We had a neighbor when I was younger who would leave coins all over the floor in various rooms. At first, I thought she dropped the coins. You know, like, she just seemed to have holes in all her pockets. So, like any innocent 5-year-old, I picked them up and brought them to her. At which point she explained with a chuckle, “No, child. I did not drop my money in the bathroom. I put it there to remind me that money is everywhere around me and because of that I will always have it.” (Course, if I were any older, I’d have to question her on the spot, since we all lived on welfare in the projects… huh? ) I could hear her words, but not grasp the concept.
So, when we returned to her house the many times my mother brought me there, I politely excused myself to go to the bathroom each time. Whereby I picked up the coins and put them in my pocket so that I would have money with me all the time too. It seemed week over week the money magically replaced itself, and therefore I thought I was doing her a favor by taking the old money to make room for the new magical money. Needless, to say it wasn’t long before my mother’s friend found out the good deed I was doing and, well let’s just say she was one less friend for it.
My mother never could keep money saved. In fact, the only one time she was able to save money was when she let her friend Mr. Daymond (not his real name) play her banker by holding the money she gave him and like any bank without the security of FDIC, he would refuse to let her take any of it back when she asked. She was trying hard to save for a living room set.
She came up with every tragic story imaginable about why she needed the money back. Mr. Daymond was a very big man and unmoved by her begging on a weekly basis. Finally after a period of time we had a new living room set. I felt so proud to have something that wasn’t tattered, torn or mismatched. However, the entire experience was so difficult for my mother that I equated saving with pain.
The Numbers Were Always Negative
Our lives were determined by a monthly welfare check and a steno pad my mother used daily as a ledger sheet of what money was coming in and what money was going out. The bottom line number was ALWAYS negative. Never once did the legendary steno pad balance, never once were we in the green.
If it were possible to place the level of worry my mother exhibited over finances on a scale it would easily fall off onto a multitude of other scales in search of a limit. Worrying was a full time job for my mother whether it be finances, all the many kids in the house, the lack of food, the fear of abuse and any number of other things that warranted a need for worry.
Inheriting the "Money Worry" Gene
As the years went by and I grew to gain my own employment I swore to myself that I would never worry about money and certainly not maintain a steno pad filled with daunting numbers that led to a negative Scarlett bottom line. No sir, not me I used an Excel spreadsheet instead! Constantly struggling to make more money and more money, it was never enough to stop me from living paycheck to paycheck.
I hadn’t owned anything nor invested in anything. Every dime I made went out the door in some fashion or another. Most often any overage I would have at the end of the week was ‘borrowed’ by someone in the family and simply never repaid.
Money used to represent my safety. With more money I could live somewhere safe – not like the projects where I often felt any stranger could frequent my space. It used to represent status; where I could prove to others that I had become someone other than that black project girl whose abused white mother would send her to wait relentlessly for the mailman to put the only source of income we had into that little slot of a mailbox called 2C.
Old Habits Die Hard
As I became old enough to voice my opinion, fear and worry about money the fights between my mother and me became dreadful. I would deprecate her every idea about money and its purpose no matter how close she came to making sense. I refused to believe that my habits would ever be the same. But I was wrong. Money and my inability to maintain it became a stress greater than any. Though I had accomplished renting apartments in nice areas; one always better than the next. Matching furniture and all other type décor that would be pleasing on the eye to all who visited; I still maintained the appalling habit of living paycheck to paycheck.
Now in my life, I make more money than I have ever before and yet it seems I only have it because, I am not the one in control of it. For a long while that appeared to be OK, as long as my bills were easily paid, my children were well taken care of and my lifestyle of living like the Jones’ was well maintained.
Money = Freedom
In retrospect, it has become clear what I have given up to maintain such money in my life. Freedom. There is nothing worse I have come to understand than to lose your freedom. It has provided me an entirely new level of humble for my ancestors.
No doubt having money makes it much easier to make decisions, be free to travel and enjoy the finer things in life without struggle. If these are the things I concern myself with, then yes Mr. Money I will save you in the bank for another day and I will invest you somewhere that will continue to make life for my family and me a little better than ever was before. But first Mr. Money you must learn to come to me freely without such a taxing chase.