Before I started working at Whole Foods last December, I was only an occasional shopper. I went in when I needed something specific, like broccoli rabe or gluten-free cupcakes for a friend’s party. I never wanted to buy more than a few items because I didn’t trust myself. Everything in the store seems like such a good idea—organic, all-natural, so good for you—that I kept myself confined to only the essentials out of financial necessity. My secret fear was that I would go into a shopping trance and wake up in the parking lot with half my bank account missing on a week’s worth of groceries. Like many secret fears, it was based on letting out the worst side of myself.
I spent the summer working full-time for my old college with the bright promise of my new job around the corner. I calculated what I still needed to purchase, the expenses I would have before my first check in September, and I realized I had $500 to spend on new school clothes for the kids.
To say this felt like a miracle would not be an overstatement.
I first heard about this strategy of attracting money a few years ago from a life coach who claimed that picking up change lead to her six-digit earning success. At that time I was a life-coach-business beginner and desperate for any tip that could help me build my own successful coaching empire. So I started picking up coins wherever I went. I picked up US cents, euro cents, and even Russian kopeks that were at the time worth less than broken pieces of glass littering the streets of St Petersburg. Eight years into this routine and into running my coaching business I was no closer to six digits than when I started.
Everyone knows how painful and expensive divorces can be, especially when two people can’t agree on amicable parting terms. But what about the costs associated with a broken engagement, or a case-of-cold feet?
As I continued to do my non-work for my non-boss in my non-office, as small but essential three-figure payments appeared, almost by magic, in my bank account each week, I wondered if maybe the screens were beside the point. Perhaps, I was part of some bizarre money-laundering operation.
When you live in New York City, even the smallest objects in your apartment need to justify what scarce, high-priced real estate they occupy.
I applied for my first credit card during my junior year of college. The application required an annual salary, which I didn’t have. But not having an annual salary wasn’t an option, so I checked the box indicating $100,000-$120,000. I justified the lie with the internal argument that my father’s income at the time must have been about that—or so I then suspected. I must have been wrong, though, since my father declared bankruptcy two years later. But this is about me and my money mess, not his.
In my quest to become MacGyver (the short, Asian female version), I plunged into the shoemaking world a few years ago and took classes in the New York City area. I made some very nice shoes: black leather mules, brown boots for the hubby, summer toe ring sandals for me, and black dress shoes for the hubby again. These really nice dress shoes made me puff up in pride as many Facebook friends liked photos of the finished product—shoes I made with my tired, sore, little hands in a hot, dusty studio in Brooklyn.
The problem, ultimately, is capitalism. It is a system designed to channel goods to the people willing and able to pay the most for them, including real estate.
At 37, I frequently find myself talking with people about whether they should have kids. This is an understandable dilemma, with the sands running out of the biological hourglass and all that, and the key issue always seems to be, “Will I regret not having kids?” or, “Will I not love having kids as much as I thought and thus, regret having them?” (Here’s a letter to Dear Sugar that lays out the general script.)
I met David Melito a few weeks ago when I was on vacation in Los Angeles. We were talking about our shared interest in money, mine because—well, you’re reading The Billfold right now, aren’t you?—and his because he’s a production accountant in the film industry.