Numbers Made My Head Hurt

Once a month my husband got really grouchy. He had BPS (Bill Paying Syndrome). He would sit at the dining room table with bills and envelopes spread all around and call out to me in a voice tinged with suspicion, asking things like “What did you charge on July 16th for 1,475 dollars?” to which I would say “How would I know?” Then I’d get busy at the other end of our apartment, meeting the needs of our children until the bill paying time was finished.

One day, I decided I had enough of this type of hostile interrogation and told him bill paying was his department and never to ask me another question about a bill again. I was homeschooling our three children, math gave me a headache, and I had no time to waste on stuff that didn’t concern me. Money was not my department. Victory! That was the last of his annoying behavior.

Seven years later, he casually mentioned to me that we had a $40,000 credit card debt. What! How could that be? I asked him how that happened and why on earth he never told me! I had never been in debt in my life! Shocking! How could he be so irresponsible? “Well,” he said “you told me not to bother you with the bills…so I didn’t.”

Wow! He was right! I walked away in silence. Hmm, how to get 40K immediately? Work was out. I was a homeschooling mom.

What to do? I thought about it hard for three nights. Then at 2am, I’m excited!

“Wake up!”

“What is it?”

“I know what we need to do about the money, you know, our credit card debt.”

“What?”

“We have to buy a house. We need a mortgage, not a debt.”

“You are completely crazy.”

I will not be dissuaded by his limited thinking. I call my parents. They are shocked, too, and tell me I am irresponsible and they won’t give me a penny for a house or anything else.

Next, I call a real estate broker and start looking at houses. My family tells me that I am insane and they will not participate in my delusions. I can’t believe how much houses cost. I keep looking and find some bargains. My husband and parents must take a peek. That’s their Achilles heel, and now I’ve got them! Now I am enticing them to look at amazing bargains with regularity as I say ”We could put my books here,” and they don’t argue. I drag them around like this for two years. I also learn they can’t resist homes with charm (new word: “home” not “house”).

Then I put my apartment on the market after writing an outrageous blurb. I call my “home” a duplex although one half is in the basement. I had bought my apartment for $60K (borrowed the $4K down payment from parents before they learned I was deranged and that’s all I’d paid). Broker says I will be lucky to get $90K. I ask $250K (this is New York in 1999), and I have a buyer for $235K! I sell!

I buy a home dripping with charm. It even has a fish pond! My parents offer me money as a gift. (Why now that I don’t need it?) I pay off my credit card debt, leave my semi-basement and have… a mortgage!

Why I am telling you this story?

Well, once upon a time, I didn’t think money was my business. I had no intention of stopping brownie baking to look into a check book. Not only that, it seemed to me that there were quite enough people who were good at math, so I figured why not let them take care of all boring stuff they loved – I’d be doing them a favor by not interfering!

I don’t know what would have happened to my happy little family if I didn’t learn a little about our finances and commit to improving them.

None of us can afford to ignore our financial well being. Survival is everyone’s first order of business.

Have a money problem?

Get rid of it! Here’s how:

1. Don’t let it define you. I was never poor – I was a rich person without money. Rich and poor are states of mind. My husband tried to tell me I spent too much. I did not! I explained. I was spending just the right amount for the wife of a rich man. He earned too little. Most of the richest people I know owe more money than I ever had. So you might say owing money is a sign of wealth! Once you have your “magic number” talk about it (when necessary) like it’s no problem. Like “Oh, I just owe a mere million or two.” That will relax you.

2. Identify your “opportunity” (that’s what problems are called in the self-help books you probably have a stack of by now). Discover precisely what you have (or have not). If it’s really atrocious, it will make a good story, an inspiring speech, the foundation of your novel…or a blog! And if you get divorced over it (or are already single), it will frighten off unwanted suitors or gold diggers.

3. Commit yourself to having or doing what you’ve always dreamed of, but were too successful to pursue. As Janis Joplin sings, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”! Now’s your chance! Go for your goal… and give your story a happy ending.

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