Money: getting/spending/saving it

By Caitlin Kelly


One of my pleasures is enjoying culture — and yes, it costs money!

A friend recently saw an ATM receipt that left her gobsmacked — $139,000 — in the hands of a young woman, maybe in her 20s.

My friend is a single mother who works in a creative field, frustrated that she has yet to hit the level of income she craves, deeply envious of the stranger with so much more than she.

I get it — when I found out that a friend of ours, someone our age, earns $500,000 a year, I was stunned.

The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking — given the astonishing wealth here

My husband and I are both working full-time freelance, with a mortgage that won’t be finished for another five years unless, somehow, we make a lot more money and can pay it off sooner.

What’s currently killing our ability to save — or enjoy much beyond basics — is $1,800 month in health insurance costs; his, heavily subsidized by his former employer as a retiree while they soak me the full price.

Yes, there is cheaper insurance, but it all comes with huge deductibles and co-pays.

The getting and spending, (and saving and investing, ideally), of money is often a lifelong challenge for all but the very wealthy.

But it comes down to basic economics: if you’re always broke, you’re under-earning or living beyond your means.

If you’re mired in poverty — with little education and/or weak job skills, multiple dependents and/or health issues — it can feel, and be, almost impossible to climb out.

And I know far too many women, of any age, who remain somehow terrified of money — especially when asking for it or more of it, (i.e. negotiating an initial salary, asking for raises/bonuses/commissions/better freelance rates), and handling their finances confidently and intelligently.

As if, for some reason, we don’t deserve it.


It does mean taking charge.

It does (gulp) carry consequences, no matter how much action (or inaction) you choose.

I once attended an information session at the U.S. firm where I keep my retirement money.

It was laughable.

As in laughably bad, full of jargon and weird, arcane advice possibly of value to people with millions to manage — or waste.

Not me!

Selfishly, as a journalist, I get paid to learn, and, in writing about personal finance for the Times and Reuters and others, have learned (and taught readers!) a lot about handling money.

I also read the financial pages of two newspapers daily and read several business magazines to keep abreast of what’s happening in the domestic and global economy.

If you don’t know the word fiduciary, learn it and make sure anyone going near your money professionally is one.

One of my favorite people, and bloggers, is writing candidly about getting smarter about money. I admire her for being forthright and questioning her decisions publicly.

People rarely do.

I urge anyone thinking about how to better handle their finances to read this fantastic book, (which I reviewed in The New York Times, and am now friends with its author), Pound Foolish. It’s not a how-to, but a smart and insightful overview of the personal finance world.

She also writes a smart and helpful advice column for Slate.

My other favorite money columnist is Michelle Singletary, with the Washington Post.

Still there, since 1927, the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona — travel has always been a priority for me

Jose and I were were lucky to both have attended and graduated from college debt-free; he on full-ride scholarships, I attending Canada’s best university for $660 a year. (No, there’s no missing zero.) Neither of us attended (or needed) graduate or professional school.

Nor did we have children, saving us an estimated $200,000+ per child to raise.

Nor do we have dependent relatives.

My priorities have been travel and retirement.

But I admit it — it really did feel useless and annoying to keep putting money away year after year after year for what I hoped would one day help fund a retirement, denying myself so many purchases, (newer car, nicer clothes) and pleasures in order to do so — until that sum finally grew to six figures and I thought, with relief and pride: I did that!

And, yes, for many reasons, saving money is difficult for some people, and impossible for those who don’t earn enough to get past subsistence.

But it’s also urgent (and tedious!) to distinguish between wants and needs, between what everyone around you may boastfully own, often on credit, (new phone, new car, huge and lavish wedding, bigger house, etc.), and what fits your financial priorities.

Peer pressure to keep up — i.e. spending! — will kill you and your financial future.

It’s one reason I constantly urge women, especially, who earn less and live longer, to always, always ask for more — and to read this book that tells them how to do it.

Do you find handling money frightening or intimidating?

Any great tips to share?

19 thoughts on “Money: getting/spending/saving it

  1. i keep learning and trying to educate myself in this area, but i have a long way to go. since i am single, i really have only myself to depend on, so it is a bit scarier

  2. Your health insurance costs are staggering — more than I earn in a month!

    Money is something that I think about a lot — I’m pretty disciplined with myself at resisting spending. Sure, I’d love to treat myself more often, but with my limited budget I’d rather prioritize saving and work on building my emergency fund. And even then, after I’ve cut out any unnecessary expenses, I still feel like I’m not saving enough each month!

    1. It’s insane and it makes me really angry — it’s crappy that Jose gets his so subsidized and the company refuses to offer the same benefit to his wife. But that is how American companies save money and shove the costs onto the rest of us. With my ongoing knee issues, I am not willing to go with some cheap-o plan that suddenly doesn’t cover all the things I need.

      Having an emergency fund is a really important thing, so good for you for knowing that and building one!

      1. It’s bad! I really don’t think that people’s health should be milked for profit.

        Sorry to hear your knee problems are ongoing. I can sympathize, as I’ve got patella maltracking and muscle weakness in my right leg. Physio is the only remedy, but it’s such a huge time commitment… really must do my exercises more often!

      2. I agree — but America is premised on making $$$$$$$$ and anyone who tries to promulgate “socialized medicine” is vilified. It’s pathetic.

        I have been doing a LOT of PT since the summer when my right knee began suddenly collapsing on me, both scary and painful. I now have an amazing carbon fiber brace — Ossur Uploader. Ask your MD?

  3. This is a great topic. I’m always concerned about lack of finances. As a widow it all falls on me and it’s a daily challenge. I’m hoping my artisan blog store will turn out to be my main source of income. It’s a small step and I’m learning along the way.

    1. Women worry about it, and should — mostly because we’re not taught to trust ourselves and to rely on others’ advice, some of which is lousy and some of which is focused on earning profits for themselves above our wellbeing.

  4. Thanks for the kind words! One of the key reasons I still blog — 7.5 years into it — is to have smart and lively conversations with smart and interesting people here. Which, luckily, I do! 🙂

  5. I love this: ” if you’re always broke, you’re under-earning or living beyond your means.” I’m really trying to live my life by all of this and I believe it’s so important for women to understand money matters. Thank you.

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