In our “Let’s Talk Money” 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.
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 remaining quiet is keeping us all down. We hope you’ll join us in considering this question: Is it time to reimagine polite society when it comes to money?
From: Julia, Age 49
Location: Manteca, California
HipLatina: How do you make your living?
Julia: I work with terminally ill individuals as a licensed clinical social worker.
HL: How worried are you about money? How do thoughts of money affect your life?
J: I’m constantly concerned with my finances. At one point when the children were young, time moved slowly and I thought I’d have plenty of time to pay off debt, which includes a large student loan. Now, time seems to move at light speed, each paycheck going to cumbersome debt that feels time sensitive. I’m often anxious with retirement as little as 15 years away—I fear it won’t be an option. I explore ways to improve finances by sticking to a strict budget and seeking additional income streams. I’m apprehensive any time I do something for myself and become consumed with guilt, often returning items, even if they’re necessary. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get ahead. I’m very concerned with my future in the current political climate.
HL: How do you spend your money? How would you describe your level of debt?
J: My money is predominantly allocated to household expenses: first and second mortgages, my $65,000 student loan, utilities, property taxes, groceries, car payment, insurance, medical care and we assist our two adult children with college expenses. We go to the movies because it’s inexpensive entertainment, buying our tickets at Costco. Our car payment is recent, because our 15-year-old car broke and repair expenses were unbelievable. I’m grateful for my husband’s income as I don’t know what else I’d do. I feel like the level of my debt is off the charts! In order to live with fewer expenses, we’d have to sell the home we’ve lived in since 2000. Our monthly house payment is $3,200 and takes a big chunk out of our quality of life, yet provides necessary shelter. At one point, our house was worth a lot. After the 2008 recession, it took a dive. We have worked very hard to keep our house.
HL: How would you describe your credit score? How does your credit score affect your life (for good or for bad)?
J: My credit score is excellent: 789. Fortunately, we charge minimally and pay off balances every month, leaving us with no credit card debt.
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?
J: I don’t regret my decisions of the past, because at the time I felt they were reasonable. Now that I’m older, it would’ve been nice to take more risks to improve my income. Our first home was beautiful, and it was an hour and a half from our jobs so we could afford it. After several years, the commute put a strain on our lives. We made the decision to move closer to our jobs and sold our home. With the profit we put a good chunk down on a modest smaller home in a bigger city. Soon after, we took out a line of equity and installed a pool for our children, then added a car and a student loan. We’ve refinanced both loans with lower interest rates.
When I look back, we couldn’t have predicted the recession. I’ve learned much in the past ten years. I’m more frugal, I don’t emotionally attach to material things in the event I have to let them go, I stay away from credit card debt and get anxious even if it’s only $20. I save a little each week for unforeseen expenses. Do I “need” this or do I “want” this? Will I still want this in one month, three months, or six months? I ask myself these questions before making a purchase. My career requires me to look professional, so I do have to buy clothes, but I am cautious about it.
I’m old school and use a software program to pay bills weekly and yes, I still write checks. There’s something to be said for using cash or paying bills with a check. I have to see it, face it, and be reminded a month later when I reconcile it.
HL: How do you handle money issues in your relationship? How are financial decisions made?
J: I have been with my husband since I was 20. Initially, I made more money than he did. When we met, we both worked three jobs. Now, even though he has less education than I, he makes substantially more money. Often I feel disempowered and guilty for being unable to contribute more to the household pot. My husband has always been supportive and wishes I’d knock that negative thought off my shoulder. It’s very difficult considering my education was a contributing factor to our family deficit. We make financial decisions together and have a weekly allowance that we reconcile monthly.
HL: 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?
J: We have self-sufficient young adult children who manage their own finances. My husband and I assist with school expenses, because they cannot qualify for grants at the UC level. Currently, we retain them on our medical insurance until the law indicates they have aged out. We help them with financial needs if we believe it’s for their safety and wellbeing. I’d have to say these influences likely have roots in my childhood, but definitely my husband’s as he grew up extremely poor in Mexico. Medical prevention wasn’t available to them and he lost two siblings due to lack of medical access. One of his sisters died of the measles at three. Even though the struggles our children go through can be heart wrenching to watch, we’re clear not to rescue them. We’ll give them a hand so they can stand alone, but never a hand-out as we believe this will cripple them.
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?
J: Interestingly, all my very close friends are financially well off and very successful in their careers, making more income than I do. At times, I feel a bit awkward. Nevertheless, these soul sisters have big hearts and never make me feel uncomfortable, nor do we base our relationships on our socio-economic statuses. Coffee dates are “dutch,” unless it’s a special occasion and we may treat each other or we’ll camp at each other’s homes for a long weekend.
HL: If you had more money, what would you do with it?
J: I’d pay off our mortgages. This is a big stressor, especially knowing we won’t be able to afford our house payment in retirement. We keep our fingers crossed that we can stay physically and mentally functional to work as long as possible. I’d definitely reduce our debt, to feel like I’m living within my means and be able to breathe easier.