“Just buy the fucking latte.”
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here. I am also a holistic personal development coach. You can learn more about working with me here.
I came across an article recently that reminded me of a well-worn piece of advice I received countless times in my 20s and 30s: if I just stopped buying so many goddamn fancy coffees, I would somehow immediately transform into a millionaire (or at least get rid of my student debt).
Even as the rube I was in my 20s, this advice never rang true to me. And as I aged and gleaned an iota more of wisdom, it became clear why not: the game was rigged; the only way to get more money was to fight for huge gains in salary that, as a woman, were likely to be denied to me; and the language of finances is purposefully obscure and complicated in order to exclude people and have a small group remain in power.
I always felt dumb around money and chalked it up to the fact that I’m bad with numbers and math. But it’s only recently that I realized: the system WANTS me to feel dumb around money. I’m NOT dumb around money; I’m NOT dumb, you know, at all; and with some attention, education, and reclaiming of my power and intention around money, I could get a little bit of my agency back in this material life.
As with so many things today, the powerful force of shame has convinced many of us that we’ve done something wrong, or we are broken in some way, and that is the root of our money issues. We’re too dumb; we’re too poor; we spend too much; we don’t deserve a higher-paying job; our hustle is not enough.
If you’ve read this newsletter for a while now, you know that instead of beating ourselves up for any shame or discomfort or emotional pain we feel, I advocate instead looking at the issue with tenderness, compassion and curiosity.
That’s where, for me, self-care around finances come in.
I was sparked to remember this concept when I read this blog post, My Financial Self-Care Rituals. The author writes,
Self-care sometimes gets a shallow rap as being all manicures and bubble baths. But in reality, it is a far more sophisticated and holistic concept about how we can proactively create the life we want. The more we allow the idea of self-care to permeate all aspects of our lives, the greater long-term impact it can have. We’re already familiar with self-care sometimes being a good mix of joy and discipline. For example, self-care for many of us looks like picking out a workout activity we can really enjoy and staying committed to a routine. Because I consider self-care something that extends to my financial well-being, I’ve created a handful of rituals that help me view money differently and connect traditional self-care principles to my financial management.
I love this idea. I’ve never thought as self-care as being about just using sheet masks (tho tbh love me a good sheet mask); it’s always about two related concepts for me: identity, and agency.
Identity: Self-care should get you back in touch with who you really are, at your core, at your essence. Agency: And self-care should remind you that you have power in your words and actions, and you truly have the ability to be intentional in the way you want to live your life.
Money relates to both those things.
Who are you? How do you relate to money? What inherent beliefs do you hold around it? How did it play into your life growing up, and how do you relate to it now? If you’re uncomfortable with it, what drives that? How does money make you feel in your body and in your heart?
And what’s your intention in the way you want to live your life and the resources you need for that? What values do you hold? Who do you want to support? What is important to spend money on, and what are you spending more mindlessly on? What kind of life do you really want to live, and what kind of money do you need to get there?
Those two things are going to look completely different for every single person.
For me, it’s looked like this:
Getting over shame: As I aged into my 30s though and started to get that it was JUST ME and it might always be JUST ME (aka no rich billionaire was coming to marry me — I think this economic anxiety is a real one that single people in their 30s start feeling) I was like, I really have got to figure this money out. This was hard to do when in your 30s because of one huge aforementioned obstacle: SHAME. I was like, I AM TOO OLD TO NOT KNOW HOW TO DO THIS STUFF. So I just will never ask any questions or tell anybody I DON’T UNDERSTAND EVEN SUZE ORMAN WHO HAS MADE HER CAREER EXPLAINING TIPS SO BASIC THAT O MAGAZINE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THEM. So I just went on for a bit pretending that money wasn’t real and everything was fine.
But I finally came to this hallelujah moment: I guess I’m probably not going to work until I’m 87 and my parents won’t always be around so maybe I should look into this retirement thing… ?
This is a true story that really will show you how bad with money I was until I was like 30: I DISCOVERED A 401K I NEVER EVEN KNEW I HAD!!! My first job out of college I had a 401K, I literally didn’t know what that was or that I was putting money into it, and a few years ago I discovered it! Part of me was like YAY FREE MONEY and part of me was like :horrified face emoji: Catherine you have got to take control of these things and start educating yourself.
So I asked dumb questions. I emailed friends I knew were “good” with money and had them walk me through stuff like what even is a Roth IRA, retirement projections, basics on budgeting. It was semi-horrifying to have to ask questions that probably a 17-year-old today knows, but… I had to. And everybody treated me with kindness.
Getting over the work and intimidation of it: I’m the kind of person who, if she knows she’s not gonna be good at or win something, I just… don’t play. This is very immature in its own way, but it’s a real part of who I am. So I just didn’t… play at money. I didn’t call my banks. I didn’t roll over 401ks. I didn’t self-educate around the best financial decisions for me. I was just SO intimated by everything and the amount of work I feared would go into it.
It wasn’t until I had a real reckoning with the fact that I check out of everything in my life that I fear I don’t understand that I realized I had to push through the intimidation and work that would require me knowing more about my finances.
Understanding that I have an obsession with security: In a lot of ways I was raised to believe that achieving security was the paramount goal in life, and that money was the number one way to get there. Salary was important. Savings were important. Making as much money as possible was important. Material things to surround you was important.
This belief system has guided most of my life thus far in ways conscious but I would say also very unconscious, and I’m only starting to be more intentional in this area and wonder: Do I need as much money as I think I do to really live in the way I know I want to?
Figuring out my true life intentions: I’m nearly 40, and it’s only the past couple of years I have proactively thought about what I want the next decade or two to look like. I know it involves nature, better work-life balance, money to travel, eventually working for myself, and fewer material things. But I’ve been on auto-pilot a long time around this, y’all. Taking a hard look at how I truly want to live my life and what I value relates to money, because it helps me understand the resources I will need to live that life.
So how do you better understand finances and money as they relate to your life, your self-care, your identity, and your agency? The blog post I linked above has a few suggestions: turning parts of Sundays into look-aheads for spending for the coming week; visualizing around money; treating money like a person and asking how your relationship with it is going; paying attention to the times you are spending money and if there are any associated triggers around that.
Another place to start is this amazing podcast interview with a “financial therapist,”a term I probably would have laughed at 10 years ago but now think is probably an extremely critical and useful person to have in your life.
Money isn’t something to be feared; it’s something to be closely looked at, treated with curiosity and compassion, and ultimately understood so that you are able to show up in the world as your real self. Of course, the society we live in and the barriers that have been set up for many of us still exist; looking tenderly at your relationship with money isn’t going to topple capitalism or clear your student debt or help you stop working three jobs. But if you can reclaim even a little bit of agency with how your relationship with money functions, it’s a start to better understanding your true self — which is the beginning of any and all self-care in this abrasive world of ours.