A Complicated Relationship

a complicated relationship

By Troy Headrick

This is the story of my complicated relationship with money and how such a relationship came to be.  In the telling of this story, I’ll need to explore the nature of fear and how our parents’ fears end up shaping our own inner psychological landscapes.

Before becoming an adult and leaving home, I lived with a father who was perpetually terrified that some financial crisis might befall the family.  He worried about our bills and whether or not we had the funds to pay them.  Because we lived in a rural setting, he fretted that our water well would go out or that some large appliance, like our hot water heater, would suddenly quit working and he’d have to replace it.  As a result of these worries, he would secretly creep around the house turning down the thermostat in the dead of winter or he’d stand for minutes at a time looking at our dishwasher or clothes washer (or some such contraption) while it was running and then note how ever little sound the machine made was full of ominous warnings that the thing was on its last legs.  It even got so bad that he refused to run the central heating unit during the coldest days of winter and would “heat” our entire house—no significant heating actually took place—with nothing more than a fire in the fireplace in the living room.

I can’t really blame my father for his insecurities because once he divorced my mother he remarried a woman with three kids.  Thus, there were suddenly several mouths to feed in the Headrick household.  There was quite a lot of laundry to do too.  As you might guess, the hot water heater had to work overtime to give all of us warm showers and this exacerbated my dad’s worries about the appliance’s well-being.  The expenditures were considerable while my father and his wife’s incomes weren’t.  This turned my dad into a brooding, fretting man who appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

After my father retired at a fairly early age, he started investing in real estate and now he and my stepmother are very comfortable.  Still, when we occasionally talk about money today, he tightens up and furrows his brow as those old insecurities rear their head.  I suppose it is hard to shake our deep-seated fears, those bogeymen that first come into being early in our lives and yet continue to terrify us even as we mature.

Stepping back in time, my dad was born into a family of what some might call the “working poor.”  His father, my grandfather, had only an eighth-grade education and his wife didn’t work outside the home.  Thus, with the small business my grandfather operated, he could not provide his four kids (my dad being the oldest one of them) with anything remotely resembling a middle-class lifestyle.  Because my father had grown up poor and had watched his parents struggle, he became a man who also felt poor (even if he was much more financially secure than he’d been as a child).  These feelings became more real to him than actual reality.  But fear is like this.  Fear and insecurity are often irrational.

Children are like sponges.  They absorb their parents’ speech and thinking patterns.  They are likely to be frivolous if they are brought up by frivolous people.  And they learn to become insecure about money if they see a parent acting this way.

I am insecure about money and I know this about myself.  My wife and I are actually doing fine, but I constantly worry about our savings and whether or not something bad might happen that would require a large expenditure of cash.  So, I value money greatly, but only because it’s my security blanket.  On the other hand, I actually hate money because of what it does to me.  My worries about it sap my strength and are very distracting.  I wish I could get past all this, but I haven’t been able to do so, so far.

Do any of you have any suggestions for me?  Or do you have similar experiences you’d like to share?  I’m anxious to hear what everyone has to say.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

41 thoughts on “A Complicated Relationship

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  1. Hi Troy, I get this feeling a LOT. I can appreciate the struggles and those two little words, “what if…” that seem to predict disaster more often than windfalls! In my own journey to a growth mindset, I’m reminding myself that there is always a way to manage whatever comes. I don’t know what will come or when, no one does. What I do know is that I’m fairly good at problem solving, as is my husband. That skill alone has, and will continue to, help us figure out just about anything that comes at us. Wishing you success finding the right set of words that will bring you peace of mind!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your response. I found it encouraging. Like you, I see myself as a pretty skilled critical thinker and problem solver. (Heck, I do all that for a living.) So it was nice for you to remind me that we can use our grey matter to get out of whatever tight spot we might find ourselves in. Here’s the crazy part: We’re actually quite comfortable (compared to many) and yet I still feel this vulnerability. Thanks, again, for the advice and for sharing your story.

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  2. I have similar struggles with money, in my case exacerbated by being on disability. I grew up poor for a large chunk of my childhood, ’til about age twelve and those years informed the way I spend. I hate spending money. I make do. I keep the thermostat low (lol). I obsess over having savings, a cushion just in case. On the one hand, it bothers me. I don’t like the money being a source of stress. On the other hand, it’s a bit freeing. Because I have limited funds, I don’t overconsume. And, I like being able to say that.

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    1. There is great power in downsizing, in living simply and modestly. My wife and I live like that too. Yes, money is one of those weird things that can provide both comfort and distress. One of my goals this year will be to try and get on top of this financial anxiety I feel. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Those of us with money issues need to stick together and share coping strategies.

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  3. Hi Troy, I get this completely. My parents were working poor, and I am another generation of this. I picked up their habits and behaviours with money and can never have savings. I spend money before I even have it. It doesn’t matter if I’m earning $100k a year or $20k a year. I can never save and live week to week. Tomorrow I start my first appointment with a financial counsellor and hopefully will start to make changes to these mindsets. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad that I’m not alone!

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    1. Thanks, Jo, for sharing your story. My problem is the opposite. I’m more of a hoarder of money because I’m always terrified that some catastrophe is going to hit us and we’ll need to muster our financial resources to fend it off. I think it’s good to reach out to counselors. Sometimes we need wise and objective others to observe us and tell us what they see. I wish you all the best in this endeavor. Again, thanks for participating ins this interesting discussion.

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  4. Hi Troy, I really enjoy your posts. I have also had a poor relationship with money. My father worked his butt off to pay off the house early, and had plans for retirement. He constantly sat at the kitchen table scribbling numbers on pieces of paper, most likely making sure all the bills would be paid. He then suddenly died at the age of 57. As you can imagine, this dramatically changed the way I felt about money. I also read a great (and humorous) book called, You Are a Badass at Making Money, by Jen Sincero. After reading this, I started to adopt a more relaxed view of it all. We attract things positively, and repel things with negative thinking. These days, I wake up grateful, tell myself I am RICH and truly believe it…..even though I am making 40% less than last year. Oh well! Happy anyway. Cheers, Deb

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    1. And I very much enjoy your comments, dmcguinty. I’m going to check out the book you mentioned. If I could change one thing about myself, it would be to relax more about money and our financial state (which, ironically, isn’t bad at all). Your father is the example of what obsessions can do to us, and I’m sorry to hear that you lost him at such an early age. I often get frustrated that this country doesn’t do more to make the lives of normal, middle-class people easier so that more instances like your father’s doesn’t occur so often. I’m going to spend some time thinking about your post because I think it contains wisdom that could help me. I very much appreciate your guidance.

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  5. I live pretty much hand to mouth at the moment and I do think about money a lot. Still, the main thing is that I’m doing what I love to do, so…we need a lot less than we think we do. Easier to say this in Australia than the US, however, since your health care is pretty much sorted and you’re never going to starve.

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    1. Yes! We can always live more simply. When I compare how I live now with how I lived when I was a graduate student, I can see that I have a lavish lifestyle compared to that time in my life (and yet I still feel so financially vulnerable). That’s the problem, exactly. I’m actually quite comfortable but the fear is in my head and I can’t shake it. And yes, most developed nations are so much more enlightened when it comes to having their political priorities straightened out than does America. Having lived abroad for many years, I see America with 20-20 vision, and a lot of what I see troubles me greatly. Thank you so much for your insightful comment.

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  6. I came up in a household where my father was somewhat of a money wiz because my mother knew very little about handling and managing money. My mother was 13 years younger than my father and depended on him for so much although she was an artistic genius. Now my mother is the sole breadwinner besides their government social security funds and she is learning the hard way how to manage money. I learned to budget at an early age but didn’t learn much else so my husband and I are always in need of money because of our never ending disagreements with money. It’s baffling to say the least.

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    1. Research shows that most fights between spouses in America are somehow connected with money. That’s terribly sad when you think about it. Yes, money, it’s the cause of so much strife and unrest. Thinking about it as much as I do certainly threatens to drive me batty. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I really appreciate your contribution to this discussion.

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  7. When I need to I like to remind myself that money is a tool. Money works for me not the other way around. I am the human in this situation. I am definitely not perfect with money… It just helps to remember that I hold the power over money.

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  8. I guess I can understand the situation. When it comes to financial situation, I’m pretty much insecure as well. If I want to be honest, I never actually have had problems with money and my family is quite well-off, sort of middle class. It’s never been really an issue. I just make it an easy because of how difficult it is to get a job and make money. I guess I’ve come to realize that getting a job and money sounds easy by the book, but not so much in actually doing it.

    My parents have been insisting that they still want to support my sister and I, as long as they are around. My father still works and he’s quite a workaholic. But I don’t want that. I want to be financially independent from my parents. But at the same time, even though now I have my own income (after living off of some freelance works since college for a month and a half after graduation), I’m still often reluctant spending too much money on daily basis. I even feel bad to buy something basic such as lunch or dinner. Especially when my mother doesn’t feel like cooking in a week. The good thing about this is that I managed to teach myself some basic cooking skill, even if my mother against it.

    Currently I want to participate in another writing course, but, well… It’s quite costly, but I’m sure it would be good for me since I also have a solo project going on. I don’t wanna be slaved by money, but nevertheless, we need money, don’t we?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, we do need money. Unfortunately, in the US, certain kinds of work, like being an educator, pay far less than they should. Your comment about getting a job being easier said than done caught my eye. Many cultural analysts have made the argument that the “American Dream” is dead. If it’s not dead, then it’s in a terminal state. As you move later into life, don’t be afraid to try things that some might think of as unconventional. For example, I lived and worked outside the US, my home country, for nearly two decades and did very well. Do some research, find where the money is and where they value what you have to offer, and then think long and hard about going to that place. Thank you very much for your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. ok..here is my story…lol.. i grew up without a pot to piss in. This phrase, along with others, like dirt poor, poor white trash, trailer trash, and others were pretty much what i was used to as a reference for our family status. I left home at age 15 partially to lessen the burden on my single mom. Anyway, about age 20 or so i had the good fortune of tagging along to the beach with a friend for free. I put a quarter in the slot of one of those mystical genie readers at the arcade.My fortune was as follows- “Spend your money as you see fit, because you will always have plenty of it”. At the time, i rolled my eyes and thought “yeah , right.” But what i have realized over the years is that the tiny paper with that fortune was absolutely correct.53 years old next month – still haven’t been sent to debtors prison. Amazing. All that time wasted worrying for nothing:)

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    1. I really loved your comment and advice! You’ve reminded me how often I’ve been wrong when I’ve looked into the future and seen nothing but bleakness. Like I said in my blog, our fears often are mostly divorced from the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. Things often look darker than they really are. This is why I’ve been so intrigued with people and studying psychology for such a long time. We’re such complicated creatures. We have imaginations, which makes us capable of writing and making art and doing all sorts of wonderful things, but this same imagination can be used to create threats that don’t really exist. In some very important ways, I have too much imagination than is good for me. Thanks, again, for your really cool comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Troy, love the Posts they always make me look within. As a 26 year old bum who lived in a shed for two years before quitting a well paid job to go travel around Asia, i’m not particularly sure how I qualify to comment; life is subjective and all that. But, one thing I’ve learnt is that although money is important, it isn’t needed in abundance to live a life of happiness. Although a severe lack of money can put stress on certain aspects of life, some of the most happiest people I’ve met don’t have large sums of material wealth to their name. They spend their time with loved one’s, family and friends, counting the blessings of individual relationships instead of their cash.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m older now, but when I was younger, I lived, like you, in all sorts of ways. For example, I was a squatter in an abandoned mobile home for several months. I was also a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years and lived on a very meager salary. I have to admit, that I actually felt rich during those days of poverty. Then I got older and married and with all that comes more complexity. I’m working hard to get back to the basics (at least in my thinking). We don’t spend extravagantly by any stretch of the imagination, but I still exaggerate the importance of money in my mind. It is likely that my wife and I will leave the US again, and this will help me a lot. I find that I become more anxious about money and such things when I’m living in the America. When I’m abroad, such concerns simply melt away.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your experience I can most definitely relate. As I read and learn more about being in the present moment and learning that most of our suffering comes from thoughts of the past or trying to predict the future. I’ve learned the best way to overcome those thoughts and feelings is to bring yourself into the present moment and practicing gratitude helps me out tremendously. 💚

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    1. Thanks so much for the wise advice, Ny. Yes, like you, I try to practice mindfulness as often as possible. You’ll notice that I used the word “practice” in my previous sentence. I’m certainly working hard on trying to “live in the here and now” when it comes to dealing with money. But, like I said, the deepest fears–those with roots that have found their way deep into our psyches–are the hardest to deal with. Again, thanks so much for participating in this interesting conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. So we’re almost “family” when it comes to our insecurities. I guess lots of parents aren’t entirely aware how much their kids are paying attention. However, in my father’s case, he got his money insecurity the old-fashioned way. It was passed down from his father too. Thanks for sharing your story and for participating in this discussion. I’ve been surprised by how many people have similar issues with money.

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      1. Hi. I’ve had a look at your blog and have become a follower. May I ask what you do for a living? Your posts suggest that you are an academician. Is that true? (I have spent a good deal of my life teaching at community colleges and universities in America and abroad.) If this is too much prying, I apologize.

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      2. No problem, I am extremely open. I am no acedemic professionally but temperamentally am that way inclined. Oxford educated historian and have continued to read widely ever since. Professionally speaking spent some years in law and finance.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Although not to this extent, it sounds very familiar to me. My parents also grew up struggling, so they always thought they needed to save. I also have these tendencies, although I am not as worried. One of the conflict points between my parents and me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should try to break away from the kind of fears and insecurities that appear to be somewhat inherited. You’ll have the opportunity to develop plenty of your own worries without having to perpetuate those that have been handed down (ha!). Thanks, Betul.

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