Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Financial Neighborhoods

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Total Black: $1,520.58
Total Red: $229,468.86

I worked both jobs today: contract attorney by day, off-Broadway usher by . . . evening I suppose.  Haven’t found me a “by night” just yet—even though I’ve been consistently looking.  Tonight at New World Stages I worked as Greater, directing patrons towards ticket-taking, the box office or will-call, bathrooms, etc., and then after the shows end back to exit.  Tonight was my first time working that position.  I surprised myself that raising my voice and talking over the chattering crowds crowding the entrance doors caused me a wee bit of discomfort whereas a co-worker next to me just spoke up and shouted out instructions.  Perhaps that’s one difference between an actor and a lawyer: all actors have to be able to project their voices while all lawyers do not.  I don’t recall if I mentioned in prior posts that all but one of my co-workers are actors or singers or just theatre people generally.  The outlier also works in law but as a paralegal.  That my co-workers are all theatre people is one reason I really enjoy working at New World Stages.  The atmosphere is young, and fun, and exciting, full of the optimism of youth.  Life’s endless possibilities waft through the air.  More so than the stank of desolate, staring-at-a-dead-end attorneys.  But I’m digressing from today’s topic: financial neighborhoods.

The Greater position has a bit of downtime between curtain-up and intermission and then again between intermission and curtain-down.  (I love learning the lingo.  Today’s theatre jargon word of of the day—dark:  “No shows perform on Tuesdays because New World Stages is dark that day.”)  I used the downtime today to read more of Mind Over Money by Ted and Brad Klontz.  In Chapter Three: Belonging at All Costs: Running with the Herd, the Klontzes discuss how human beings often base financial decisions based on our socialization.  A few pages earlier the authors break down the make-up of the human brain and walk readers through the interaction between the prehistoric, animal, and rational portions of our brains.  How can human beings make utterly irrational decisions?  Because human behavior is often hard-wired, many times mistakenly, to survival instinct: what the Klontzes note as our fight, flight, or freeze response.  When I hit that phrase I couldn’t believe, frankly, that “freeze” has been neglected for so long; it’s the reaction of many animals . . . and humans . . . when faced with a threatening situation.  A few psychiatrist in article in Psychosomatics called for updating the phrase.  I agree; it’s overdue.  But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

After explaining a bit about human neurology, the Klontzes go on to apply that information to financial behavior.  Just like any other hard-wired and ingrained response—getting violently ill at a restaurant, for instance, or from a particular dish and then never eating that dish or visiting that restaurant again—like that type of response, we too have ingrained behaviors regarding money: some valid and responsible, others emotional and irrational, i.e., not based on reasoned thought.  And many of our financial behaviors took root in youth in the environment in which we were raised: our financial neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods shape us: quite often we felt comfortable there, though not always; we know the streets and the shops, the best spot to park the car or where to pick up groceries late at night.  And like any neighborhood, some supported us and gave us a safe and secure space to learn and grow whereas for others the neighborhood brought difficulty, stress, or perhaps outright danger.  Analogously, we have financial neighborhoods, financial comfort zones—spaces where our financial hard-wiring, our money scripts, was first installed.  At the Klontzes explain: “Each financial neighborhood has its own set of values and mores.  It has its own answers for questions like: What is the financial role of fathers and mothers?  When if ever is it acceptable to take on debt?  What is the best way to use money?  What are we supposed to put up with to meet our financial obligations to others (for instance, working at a job you don’t really like much)?  How acceptable is it to flaunt how much I have and what I spend it on?”

In my financial neighborhood, I somehow learned that buying things ups my self-esteem.  I still recall a moment in elementary school when I looked in the mirror in the boys bathroom and thought, “Why can’t I look like Matt?”  Matt was another boy in my grade.  I must have been around eleven or twelve years old but I had already begun to think of myself as inferior—in at least one way—to another.

Funny that I should think of my old schoolmate now.  He was the youngest child in a large family who lived in the country in a mansion on a hill.  To me, they were Dynasty come alive: an indoor pool, a bowling lane in their basement, tons of land.  I remember wishing as child that his parents would turn out to be my biological parents.  In a silly Annie-esque fantasy, I’d learn that they had given me up because they had too many children and couldn’t care for me.  Then a few years later I met my biological mother: she was from the country too just like my fantasy family but white trash country, not mansion country.  She arrived at the adoption agency for our meeting in a sweatpants suit.  Her face and skin was covered with psoriasis.  She had no teeth on top of her mouth.  Interesting: some time after that, I began buying things, as noted in Feelings and Finances.  And in some ways it never stopped.  I suspect that one financial wire that was laid down was that I needed to put as much distance between myself and her as possible: having name-brand clothing, buying quality goods—be as visually different as possible.  That jives with the type of purchases I made back then.  And now.  Gotta think more on that one.

I also learned in my financial neighborhood that it’s ok for your family to help you financially.  My grandmother loaned money to her children and my parents loaned money to their children.  We all paid each other back over time.  Some neighborhoods might find it anathema to borrow from family.  Another lesson that comes to mind is that the one who holds the purse-strings is the “mean” one.  My father was always very generous with his money whereas my mother, the one who also managed the finances, was much more strict.  She was, after all, the parent pestering me to get a job once I turned twelve because both she and my father had had jobs by that age.  They were children of immigrant parents who had grown up during the Great Depression.

The point of analyzing one’s financial neighborhood, of course, is to learn what financial lessons are healthy and to discover those that are not.  Generosity among family members, if one is able to loan of course, is a family value I support.  Buying things to boost one’s self-esteem is not.  I suspect I have much more excavation to undertake but that’s the focus of this year-long journey.  And I’m only just over halfway there.  Much more about my neighborhood to discover.  And some of those neighborhood blocks will have to be condemned and others restored.  Might even have to move to a new neighborhood.  Not sure just yet, but clearly a more financially-sound neighborhood.  Want to be my neighbor?

One Response

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  1. Nothing wrong with getting paid. The key is getting paid MORE.

    Jay Gatsby

    February 26, 2010 at 14:38

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