Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's Talk about Fearing Money

For whatever reason I read a lot of mommy blogs.  I don't know why this should be the case; I don't have kids - I get my exposure to children vicariously through my sister's kids.  Such blogs don't have anything to do with finances, but occasionally the worlds intersect.

A kid dressed in Christmas pyjamas running towards the Christmas tree and Christmas present.
What does this have to do with money?

A kid dressed in Easter pyjamas running towards the Easter present.
I can see in no way how this relates to money.

A kid dressed in birthday pyjamas running towards the birthday present and balloon.
OK, maybe parents spend a little bit of money on their children.

A picture of a kid, labelled with various places one might spend money: education, hair cuts, optometrists, dentists, doctors, toys, food, clothing, extracurricular activities, shoes.
Or maybe they spend a lot of money - I couldn't really comment either way.
So the worlds probably intersect more than anyone ever lets on.  But sometimes mommy bloggers actually TALK about financial things.

I read one such post by Alice Bradley, a blogger that I find delightful and quirky, a few years ago.  The post was called "Semi-Fictional Phone Conversation with New Financial Planner" and in conversation, she reveals her fear of money. (link).
"Me: I know so little about money things, I wouldn't know where to begin.
[Financial Planner]: (laughs)
Me: No, seriously. Money are me scary. You see? Even my syntax falls apart." --Alice Bradly
I was aware in an academic sort of way of the fact that with almost 9 billion people living on Earth, there is probably at least one person out there who is afraid or anxious about every single thing that exists.

A thing labelled 'thing', sitting on a table.

A thing sitting on a table.  A person in the background recoiling in fear, yelling "Aaagh!" labelled 'Person who is afraid of thing'.

Money is a thing so, statistically speaking, there would be someone out there who fears it.  But much like winning the lottery or spontaneously conceiving identical quintuplets, they are not odds I ever expect to see played out.

Five babies lying side by side, all throwing money in the air.
Or winning the lottery AND having the quintuplets.
Afterwards I read the comments and discovered that almost half of the comments were along the lines of "me too!" "I thought I was the only one!".  I was taken completely aback.  (A note for those who actually read the comments: Elle24 is not me.)

It was a revelation much like the time when I figured out that a friend of mine was terrified of my adorable, friendly, fluffy and completely harmless little dog.

Me crouching down next to a small white dog that is saying "Rawrf! Bark!".  A friend standing in the background looking nervous.
*Friend's face changed to protect the innocent.
 "You can't be scared of him!" I said, picking up my unprotesting lump of dog and holding him up to her.  "He doesn't do anything but bark and even that is friendly."

Me holding the dog up to the friend.  The friend looks more nervous and is backing away.

She remained unconvinced.

"Look, I can shove my hand in his mouth and all he does is squirm away."

Me sticking my hand in my dog's mouth.  Friend looking horrified and backing away.


No amount of trying to make my dog mangle my hand would ever convince her to change her mind.

Of course, I initially pictured a fear of money to be similar to my friend's fear of my dog.

Me staring suspiciously at a pile of money.

The money pile make the small noise 'rustle' and I panic.


But of course, it's more than that.  We are not a dog-based economy; we trade in money.

Fanart of Cruella DeVille
Well, most people.
--Image from Wikipedia
Money gets us food, shelter, clothing and, in sufficient quantities, status.

Adults are expected to know how to manage money and face penalties and judgement if they can't figure it out.  This skill of managing money, however, is presumed to be intuitive and gets very limited coverage in the school curriculum.

A mother bird kicking a baby bird out of the nest and saying: "Well, you're an adult now... have fun with that..."
Finances 101 - Lesson 1
I found money intuitive, but from discussions with other people, I get the sense that this is not the same way for everyone.  Those who have more trouble tend not to want to talk about money.  Sometimes, they might say that they're afraid of it.

Right or wrong, when I hear "I'm afraid of money" I assume that the person is saying "I'm scared that I'm going to screw up this whole money thing, and then everyone will laugh at me and my pain."

When I hear that someone is scared of something, I always want to make that thing seem less scary somehow.  Scared of dogs?  Look, this one's all friendly.  Scared of money?  Let's make jokes about personal finance until it seems harmless (and even perhaps, fun).

Except mice.  Mice will always be scary.
So here, let me try to put you all at ease with a few financial jokes jokes that I found on the internet.

Me telling a joke to someone who looks wary.  Me: "OK, here's a funny joke." Them: "OK..."  Me: "What's another name for a long-term investment?"  Them: "What?" Me: "A failed short-term investment!"

Me looking worried, telling a joke to someone who looks annoyed.  Me: "Actually, no... This one's better" Them: "..."  Me: "What leads most people into debt?"  Them: "?" Me: "Trying to catch up with people who are already there!"

Me, looking desperate, telling a joke to someone who looks very annoyed.  Me: "An investor to her advisor:"  "Is all my money really gone?" "No, of course not.  It's just with somebody else!" "...heh..."
"I'm here all night!  ...or if you prefer, I could leave right now!"
Wait... how is it that none of these are making anyone feel better about talking about investment?  They're kind of depressing.

Me telling a joke to someone who is annoyed and now ignoring me.  Me: "The stock market is driving its car..." "...and then it CRASHES..."  "Millions lose their life savings."  "The end."

Where are the financial jokes about someone enjoying the feeling of a well-made budget?  Or the satisfaction of finding out that your carefully chosen investments just raised their dividend payments?  What about a joke about realizing that you have more money in your bank account than you thought was there in the first place?

Oh yeah, it's the reason that no one jokes about long term, happy, committed relationships.  They're too boring.

Me telling a joke to someone.  Me: "So this girl makes a good investment..." "...that pays her a very normal return over a long period of time."  "Then she feels really good about herself.  The end."  Them:  "That's not funny."
"And then she ate fiber to stay regular."
Will any of this necessarily help anyone who is scared of money?

Maybe, probably not.

I want everyone to want to talk about investment.  I can't write off the people who are scared of money.

To those people, I offer this:

A chair, couch-like

Yes, it's a chair.  Consider it like a seat at the Let's Talk Investment table.  I'll leave it empty just for you.

Me, poking the chair and pointing at it.
"Look, it's not even biting me!"

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