery shopping. She was a big coupon clipper.

I used to play soccer. As a freshman in high school, that was the first time I got real leather shoes. You can get $14 plastic ones from Kmart.

My grandfather was a big saver and investor in the stock market. He liked to read the Wall Street Journal even though he grew up in rural Kentucky and only had a 5th grade education. He was always interested in saving and investing at an early age.

For Christmas we would get gifts, but also twenty individual 1$ bills wadded up in newspaper.  My grandma still gives me a $25 check for my birthday.

What has dating been like for you?

Evangelical and sexually repressed until I was 21. I was studying religion and philosophy at a state school (Wheaton College). I started dating a Catholic girl and I could see that she wanted to stay in Wisconsin and I wanted to go to DC and the relationship ended. Dating for me is about sharing life with someone and making commitments around who you can be emotionally and sexually intimate with.

In DC and San Diego and Guatemala, I was in serial monogomous, and co dependent relationships.  They were normal and just how I thought life was.  When I finished my graduate work in San Diego in economics, and moved to Central America for work, it was after the financial crisis, so there weren’t any jobs. I got used to living in Central America on barely enough to cover my backpacker expenses.

After I graduated with my graduate program, I went to work in Guatemala for two years managing research for one of my professors in San Diego. For 3-4 years I didn’t have a lot of work. I published the paper I was working on and I moved down to Baja to save on rent and to travel. Then I got testicular cancer that was removed. [At the time], there wasn’t any kind of safety net. I had to think about whether I had enough money to take care of emergencies. It wasn’t really until last year that I could see regular income from starting my massage therapy business. I like doing this but I don’t want to be doing this in 10-30 years. I wanted to have options.

[I was basically living in] a retirement community on the ocean. When I got cancer I didn’t want to hang out with retired Americans anymore so I moved to Ensenada and completely integrated into the culture.

In Ensenada, I dated as much as I could. Read as much as I could to understand the social dynamics and manipulation of dating. I’ve pretty much come back full circle but it’s too much hassle to date multiple people. Before, it wasn’t discussed but now people are very clear if we’re dating and if we’re monogamous.

What were your early experiences as an adult with money?

When I lived in DC, I had an ok salary doing consulting. But my feeling when I left was that if I stayed there, I’d have to be making quite a bit more to have enough – to have kids or to get older. It made me miserable to be in an office. I was a nervous wreck. I really needed to have a lifestyle that supported me. And I could only do that when I could control my expenses.

I have my own spa with 3-4 therapists that work under me, working with a lot of tourists.  A lot of people work off the cruise scene. I charge more than average but I also have the ability to speak to tourists.

I was interested in stock investing from my grandfather and in university was president of our finance club during the internet stock boom.  Eventually after studying economics, I took the coursework for CFP and worked with a financial planner as his assistant.  In the end, I am too emotional to do individual stocks (indexing now), and I was not ready to settle down and develop the relationships necessary for financial planning career.  Life sucked for me emotionally at that time, so I had to change.

Where did you learn about dating?

Trial and error. I’ve dated people of many cultures in DC. They were still the same mindset of the working professional.

I was in a relationship with this amazing woman mid-30s veterinarian, but near the end, one of our stopping points was finances. Through a series of conversations I was able to understand exactly what she was looking for – a lifelong partnership where she pays for your clothes and her car but her partner pays for everything else. I did everything to clarify and when I got to clarity I couldn’t’ commit to a serious long-term relationship that would do that.

Two months into it she expected me to pay for the vacation. She wanted me to buy her $100 earrings. 3 days later she breaks up with me because she thought it was awful that I would not pay for the whole thing.

What’s the biggest difference between dating abroad and dating in the U.S.?

In San Diego, my friends are into cuddle parties, which are all about human contact and communication. It’s about [giving and receiving] permission [via] verbal communication about how someone touches you. The same kind of communication skills are taken to the bedroom so people can talk about sexual health or relationship commitments. I got used to being very clear about my expectations and communicating about these things with words.

In Ensenada, people don’t talk about anything – it’s all nonverbal, implied. The women here are not direct at all. It never feels good to be rejected, but you don’t get rejected here – you just get ignored. Or there’s a pretext. I could ask you out for a coffee date tomorrow and you’d stop answering texts two hours before or make up a BS excuse for not doing it. That’s the biggest difference.

In Latin American culture, family is huge. People work Mon-Saturday 2pm. They get Saturday afternoon off and Sunday is hanging out with family. So I pretty much have Saturday night to date someone. Or you spend the time with extended family. With a fairly big family there are frequent birthday party, baptisms, social obligations you have to go do.

I dated a girl who was second generation Mexican in San Diego and I had to manage relationships with her parents, sisters, grandfather. I understand it now but it makes it much more complicated emotionally.

What was your worst date?

When I moved to Ensenada I liked to go to salsa dancing. I invited a woman to go to a flamenco dancing festival. Her parents came. I was at a table with her friends. She went to sit with her parents. She made it clear that I was not allowed to be at the table with her parents. And then she asked to get her bag out of my car and she left with her parents.

Do you think you’ll marry in your new country?

[The main difference of dating in this country] is that this cultural idea of working for the rest of your life is very present. You need a job to be productive and be an upstanding person in society. I’m not opposed to the idea of a long term amazing relationship at all. More and more I see a lot of marriages and people aren’t living happy lives. As I become happier single, that idea of marriage seems less and less attractive. I would like to be the kind of person that supports someone else in whatever they want to do. If they want to be with me, that’s awesome. If not, that’s fine too. Over the decades, your goals change. To feel like it has to be with the same person feels limiting. It doesn’t seem like a reasonable expectation.

But love happens and you just want to be around the same person for as much as you can as long as you can.

Who picks up the check in Mexico?

Pretty much the man picks up the check. I just pick it up. I got into a lot of trouble fighting the culture but these are the rules.

People meet through friends and networks of people. So by the first date you’ve talked 5-6 times and had coffee. The way I do it, I pick things I really want to do so I still have a good time even if the date doesn’t go well.

Recent first dates have been hiking, independent movie theatre/dinner place, steakhouse I wanted to go to, coffee dates for easy exits, beach walking with the dog.

What’s your best piece of advice for dating and money?

Learn to be happy without either. If you’re not needy without anyone else to have someone to watch TV with or cuddle with. Even in my business, when I’m feeling abundant, not needy for another client, I attract higher quality clients and better work. That comes back to personal development whether it comes to spiritual or psychology. The other great thing about here is that I have time to spend time alone, sort through life.

Time is money. FI is the freedom to pursue my own happiness. Getting into a relationship can mean big restrictions on time and money. It’s also control. The relevance of expat dating is that anytime dating involves more restrictions on time and money and options in life that’s exacerbated in cross-cultural situations in outlook of life, demographics in urban/rural.

Anyways I’m going to enjoy the Pacific Ocean, some tacos and an easy life. I like my life. For me, it’s nice to have options.

How to Throw a Frugal Wedding (Without Alienating Your Friends)

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My sister’s wedding was the worst day of my life. I would like to say it was because I felt like I was losing her. But no, I was fine with that. The real reason was because she had a nightmare frugal wedding. Would money have fixed the problem? Well, let’s find out!

The Terrible Prelude

My sister’s wedding had about 75 people and cost a few thousand. It’s not the frugalest wedding of all time but it’s pretty good.

My brother in law chose his only brother as his best man. I am my sister’s only sister. My sister chose to have three bridesmaids and no maid of honor. She wanted us to be equal. I really felt like this was a slap in the face. My sister stated though that there would be no toasts at the wedding so it wouldn’t matter. Remember this detail.

Also, despite what I will write about below, my sister and I have a great relationship. I hated her wedding but she’s a lovely person. It’s just that a lack of planning (and the stress of weddings in general) can make everyone go crazy.

The Garbage Rehearsal

At the rehearsal, the church wedding planner created name tags for all of us. I was designated the maid of honor, because I guess she needed one for staging purposes. I was also the tallest, which probably made the pictures a bit easier.

At the rehearsal dinner, one of my BIL’s relatives opted to bless the meal. His prayer had some line about being overjoyed to be able to celebrate the wedding of [my BIL] and ..pause. I hiss my sister’s name. He seems to finally remember the name of the bride. I wanted to stab him.

The Nightmare Wedding

So the wedding day arrives. My sister said the bridesmaids could all wear black dresses we owned. I’m of course mistaken for the bride. (Ugh all Asians don’t look alike! Plus the bride is the one in the big white dress!).

The ceremony starts at 10am. My sister is chillzilla. But around 9:40 she ponders, should I wear makeup? So we decide on some foundation. Some gets dripped on her dress. I immediately make a beeline for the groomsman who told me he would bring a Tide pen. Crisis averted.

Wedding goes off fine, if a little long. The kiss, well that’s a whole other story. (It was all everyone, but me, could talk about after the wedding.)

Anyway, the reception is in the church basement. My sister said she had heard of weddings where the friends and family would serve the food buffet- style. It cuts down on catering costs and people are happy to help.

The food has been delivered but there are no caterers. There are no waiters. Which means there is no one to figure out where the food will be served. There is no one to bring out the large buffet trays. A bunch of people come up to me asking, what do we do?

The Disastrous Climax

I enlist the help of the ushers (these guys were godsends and I hope my sister and BIL realize what treasures these guys were). We assemble the tables, bring out the food, find the serving wear and well, serve the guests. Fine, everyone’s eating. I sneak in some food. While I’m sitting at the head table by myself (the newlyweds were making the rounds and the other bridesmaids and groomsmen were elsewhere) the emcee starts his schtick. He congratulates the new bride and groom. Then he says words that haunt me to this day.

Now for the maid of honor toast.

And he shoves the microphone straight in my face while I’m eating my dinner alone. And 75 heads turn my way. I swat away the mic, a look of horror spreading on my face.

Fortunately, my dad jumps up and gives an impromptu speech. Thanks, dad.

The Whimpering Conclusion

Then it’s time for cake. I again enlist the ushers to bring all the food back to the kitchen. (I don’t remember what happened to people’s dinner plates). So then we served cake.

The reception was pretty much over at this point. Except for one thing: we are supposed to clean all the dishes. Surprisingly, the wedding party all has plans so they leave tout de suite. I’m left with the two ushers. We clean dishes for a few hours. The floor is a puddle of water so I can’t even take off my four-inch heels. I also make sure the church is back in tip top shape. When the ushers leave, I wished I had firstborn children to give them. They were super amazing.

Then, my sister’s friend asks for a lift to go buy a gift. He’s a good guy, if a little scatter-brained. I literally cannot feel my feet and can barely walk at this point so I say he can take my car but he has to drive. I slink into the passenger seat, my dress covered in food smells. It’s only a few miles to the Best Buy. But my friend gets into a fender bender with a car in front of him. Thankfully, my car is a beater, but still, it was the perfect cap to the worst day of my life.

Oh and then for bridesmaid gifts, my sister gave me a copy of her favorite children’s book. I don’t want YOUR favorite children’s book, I say. And she happily takes it back.
The end result was that I was exhausted, sore, humiliated, scared (about what would happen with my car), frustrated, resentful and angry. This is what happens when your “frugal” wedding goes wrong.

Why Frugal Wedding Advice is Infuriating

To her credit, my sister is not a personal finance blogger. Because so help me, if she writes a how-to on having a frugal wedding, I will ….think really bad thoughts about her. (Incidentally, my sister’s uber-cheap bridesmaid friend copied my sister’s wedding to a tee. She even requested the same church – which she doesn’t attend – and asked to take my sister’s dress. Two of a kind).

The tips that personal finance bloggers write about weddings is infuriating and one would end up with a wedding not dissimilar to my sister’s. Look at any list of frugal wedding tips and they’ll tell you to be dishonest (don’t tell them it’s a wedding, tell them it’s a retirement party!). They’ll also tell you to use your friends and family for free labor, and then pat themselves on the back for all the free hours, weeks and months that their friends and family spent worrying about their wedding.

Weddings are that funny occasion when personal finance bloggers do not put their money where their mouth is.  These are the same people who will encourage you to side hustle in one post. But with regard to weddings, they’ll encourage you to get your hard side-hustling friends to work for free.

A personal finance blogger will say, ignore the expectations of your peers. But their concept of a frugal wedding still abides by the same rules. You have to feed everyone a meal, you have to have alcohol, you have to have music, you have to have professional photography, and new fancy clothes. The only way to do those things is to be kinda rich already (so you can stockpile booze or have connections for cheap food) or to use people (free photography, free music, free setup and cleanup). What people who pay for the $30k wedding are paying for is not diamond-encrusted swans – but logistics. It can cost a lot of money for things to run smoothly. Otherwise, you have to get your wedding party to pick up the slack, which can be stressful (see above).

My Experience Planning A Wedding

I’ve never been married but I have planned a wedding. We cut all the corners for the bride and groom (wear clothes we owned, no hair or makeup, as few flowers and decorations as possible) but we would not cut corners for our guests and friends. We hired a friend to do the photography – but we were paying her. We hired a friend to do the ceremony – but we were paying her and had looked into the ordination rules for her. We were going to pay for travel and lodging for family that wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Still, the wedding budget was right around $30k – the average price for a wedding. We were also 1%ers and this amount of money was still stressing me out. The difference for us was that this was about how much money we could save in 5 months. For many couples, that’s one entire salary for a year.

How to Have a Frugal Wedding Without Alienating Your Friends

If you can’t afford the big ordeal wedding, that’s totally fine. Weddings used to be punch and cake in the church basement while wearing your Sunday best.  You can create a sustainable, honest wedding. If all you can afford is punch and cake, the people who will be offended will not be around for long anyway. There are a million ways to say, hey wedding industry, I can’t do the huge party. I just want to gather my friends and family together and drink beers. And that’s ok.  Personally, I would rather have a barbecue and call it a day than lie or use people.

Living within your means requires bravery. Throwing a wedding that flouts the traditional won’t be for everyone. But I’m betting that a lot of people will hear of your wedding and be relieved. At least some of these people will be your guests. But at least one of those people will be me.

 

The Joy of a Bare Bones Budget

the joy of a bare bones budget

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My friends still talk about the buffet to this day – raw oysters, fresh shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar, fresh carved prime rib. And all sorts of other foods that were delicious (and expensive). Beautiful ambiance.  It was cheaper than what we thought they could charge, but it wasn’t so cheap that we suspected something.

It was great and all but it was also all a bit too much.

When Being Cool Has a Downside

I have this same feeling whenever I do something obviously cool. Like getting free NFL, MLB or NHL tickets. Seeing an awesome concert. Going on vacation. Even traveling at all. Once, my ex used his points to upgrade us to first class on the Acela and I thought, wow, this is WAY TOO NICE. In the timeless words of Wayne’s World: we are not worthy.

When the experience is way more luxurious than I am used to, I wonder if I’m deserving. I also start to wonder, am I really enjoying this as much as I should? Is this actually fun? Is this worth the price? Am I worth the price?

And the weird thing is you start to feel a little guilty. Like here’s this amazing experience and you don’t know if you’re getting enough out of it. You start to feel wrong about not being as happy as you think you should be. That guilt takes away part of the joy.

I imagine it’s the same if you had a perfect life. If you have the great job, the perfect spouse, adorable children, and beautiful house, I think you’d look around and think, ok this is as good as it gets. Am I enjoying it enough? Am I even happy? And then your perfect life is a little bit less perfect.

The Joy of Being Lame

I grew up in a middle class family of five on the East Coast. That meant that we couldn’t fly somewhere cool every summer. That meant we had some pretty boring vacations, because we would go to where we could drive. I mean Kitty Hawk, NC, Pigeon Forge, TN, Dayton, OH. Yep, we went to Dayton, Ohio on vacation and we don’t have any relatives there. My parents thought it would be nice to visit. (We also drove by Gary, Indiana, but we didn’t stick around. We’re lame but not crazy.)

There’s nothing wrong with these places. (I grew up in a small town in New Jersey – I don’t judge). But they’re nothing to brag about. In today’s world, if a place isn’t Instagrammable, does it even exist?

I never disliked these vacations though. In fact, I look back at them fondly. Because when the experience is so uncool, it takes the pressure off. Your expectations are so low that even when you’re mildly amused, it’s like a jet rocket of happiness. And if you’re disappointed, that’s ok too. When your circumstances are less than perfect, you are finally free to feel however you are meant to feel. You can complain a little, sure. You can make fun of yourself and your ridiculous family vacations to Pigeon Forge.

You can also enjoy it.

And the best part of enjoying the weird, bizarre-o vacations is that you know that if you can enjoy yourself in the simplest of situations, you can enjoy yourself anywhere. The awesome place or the exhilarating situation becomes less of a focus. Instead, you can focus on yourself or on family or friends. You don’t have the pressure to be having the most photogenic or admired life ever. It’s nice to realize that your life is too lame to be on social media. And when your life is something that isn’t worth bragging about, then your life becomes a little more private and precious. You’re not living the life for “likes” anymore – you’re living the life for you.

The Joy of a Bare Bones Budget

I like to practice this idea of, well I guess I could call it “being lame,” but also having a “bare bones” lifestyle. I don’t have a problem with lifestyle inflation – I spend roughly on par with my lifestyle from 13 years ago, when I made a fifth of what I do now. But even so, sometimes it still all seems excessive. Sometimes I still wonder if I’m enjoying all of this (and by “this” I mean life) enough. I realize all the blessings I have – good food and drink, nice vacations, a nice home – and I want to ensure that I can still be grateful without any of these things.

The beauty of a bare bones budget is that you don’t have to pretend that everything is great. You can live a not-so-great lifestyle, and somehow it’s still amazing and wonderful. Because you’re alive and you’re appreciative and you realize that all the luxuries and excess are fun – but they’re not what your life is about.

What this means is that sometimes I’ll have beans and rice (but if you season it well, it’s delicious). I’ll have ramen (actually I love ramen, so this is more of a treat than a restriction). Wander around my city on a staycation. Spend the day organizing my stationery closet or mending my clothes. Attend free events around my area (super easy to do in DC). I’ll use what I have. If you can derive joy and a feeling of wealth from free lame things, that’s real guiltless joy. And that’s real savings.

Conclusion

I lived abroad for a year. I’m sure it was very exciting and adventurous to think about traveling and being free without responsibilities. And towards the end of it, I remember wanted to set up roots and being tied down somewhere. Here I was, young and free and living out other peoples’ dream. But what I wanted was the mundane – getting up and seeing the same things and people every morning. Building a life of routine. I felt guilty about that but I don’t think I should have. It’s totally ok to prefer the lame, the boring, the mundane over the exciting. Sometimes we can appreciate the small, cheap things more than the large, expensive ones. It doesn’t mean we aren’t appreciative or are valuing things in the wrong way. We are valuing things in the exact way we feel is right. We just have to learn to accept our own preferences no matter how uncool they may seem.

It’s fitting that I’m posting this at the end of Ramadan. I think the tradition of fasting for a month is so beautiful – as a reminder of those who do without. The joy of a bare bones budget is that you realize that you can appreciate what you have knowing that you wouldn’t be any happier with more. The joy is that you can be happy with less. And the best part is that you know you have the freedom to choose if you’re happy or not – and you choose yes.

Balancing Responsibility with Empathy

balancing responsibility with empathy

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When you’re giving advice, one of the main tensions is the idea of balancing tough love with, well, love. Balancing responsibility with empathy.

Part of me is team responsibility – team “lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.” I made all the right decisions. I put in the hours at a high-paying job and I’m frugal. Obviously you have to make the right choices or you won’t succeed. In order to make the right choices, you have to have the mindset that you’re the only one that can help yourself, because often, you’re the only one who can.

Part of me is team empathy. I’ve been in gifted and talented programs since I was in second grade. I’ve been surrounded by smart kids who have made all the right choices. And still, because of health or other circumstances beyond their control, some of them don’t get the same outcomes. It’s not all a matter of mindset or making the right decisions, but a matter of luck and timing.

So how do you balance these two competing ideas -how do you encourage or advise people to keep making the right decisions when luck is so integral?

When to Use the Responsibility Mindset

To me, it makes a lot of sense to focus on what you can control. I think talking about privilege is pretty stupid, honestly. Let’s take Bill Gates. He’s “privileged” in that he’s a healthy, white man who grew up in a wealthy area. Would he have gotten where he is if he were Asian? Why does it matter? Even if we prove that Bill Gates was lucky – so what? Everyone still has to play the cards they’re dealt.

Judging your life based on other people’s cards is futile. It doesn’t make any difference to look at others who might be more advantaged (envy) or less advantaged (pity). If I don’t like my life, I have to focus on what I can do to change it right now. And I have to believe whatever I need to believe to advance myself. Learning about my disadvantages doesn’t serve me. Neither does complaining.

There are often different mindsets between those who succeed and those who fail so mindset is generally important but it’s not essential and it’s not enough.

When Mindset Doesn’t Work

There’s this scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte and Carrie go to a seminar with a dating self-help guru (bear with me and try not to roll your eyes too much). The guru is all about manifesting and mindset (I told you to stop rolling your eyes!).

Here’s the scene: a woman in the crowd has just stated that she followed the plan of daily affirmations and has met a great new guy. Enthusiastic applause. Then, Charlotte stands up.

Charlotte: I’m just wondering how long that woman was doing her affirmations because I’ve been doing mine every day. And I want to believe but nothing is happening. I just don’t think it’s working. I just don’t think it will work for me.

Guru: I hear fear. I hear doubt. You have to believe love to receive love. Keep repeating your affirmations and eventually your heart will catch up with your head.

Charlotte: That’s the thing though. I did find love. I believed that there was someone out there for me. And I met him. Finally. And we had a beautiful wedding. And then everything just fell apart. …. And now I just feel lost. And I am I’m trying to put myself out there but I feel hopeless.

Guru: Perhaps you’re not really putting yourself out there.

Charlotte: Oh.

Guru: …I mean emotionally and physically…. Maybe you’re not really trying.

And at this point, Charlotte’s friend, Carrie, intervenes and defends her friend, saying Charlotte really is trying. Charlotte really is doing the best she can do and her mindset is strong.

I was reminded of this scene after hearing so many personal finance gurus talk about “Mindset! Mindset! Mindset!” What happens when the guru is pressured – hey, the mindset isn’t working? Well, the guru places the blame on the person, of course. You’re not following the plan! And I think this does a disservice to people following the plan for the following reasons:

  1. Mindset isn’t everything.
  2. Empathy is always important.

The Difference Between Good Decisions and Good Outcomes

You should all read Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets. Basically, Duke says that when we look back at our decisions, we tend to judge whether they’re good or bad based on their outcomes. The problem is that you’re ignoring the presence of luck.

This plays out often in the personal finance world. You’re told over and over to go to college. Georgina goes to college, gets a great job and benefits and can easily pay off her loans. Georgina must have done everything right. George goes to college, has trouble finding a job and struggles to pay off his student loans. Well, he shouldn’t have taken out the loans. George made a mistake.

The problem is that you’re presented with a scenario and people are trying to figure out cause and effect. Basically, they’re trying to place blame. We want to think we live in a world where we put in A and get out B, but that’s not the world we live in. Also, we’re terrible at figuring out cause and effect.

So what do we do? We haphazardly place blame whenever someone has a bad outcome. We see this play out in every aspect of our lives.

You got sick? You should pray for healing. If you’re not healed? Well, you didn’t pray hard enough. Or you have secret sin.

You’re fat? You should be more self-disciplined. Didn’t lose the weight? You’re not trying hard enough.

Can’t make ends meet? You’re not budgeting strictly enough. You likely have some secret luxuries.

Sometimes you can do everything right and be sick or fat. Sometimes you can cut your expenses to the bone and still not earn enough. Sometimes you can do everything right and the outcome comes out wrong. And the worst part might be the people that don’t know you, telling you where you went wrong.

When to Use Empathy

Pre-civilization, people used to think that if something bad happened, you must have done something to anger the gods. We haven’t actually gotten that far away from this kind of thinking. We see a bad result and there’s a kneejerk reaction – what did you do wrong?

You can be “mindset! mindset! mindset!” but other people are going to tune you out without empathy. I think it’s a huge problem not to have empathy anyway.

Balancing Responsibility with Empathy

Personally, I think the rule of thumb should be, that you use the responsibility mindset with yourself, and empathy with others. This is not to say you shouldn’t be empathetic to yourself or that you shouldn’t use tough love with others, but this seems like a good first approach. You know a lot about yourself, your decisions and your situation. You don’t know what happened to the other person. I’m pretty self-controlled and I know there are tons of people who could beat me when it comes to doing the right things. I don’t know that the person who had a bad outcome made worse decisions than me. I shouldn’t assume that.

If someone is reaching out to you for advice, they are often looking for empathy, even if they don’t know it yet. You don’t necessarily reach out to yourself for that reason. The  problem with the guru from Sex and the City is that she had very little emotional intelligence. Charlotte clearly wanted someone to affirm her. And perhaps the cold-hearted among you (cough Asians cough) might say, well you just need to know the information and ignore your emotions. But sometimes people need support and understanding. It’s the common trope that women often communicate for the sense of community, not to be given advice.  I think that’s really beautiful. Some people want to figure things out for themselves but they need support along the way. Hammering the same defective advice short circuits that communication. You’re creating problems where there weren’t any. You’re not solving anything.

When people are struggling, I hope I can be more like Carrie and less like the personal finance guru. I want to be the person who seeks to understand, not seeks to promote my own agenda.

What about you?

How to KonMari Your Finances

konmari your finances

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There’s so much personal finance advice clutter out there – I think it’s time you all learned how to KonMari your personal finance advice. Wait, what does that even mean?

If you read my Twitter feed, it’s filled with tons of bad advice I’ve seen on other finance blogs. And if you’ve read the “At Age 35” memes that have been popping up all over the internet, you can see that many people were aggravated over the provocative Marketwatch tweet where “experts” stated that 35-year olds should have twice their salary saved.

Ok, let’s say you don’t have twice your salary saved by 35. That’s totally ok. I have twice my salary saved and I’m turning 35. But I didn’t meet the guidelines for 25 or 30 and I might not meet the guidelines for 40. Personal finance is personal. It doesn’t really make sense to be upset about what one person says is the “right way.” But sometimes you do get upset. What do you do with personal finance advice that upsets you?

Who is Marie Kondo and what is KonMari?

KonMari is a method of decluttering created by Marie Kondo that has as its central message: get rid of that which doesn’t spark joy. So how does this apply practically?
I used to have a Letterman jacket in high school. Huge waste of money. You can only wear it for four years tops and then it’s weird.

I never wore it. I kept it for years in my closet because of how much money my mother spent on it. Every time I opened my closet I would see it and feel guilty. It reminded me of my regrets from high school. I thought about how this would be a really weird thing to donate to the Salvation Army because it was embroidered with my name and year. I thought about my parents’ sacrifice and where I was in my life. I mean it was just a huge guilt explosion whenever I opened my closet.

So one day, I threw it away. Just tossed it in a bag and down the garbage chute.

And immediately, I felt immense relief. In fact, I felt elated.

Part of me thought I needed to keep the jacket into perpetuity as a reminder of my mistakes. But it didn’t make me better; it only made me feel worse. It was an anchor for me – keeping me rooted in the past and unable to feel free in the future.

I think about this jacket when I see criticisms of KonMari of the “Well I can’t just throw out my fridge because I’m indifferent to it” variety. I take the most commonsense approach to KonMari – if you hate it, get rid of it. And as simple and obvious as that advice sounds, it was a revelation for me.

KonMari-ing your Personal Finance

I love good financial voyeurism as much as the next person. But I recently read an article that made me feel pretty bad. It was from a couple that was younger than me but who had more money saved. I mean, it’s very likely that a couple would have more money than me because there are two of them. But even dividing by two, they had more. It made me feel inadequate. I didn’t know what to do with it.

So I tried to KonMari it. And I came up with the following mantra:

If advice or messages serve as an inspiration or a wake-up call, then take it and run with it. If they do nothing but make you feel ashamed or hopeless, then get rid of it. 

Does this Allow Me to Ignore Good Advice?

Wait a second, you say. This seems like I can just ignore the personal advice I need just because it makes me feel bad. That seems like an entitled millennial victim blah blah blah.

Sure, there’s the possibility of that. But I think, you have to be ready to take the advice. Even if advice is exactly right for you mathematically or practically, it still has to be right for your emotionally. If the form of the advice makes you more upset and angry than inspired or energized, then maybe it’s not the right advice at the right time for you. Sometimes you’re not at the right point in life to understand that advice. Sometimes what you need to do is work on what you can and get to the point when you’re ready to take that advice. The advice won’t go into the ether. There’s so much financial advice out there; it’ll come back to you in a form that’s ready for you to take it when you’re ready to accept it.

When Advice Doesn’t Incite Change

My brother, unfortunately, gets a lot of criticism in my family. He can be a little unrefined at times. For instance, when he’s excited he can speak so loudly that it sounds like yelling. He’s been doing this since he was a kid. And my family has chastised him since he was a kid. Nothing has changed. He is incredibly loud in settings where quietness is valued. The cycle continues. Loud. Chastise. Loud. Chastise.

A few years ago, I said, here’s the deal. You’re too loud sometimes. It bothers us. But we’ve told you this over and over again and it doesn’t seem to change. And the mark of an insane person is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So, if it’s something that we’ve already told you annoys us, I’m going to assume you’ve heard it. And I’m not going to say anything more about it. It hasn’t changed anything in the past and I would be an insane person to assume it would change something in the future. Further, I fear that it’s hurting our relationship. It seems we’re only chastising you to make ourselves feel better, not to effect change. So I’m putting an end to it. He said he appreciated it.

And you know what? It’s been years. He hasn’t changed. But I have.

Maybe one day, he’ll change. But I believe that it has to be the right message at the right time. Reading personal finance advice that makes you feel bad is guaranteed to make you feel bad, but it won’t guarantee change. It might even make it harder to change. Feeling bad is not the answer.

Conclusion

If you’re at the point where certain advice isn’t helping you to change, that’s ok. It can be the best advice in the world but if it’s not working for you, you have my permission as a totally unlicensed untrained personal finance blogger to leave it alone.  For what that’s worth.

This doesn’t absolve you from improving yourself. Everyone should be improving themselves constantly! But you can pick and choose what works for you. The best anyone can do is to put one foot in front of the other and make whatever progress we can. You don’t have to beat yourself up just to beat yourself up. And you shouldn’t let others beat you up just for the sake of it either. Shame isn’t the answer to your financial woes. Pick what inspires you to put one foot in front of the other. Follow that. Get more of that.

If there is advice or messages that make you feel bad about yourself and don’t encourage you to be better, you don’t need to keep them around. KonMari it and let it go.

How to Be Bad at Math, But Good at Money

coffee cup mug desk

Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

 

I’ve heard a number of personal finance bloggers state that people aren’t interested in money because they’re intimidated by math. That seems like a straw man argument because in my mind, being good with money has little to nothing to do with math. Money is not about math; it’s about emotions.

Being Good with Money is Not about Math

I was very good at calculus but quite terrible at any kind of useful math. I tend to make egregious errors in arithmetic.

How can I be (often) bad with math and good with money? Well, why do we even think money is about math? Because there are numbers involved? I don’t think most people have a problem understanding that they need to spend less than what they earn. I don’t think most people have a problem understanding the percentages and arithmetic needed to create a budget. You can copy a budget from online or use an Excel spreadsheet if you’re THAT bad with math.

Creating the budget is easy.  The main problem is sticking to that budget and that involves self-control and emotions, not math.

Jason Kelly raised a good point for my last article – the differential between what I paid and what my boyfriend paid was probably inconsequential.
We could have spreadsheet-ed it out. I could have paid the next several meals out or frankly, just given him the difference in cash. But I think we all know that that would not have solved the problem. Like so many fights, what we were explicitly fighting about was not the real cause of our problems. You fight about chores with your spouse, but you’re really longing to feel appreciated. You fight about curfews with your kids, but you’re really projecting your own anxieties about your kid growing up.
Our fight wasn’t about money – it was about our expectations.

How Expectations Can Ruin Our Relationship with Money (and with Others)

Bob and I talked about this recently. (Bob reads my blog – I mean, I guess it makes sense because who wouldn’t want to read the inner thoughts of their ex?). I came from a background where my father paid for everything. Now, my parents made similar salaries and they had a joint account. So when I say my father paid, it wasn’t as if my mother was getting a free meal. The only sacrifice was that my dad carried his wallet around and my mom didn’t have to.
My parents hate the idea of splitting the check, but their way of paying wasn’t meaningfully different than going dutch. My dad could have paid for some of the meals and my mom the rest.  My mom could have paid for all the meals. It’s all exactly the same math-wise. Their payment arrangement had nothing to do with the math and everything to do with emotions. My mom liked feeling taken care of even if she was paying for half. I knew the whole thing was a ruse but it was a cute ruse. The money part worked because everyone’s feelings were attended to.

When Math Won’t Solve Your Money Problems

It was pretty stupid for me to want my parents’ situation in my relationship with my boyfriend. We weren’t married. I made more than him and we didn’t have a joint account. When he was treating me, there was less money for him. I wanted the same emotions but it wasn’t the same math.
Of course, if we had made it perfectly equal, I still wouldn’t have been happy. I needed to adjust my expectations. This was no place to think that, because I was a woman, I should have been treated to his money. I made more than enough to pay an equal share. I made more than enough to pay for everything. But I was equating money with affection, and that’s a dangerous misconception.

The Aftermath

I dated a guy recently and on our first few dates, we went dutch. This has rarely happened on my dates, but in terms of the math it made sense. He was a graduate student and I made 6x what he did. Still, I took the action as a sign that he wasn’t interested. But he kept asking me out on dates. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So you know what I did?
I asked him if he liked me.
*Mind blown* What? Honesty has no place in dating, I can hear you all say. But I asked him, and he answered that he did. And that was the basis for our relationship. He liked me, I liked him and we communicated it via words instead of implied it with actions involving money. I’m not sure if this is how adults have relationships, but I’m going to try it more often.
We might say that we “need” the guy to pay for dates to show that he cares. The other way he can show he cares? By using his words. Money can’t solve these problems because money isn’t about math.