I was inspired by my dear friend and Empowerment Coach who sent me an op-ed article, “My Year of No Shopping” by Ann Patchett from The New York Times and asked if I’d like to take on the challenge with her. I couldn’t have read this article at a more timely moment because I’ve been thinking about finances and money as I celebrated my 28th birthday in September, and it hit me that I’ve neglected this part of my life.
On the Wheel of Life, my lowest score is in the “finance” section. I’ve been living in New York City for my entire post-college adulthood. Learning to live within a budget and planning for financial soundness during my early 20s in one of the most expensive cities in the world didn’t come to me easily. Quite frankly, I’m still learning the hard way, hence my lower score in this section on the Wheel.
For a long time, I thought that my reckless spending habits on great quantities of high-end lipsticks, apparel and a few designer shoes were forgivable because 1) I had a decent job and money was coming in regularly and 2) they were investments in “myself,” which was code for investments in “my image.” I worked at a top global beauty company, and everyone around me looked so trendy and made up, so therefore I needed to do the same. Don’t get me wrong — I definitely love the finer things which often equates to higher quality, but the amount of money and energy I was spending was excessive and unnecessary.
In an effort to prepare for 2018 during the past month, I reflected on this matter of money and what events shaped my relationship with it. I realized that we had a bad relationship, and I never really formed a stance or opinion about it. As a child, I actually remember that I was cognizant of the importance of savings and that I had the ability to save my allowances. But that changed once I hit my teenage years. I remember desperately finding a job as soon as I turned 16. I wanted to make my own money and buy whatever I wanted without anyone having the authority to tell me otherwise. And that’s exactly what I did. As a Sweet Sixteen gift, my mother even gave me $1000. And yes, I spent it all on clothes, dining out and even treating my friends. I literally was making it rain.
But, this recollection didn’t explain precisely why I so carelessly treated my money. I didn’t come from a family of wealth where I was in any position to spend frivolously. My dad was a minister. My mother was mostly a homemaker with a few attempts of entrepreneurship that didn’t flourish as much as she liked. They were both immigrants. They didn’t speak English without an accent and spent most of their time with other Korean immigrants who were attendants of our church. This was their life. We lived in a decent-sized home, fit for a family of five and rotations of house guests. This decent-sized home was never even ours to begin with; it was owned by the church. So technically, my family didn’t have a dime to their name when it came to assets. Our livelihood was contingent on us belonging to a church and the congregation’s generous offerings, which first went to paying the church’s necessities and commitments, then my dad’s salary. If the church’s offerings came in short, then it was my dad’s pay that was shorted.
On December 18th, 2017, the night of the New Moon, I uncovered the root of this as a couple close friends helped to unblock my mind of something. I was feeling extremely “stuck” on a particular matter at this time which turned out that it really had everything to do with my financial outlook. In our time together, I recalled a vivid memory from when I was just turning 13 and so badly longed for a pair of Dr. Martens boots. So, I decided that I would treat myself to them for my birthday with the allowance I saved and the birthday money I collected.
My mom took me to the mall so I could buy them. When we came home, my dad was in the living room. I was so excited about my new shoes, I pulled them out and showed him saying, “Look! Aren’t these shoes nice?” Most dads probably would have responded with, “Yeah! Those are really nice.” My dad’s response was in unfortunate displease: “How much were they?” They were around $120 which was definitely not a small sum for a 13-year old, but this was a birthday gift I treated myself using my own money. He then told me, “You need to take those back. You’re a minister’s daughter. You shouldn’t have nice things like this, and people will judge you if you do.”
This memory I blocked out of my mind for so long held the answer to understanding why my relationship with money was so sour. It was at that point when I internalized my dad’s firm opinion: I, the minister’s daughter, was demanded to live a life of denial in order to be “holier than thou” and represent moral superiority by showing an absence of materialistic items. This was the price tag that came with being born into my family, and this was the onset of my rebellion with money.
My strong will to land a job as soon as I legally could as a teenager wasn’t because I was trying to stack up my resume or to kill time because I didn’t have other things I could’ve been doing. It was for the sole purpose of making my own money, so I could independently spend it on whatever I wanted — nice, flashy, expensive things. My dad’s reaction damaged me and fueled my desire to sever my affiliation with being “the minister’s daughter.” And the best way I could think of doing that was by embellishing myself with materials, behaviors and actions that were of complete indulgence and opposite of self-denial. I pretty much spent close to every penny I earned with very little savings for the next fifteen years of my life (aside from my minuscule contributions to hidden ways of saving like my 401K). My relationship with money has been an abusive one. I lacked respect for money, seeking out ways to spend it for reasons that weren’t meaningful and only to bandage a wound that needed more than that to heal. And with my poor spending habits, excessive consumption and anarchical outlook of finances came negative energy.
As I dove into this deeper, I also came to the realization that my drive for money also drove me to make certain decisions when it came to my career choices. No, I didn’t choose the career that had the highest earning potential or one with six- or seven-figure bonuses. But, I did choose a career at a specific company because I knew it was the highest paying in the industry. It also seemed glamorous and gave me access to belonging in an “upper echelon” of those who work in the industry. While working there, I spent quite a few years in fear that if I left to another job, I would slow down the rate of promotions and therefore stifle the increases in my salary and bonus potential. I was addicted to numbing the real pain I ignored for so many years through spending money mindlessly. And like drinking alcohol, I needed more as my tolerance level increased.
If you have room on your list of New Year’s Resolutions, it’s never too late to set this one up as one of your goals. At the very least, a highly probable outcome will be in the form of savings in your own bank account.
Originally published at www.sorahkim.com