Fifteen years ago I graduated with student loans of more than $50,000, a bank overdraft and a Bachelor of Arts. My first job was at the Department of Corrections in Dunedin, where I earned $26,000. It felt like a million dollars. I bought Rhonda the Honda and a sofa and didn’t save a thing. After six months I was bored at work. I volunteered to help implement a new software system and stayed late every night for months to ‘clean’ case file data. It was data entry. But it felt purposeful, like I was part of something bigger than me. After that project was implemented, I decided I didn’t want to be there any more. So I moved to Wellington and worked the muff on an IT Helpdesk. My salary jumped and I bought a red car with a V6 engine and lots of Ally McBeal suits. I worked hard. I listened. I was blessed with fantastic mentors. I applied for and got another role. And then a year later I did it again. Lesson one: listen and work hard, recognise opportunity and back yourself.
My first job in London was with a new media start-up. It imploded after 18 months. Luckily, it was backed by a bigger, very solvent company and I received a redundancy payment which allowed me to take a summer off and think about what I really really wanted to do. Mostly this involved getting very far away from anything to do with new media. Lesson two: sometimes you need to stop to change direction.
Up until the implosion I had supported a colleague to stop smoking. In return for my not-quite-12-step method, he registered me a company. For reasons largely to do with fate, we are working together again and his sense of humour is still a lifesaver. Lesson three: bartered exchanges given with love, are completely awesome.
My first venture as a self-employed person was a baptism of fire. I had this much *squeezes fingers to indicate very small amount* idea about what I was doing. Luckily I was working in local government so nobody seemed to notice. And for all the craziness council meetings (that went on for 72 days) I believed in the project. I got more work and more confidence. I was able to pay off most of my student loan. Oh and the ex-husband’s debt. Lesson four: do not pay off other people’s debt. Under any circumstances.
When he left unexpectedly, all joint financial responsibilities fell into my lap. That was shitty for a while. I realised that I had abdicated budgetary decision-making to him. I had felt undeserving and guilty for earning significantly more, so I had let him decide how we spent our money. Lesson five: do not let anyone else take responsibility for your money.
When it came to the divorce I just wanted to file the paperwork and be done with it. But then I met Venisha Shah: solicitor, advocate, coach, superhero. She taught me that marriage is an emotional and a financial commitment and that when someone reneges on a deal, there are consequences (this has also proven to be a valuable lesson professionally). And I worked with an awesome coach, Hilary Cunningham. I began to understand my own values around charging for my services (delivery is everything, no contract is worth underselling for, no one works for free). Lesson six: invest in experts who have your back.
For the next few years I worked crazy hours. I found that word of mouth got me more work. Everything flowed. And in the few ebbs I invested in sometimes one star (any flat surface can be a bed, hot water is optional) sometimes five star (princess) travel to Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Greece, Italy, Prague, Bruges, New York. My eyes and my heart opened. I bought several pairs of Jimmy Choos, a large selection of matching lingerie, a LOT of champagne, and a few dozen suppers at Michelin starred restaurants. It was an absolute blast! It was also about proving to myself that I was worth beautiful things. A sizeable bit was about hiding from grief and the rest was the fear that at any moment it could all be taken from me. Lesson seven: spending money on ourselves reassures us that that we matter.
During a trip home to Wellington I went to see a house in Brooklyn. I don’t think I was even all the way in the hallway when I had this very clear sense that this was meant to be my house. Even though it was the first house I had looked at. Ever. Thirty-six hours later, having met with a mortgage broker, a builder and an architect, the house was mine. Lesson eight: trust your gut, make shit happen.
These days Science Guy and I pay a percentage of our incomes into a shared account for household bills. The rest is our own to play and to plan with. And many of my plans are tied up in money – mostly this is about creating a life I am proud of. I still want to buy a car that will require the wearing of a headscarf on sunny days. But more importantly I want financial independence. Because I want the option of working and not working. Of volunteering my skills. Perhaps as an aid worker. Perhaps for a charity I respect or a UN programme. Lesson nine: plan and dream big.
My relationship with cash is complex. Its intermingled with my sense of who I am and what I deserve. Its the juice that keeps everything moving. Sometimes it can seem like imaginary numbers that don’t mean a thing. But the feelings I have about moolah, mirror the feelings I have about myself: about what I think I am worth. I have learned to respect money. I love what it can create. I love how sharing it feels. I love the juicy possibility it provides. And I want to continue to grow and change and feed my ambition. I want more lessons, more experiences, more juice, more of life.
Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you ~ Oscar Wilde