Minki: Hi WINers - Welcome to MoneyBites! As we graduate from school and move on with our careers, here’s a question that comes up often - should I follow my passion or the money. And while trying to find a balance between the two seemingly opposing directions, how do you find gratitude? Let’s hear Vanessa’s version of finding her way.
Hi, Vanessa. Welcome to MoneyBites!
Vanessa: Thank you. Lovely to be here.
Minki: Thank you so much for coming onboard. Could we start with a short introduction of yourself?
Vanessa: Sure. I am a single mom, and I'm a writer. I write a lot about personal finance. I'm a contributor at Forbes, but then I also do a lot of things for a lot of other publications. A little bit of health, etc.
I do really like to write about money because it feels like such a mystery to so many of us and it feels very daunting and overwhelming. It just doesn't have to be. I'm of the school "the more information that you have, the better you're going to be able to manage your finances." Even if you don't make a lot of money, or have a lot of money, or if you feel like you're behind the eight ball, I see this information as the keys to the mystery castle.
Minki: Absolutely. How did you get started writing about money?
Vanessa: Well, I was one of those people who didn't really want to know anything about money. I didn't like to talk about it, or think about it, and then I started reading Barbara Stanny, who is a wonderful writer, and she writes quite a bit about women and money. She has been for many years. That first started opening my eyes to understanding that the way we think about money is how we will manifest it, or not manifest it, in our life. We have a lot of very subtle psychic cues that we give ourselves like, "Oh, I never have any money," "I'm always broke." Those kinds of things become mantras for us. So we really have to set our mindset to abundance, and to making money, and to feeling like we are empowered to make money. We don't always even have to know how exactly, but we do have to start thinking positively about money. Once I learned that from Barbara and what she was writing, I started to read more about it.
Then I realized that when we turn 40, things really change and you do have to start to get serious about money. So I started writing about it on my blog, and then I got picked up as a Forbes contributor. I've been writing about it there and other places ever since.
Minki: That's super interesting. You touched on something that was actually the impetus for us to starting WINii in that when we were doing our programs, we first started co-ed. But women, for some reason, even though they were performing as well as the men, kept making these self-negating comments. "I'm not good with money," "I've never been good with money," etc, even though they were performing as well. I'd like to pick at that a bit.
What should we do when we want the abundance, and we want more money, and we want to bring all of these positive energies to us, but the first thing that keeps coming to your mind is, "I have bills due, I have credit cards due," and these restricting thoughts?
Vanessa: Well, I wouldn't say that "I have bills due" and "I have credit cards due" is a very bad thing. It's a fact, and that people are thinking about it and paying attention to it is a good thing. I think there are messages that we give ourselves, like you mentioned, "I'm not good with money," "I don't know anything about money," and that is just like anything: it's a habit and it's a habit that forms over time through conditioning. Maybe conditioning that our parents give us. A lot of times, most of our messages come from our parents, and then really we have to work very actively to change them if they're not helping us. Sometimes, people never get past that and then sometimes people are fortunate enough, strong enough, and smart enough to be able to change that. Really, anybody can change their messaging. It's just understanding when it's happening and doing the work to change our own self-messaging about anything.
Minki: Super interesting. So, distinguish between the facts and the emotions.
Vanessa: The fact is "I have a $500 credit card payment due", or "I owe $500 on my credit card". That's a fact, no matter whether it's justified, not justified. Then there are emotions that come around it like, "I'm so stupid, I should not have bought those shoes," "It's too late for me. I'm under a hole already. I might as well just keep going, I might as well just keep digging," "I will never have enough money." Those are all feelings and emotions around that fact. But there's other feelings you could have too. You could have, "I will return the shoes," "How can I make some more money?", "Why don't I pay this on time and remember this for next time I make an impulse buy?", "This is the point where I'm starting my new financial life."
There's just so many other ways that you can process that information. It doesn't always have to be negative. "Oh hey, this is $500 debt. I'm going to pay this down before I go to dinner. I'm going to pay this down before I make another impulse buy. I'm going to pay this down so I remember, and then I'm going to cut up my card" or whatever the action is that you need to take.
Minki: Super. You mentioned something also really interesting in that we, especially as women, are very influenced by our social surroundings. One thing that was interesting in your article was you started it off with childhood memories of money. Do you mind talking a bit about what was your first memory of money?
Vanessa: That's a great question. The article you're referring to I believe is the one that's in Good? They have this new financial section in Good.
I would say among my early memories, I was a scholarship kid at a very exclusive school in New York. It was an all girls' school, and most of the people did have a lot of money. For them, it was no big deal to go to a dance that cost say $75 or something to go to this dance and for whatever it was, fundraiser or whatever. I just remember, A, having to buy second-hand uniforms and B, not even asking my father, I lived with my dad, could I go to this dance because I knew that the answer would probably be no. I do remember money as being something that there was never really enough of, we couldn't have it, but also there were mixed messages. My father would have enough to go gamble or he would have enough to spend on himself, but there wasn't quite enough for the kids. We always had food and a place to live, but there was definitely some messages about things that were worth spending money on and things that were not.
Minki: That's a lesson that you shared within that article as well, being very precise on things that are worth spending money on and things that are not worth spending money on. Is that something that was cultivate through your childhood, then?
Vanessa: I think that's a great question. I'd probably have to spend a couple sessions with my shrink to really unwind all of that. I would say the most important lesson that I got was that - my money is up to me. Money was not going to come from someone else or somewhere else. Really, if I wanted money and the things that it bought and the power that it brought, it wasn't going to be from husband, from my father, from another man. It was going to be because I went out and made it.
Minki: And you've had that since your early adulthood?
Vanessa: Yes. It was always pulling teeth even to get our allowance. When I was 16, as soon as I could go to work, well I even probably worked before that but, I took a job busing tables. I just realized the power of making your own money and the power of working. Even it was maybe like $200 or $300 a month, when I was 16 that was quite a lot. Then I was able to buy a car. I basically bought my independence as a teenager.
Minki: That's such a strong message in that for women, being able to be in better control of your money, it really opens so much more opportunities. Exactly what you said: you were able to buy your independence.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Even in the happiest marriages, if you rely on one person to do all the moneymaking, there's a lot of things that could happen. There could be an injury, there could be a loss of the job, there could be trouble in the marriage down the line, God forbid. I've seen it over and over and over again, when a marriage ends or when the primary breadwinner can no longer bring it in, that's always going to be a problem. Women do need to be able to earn, and to learn how to earn, and manage their money.
Minki: You started by busing tables but you've also had a very interesting, eclectic array of careers. What sent you off on this very interesting journey?
Vanessa: You know, I would definitely advise other people to probably do it a little bit differently than I did. I was a late bloomer in everything. I was a late bloomer in becoming a mom, I was a late bloomer in becoming a writer just because I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do for so long. I just didn't really know. I think it was toward the end of college where I did realize that I did want to be a journalist, and I did have journalism as a minor. What I should have done was gotten better clips, basically more writing experience in college to set me up for those entry jobs out of college but I didn't. It took a few years to get there, but I've been a journalist most of my career. A lot of that came with extra work on the side because it hasn't been a steady road. I've waited tables, I've tended bar, I've owned a dating service.
When I moved to California, I realized I needed a job because I was writing a lot of travel when I was in the northwest. I couldn't even find Target, and so I thought, "I really probably need to get a job before I can start writing travel again." I took a corporate job, which was a little different than journalism. It was a corporate communications job, but it was tremendous because it really helped me understand business and helped me understand how companies work, how the corporate world works, and to make money, to start looking good on paper. I thought I was going to stay six months and I ended up staying seven years.
Yeah, and then I did another job and I met friends that I would keep for the rest of my life, so far, the people that I will always know. It was an excellent experience, and now as a freelancer, I can actually bring that experience to my clients because I do have that understanding of what companies and corporations need.
Minki: Sort of piggybacking on that idea, one thing that definitely jumped out at me from your article was when saying yes to things, you mentioned two criteria: money and opportunity. Could you speak a bit more about that?
Vanessa: Sure. A lot of us have our brand in our mind. "This is what I do, this is the only kind of thing I do," especially writers. We always seem to have a niche. "Oh, I only write about this" or, "I only write about health." Or the opposite of that, "I write about everything." In a way, then you don't become a specialist on anything.
If I am presented an opportunity, I will look and see is it a well-funded company. Is it a Fortune 500 company? Is it a Fortune 200 company? Is this somebody who does have money and is well-funded? Then, you don't have to worry so much about will they run out of money, will your paychecks come on time, etc. Then also, could this be an opportunity for something greater? In the last couple years, there've been a couple things that I initially thought, "You know, that's not exactly what I want to do. I'm not sure I want to be in that space," but then once I started, I quoted quite a bit of money because initially I didn't really know what it would be or I was expecting something that I wouldn't like that much.
It turned out that, A, I did really like the work. The people were lovely to work with, and because the paycheck was so good for it, it's even more delightful to do that work because you're getting paid well for it. Those are the kinds of things I say yes to. I'll give an example, it's not a real example for me but, if Google came to me and said, "We would like you to work on a project," that's something I would do because Google's a well-funded company. They do have money, they do have good corporate culture. Even though if it's something that I might not be comfortable with at first, I will learn how to do it and I'll at least try it.
Minki: Giving yourself the leeway to take on these kinds of challenges even though it might not be "following your passion" or whatnot.
Vanessa: Exactly. As much as I love to write feminist parenting pieces which is my passion, and that is very important to me to write about girls, and women, and parenting, and how we're parenting, and to constantly be looking at how we as culture are raising our children. I love writing about that, but I'm not going to make a living writing about that right now. I make a lot of money from banks. I make a lot of money from ghostwriting. I make a lot of money from corporate blogging. Those are things that I like to do, and those are things that pay me well. I think it is important to expand your scope if you are not making enough money doing whatever your absolute passion is because that allows me to do those other things for a publication that may be not as well paying.
Let's say if I do a pair of articles that bring me $1,200 each, then I will have that money so A, I'm not scraping around for smaller articles and B, then I can sell the parenting articles to somebody that may not pay as well, but it's something that I would like to get out there and the visibility is good. I can afford to do things that I love because I'm doing other work that pays me well.
Minki: Continuing that theme of buying your independence, buying your passion, and buying your opportunity.
Vanessa: I love the way you think. Yeah! I haven't thought of it that way, but yes. That's the way it is.
Minki: Amazing. I feel this has come from experience because the actual sentence that stopped me on my track from your article to reach out to you, I'm just going to quote you here:
Sometimes I lose my breath staring down the aloneness of it all. The fragility of my position, the enormity of the responsibility, the fact that I simply can't get sick or let any plate stop spinning.
Whoa. That's a feeling I think a lot of us can empathize with in that there's just not a lot of breathing room when it comes to money. But you follow that paragraph with:
But I'm going to acknowledge right here, right now that I'm lucky.
How are you able to balance that and find your gratitude?
Vanessa: Because I am grateful and because I think it all coexist. I have been the girl who was scraping the bottom of my change jar to figure out what to eat. I have been that girl who had bills piled up. I have been the girl who tried and tried and tried to get a job, and just couldn't get anyone. I've been that girl, and so I do feel fortunate now. I don't always know how it's going to come. I don't know from month to month. Everybody could decide maybe they don't need me for work. That could happen tomorrow, but I am so profoundly grateful that I still get those calls, I still get those assignments. I still have people who want to work with me. I don't take it for granted because I'm not so proud that I would never go back to waiting tables, but it would definitely make taking care of my daughter more difficult.
I found the balance for myself. I'm not saying that I could never live any other way because I feel like you always have to have a Plan B, and probably a Plan C and D as well. For now, this is what's working and I'm very grateful that it is working for me.
Minki: In terms of imparting that gratitude and the money lessons that you've learned to your daughter, to the next generation, how are you doing that?
Vanessa: I say "no" a lot to things that we don't need. She knows that at this point, if we walk into a store, she can pull out toys that she liked and she knows that she's going to just put them back when she's done looking at them. She's not going to throw a tantrum on the floor if she's not going to get them. She knows she won't get them. She gets plenty of stuff. I'm probably more likely to buy her a book if she really, really wants a book because I know that's something that she'll enjoy over and over again. She's learning to read; it's really important for her. Then also, we talk a lot about what we have and that certain people don't have what we have, and how do we help. We talk about foster kids. We've talked a little bit about refugee kids, not so much, but I think with children you sort of have to frame it in the world of other children. I don't think they think so much about this 100,000 refugees. They don't think like that or there are at any given time 600,000 foster children in the United States (I don't know if that number's accurate). They don't think in those terms. But she understands that there are some kids who don't live with their mom and dad who live with other families, but they don't get everything that they need. She's adopted and so she really understands that concept. She understands that sometimes if somebody has a sign out on the sidewalk, we can give them a dollar or we can give our money away and that helps us. I think it even helps when you bring food out, make sure that she's giving the bigger part to her friend or bigger piece to somebody else, not taking the bigger piece. I think it's just generosity as a concept, not necessarily a money thought but generosity as a concept.
Minki: How old is she?
Vanessa: She's five.
Minki: What got you to start engaging in these kinds of conversations so early on?
Vanessa: I think you have to. I don't really know what the dynamic is for a family because I've been divorced since she was two. We've been on our own since she was two. When you're a single parent with a kid, your life is pretty much their life. Just like anything, I think people do it with religion all the time and the family traditions and things that they want to pass down, is you just start things very early that you want your children to absorb. You show by example, and that's how children really learn. They look at you and they watch you, and they want to be like you.
Minki: You identified yourself as a feminist parenting writer. How do you bridge feminism with money?
Vanessa: I feel like it's inextricable. I feel like money is entwined in almost everything, and I also feel like feminism is entwined in almost everything. It's very difficult to have your agency and to act independently if you do not have access to money and if you are depending on somebody else for money. Any kind of independence, even for men, you have to be able to manage, make, and have access to your own funds.
Minki: Very true. I know we've rushed through a series of questions. Again, thank you so much for your time. Before we end though, we always leave off with one final question. WINii means WIN plus two Roman numeral "i"s: you win, we win, we win too. Winning in life, what does that mean to you?
Vanessa: I think it just means being grateful and having the freedom to, for me, raise a happy, healthy, amazing child and to leave the world a little bit better place than I found it.
Minki: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciated it, and thanks for sharing all of the lessons that you've learned.
Vanessa: Well thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. I love talking about money, so any time!
Minki: Fantastic. Thank you.
Vanessa: Take care. Bye.
Minki: Aiight WINers! Hope you enjoyed this episode. What did you think about today's episode? You can tweet to us @winiiHQ or leave us a voice mail and share with us your money experiences at 516-WE-WINII (516-939-4644). We may use your voice on our next podcast. Hope to see you next week!
Our theme music was played and produced by Luna Lee.