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.

 

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

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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.
 

The Truth About Dating as a Single Rich Woman

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I’m in my 30s, single and I have a high-paying job.

I didn’t mean for this to happen.

I never cared about marriage or starting a family. By default, I chose to focus on my life and career in my 20s. I think if I were going to do it again, it may have been easier to do family first and then career. Though it would seem that having a career and a high income would be an attractive asset in the dating world, I have found it to be more often a liability.

What I Mean When I Say I’m Rich

For some background, I live in DC, home to tens of thousands of interns, students, and federal government workers. In DC, lawyers make some of the highest salaries in the city (whereas in SF or NYC, say, tech founders, bankers and people in many different industries can make much more). What this means is that when I date, 9 times out of 10, I’m dating a man who makes less, often a lot less. As of late, I generally make 2-3x more than my date, but I’ve dated men with bigger income differentials (students).

Does my career/salary hurt the kinds of men that respond to me online? I have no idea. People don’t fill out questionnaires. I do know that the income differential has caused rifts in my relationships though. I still haven’t figured out how to navigate the issue of who pays. If I were a man dating a woman who made a quarter of my salary, I would pay for at least half, but more likely I would pay for most things. But as a woman, it’s less clear what my role is.

Entering Unchartered Pay Disparity Dating Territory

I remember I had a fight about money with my ex, who we shall call Bob. He brought up that I was contributing less than half toward our food budget. We never discussed our salaries but it was understood that I made considerably more than him. We were both earning good money though and neither of had debt or high expenses. Combined we were likely in the top 2% of incomes. We went to nice but not extravagant places.

A few weeks before the fight, I had actually thought about whether I was contributing my fair share. When Bob and I went out to eat, one person would pick up the tab. My family is Asian so splitting the bill is a bit foreign to me. I detested the idea of a couple keeping spreadsheets to ensure each side was paying exactly 50%. I was hoping for something easy-breezy and motivated by love (*in the future, maybe spreadsheets are the answer).

But I also thought about fairness. By my calculations, I paid for about 1/3 of the meals out and he paid 2/3. I also cooked often and would plan and shop for the meals. I would cook somewhat expensive or elaborate meals – slow-roasted pork belly, chicken pot pie, paella, baked salmon, pork loin banh mi, katsudon donburi. By my rough estimates, I figured I was paying for half our total meals (eating in and eating out) though I was spending less because cooking is cheaper than eating out.

He was resentful. And I was resentful that he was resentful. I felt like he didn’t recognize my efforts. Also, I was resentful because if I made less, this wouldn’t have been an issue. My cooking would have counted as my contribution towards our “couple-y” expenses. But because I made more, I should pay for more. It didn’t seem fair.

What is Fair in Love and War

Of course, I’m sure it was fair. If I were a man, I’d pay more. When I was younger and making an entry-level salary, I dated a lawyer.  He paid for most of our dates and he would cook as well. The tables had turned.  But I wasn’t ready to pay for more than my half.

Now in my 30s, I’m learning to acclimate myself to paying more. I feel that this is the right outcome. If I had married when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in the career I am now. Many of my ex-boyfriends made good money. I doubt I would have had the ambition to make more if I already had a good source of income (from my hypothetical hubby) to support me. I went to law school in a small town, and I’m not sure that many men would have followed me there. If I had had children, I would have taken a break from work and I’m not sure I would have returned.

Because I didn’t focus on family, I have a career. Because I have a career, I have a high-paying job. With that high-paying job comes certain responsibilities like paying for more. This is the price of change. I’m working on my resentment.

Why I’m Still Worried

A woman outearning her husband increases the couple’s likelihood of divorce. Being nominated for the Best Actress Oscar (a sign of a woman’s success over her male significant other) increases her risk of divorce. When a woman earns more, she might resent her husband for earning less. The pay differential may change their dynamic. Her husband might be jealous at her success. These are not great things, but they are natural things. You can be a part of a team and still be jealous of your overperforming teammate or resentful of your underperforming one. I’m sure the rest of the Cavaliers all envy LeBron and LeBron may get tired of carrying his teammates. We would like to think that this jealousy or resentment will stir in us ambition to greater self-improvement or empathy but for many, it’ll be corrosive.

I don’t feel ashamed that I will likely date and marry a man who earns significantly less than me. I would be lying, however, if I said that I don’t worry at all about ill effects due to outearning my spouse. I’m learning to get comfortable paying for more. He will have to get comfortable with me earning more. It’s a whole lot of uncomfortable. I guess that’s what happens when you buck societal expectations. It’s for the best, but it doesn’t feel that great when you’re learning to change. I think they’re called growing pains.

Some will say, oh it’s ok because the men who are uncomfortable with your success aren’t right for you. I think a lot of men are or would be uncomfortable with the success of their female significant other. Many men don’t have to deal with this scenario – as the typical case is still that the man earns more. But we live in a society where it’s expected that the man earns more. Men can brag about how happy they are to be kept husbands – but the fact that they can brag about that shows that that’s not the norm. It’s generally uncouth to brag. If a woman were to brag about being a trophy wife, she’d be derided if she wasn’t being sarcastic. Trophy husbands get the best of every world – they get to work less, brag about that fact, and get lauded for being supportive. Meanwhile the bread-winning wives are warned that their husbands will likely have an affair.

Most of the women I know are dating or are married to men who make more than them, often significantly so. It seems really stupid and backwards to want to feel like a princess who is funded by her prince. I will admit that I had had a little hope in the back of my mind that that would be the case for me. Maybe I could be Meghan Markle.

If this is a big problem? HELL, NO. If it were, I could just quit my job and become a receptionist. There are easy options to go from higher-earning to lower-earning. I realize that this is a great problem to have in some ways. I don’t have to rely on some rich man to pick me. I can support myself. I can be single if I want.

Turns out, in my own fairytale, I’m the prince. And I’m learning to be ok with that.

Who Picks Up the Check?: Talking to Neuropsychologist Rachel about Dating with Income Disparities

Who Picks up the Check? Dating and Money stories

This is the first in the series “Who Picks Up The Check?” about dating and money. Rachel of Dousing the Fire is a neuropsychologist who recently quit her job, is pursuing her own definition of financial independence and is just generally a badass. I spoke with Rachel about dating with large income disparities, the effect of the FIRE movement on in-demand jobs, and bad dates.

If you want to be interviewed, use the contact form or send me a DM on Twitter @thegiveandget. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Editorial comments are in brackets. 

Let’s start with some background. What kind of beliefs about money did you have when you were growing up?  

My parents were not by any means high-income. My mom worked as a teller at the gas company (in the 80s, people paid their bills in person). My dad worked in materials management. We were barely middle class.  

My grandparents had a business that they started in the ‘70s. There was a recession but in the end it did very well. Day to day, I was lower middle class but when I was around my grandparents, I was upper middle class.

My family believed that they could always make more money. I was taught not to worry about it so much. 

Where did you learn about FIRE and what has been your experience with it?

It may have been Millennial Revolution that was the first blog that I came across. They are very anti-homeownership and I just bought a house and I am now of the same opinion as well.

In the field I work in, you have to really want it.  The year I had my internship, there was a 26% non-match rate. And if you didn’t match, you would just have six figures of debt [and no job]. 

On FI, they emphasize becoming an electrician or an air traffic controllers [high paying jobs without high student debt loads]. But if everyone did this, we wouldn’t have geriatricians. We wouldn’t have people deep in debt doing jobs that are very much in demand and if we lost that, we’d all be up a creek without a paddle. 

Maybe there’s a middle path where you can go and take student loans but not that much. But no one’s talking about that yet and no one’s talking about changing the system. 

If you had a definition of FIRE, what would it look like for you?

I am pursuing FIRE. It’s ironic because the last thing I want to do is travel. I just want to live out in the country and do my consulting work and forensic work. I’ve done some statistical consulting and do some disability insurance review and some report underwriting.

I’m a public expert on criminal forensic neuropsychology.  As a neuropsychologist, to get your foot in the door, you have to do a lot of criminal competency evals. And sometimes it’s a big pain because the patient is on the ground covered in feces. [Editorial note: Rachel is a badass.] But as lawyers get to know your expertise in sex offender analyses, you get more work. As a neuropsychologist, not just a psychologist, I’m more likely to be used in cases involving the death penalty.

I worked for 19 months in the federal prison system. Now, even my real estate tenants don’t scare me. 

You recently quit your job – does that mean you’re FI?

It just means I’m fearless and have a low tolerance for BS. 

Have you read about Kiyosaki The Cash Flow Quadrant? Most people are employees but the other class of people who trade time for money. So I’ve only traded in being an employee for being a self employed professional. The other side of the quadrant is investment and entrepreneurial, which is the real estate part. I want to continue to invest and build a business with passive sources of money because the goal is to  quit trading time for money. 

You have an interesting perspective because you have dated both as a high-income person (doctor) and as a lower income person (grad student). Tell us about that.

When I was on post doc in Toronto, my salary was $40k CAD/year but in Toronto you are considered low-income if you make less than $45k. The most interesting thing was the barriers the low income imposed. If someone wants to invite you to go to do something, you have the uncertainty of knowing who will end up paying.

If you’re lower income you’re at the mercy of your finances and of the other person. Once, I was dating someone and we were going to the fashion district in Toronto and something happened on the transit. Trolleys were full. I called him to say that I would be 30-45 minutes late. He said just get a taxi and I’ll pay for it. In my head that wasn’t even an option. I was so upset. It just ruined the evening.

How did you handle that uncertainty of not knowing who was going to pay?

I typically got things paid for. My best friend and I dated the same guy  but when i dated him, he paid for everything.  It wasn’t even a question. When she dated him, they split everything fifty-fifty. Maybe it was feminine wiles. Same guy, same apartment, same job, same city – just different women.

But I also thought, it’s just money, I can always make more. I wanted to enjoy the city at least a little bit.

I probably would have told my younger self to lighten up a little bit. Get the damn taxi and do not let it ruin your life. Spending an extra $50/month would not have broken me if it’s a means to an end. If you’re voluntarily impoverished because you are pursuing some high end profession, lighten up a little.

How was dating different when you were high-income?

I got into a longer-term relationship when I started making money. I felt a sense of responsibility to provide because I was dating this guy who had a son. It was interesting to me how quickly that kicked in – how much responsibility I felt as the higher income person to take care of my partner. 

In my Italian family, they’re adamant that the man takes care of the woman. So when he met my family, I told him that he better bring a roll of hundreds because if they saw me take out my wallet at any point they were not going to like him.

Were you ever resentful of having to pay for everything?

I was not resentful at all. He busted his ass and he was doing HVAC on roofs in Florida in July. He’s working harder physically 110% and he doesn’t have as much to show for it. He knew I was a doctor and I knew he was in HVAC. When I would ask him to dinner, I would pay because I asked him. If we went out for dinner last week, he would bring a pizza next week. Or if I had a rough day he would ask if he could bring by some wings.

Every Friday, I would typically buy steaks, and he would grill them or I would take us all out to dinner.  A nice dinner is nothing for me. He has worries about overdrafts and it’s a very different world. 

I was happy to do that for him and his son. When we went to a steakhouse for  the first time his son had never been to a restaurant with cloth napkins.

We never said it out loud but we understood and did what felt equal for us. It’s like Thanksgiving – everyone brings something to the table.

Does being a high-income woman limit your dating prospects?

Being a high-income female professional very much limits your dating options. You occasionally get a unicorn with a very secure man who doesn’t care if you make more.

You are limited in the lower income or lower education men you can date because they have to be secure and open to it. Some of the higher income men are hypercompetitive and can also get threatened by a high income. It can be difficult to align personality and income to get a good fit. In college any kind of guy would date me. If you’re a median earner you’re less of a threat to men. 

Still, I very much preferred higher income dating. Having a higher income in general is less stressful for the world.

If you could pick the ideal spouse in terms of financial habits and beliefs, what would that person be like?

It’s hard to quantify – it would depend on where they are in their journey. But there are real estate people and not real estate people. My ideal person might have to be a real estate person in order for me not to seem like I’m totally insane. 

It would have to be someone who understands leverage but isn’t too crazy. Someone who is intensely focused on whatever they’re trying to do. which is probably going to involve real estate. 

I like a good adventure. I’m very judgmental when people are operating from a place of fear. I dated a super cautious engineer type in Florida and he seemed afraid of losing a penny. I do think I need somebody who’s ready to be bold in his financial charges. 

Any terrible dating stories that you want to share?

I dated a guy in Missouri who I knew was a psychopath but he was nice to look at and I kept dating him just to see what he would try. He forgot his wallet on our first date. That’s a classic move there. Because i knew what was going on I never lent him any money. He put my name as a reference for a payday loan later. Sometime I do things just for the adventure. I love a good adventure. 

Another date that comes to mind: I saw this profile, a little bit hipster, big glasses but he states in his profile that his dad committed suicide and he was traveling around the country getting to know his dad’s friends to write a memoir. I meet up with him and he was the most boring person I’ve ever met. He looked so sickly I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to stand up at the end of the date. At the end, we were walking to my car and he for a hug. I offered him a handshake.

Do people go on dates with you to get free therapy?

People ask me questions that they want to ask a psychologist. What do you think about chronic traumatic encephalopathy? I get some stupid questions from time to time. In person, everyone says “you’re analyzing me right now!” No, I’m not , other than that now I know your IQ.

What do you wish you knew way back when?

If you know what you want, prescreen it. As a psychologist, I know that the #1 thing couples fight about is money. It’s so personal and intimate to people that it’ll be so integral to relationship if not aligned. 

I actually wish there was a way to know more bout people’s financial philosophy without society considering most of these things rude. If you find out later that someone has $57k in credit card debt that’s a big damper in a relationship. I don’t know that I’ve figured out how to solve that problem. Maybe you should just be rude and know that you have a lot of credit card debt than drag the relationship along for 6 months and be like “whoops.” 

When I told someone I was going to FI, he said I wouldn’t want to retire. I wouldn’t want to either. The important thing is to tell people about your relationship with money first. 

 

Why My Next Car Will Be a Luxury Car

pexels-photo-724495.jpegDespite being happily car free for two years, I already know what car I will get in the future –  a 2015 white Acura ILX with approximately 50,000 miles.

I think the frugalest among us would gripe – DON’T GET A LUXURY CAR!!! YOU’RE FALLING INTO CON-SOOOOOOOM-ERRRRR-ISM-ism-ism (imagine that with a ghost voice echoing).

I’m not choosing this car because it’s a luxury car or even a car I particularly like. I’m choosing it because it’s my mom’s car, she doesn’t like it, and it has a poor trade-in value. She wants to get a new car, and I don’t have a car, so when she decides on a new car, I’ll purchase her old one.

I guess some people would think, well that’s your mom’s mistake and you shouldn’t have to pay for it. I mean, I don’t really understand that way of thinking but let me explain what our way of thinking is.

So our family is Chinese and my parents left China because they’re not big fans of communism. The basic problem with communism is you can’t trust others to keep working if they can get everything for free. Ironically, our family operates like a quasi-Communist unit. If someone needs money, money flows to that person freely. The plus side is that there’s a lot of trust and we also know everyone’s finances. We are lucky in that everyone is a self-sustaining ship.

The benefits include a sense of unity. We are very Asian in that we never split the cost of anything if we are out together. We pay for each others’ groceries if we’re shopping together. We never ask to be repaid for anything. If anyone were to ask for money from everyone else, it would be considered a gift – there is never mention of paying someone back. To us, that’s how one would treat strangers, not family. It also just makes life easier, making it seem like we have extra emergency funds (though we keep our own personal emergency funds as well).

It also helps our peace of mind to have others that you can depend on to help you out. Or even that demand to help you out. My parents get pretty annoyed if I buy something that they could give to me for free. I’m afraid to buy new dishes or towels because my family will see them and wonder why I thought their 10 year old towels weren’t good enough anymore. In fact, I never throw anything out without first considering if someone else in my family would want it. Waste not.

I’m pretty sure this is normal among the immigrant community. My friend drove a really fancy Mercedes that wasn’t his style for years. He said his brother needed to sell it to get a minivan for his growing family. It didn’t matter that he could have and may have wanted a cheaper or different car. Money is more than thinking about oneself – it always involves thinking about the family unit.

I remember rolling up to CampFi in a black dress, black cashmere sweater, designer shoes and driving a Lexus. I thought, I hope no one sees me. I had just come from work and, because I didn’t have a car, I borrowed my dad’s car, while he was on vacation. My whole outfit cost $100 and I had worn it for years. This was the cheapest car I could get. It didn’t look like I was frugal. And I guess it’s good that I didn’t care how I looked.

It’s funny because so much about “being frugal” seems to be “looking frugal.” People brag about their rusty cars and the holes in their pants. But just as everyone knows that having expensive stuff doesn’t mean you’re rich, having  expensive stuff also doesn’t mean you’re spending too much or that you’re not wealthy. In the future, I may drive around in a fancy car but it’s not because I view the car as a sign of monetary wealth. The car would be a sign of the wealth that I have accrued based on the strength of my family.

At the Crossroads of Student Financial Health and Mental Health

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I learned that there was a suicide at my very competitive high school earlier this month. He was a freshman. When I learned this from a friend, I told her I was surprised it hasn’t happened more often.

When I was home on break my fourth year at college, I received a very strange phone call. It was the father of an acquaintance,  a current senior, already accepted to attend my college. The father asked about my senior slump, i.e. the expected drop in grades a high school senior has after being accepted into college. Oblivious, I stated honestly that my senior grades improved my last semester, likely due to teachers caring even less than the students. I treated it as a bit of a joke, but he didn’t take it that way.

Apparently, my acquaintance had suffered the usual senior slump and his father had taken it upon himself to punish him based on whether I had done the same. (I was currently attending the college, so clearly I was not a good example for the father to call).

I later learned that the father hit his son after our call.

I think people hear this story and are surprised that I’m surprised. That family and my family are both Asian so I should have known what the call was about, right?

Over the years, I’ve learned that my parents are not normal. For instance, once when I was in a group of Asian people, someone said “people don’t understand that all Asian people get beat by their parents.” I piped up:”my parents don’t hit me.” One of my friends burst out laughing. Then she stopped and asked if it was a joke.

Asians think this is bar none the strangest thing about my family – no one gets hit, no one hits anyone else.  I know, as children, my parents got beat, but that was in Asia and a long time ago. I figured it was a bygone barbaric time. My grandparents did not know any better.

I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t beat your kids. I don’t understand it myself but I’m not judging. Still, it’s not the hitting that bothers me so much as the reason for hitting. My acquaintance was going to a very good school. Why would you hit a good kid like that?

And the answer is, because slumping grades are not good enough in the Asian American community. I am cognizant of the pressures to be perfect, but mostly from a distance. Most of my pressure growing up was internal; I tiger mom-ed myself. I signed myself up for piano lessons. I applied to gifted and talented programs. I applied to law school on my own urging.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I saw the external pressure my friends were under. This pressure to be perfect, top of class, high-earning. And I didn’t even grow up in a  super-pressure-cooker area like New York or California, or (heaven-forbid) Asia.

Asian immigrant parents often came to this country with nothing and they wanted a better life for their children. This has led to an arms race in education and money. And Asian parents will literally do anything to get their kids to succeed. There’s an incredible amount of sacrifice involved. Some Asian parents will sacrifice their own financial well-being for their children. With that, there comes a lot of pressure (psychological, emotional and physical, to name a few) to do well and give back. It’s not just about earning one’s keep; it feels a little bit like the guilt that Private Ryan has after so many people sacrificed for him. But if he had known about the guilt he would suffer, Private Ryan probably would have told those soldiers to call off the search. It’s just too much of a burden to bear. Nothing will ever seem enough to cover the sacrifice.

When I thought of student financial health, I thought about student health, and I thought about this. I was thinking, the best way to work on your financial health as a student is to give yourself a break. It’s too much of a burden to achieve super-perfect grades to get into that super-perfect college so that you can get that super-perfect job and earn super-perfect money. It’s ok to make ok money.

It’s ok to struggle at school or finances or relationships or anything. It’s also ok to fail sometimes. Failint doesn’t make you a failure and people will not see you as such.  Not being perfect only means you are human. And if that’s not ok for some people, well it’s their own problem. It’s not your problem.

In a way, it was good that I wasn’t such a stellar student because it meant that I didn’t have to live in fear of knowing what might happen if I failed. I met the failure and found it was ok.

Your parents probably love you even without all the bells and whistles. I mean, I can’t say for sure because I’m an Internet stranger. But it’s probably true. I eventually found out my own parents cared about me apart from my (paltry) accomplishments.

I always noticed that when pushy Asian moms would brag about their kids, my mom would bring up whatever marginally impressive thing her kids had done to use as a weapon to fight back. And then she’d bemoan the other moms later. From this, I did eventually get the feeling that my family was all on the same team. She didn’t tell me to get better for the sake of other moms; she just hung around other moms less. (Not because she was ashamed of us but because it’s just exhausting and no one’s ever going to top Danny who went to Yale on a full scholarship).

I wish you all the same luck with your families. And, y’know a scholarship to Yale (while we’re wishing). #finhealthmatters

 

 

The Huge Financial Privilege No One Talks About

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When we think of the haves vs. the have-nots, we assume that the “haves” hold all the financial advantages. Obviously tons of money is a huge financial privilege, but having money is no guarantee for proper management. There is no amount of money that is so large that it cannot be lost. See, e.g. pro athletes, lottery winners, MC Hammer.

People who succeed in careers often have good mentors; people who succeed in finance often have good role models. So while I did not grow up with a trust fund, I did have a huge financial privilege that set me up for financial success:

I had the privilege of being raised by financially responsible parents.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money when they came to this country but I grew up in a middle class family.  In the years between when my parents emigrated and when they had children, they saved every penny to give their children a more comfortable life, and they continued to model this behavior as we grew up.

What did this mean for me?

Lifestyle inflation is a foreign concept.

Before going car-free two years ago, I drove an 18-year old Honda Accord. I also used a 7-year old laptop. This was a few years after I had started working as an attorney with a six-figure salary and after I had paid off my law school debt. Someone asked me once why I didn’t upgrade and I honestly thought, you CAN’T buy something new until the old thing falls apart.

When you’re raised by immigrants, you never let things go to waste. My parents kept the same threadbare artificial Christmas tree for 20 years. My nephews sleep in the bunk bed that I slept in until I was 22. I still sleep with the same comforter I received when I was 8.  This idea of upgrading for upgrading’s sake is new to me and it honestly seems like too much work.

In fact, lifestyle inflation makes even less sense when you have judge-y immigrant parents. People talk a lot about peer pressure to spend. In my family, it was peer pressure to save. My parents routinely criticize me for spending on some pretty “normal” things, but they never encouraged me to buy more than I need to. Thrift is next to godliness.

They taught me that money is not love.

My parents never gave us gifts for Christmas or birthdays. While it would have been nice to have some new gadgets and gizmos, I never felt less loved. And my parents weren’t stressed about buying my love through gifts.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with gifts but I think some families really do get caught up in buying gifts, thinking that without spending $X on their kids, then they would have failed. But what’s more detrimental to children is being raised by stressed parents and learning that bigger gifts mean bigger love.

Money is an important tool but it’s not a cure-all.  Money is money and love is love. Confusing the two can only lead to disasters for your financial accounts and your heart.

They taught me that money isn’t shame.

My parents, they weren’t perfect (let me tell you!). But they never used money as a bargaining chip. They’d always ask if I needed money when I went out in high school (In fact, they still ask. They know I don’t carry cash). And they’d just give it to me. There was no “what are you going to use it for” or “didn’t you already get a new sweater?”

As a kid, if I needed money, they just gave it to me, no questions asked. I mean, they’re lucky I wasn’t into drugs or big shopping sprees, but maybe I wasn’t into those things because I didn’t grow up ashamed of needing money or of having needs.

I know some other people are raised to think that earning a lot of money is shameful. I obviously wasn’t raised that way and, well, obviously earning a lot of money is a lot easier than getting by on very little. It’s also easier to save when you aren’t ashamed of having money. I would argue that shame is the biggest obstacle to proper money management. (Maybe in a later post.)

They make me optimistic about my future.

Everyday there are countless articles/tweets/memes written by Americans throwing America under the bus. And yes, I know there are a ton of problems in this country. I don’t want to get all patriotic on you (but I’m not afraid to) but I love America. I was raised to love America.

Were my parents lucky? Sure. There’s an element of luck. Did they also make a lifetime of hard choices that had a high probability of success? Yes.

My dad served in the Navy and then studied accounting, a very stable career. My mother worked at the supermarket and various fast food restaurants to pay for her degree in math. They took English classes at night. We moved when they got better jobs. They commuted an hour each way to get to work. They drove their cars to the ground. They packed their lunches. We rarely went out to eat, and when we did, we went to a Chinese restaurant, which is not as expensive as many other kinds of restaurant. We would vacation wherever we could drive to (which explains why I’ve been to so many U.S. states). When my mom got fired (she was probably the fourth Asian person in a row to get fired), she picked herself up and refashioned herself as a computer programmer in her 50s.

And though my parents’ life hasn’t been that easy, and they get frustrated with certain things, they are incredibly proud of the life they have made for themselves. America is their home and they wouldn’t have been able to have this life where they once lived. They never speak ill of America and neither do I.

I know the “privilege” police would disagree, but I honestly think my life is the easiest life anyone could live. The hardest things in my life were minor medical problems, doing well in school and paying off my law school debt. And whenever I’ve thought even for a second “woe is me,” I just look at my parents’ life and think, this will work out. I’ll just work harder. So what if I eat ramen a few nights? My mom used to eat rice and soy sauce. (I also flippin’ love ramen and rice and soy sauce.) If my parents could be optimistic for so long, then what excuse do I have not to be? If my parents can make it, I can and will too.

Were you raised by financially responsible parents?

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What Amazing Things Would You Do With Your Money if You Weren’t So Gigantically Afraid?

what amazing things could you do with your money if you weren't gigantically afraidUnless you are Chuck Norris (in which case, hi Mr. Norris!), you probably have some fears – whether it be violence, money, bugs, etc. Recently, I’ve read a number of articles and social media posts discussing how #allwomen live in constant fear of being attacked or killed by a man, and, because of this, women engage in many rituals aimed at minimizing the risk of being hurt by strangers.  This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. One, I’m a woman and I don’t live in constant fear for my life. So I was surprised that all women, including women who don’t live in war-torn countries or gang-ridden areas, were living in a state of constant fear. Two, it’s interesting to me that all women are essentially my mother.

How Fear Robs You of Joy

My mother was and is irrationally afraid of many things and she tried to spread this fear to me. I couldn’t go to anyone’s house or to a dance or to a football game because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t stay out after 10pm because it wasn’t safe. Rather than seeing this as love and care from my mother, I viewed it as a way of restricting my freedom and controlling me.

Despite the repercussions in my own life, I didn’t blame my mother for these fears. I know she held her fears honestly. If anything, I felt sad for her being afraid her whole life. You can’t be content and afraid. You can’t be joyful and afraid. Nearly all good emotions are mutually exclusive from fear. To me, that is quite an opportunity cost. Fear might protect you from some trouble, but at the cost of taking away all that is good in your life. And imagine, if #allwomen are like my mother – they are living in daily fear and robbing themselves of all joy.

*I’m not saying all women are afraid – but women are taught to be afraid all the time, as if it’s just good sense. In my opinion, it’s a way of controlling women – keeping them from doing certain things society frowns upon. Thus, after something bad happens, someone can say, well you shouldn’t drink – you need to stay constantly vigilant! Or, quit your job and stay at home where it’s safe, even though your significant other is the person statistically most likely to kill you. But I digress.

How Fear Robs You of Life

So many accomplishments in life require overcoming fear. If you’re busy worrying about getting killed in a freak accident, you’re not going to do anything more risky than ordering your groceries online and barricading yourself in your “safe” home.

You might say, well once you’ve been harassed, you’ll sing a different tune. But I have been harassed, at work and on the streets. I’ve been followed. I’ve gotten mysterious notes in the mail and phone calls from people I didn’t know had my number. I haven’t experienced the worst of it, for sure and it isn’t common in my life. In total, these were a few days of my life. I certainly don’t think back and regret not worrying on all those days I wasn’t harassed. I don’t think now that I should worry more. And even if there are more days of trouble than joy in your life- why waste those precious days of joy when nothing happened fearing that something would?

A lifetime of fear is still worth it to be safe, you may say. But being afraid is not the same as being safe – you can take precautions without being in fear and you can be afraid and act in ways that put you in danger. I think that the more prepared you are, the less you have to fear. And the more fearful you are, the more that preparation goes to waste.  One should consider instead how to respond to the necessary fears in our lives in ways that are actually helpful. And because fear is such a detrimental factor in one’s life, it should be used judiciously, not without abandon.

Fear Gives You the Illusion of Safety While Placing You in Danger

Many times, fear encourages irrational responses. There are, unfortunately, a lot of women who will experience violence this year. The majority of the violence will be committed by men the victims knew (3:1 proportion). But no one is encouraging women to avoid all men at all times (and they shouldn’t encourage that – that would be crippling). In contrast, the lists that purport to guide women on how to protect themselves focus on strangers. And even those tips tend to be useless.

Women are often told to keep their keys in their hands to use as a weapon but in interviews with rapists, it proves ineffective because you have to be really close to the potential rapist to use them. More effective were large objects like umbrellas, that the potential rapist could see from a distance, and, having seen them, choose not to assault you. Also, most kidnappings occurred in the morning in parking lots – so the fear of being out at night seems less valid. The more you know.

The result is that women are taught to spend their lives in fear, but 1) they’re protecting themselves against events that are unlikely to happen; 2) their methods for protection are futile; 3) the constant feeling of fear may actually immunize women from recognizing when they should actually be afraid, or make them too exhausted to address them; and 4) the constant fear and worry hurt their lives. And yet, people keep saying that women need to stay in fear. Maybe women should be afraid because the actions they are taking aren’t protecting them from what they fear most.

How Fears Can Ruin Your Financial Life

Ok, so this was a very long introduction.

Suffice to say, I was thinking about fear and risk in terms of violence, and then I thought about fear and risk in terms of money. A lot of the fears that people have regarding money (the stock market or economy crashes, your job is outsourced, you’ll never advance in your career) are low-probability, but hey, they happen.

What’s worse though is the actions that people take to respond to these fears (i.e. staying out of the stock market, picking “safe” jobs, spending hundreds of thousands on grad school) are putting them in much more dangerous places. Yes, the stock market might crash but what will definitely happen is that inflation will swallow up your savings. Yes, maybe your job won’t be outsourced but instead, you definitely hate every day of work. Maybe you will stall out at a certain level in your career without a graduate degree but you will definitely have to deal with hundreds of dollars of debt to advance just a little bit further in your career.

Don’t Let Money Fears Control Your Life

There’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear can be a good messenger reminding us to be extra careful. But we should hear our fear and respond to it intelligently. Just because our lizard brain is programmed to say “Be afraid!” doesn’t mean you have to keep listening to your lizard brain when it says “Never go out at night! Sell all your stocks! Become a lawyer!”

Constantly being afraid, is a bad game plan. Stress makes us make bad decisions. Instead, we should be using our modern brains to come up with the best long-term plan  even if it makes us a little afraid in the short-term. I’m not saying you can’t be afraid, or that you can get rid of your fears. Fear is a part of life, but you shouldn’t let your fear dictate, and thus ruin, your life.

In the end, it’s all about balancing your risk tolerance and your fears with what you want out of life. If you don’t lean heavily towards focusing on your own life, you could be consumed by your fears. I’m a pretty risk averse person but I’m trying to be more free. I think what we all really want, what we are all searching for, is freedom from fear. Imagine what you could do with your life if you weren’t always gigantically afraid!

What Could You Do with Your Money/Life if You Weren’t Gigantically Afraid?

There’s fear in everything. Nothing is certain. In my mind, it makes the most sense to move forward with what you want to do. It would be the worst of all worlds to not go after your dreams and still be afraid in the process. You’re going to be afraid anyway whether you pursue the gold medal or never try out for the Olympics. Why not at least try?

I remember a story I read in Carol Dweck’s Mindset where a man acknowledges that he had spent his whole life worried that something terrible would happen to his family. Then his family died in a car accident and he realized that the lifetime of worrying hadn’t helped prepare him for the event one iota. Instead, the fear robbed him of fully appreciating the joyful times that he had spent with his family.

I think about this story when people tell me I should be afraid.

What are your money fears?