My relationship with money has been troubled for a while. The problem isn’t money, it’s me. I’ve been neglectful. Sure, I appreciate what money does for me. It keeps my car running, it feeds me, it even buys me coffee every Friday. But my appreciation is hypothetical, unexpressed. Instead of tending to my relationship with money, I mostly just try to avoid it. I just keep spending what I spend, charging groceries on my debit card, buying new tires on credit, and then hoping that when I finally get around to checking my balances, I don’t discover that my account balance is zero, or that I’ve surpassed my credit limit.
But lately, some things have been reminding me that money would appreciate my attention. First, a friend of mine left this on my doorstep.
It’s a owl piggybank, an owl-pig. My friend has been buying piggy banks at Goodwill and then painting them, transforming them into talismans for prosperity. The owl-pig came with instructions. We must feed her coins and notes. We must talk to her about our dreams.
A few days after pig-owl arrived, I read a chapter from Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up that describes the author’s efforts to change her relationship to money. The simplest take-away from this chapter is the Money Magnet chant:
According to Michelle Tea, the idea isn’t necessarily to seek magic or divine intervention (though we welcome those things too!), but to remind ourselves that we don’t need to live in an antagonistic relationship with money. Tea describes how she spent much of her youth avoiding money, and how this avoidance meant that she often found herself working for free while someone else was turning a profit. She writes, “I knew that in order to heal my abusive relationship with prosperity, I was going to have to start approaching this part of my life not with anger or hurt, but with love.” The chant simply helps remind the chanter that money is our friend. It wants to serve us.
With this in mind, I started to feed our owl-pig, and talk to our owl-pig, and also I said the Money Magnet chant a few times. Each time I said it I allowed myself to dream big, and over the course of ten days the following things happened.
- I placed one essay in the New York Times Motherlode and another in The Washington Post. Breaking into one of these markets was my big personal goal for the year. Now…DONE! (I think I might take a nap.)
- Kellie got an unexpected bonus at work.
- I got a letter in the mail saying that I’d already been billed four times for a co-pay of $10.36, and if I didn’t settle up within the week, the bill was going to a collection agency.
Of course I was ecstatic about items 1 and 2, but number 3 was in its own way a gift, a wake-up call, a reminder of exactly how careless I’ve been. Bills arrive in the mail and they migrate to the edge of our kitchen table where they gather crumbs and stains. I put off dealing with them for weeks, and when I finally open the envelope, I think: Huh, this medical co-pay invoice for $3.27 is dated April 3. I swear I already paid this. I think they might have sent the bill on the same day that I put payment in the mail. Then I put it aside and intend to call the office on a Monday, but then I never do because who cares? It’s $3.27.
Every time this happens, I think about my mother and how throughout my childhood she sat at the dining room table and paid bills every Saturday morning. (She probably still does.) She balanced her checkbook as she went. Paying attention to money was a part of her weekly routine. Every month or so I ask myself why can’t I do that? By the time I get around to paying the bills it takes hours and it looks like this:
But afterwards, when the waste has been recycled, and the bills have been paid, and I see that there’s still some money left in checking, or I at least understand that we need a couple of months to pay the credit card back down, my world feels a whole lot cleaner. It’s not so much about having a lot, it’s about knowing what I have. I can breathe. I can make informed choices.