Money

The Values of a Dollar

A look at our very personal relationships with money

This is the first in a new series in which we profile people’s very personal relationships with money — how the messages they heard about wealth, debt and budgeting in their childhoods play out in their adult lives. Kevin Norris of Washington, D.C., 48, has struggled with money management for as long as he can remember. He shares his journey here with Emma Johnson.

For the first time in my nearly 50 years, I am trying to get at the root of my financial blunders. I have been broke all of my adult life — even though I have earned six figures.

If you look at my childhood, it doesn’t compute. I grew up in a white-collar suburb of Boston. My father was an engineer at a large corporation (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know exactly what he did). At his peak, when he was laid off nearly 30 years ago, I estimate he earned $50,000 or $60,000, and he was always very frugal. Our four-story colonial house was the second nicest on the street. My three siblings and I weren’t spoiled by any stretch of the imagination, but whatever we needed we always managed to have.

My mother, a homemaker, was a financial wizard and managed the family funds effortlessly. We never ever talked about money. It was as if earning, saving and spending magically happened on its own. In fact, it was considered taboo and bad manners to speak about money at all. As a result, I got zero financial lessons and came to absorb the idea that money just takes care of itself.

Fast forward: I did well in school and attended one of the top business schools in the country. There, I was taught all the financial fundamentals and then some. However, I dropped out after a few years and what was taught never sank in. It's as if I slept through all the courses on money.

For many years, I worked in the catering industry and became quite successful. At my prime, I was making a lot of money, but I didn’t respect it and still had money problems — spending more than I earned and never saving. For the past 20 years, I’ve worked for myself as a wellness coach and personal trainer, earning $30,000 to $40,000 per year. I live frugally, but I have credit card debt and owe the IRS money as well as student loans. My bank account has a negative balance. I’ve declared bankruptcy twice and currently live with a roommate and do not own a car. I don’t have money for rent.

I appreciate the paradox of being raised by financially savvy parents and yet have so many money issues myself. I realize that it's time for me to grow up and take responsibility. I recently hired a coach to help me with these issues. I also just took a server job at a restaurant. I guess it's better late than never.

Emma Johnson blogs at WealthySingleMommy. She is a freelance business and personal finance journalist and mom of two. Send her your questions at emma@emma-johnson.net.

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