How to Stay Motivated when Progress is Slow, Nonexistent or Backwards

How to Stay motivated when progress is slow, nonexistent or backwards

Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro on Pexels.com

So you’ve decided to change or improve yourself in some way. Congratulations! Taking the first step is the most important and the hardest. In those beginning stages, it can be surprisingly easy to find motivation. You are buoyed by the excitement of starting something new. The gains are immediate and can be impressive.

But after the initial surge of improvement, you might hit a wall. Your end is still far away, but you aren’t improving at quite the same rate. Before, you could keep yourself going with novelty, adrenaline, and a sense of accomplishment. Once that progress slows down, your motivation also slows. They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. You can cruise along for awhile, but when you’re on step 400, now you really know how far you have to go and you’re already tired. And it’s going to take ages! And there are obstacles! And there is boredom!

So how do you keep going when the end is still far and you can’t find incremental improvements to keep you going? How do you stay motivated when progress is slow, nonexistent or backwards? Here are some ways to reframe your journey to focus on the journey ahead.

You Struggle is Preparing You to Handle Success

When we picture success, we often imagine it to be instant and easy. We think failure is the slow trudge and struggle of hard work through the beginner courses. This is where many quit because we think success is going through the bunny slopes, but doing it with fanfare and paparazzi while wearing a mink coat and cashing in millions of dollars.

But success isn’t about navigating the beginner stage fast or slow; success isn’t overnight success. And overnight success isn’t really what we expect it to be. Overnight success is like getting pushed down the black diamonds on your first day skiing. There are a lot of pitfalls.  We don’t even understand the pitfalls yet because we’re only at the bunny slopes-level in mentality. If we are still at the bunny slope stage, we should be happy that we aren’t going down the black diamond slopes because we aren’t prepared to have black diamond-level problems yet. We learn how to deal with those problems while working through the bunny slopes.

We see people who achieve success at a young age and then think nothing of watching them crash and burn. We think, we would do better if given the chance. But we have no idea. The problem with lotto winners or pro athletes is not that they’re dumber at finances than the average person with their upbringings; much of the problem is that that they get all the money in one go. The problem with overnight success is that you have all sorts of difficult situations and problems and you never had to figure more basic versions of the problems out when it didn’t matter. You can face a new obstacle on the bunny slopes and trip and fall and learn; it’s much harder to trip and fall on a more treacherous obstacle on the black diamonds with people watching and criticizing your every move.

If you can’t stop yourself from spending when you’re on a low income, it doesn’t become easier when you have money. It may take longer for you to get into trouble, but having more money doesn’t mean you have better control; it just means you have more to lose. This is the reason you need to start start saving before you make a lot.If your brakes don’t work when you’re going slow, they’re not going to work better when you’re going fast.

In this way, you can be happy with your beginner awkward phases because they teach you and prepare you for the big stakes games. You can be happy for your awkward early relationships because they taught you how to be better when you meet your future spouse. You can be grateful for your bad entry-level jobs, because you wouldn’t want to play around when you have the chance to prove yourself at your dream job. You can be thankful for beginner poker games, because when a million dollars is on the line, you will have developed a great poker face from playing for a nickel.

Chances are you will make more money later in life. We can be grateful that we are struggling when we have struggles now, because when we get more successful, we’ll know exactly what to do. When we are trustworthy with less, we can be trusted with more. It just takes time and trial and error.

Your Struggle Teaches You to Love the Journey

I don’t know where I’ve heard it first but I’ve heard it multiple times: you have to love the process. The people that become great musicians, loved learning how to be better musicians. They didn’t love fame. I mean, you can chase fame too and you might still be successful. But many people will flame out first. It’s like someone who loves crossing finish lines but doesn’t love to run. How far is that person going to go?

Recently, I made a joke about another blogger complaining about their page views:
Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 11.05.12 PM.png

And I got a surprising amount of pushback. Like, people can complain about stuff like this! And of course people can complain about anything they want. But it’s so weird to me to complain about blogging. This is a completely optional activity that for the vast majority of people makes no money. Most people are doing it out of love and with no intention of ever being famous or quitting their jobs over it. It’s like being angry that people aren’t appreciating the way you karaoke or read. Sure you can complain, but why are you doing this in the first place? If you want to make money, there are easier ways. There are probably ways that you would like doing not for the money. Maybe you should try one of those. Because the journey and the obstacles are definitely going to happen – “success” might not. If you hate the journey, will you ever be “successful?”

I think overall, the people who love the journey will go the farthest. Consider this response from Elementum Money.

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 11.30.47 PM.pngElementum Money sees the value in the journey. She’s getting better at writing. She’s enjoying the process. And though, according to her, her pageviews are not where they could ultimately be, she knows that she hasn’t devoted the time to marketing. It’s something to work on in the future. And since she enjoys the process, there’s plenty of time in that future.

Make Sure to Celebrate Every Small Win

Similar to my articles on how the rich justify donating less to charity, or why frugality is for the rich there are many ways to look at your financial health. The main ways you can trick yourself, sometimes for the better, is to switch from looking at absolute values to percentages or vice versa. By switching to looking at charitable spending in absolutes instead of percentages, the rich could feel better about their charitable spending while spending less as a percentage than the poor. By looking at percentages, the rich could also spend a middle class salary and still call themselves uber-frugal.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with switching your thinking from absolutes to percentages or vice versa. It’s like looking at a glass as half full or half empty.  Or seeing that dress that no one could agree on as blue or gold. It’s just a different way of characterizing something you see.

If you’re dealing with low level progress, you can shift your thinking to  concentrate on the percentage change. If you look at the absolutes, you might think, oh I only saved $50 this month. That’s not a lot of money. If you look at your percentage, maybe that’s 10% of your discretionary income, and maybe that’s more impressive to you. What could be really motivational though is that maybe last month you saved $50, but this month you saved $100 – that’s a 100% increase in savings. 100% That’s quite a lot. And I’m not saying you should happily fall off the wagon, but if you backslide, think of the percentage increase when you get back on track again!

You need to celebrate the small wins.
Whatever progress you’re making, it’s ok if you celebrate the smallest increments – percentage or absolute. There is no one on high judging you for which you choose. It only matters whatever keeps you motivated to keep moving. Any progress is still good progress. Don’t let declines in progress distract you when they could just as easily motivate you.

What if Progress is Going Backwards?

Ok, so I hope this is encouraging you a little bit for when progress is slow. But what if it’s not just that you’re moving ahead slowly – but you’re actively on the decline. How do you stay motivated when you’re putting one foot in front of the other and you’re moving backwards?

The thing is, progress is not all in one direction. Two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, two steps back. It happens.

I heard this great line in a podcast The Art of Manliness by the Author of Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World), that the first rule of being a doctor is Do No Harm. So if you’re not having a great day, if you know you’re not making progress, that’s ok. You’ll have days like that. You can’t win them all, you can’t make progress on every day. Some days you’re just fighting not to drown.

The only rule for yourself that day is don’t harm your goals. If you’re trying to mind your anger, and everything is going wrong and you just don’t think you can be a GREAT person today, that’s fine. Just don’t cause any irreparable harm. Don’t yell at your family. Don’t send out mean emails. You don’t have to beat yourself up for not getting ahead; just try to contain the level of harm done.

Or if you get into a car accident while paying down debt – that’s going to slow down your progress and it sucks! But don’t give up the whole game just because you hit a pothole. Ok you’re not going to pay down as much debt this month because of this unexpected expense – but try to keep levelheaded and stay the course as much as possible otherwise. You can be on triage mode and just congratulate yourself for not digging yourself further into a hole. That’s a terrific win, even though it doesn’t feel like it. It’s overcoming these obstacles that will get you to the end. You’re a champion even if it doesn’t feel like it.

How to Stay Motivated when Progress is Slow, Nonexistent or Backwards

In conclusion, you won’t always be improving by leaps or bounds. That’s A-OK. Remember that you’ve made the first step toward your path of self-improvement and that it’s this vast middle area where it really starts to get fun. You learn to overcome obstacles, learn to love your craft and get better prepared for success. As long as you continue to celebrate your wins and keep the big obstacles from deterring you completely, you’re well on your way for your inevitable success.

I’d like to leave you with the following quote I read in Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World:

I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking ‘if only that hadn’t happened life would be so good.’ Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path. – Janna Levin

It can be easy to be caught up in pitying ourselves and the obstacles we go through. We think we would rather have everything handed to us on a silver platter. But we actually don’t. There’s the old joke about the guy who died and in the afterlife, he wins every game, can get any woman he wanted and owns everything. He gets frustrated and asks to see “the other place” thinking that he was in Heaven. Then he’s told, nope, the place where you get everything you want, is a kind of hell.

You are in the middle of your magnificent journey. Why would you want to skip ahead to the end? This is when it’s about to get really good. Good luck!

How Being Single Helped Me Become Rich

being single helped me become rich

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

Being single seems like it would be an impediment to gaining wealth. Being a part of a couple means that you can share expenses with someone else (some people even share email addresses….for some reason). Also, if you date or marry someone who makes more than you do, you more than double your salary. A giant jump in salary and reduced expenses? Seems like a recipe for financial success!

For me though, if I had gotten married to any of my exes, I likely would not be in the field I am in now, have the career I do or have as much saved to my name. Here are the reasons being single helped my career and finances and ultimately led to wealth.

1. I Couldn’t Drop Out of the Workforce

I didn’t know any stay-at-home moms growing up. We grew up very middle-class and everyone’s parents seemed to work. I just assumed I would work as well. My adult life was very different – because of the move from middle- to upper-middle class.

I live in a very well-educated area, I’m a lawyer and well, I’m Asian. Most of my peers are lawyers, doctors and engineers. So I tended to date lawyers, doctors and engineers. And many of the women I know did the same. They did well in school, met their husbands, married and had kids, and many quit their jobs because they could. Their husbands made the equivalent of their parents combined salary and more than enough to support the family. The wives they didn’t love their jobs and they wanted to raise their kids. Why have the hassle of a full-time job when you don’t need the money?
My job can be demanding and stressful. The number of times I had thought of quitting – well it was basically every two weeks last year.

What made me keep going? Well, I would like to say that I was taught to Lean In, but futility was probably the most likely culprit. I’m single. You can’t be a housewife, without the wife part. And you still need to pay for that house! But if I had married and had a high-earning husband, it would have made a lot less sense for me to stay at a tough job.

I’m not an ambitious person. I never aspired to a high-paying or powerful job. If I knew I could stay at home and eat bonbons all day, I totally would (I’m not sure anyone would marry me knowing that, but hey, maybe I’d raise their kid as well). But as a single person, I have to earn my own bonbons! The point I’m making is that if I had gotten married, I likely would have married someone who made very good money and I would have had a choice – to continue working or stay at home. And I’m betting there’s a good chance I would have chosen to stay at home.

2. There Was No Reason to Drop to an Easier Job

I dated an attorney when I was 23. I remember him telling me that he worked a lot but he didn’t see any reason to reduce his hours, as a single person. He didn’t have to go home to a wife or kids. I feel the same way today. I work a lot, but I don’t feel guilty. There are no kids waiting for me at home.

The career I’m in is not great for work-life balance or for women with families. Women certainly can succeed in a demanding job while raising their children but those women always seem superhuman. I, however, am decidedly human. And lazy. As stated above, I would have looked for reasons to quit my job if I could have. Having a family at home that I was neglecting? That would have been a good reason. Being single? Well, that’s no reason at all. I could keep working. I could still meet up with friends – after work. Without a family, I felt like I couldn’t justify working fewer hours. And because I continued to work at a job that required a lot of hours, I continued to be paid very well.

3. I Had the Freedom to Follow My Career

My parents were oddballs – my dad always moved for my mom’s job even though he made more. But in “typical” hetero couples, the couple will typically move for the man’s job, not the woman’s. I think I also would have leaned more towards this latter group.

I tended to date men who were very ambitious and had a lot of job opportunities. They also had jobs that would require a fair amount of moving (i.e. doctor) or jobs that wouldn’t offer the best opportunities in the DC area (software engineer, where Silicon Valley would beckon, or corporate lawyer, where New York has the brightest opportunities). I’m fairly certain that I would have followed my hypothetical husband in his career and I don’t know if or when they would have followed mine. That’s how it usually goes.
I went to law school in a small town. Of the married students, the men’s wives followed them there, typically having portable jobs like teacher or nurse. The women’s husbands typically stayed where they were and the couple was long distance for at least 3 years.
I knew a couple – she had finished her first year in law school. He had been accepted to a great program in the same city, among other offers. I assumed he would pick the school in the same city so she could continue her studies. Instead he picked the best ranked school to which he had been accepted and she transferred to a school in that city. After his first year, he transferred to an even better school and she quit law school (people usually don’t transfer their last year of law school and there weren’t other law schools in the area of the final law school). After he graduated, he worked for a firm for one year, and then quit the law altogether.

This is all to say that all around me I saw contemporary examples of women’s careers being put on the backburner. And though everyone likes to think of themselves as the one person who would buck the trend, I don’t think that about myself. I’m very typical. I doubt that I would have kept the flame going for my own job. Again, I never cared that much for a high paying job or any job at all.

I doubt I would have moved to a law school away from my husband or that he would have followed me there. And it just makes sense to put your eggs in the overachiever basket. So I would have stayed working whatever jobs I could find wherever my husband decided was best for his career.

4. I Couldn’t Stick My Head in the Sand About Finances

My mother always warned me not to be dependent on anyone. Well guess what? You can’t be dependent on someone else if there isn’t anyone else.

That link above is to the typical horror story of a wife who got divorced from her highly paid husband. That honestly could have been me. And though my dad is an accountant and I’m clearly interested in personal finances, I know that incentives have a huge role in creating who we become. Most people are content with the easy route. You’re more likely to become a better cook when you have to cook for yourself. You run faster when you’re being chased. You’re forced to put in the reps and when you put in the reps, it’s hard not to get better.

That’s how it was for my finances. If I had married someone who was really good with money (and most of my exes were), it could have been very easy for me to slip into complacency. I could have focused on saving money while running household chores but not investing or earning it. I could have huge gaps in my personal finance knowledge.

I’ve written a little about how I had hoped for being saved by a student loan act of God. But eventually I had to learn to become my own savior. I had to take control of my debt, of my finances and my career. Being single meant that I needed to support myself. There simply wasn’t anyone else to take the reins from me. So I took them for myself.

5. I Could Live a Simpler Lifestyle

The benefit of having a partner is that you would likely save money on rent. But there are a lot of other costs that can come with being a couple. For instance, when I’m in a couple, I eat much fancier meals. I put some extra effort into how I look on a daily basis. I would have to have nicer furniture, probably a nicer apartment and I definitely would have to have a TV and a premium sports package.

There are also some ways to save from being single. For instance, I can crash on my friend’s couch when I visit a city, instead of splitting a hotel room. I don’t have to visit his family or go to his friend’s weddings. My mom, when she was single, would only eat rice and soy sauce. Not falling too far from the tree, left to my own devices, I eat eggs and rice with soy sauce on the regular. This wouldn’t fly with someone else in the picture.

This is not to say that these costs would translate to the savings of shared housing. But there’s often a bit of a disconnect between what people expect in their relationships and what could actually happen. I have a very simple lifestyle because I live by myself and I have very simple desires. It would be difficult to find someone else who would want to live this simply. Being single helped me save money because I didn’t have to impress anyone with my lifestyle. I didn’t have to deal with all the hidden costs of coupledom.

How Being Single Helped Me Become Rich

My life would have been really different had I gotten married to one of my exes. I can’t tell if I’d have a greater net worth based on our theoretical combined net worth, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be as big a contributor to our net worth. My hypothetical net worth would have been primarily his financial contributions divided by two. And in the event of divorce, I’m not sure how I would have fared.

It’s not a better or worse outcome – it’s just a different one. I probably also wouldn’t have started a personal finance blog because many of the stories that I wanted to tell – paying off my law school debt, dating as a rich woman – wouldn’t have made any sense in this alternate reality. Too many things would change given this one change in circumstance.

I should mention that I’m not advocating marriage or singleness. Neither path is a guaranteed path to …. anything. You can be rich or poor in either path. In my blog, I really want to champion singles. It’s easy to find articles about saving money if you’re a couple and it often seems like this is the only path to financial greatness.

But I don’t believe singledom is a worse position from which to achieve financial stability. Too often we see the positives of a relationship, without seeing all the other tradeoffs. We assume we would have a partner who would contribute equally, who won’t impair our own careers or won’t change us. None of those things are guaranteed.

For me, I could see all these societal expectations of being a stay-at-home mom, of supporting my husband’s career, of being content in a passion hobby while my husband earned the big bucks – and I would have given into these expectations. I’m not saying being wealthy is a better goal than any of these other goals – I’m just saying that my singleness affected the choices I had available to me and when I acted on those choices, I came up where I am now – in a very stable financial position.

If I had been married, I would have had more choices and I cannot guarantee that I would be in the same place that I am now. It’s not better or worse; it just is.

Getting married isn’t a sure pathway to wealth and being single doesn’t mean you’re going to end up poor. You can become rich as a single person – for some of us, it might be the only way.

 

How this Man is Pursuing Life and Love on the Beach

who picks up the check in mexico

Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

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)

Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.
 

The Truth About Dating as a Single Rich Woman

woman in wetsuit

Photo by Marlene Leppänen on Pexels.com

 

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.

Why You Need a Budget for Charity

monk in front of children near brown concrete building

Photo by Suraphat Nuea-on on Pexels.com

When I was a kid, my Sunday School teacher asked if I had any questions about prayer. I asked him the most pressing question I could think of – can I pray for the Knicks? My teacher reassured me that God cared very much for the Knicks. But even if I prayed for the Knicks, there would be other children (and possibly adults) praying for the other team. So God probably couldn’t intervene in basketball games (which explains why the Knicks are so bad).

But if prayer isn’t about getting what you want, then what in the world are you talking to God for? Later in life I figured it out.

In college, I was very stressed planning a group trip to a Christian concert. (Yes, my life is quite embarrassing). And my friend said he would pray for me. Rather than pray that the details of the concert would go off without a hitch, he prayed that I would be released from worry.

It was from this prayer that I understood that prayer isn’t about getting stuff from God. Rather, prayer is about changing one’s mind. Prayer was about teaching yourself to focus on the things that mattered.

How Prayer is Like Charity

I think charity is as misunderstood a concept as prayer. People think prayer is about getting stuff for yourself. If it were about getting stuff, then you would easily get discouraged that you didn’t get what you want. Logically, prayer can’t be about the results. There are people praying “against” you – praying for their team to win, praying for the job that you want, for the winning lottery ticket. If prayer meant you could get everything you wanted, then everyone would win the lottery every day.  The reason to pray can’t be about getting stuff. Instead the meaning of prayer is to learn to change your mind to want the stuff that you get.

Likewise, charity isn’t about giving stuff to others and getting the results you want. But there are people donating to causes against yours, unfortunately. You give money to support the homeless but there is tons of money going towards other factors that are perpetuating homelessness. You can give money and then find that the charity you support isn’t using it judiciously. These can all seem like reasons to quit giving to charity. It can all seem a little hopeless but I don’t think that means you shouldn’t give to charity. Like prayer, I think charity is more about its effect on yourself, not its effect on others. That way you can’t blame external forces for why not to give to charity.

Why budget for charity?

MsZiyou raised an interesting point in my last post –  reasons why not to give to charity.

I completely agree that there are a lot of charities that are not worth supporting. There are a lot of charities that overpay their staff for very cushy jobs. Some charities seem like their missions are to support Big Charity and to make rich people feel better about themselves rather than improving heir world.  I don’t give to big institutionalized charitable organizations. I refuse even to give to my alma mater state school, which pays its dean $400k.

Just because something is called a charity, doesn’t mean it’s doing any good. Charities might not be solving problems at all, might not be solving problems in an efficient or competent way and some may actually be creating more and worse problems. Still, despite these caveats, I think charity is an integral part of one’s budget. That’s because it’s not about supporting an organization, but about devoting a portion of your budget to help people other than your self.

Where to give your money?

I don’t think limiting charity just to those organizations for which you get a tax-deduction makes sense in a budgeting standpoint or even an ethical standpoint. Charity is money spent to help others. It’s whatever is spent to direct your focus away from yourself.

So the lack of trustworthy organizations is not an excuse not to give to charity. (Sorry, so many negatives). Charity is about regularly thinking about others rather than yourself. It’s about putting our money toward changing our minds.

To me, of course the purpose of the charity matters. One should use one’s money judiciously to do the most good. There’s no point in supporting charities that do a bad job or that support a mission that doesn’t align with your values. I research all my charities and generally only support ones where I’ve volunteered and know the management.

But even if you despise all organized charity, that doesn’t mean you get to forget others in your budget. Your charity budget can include helping people you meet in need. It can be gifts to show your support for those that have helped you. You can give tips to those who are doing great in low-paying jobs.

The important part, in my opinion, is that you realize that you have more than enough in your budget than just for you. You have a responsibility to help where you can. Further, you will only learn to be happy when you learn to give. A life lived just for yourself will ultimately prove meaningless. That’s why you need a charity budget.