Finance First Friday: Never Enough

Longtime parishioner, Judy Southwick, has faced a difficult few years with her characteristic grace and humor. I invited Judy to share her journey and her money narrative with us, that we may be as courageous and vulnerable.

That day, a group of fellow parishioners gathered on Zoom to discuss the book Integrating Money and Meaning by Maggie Kulyk. The discussion leader asked everyone to think back to their earliest remembrance of their family’s conversation around money. In the small group session, it didn’t take long for me to say out loud, “There was never enough!”

Immediately I felt shame and resentment. It hurt to acknowledge in front of others that I’d grown up poor. Old memories immediately came to mind.  Wearing my older cousin’s hand-me-downs. Asking to go to day camp and hearing my mom respond, “We don’t have any money for that.” Getting a used bike for my birthday; the paint was chipped, and it didn’t even come with handlebar streamers! 

My small group listened very respectfully. That day, I felt comfortable sharing out loud a family truth. But for most of my life, money has meant anxiety to me. My earliest reality of not having enough money in the family has followed me right up to the present time.  

Both my parents stressed that whenever we received any money, we needed to save it. I was 15 when I got my first job and worked steadily until I was 70. Not having enough money to retire was always in the back of my mind. Being divorced and alone for several years also guided my thoughts. I had to care for myself and not depend on a partner to impact my income. After so many years of worrying, it was actually a surprise to find that careful savings, Social Security, and retirement income have allowed a comfortable life without a job. When I retired, I had enough.

I had a traumatic fall a year ago and broke my hip. My health insurance covered my injuries, but there was much more to deal with. I spent almost two months learning to walk again. I suffered fear and anxiety. But I wasn’t alone. St John’s reached out to me for assistance. Members showed up on Sundays at the hospital to bring me communion and pray for me. I was assigned my own care committee that came to my home to visit once I healed; they listened and offered suggestions for going forward. After my fall, I kept reliving my accident. In addition to the church care team I sought professional counseling. The counselor diagnosed anxiety. She listened to my fears and guided me through several exercises, and I was finally able to get past the trauma. When I needed support, I had enough.

In May of this year, my high-rise apartment complex had a fire on the 11th floor (my apartment is on the 7th floor). Returning after the fire to check out any damage, I noticed my carpet was damp but didn’t discern any other damage at the time. I filed a claim with my insurance to replace my carpet and I felt confident I would have enough money to cover whatever the insurance wouldn’t.

It turned out that water had rolled through the ceiling and traveled behind the walls into my cupboards and damaged the whole kitchen. My carpet had to be replaced—and so did almost everything else in the apartment. I knew this would be a huge financial stress. It left me in fear of my future. Who would take care of me? The uncertainty of my existence was overwhelming.

Integrating Money and Meaning suggests our goal should be to have our money align with our spiritual lives and our heart center. We need to discern what truly matters to us and create a “courageous vision”. We can start out small. To deepen my path I have tried to answer: “What makes me happy?”

Happiness comes from the online Zoom classes St John’s offers during the pandemic and their discussions that open my eyes. The church’s book group is another activity that deepens my path. When I thank God for all my blessings, I have enough.

Managing my money in these uncertain times has made me a little proud of myself. I think the feeling of “not having enough” will always be a part of my existence and who I am.  But not having enough as a child has guided me to be a better saver and careful money manager. I did find an excellent financial planner to work with me as well.

My sister and I often talk about how our childhood experience of not having enough created insecurity and a sense of inferiority measured against others, but it also taught us to not spend what we don’t have. We learned to save for what we needed. 

As an adult I saved for one purchase I had to have. I bought a brand-new Schwinn bicycle with handlebar streamers, a horn, and all.  When I was riding my bike, I had the biggest smile on my face. I knew I had enough!

Thank you Judy, sharing your story is truly a gift to us all!

Discussing the truth about the meaning of money in our lives can be difficult but, as we learnt in the book discussions, telling your story is essential in order to witness it objectively and consciously. And to do it not with judgement and fear, but with clear eyed honesty. Maybe this is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. And, so, we invite you to share your financial stories and resources. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.

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