You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand.
~ Irene C. Kassorla
Update: This article was included in the Carnival of Money Stories: Spending Wisely Edition posted at Sweating the Big Stuff. Thank you!
Women aren’t very good with money. Men aren’t very good with children. Children aren’t ready to learn about finance. These are just a few of the stereotypes that various forms of media might try to sell us. All women are supposed to be interested in the latest lipstick, not the latest financial headlines. All men are supposed to be interested in beer and sports, not wine and symphonies. Are you buying it? Did you know you have a choice?
It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in stereotypes, even if we don’t realize we’re doing it. Our household is an ironic mixture of old-fashioned stereotypes and their complete opposites. I became a stay at home mom just as it became entirely unfashionable to do so. Mr. Cents earns the income, but I manage all of it, keeping him in the loop on the bigger decisions.
I do most of the housework and cooking – not because I’m female, but because I can. Mr. Cents looks after the car, appliance and home maintenance – not because he’s male, but because he can. I have neither the interest nor the ability to care for those things. We understand that our roles fit into a very traditional formula, but that’s not why we’ve structured our life that way. We are the quintessential nuclear family in structure, but in almost no other way.
Our home is heavy on testosterone. I am the lone female representative. But you wouldn’t necessarily guess that if you peeked at our life. We are Canadian and we have 3 sons, so we must have hockey tournaments every weekend, right? Wrong. None of the gentlemen in this house is even remotely interested in hockey, or any other sport for that matter. A couple of my sons like baseball, but I’m probably the biggest sports fan here. I love baseball, but no other sports. I don’t wear lipstick. Mr. Cents likes cars, but not racing. He dislikes most sports.
All of us love music. All of us love books. All of us are fairly creative in one way or another. Most of us are quite introverted. We embrace no formal religion, yet hold very strong values and opinions. Some of those values are very traditional and others are definitely not.
The point is that we are who we are. Some of our characteristics fit the stereotypes. Others don’t. We aren’t concerned either way, because we’re comfortable with the way our story is progressing.
Pick Up the Pen & Write Your Own Story
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
~ James A. Froude
Have you ever seen those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where the cartoonist actually interacts with the characters? He can draw in a cliff and reduce Wile E. Coyote to a puff of dust again, or he can sketch a door in the brick wall so that Bugs Bunny can run right through it. You can have that kind of effect on your life and your finances.
You may not be able to control the brick wall in front of you, but you can certainly control your reaction to it. If you are currently spending more than you earn, I can guarantee that you will come face to face with that brick wall sooner or later. How will you react? Will you:
a) Cut expenses so that you are earning more than you’re spending.
b) Figure out a way to earn a little more income.
c) Close your eyes and brace for impact.
Did you know you have a choice? Many of us abdicate responsibility for the state of our life balance sheet: My English/Math/Chemistry teacher wasn’t very good. My parents didn’t do X, Y, or Z. I’ve always been unlucky. No one else cares. Why should I? Any or all of these may be true. But they’re just characters and settings that shift over time. You’re in control of the plot.
Dreams, goals and plans for the future are great. Only action can turn them into reality. Only you can write your life story. (If you need a little tough love to convince you that you’re responsible for your life story, check out the latest at Enemy of Debt -> The Cold Hard Truth: Debt Is STUPID and You Might Be Too.)
Your Way Is the Easy Way
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
~ Dr. Seuss
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.”
~ Andre Gide
You can try all day to be what everyone else thinks you should be. You can follow the advice of all the gurus out there. But you probably won’t feel happy and you probably won’t be successful until you figure out the way that works best for you. It’ll be a lot easier and you’ll probably be more successful as a result.
You cannot do, say, or be anything that will cause everyone to like you, so you might as well just be yourself. It doesn’t matter what you do, say, or believe. Someone will always disagree with you or dislike you as a result. E.E. Cummings said that “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It also takes courage to persevere in your quest for balance in money and in life.
There are hundreds of different ways to manage your money. Find a system that works for you. Your budget doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It just has to balance. There are thousands of ways to invest your money, both inside and outside the stock market. It doesn’t matter whether you stick to GICs, allocate and rebalance, trade channels, or follow Fibonacci levels. If it works for you, it’s the right way. Find a formula that fits.
Stick With It & You Can’t Lose
“Your distress about life might mean you have been living for the wrong reason, not that you have no reason for living.”
~ Tom O’Connor
It may take a great deal of time and lots of trial and error to find what works for you. It can be hard to break free from habits and stereotypes. But if you keep at it, you really can’t lose. There are two reasons for that:
- You will eventually find what you’re looking for, or something close enough to it to make you feel content – or at least more content than you otherwise might be.
- You’ll learn a lot along the way and likely gain some great experiences on which to build.
Achieving balance in your financial life (or any other part of your life) is not so much an end goal as a process of continual adjustment. It requires daily effort and can become a very healthy, self-reinforcing habit if you can just get yourself to stick with it.
If we allow ourselves to be limited by stereotypes and norms that are incongruent with our strengths and values, we are less likely to achieve the balance we crave. If we surround ourselves with characters and settings that are true to our abilities and values, we are more likely to write the life story we really want to write.
Do you find that you are influenced by stereotypes, either in your views of yourself or others? Do you ever find that stereotypes limit your financial success or your sense of balance?