First Interview in a Series
In this series, we ask respondents from all walks of life the same set of raw money questions. The answers reveal intimate details of their financial lives, and for that reason some of our respondents have chosen to remain anonymous. These interviews will vary in length and detail, depending on the answers we receive.
Talking about money is one of the longest held taboo subjects in our culture. With this weekly series, we open people’s wallets (and with them fears, hopes, and closely held beliefs). We don’t approach this with a certain outcome in mind—we just want to open doors and find out if money is taboo for good reason, or if continued quiet is keeping us all down. We hope you’ll join us in considering this question: Is it time to reimagine polite society?
To participate in this series, please email us at [email protected]
From Tess, Age 54
Location: Sonoma, California
HipLatina: How do you make your living?
Tess: I make my living as a freelance writer. I also make some money coaching women and property management services.
HL: How worried are you about money? How do thoughts of money affect your life?
T: I worry about money when I’m not living within my means or am pulling from my savings. As long as I stay inside a budget and keep to my long term retirement plans, I don’t give money much thought. I worry about being able to pay for my son’s college. This is important to us.
HL: How do you spend your money? How would you describe your level of debt?
T: These days, I spend more on what I need versus what I want. I spend online and use credit cards to earn miles. I am conservative when it comes to debt. (I don’t like having any except for home mortgages). I have no credit card debt.
HL: How would you describe your credit score? How does your credit score affect your life (for good or for bad)?
T: We have an excellent credit score.
HL: What regrets do you have about money decisions you’ve made, actions you’ve taken, or not taken? Have you changed anything because of these regrets?
T: I realized that when I left corporate America to stay at home with my two boys, I left a lot of years of earning power on the table. However, I don’t regret being a staying home mother and working part-time. The key is continuity. And I was fortunate to have a husband who kept working to sustain a stable way of life for us.
HL: How do your parents talk about money—with each other, with you? How much do you know about their income, assets and savings, and economic future? Are your parents “spenders” or “savers?” How is money handled in your family? How has this changed over the years?
T: My mother taught me that money is security and independence. She repeated this core belief often to my siblings and me; and it stays with me to this day. My parents were “Conscious Savers and Spenders.” Because they came from Argentina with very little money to their name, they watched every single penny earned. “Respect it,” my mother would caution. “Or it might just leave you one day.”
In my family, I handle our financial affairs and investments. I share the monthly budget with my husband as necessary. As we start to plan long term care as well as retirement one day, we pay closer attention to our spending and saving habits.
HL: Are you in a relationship? How much money do they make—do they make more or less than you? How do you handle money issues in your relationship? How are financial decisions made?
T: I am married. My husband makes more than me. Because I handle our financials, I let him know if things are a little out of whack. I also try to show him every month where we are.
HL: Do you have children? How do you make decisions to spend money on your children’s interests? If you have children or plan to have them in the future, how do you plan on teaching them about money management?
T: I have two young men, ages 19 and 14. We spend money on the basics first: food, shelter, clothes, school supplies. Then, we spend money on vacations, and entertainment. I make them save a little, every time they spend. I taught my boys to stay out of debt. I got them each an ATM card tied to a checking and savings account in their high school years.
They do chores every week and get an allowance. For every dollar they save, I put 50 cents into the savings account. The checks they get from one set of grandparents at Christmas and birthdays goes toward savings. What they get from the other set they can spend.
Now that my eldest son is in college, he got a job. He immediately signed up for a 401k plan, saving as he earns.
HL: Do you have friends in different economic situations? How do you make social decisions with friends who have different incomes, such as where to go, what to do, taking vacations, or how costs are handled?
T: Yes, I do. I have some who make more, some who make the same, and some who make less. We are respectful of these differences and plan in a way that works for all involved. For those who have very little spending money, we usually come up with some kind of barter so that whatever I spend on a trip, they might repay with a service to improve my house or something.
HL: How does your financial life differ from others in your life, such as friends, family, or neighbors?
T: In my neighborhood, we’re pretty much the same. I really don’t know. I think the greatest difference if there is one, because I don’t ask or pry, is that we have built up our retirement from saving consistently for over 30 years. Also, investing in real estate has been a plus for us.
HL: If you had more money, what would you do with it?
T: I have been thinking about this question as I watch the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in this country. This fact has felt like a rock in my stomach. Greed appears to be at an all-time high. Given that I am a socially liberal yet fiscally conservative capitalist, I believe in hard work and ingenuity, so that each one reaps what they sow in their careers and lives. There is no free lunch. But the truth is so many live in poverty with few advantages of most.
If I had more money, I’d run or fund a nonprofit to better the lives of women, children, and men (in that order) who need help with the basics and beyond; to those who are willing to help themselves first. I’d be an active philanthropist.