Monday, May 7, 2012

Attitudes about Money

Photo by author

I have been thinking about money. I grew up in the 60's and believed that the pursuit of material wealth was crass and selfish. You know, love, peace and brotherhood. At the same time, I was spoiled and enjoyed buying things but not working at a job. I was proud of my mother who had a career, but I wanted only a creative, flexible, artistic job. I even told my mother one time that her job wasn't "real." All she did was punch a time clock (which I despised) and shuffle papers (medical records). A real job was writing a novel, creating art, building a house or growing food and feeding animals. Creating something or taking care of something seemed to be the only important things to me, but I didn't spend much time doing any of those things either.

I have always had a sense of guilt for the things I had (all those starving children in the third world), but I have also allowed myself to be impressed by those who had more money than I and therefore better clothes, cars, and haircuts, nicer homes, more security, travel, and education. I have worked hard not to be envious of other people's success, but I do allow myself to feel that I have failed sometimes. So, I can't win. I feel guilty for what I have and a bit like a failure for not figuring out how to have more.

Bad choices didn't help. I remember the exact moment I woke in the middle of the night and realized I was responsible for myself and my two-year-old son. My husband was gone and I had an interesting, but low paying job and an old car my mother bought me. "How did I get here?" I wondered. Even though I was a good student, I had dropped out of college when my boyfriend broke up with me. Then I married someone who was even more unprepared and immature than I was.

Over the years that followed, I made endless budgets and worked at a series of jobs but I was always broke. For a long time, my average stay at a job was about 1 year. I was lucky to find a trade since I had never finished college. I became a typesetter, training on the job and riding the crest of emerging computer technology.

Along the way, I found myself in a few great jobs:
  • The small town newspaper where I worked on the "dump" replacing lead correction lines in galleys of type and proofreading, and where I was chosen to learn the new computer system when they switched to "cold type".
  • The big city business magazine where I worked on the top floor of a beautiful old historic building with writers and editors and artists and managed a one-person typesetting department for two publications.
  • The international typesetting development and manufacturing company where I started as a software tester with no clue about either software or testing and where I eventually became involved with almost every aspect of software development, marketing and customer support for that company. I traveled for the first time in my life and made some wonderful friends and experienced what I like to think of as my own personal 15 minutes of fame.
  • The huge telecommunications firm where I managed software releases on mainframe computers and made a pretty decent salary and met my current husband.
I am proud of those accomplishments and yet a big part of me wonders if I ever really accomplished anything of lasting value.

I married my husband late in life and together we made a series of new financial mistakes. I have two words for young working people - ROTH IRA. Well, I guess that is one word and an acronym. Pay your taxes while you are working so you can withdraw your own money tax free after you retire. Just saying. BTW, I am not a tax accountant so get some professional advice about that stuff.

I remember saying many times when I contemplated retirement and knew that I had not saved much money that I would probably have to work the rest of my life. It never occurred to me that I might not be able to find a job even if I wanted to. Now I realize what an arrogant little twirp I was and how liberating and dignified it is to earn your own money at any old job so you can be able to take care of yourself and your responsibilities. My mother knew as an orphan growing up in a children's home that she would have to take care of herself and that is what she did. She managed to take good care of her children and grandchildren, too. I'm sorry, Mom, for not always appreciating you.

Now I spend my days doing creative things and taking care of people I love. My life is meaningful but I am still broke. I have recently found an interesting part-time job. Hopefully, this blog will be a record for my children and grandchildren to see. I pray that they learn from my experience and they find something they love to do and someone they love to be with. Or, as my mother once said when I complained, "Just use me as a terrible example."

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