A penny saved is not safe. A penny saved is a penny spent.
That is the lesson I learned as a child.
I was raised by a man with narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve spent years unlearning the lessons he taught me and will probably reach the end of my life without unlearning all of them.
I’ve made my peace with that.
Of all the bad habits I formed that I can trace back to childhood, my abysmal money management skills have wreaked more havoc and caused more damage to my life than all the others.
My lessons in managing my money started with a little glass piggy bank.
A friend gave me the bank, filled with change and a few bills, for my birthday. It was my favorite present. This was the seventies, and there was at least five bucks in that bank. I’d be rolling in penny candy for weeks.
The only way to get the money out of the bank was to break it open. I didn’t want to break it open. I loved looking at it. I loved the promise of penny candy as much as I loved penny candy.
There was a non-functioning fireplace in my bedroom when I was a kid. I kept the piggy bank on the mantle. Right in the middle.
When it turned up missing, I turned my bedroom upside down. After letting me search and wail for a while, my dad came into my room and said, “Your bank is gone. That is all you need to know. Don’t ask about it.”
When my dad said not to ask, he meant it. I didn’t ask.
It’s common for a narcissist to also be a gambler. They have absolute faith in their ability. And if they lost, there was always a reason that was out of their control. My father gambled; unfortunately, he was terrible at it, and he wasn’t finished until his money was gone. Any money in his house was his money. I don’t know for sure that my piggy bank ended up at the racetrack: but my piggy bank money ended up at the racetrack.
Subsequent money gifts were handed over to my father. There was always an emergency of some sort. I suspect most of the emergencies happened at the horse track. He didn’t need an excuse. Anything in our house was his to do with as he wished.
So, this is what I learned: If you have money in your hand, spend it. If you don’t spend your money, someone will take it from you.
My policy of spending my money as soon as I got it worked out great until I grew up, moved out, and had to start paying bills. I knew nothing of money management when I moved out at 19 years old. I only knew that when I got paid, I spent my money.
Decades have passed, and I have managed to improve my money handling skills to a degree. But if I’m honest, the thing that has helped the most has been making more money. I still don’t keep good track of my finances, and having any excess money available makes me feel anxious.
Another trait that adult children of narcissists often share is a reluctance to ask for help or to shine lights on our shortcomings. How could I improve my money management skills? I would have to ask for help. How ridiculous would I look, a middle-aged woman, to admit I need remedial training in personal finance?
One of the best things about aging is becoming less and less concerned about the opinions of others. Perhaps this should be the year that I work toward being more financially healthy. It would be nice to find out what life is like not living paycheck to paycheck. It would be nice to live knowing that I’m not one big car repair away from being destitute.
I’d better do something soon, or I’ll be working in a cubicle until I’m dead. Unless we can all agree that, in the future, dust bunnies will be recognized as currency, because I hoard that shit.