Financial Freedom Coach Leah's Money Story

May 31, 2024

The one word that I would use to describe my money story would be avoidance. I grew up with parents who never talked about money, something I think a lot of us can relate to. Money in my family was used as a bargaining chip. It was a powerful tool to say “I’m sorry,” “I love you” and “we are fine.” This idea that happy families go on vacation so therefore let’s spend money and go on vacations to then have my parents divorce just a few years later. This concept of my alcoholic mother who would relapse and drink, and apologize by handing me a $100 to go buy something nice, thinking it would solve the problem. Growing up, money was a way to hide behind the truth. To keep all the emotional trauma hidden. It was my parents' way to keep us quiet. I learned that spending money allows you to live a life that you always wanted. I was never taught how to save or the importance of paying off debt. Money = an escape.

I remember getting my first credit card in college, a PINK Discover Card with an L initial written in cursive on it. Very Elle Woods if you ask me. It had a $500 limit and I honestly think I maxed it out in one shopping trip to the Forever 21 on Newbury Street in Boston. I was in complete shock when I got my first bill and I realized I had to pay it back. You had to pay credit cards back?! I was so lost and I remember feeling so dumb, for not knowing better, for not having savings, and I constantly compared myself to my friends. I specifically remember a friend sharing that she worked all of highschool to save up for college and had about $10,000 in her checking account. Meanwhile, I knew that the ATM across from my dorm allowed you to take out money in $10 bills versus $20, because usually I would just be able to take out $10. There was so much shame attached to money for me and that continued into my early adulthood.

I definitely worked hard for my money. I graduated college, got an amazing job in my field and finally felt like I was an adult! I had a salary, PTO, medical insurance, all the things that made me feel like an adult. But I still had no idea on how to save, what retirement benefits were, or what my actual college debt would look like. It’s almost like I was living in this pretend world. I definitely reverted back to my inner child and just avoided money at all costs. To me money was supposed to make you happy, to allow you to have fun. Paying off student loan debt and moving money towards savings did not equal fun and I lived in this bubble for a very long time. I would pay for my essentials, pay the minimums on all debt and the rest, well that was for me. I deserved it.

This way of living continued for me while I was applying for graduate school. I convinced myself that everyone had student loans, and just adding more on to my undergraduate loans wasn’t a big deal. It’s just something everyone deals with….eventually. I avoided looking at the actual numbers and what the numbers mean for my future self. When I got accepted into graduate school at NYU I was thrilled. I didn’t care how much it cost, I was going. I decided to live in the graduate school dorming to really have the whole Sex In The City vibes. I lived right in Washington Square Park. I took out more loans and used all the loan money, post paying for the actual schooling part, to go out and enjoy the city. I justified it. I was young, in my early twenties and I could conquer the world! I didn’t budget, I would just throw the card down and hope it went through. I would eat PB&J at my internship so I could spend money on new clothes and an $18

cocktail in the Lower East Side. Looking back, I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about money or how to use it. I just spent it. I avoided looking at bank statements, or my college loan bills. I continued to live in my bubble. Don’t get me wrong, I would look at my bank statement but it would be the Sunday morning after a full weekend out, with my eyes half closed, heart racing, palms sweating, look quickly for 2 seconds and throw the phone down way. The sigh of relief when it wasn’t in the red.

When I graduated from grad school, I followed the same pattern as I did when I graduated undergrad. I immediately found a job, paid for my essentials and then the rest was left for me. No savings, no retirement, no additional money towards debt. I continued to live in New York with my wonderful boyfriend and I was surrounded by amazing friends. Out of that group I was one of the only people who was at an “entry level” position in their career, since I had just finished school. Most of my friends had been working for a few years and were moving up the ladder. This was when I really fell into this pretend lifestyle. I hated saying no to things. I wanted to be able to do everything my friends and partner were able to do. I lived in this mindset that I deserved it and I lied about my finances. Not only to my partner and friends but honestly to myself. I was embarrassed, always stressed, and played the victim card. I self-identified as the poor friend who practiced social work, who would never make money.

I never budgeted, and said yes to things even though I 100% could not afford it. I started building resentment towards my partner because he made more money than me, therefore should pay more for things. We never had a conversation about it, I just assumed this of him. I would run away from money conversations because I didn’t want to face my reality or the shame or the guilt. I hid these anxieties from the people who cared the most about me. People in my life tried to sit me down and teach me how to budget, explain the importance of savings, etc. I would create budgets, nod my head yes, but could never stick to it. Looking back now it wasn’t that I couldn’t face it, it was that I didn’t want to because it didn’t matter to me. I had identified myself as a loser, who would never make enough money and would always be poor. And I felt so alone.

This loneliness and avoidance almost broke me and almost broke the most important relationships in my life. At this point I was living in Los Angeles, CA and teaching barre at four different fitness studios (you are probably wondering what happened to my social work degree and the answer is I needed to take a break. The break turned into years, and I felt embarrassed and avoided going back into the field. At this point you should be seeing the pattern of avoidance that heavily resided in me…) and then came covid. Like many industries covid hit the fitness world and hit it HARD. I went from having four jobs to zero in the matter of a day.

I had known I needed to face my money anxieties for a very long time but the day I applied for unemployment after I was no longer able to work was the final wake up call I needed. It was this moment of holy crap, I can’t rely on myself. I no longer wanted to play victim, I wanted to face my money insecurities head on, face the avoidance and ask for help. I wanted to prove to the people in my life that I could do it and most importantly prove to myself. To trust myself and turn my “pretend lifestyle” into one I could actually live. I reached out to some of my fellow

co-workers who completed AJ’s Heal Your Relationship With Money and Become Financially Free course. They connected me with AJ, we had our consultation call and I immediately signed up.

Those 9 weeks of the course completely changed my life. Being surrounded by others who were also struggling financially and had similar stories to me slowly started to reduce the shame, guilt and loneliness I was feeling for so many years. I learned to forgive myself and forgive my parents. I learned to take accountability for my finances and create actionable steps to take control over my finances and future self. I began having open conversations about money with my partner and was able to share my experience and the fear and anxiety I faced in the past. I started seeing my self worth and made changes to my career and put myself out there for opportunities I only once dreamed of. Money wasn’t a thing I avoided anymore, it was a thing that I began running towards. I began to budget every single day, and still do! I have savings funds I never would have imagined having. I have a debt repayment plan for my student loans and no longer have credit card debt. I get SO excited about money that I bring it up to everyone and anyone because I never want anyone to feel the way that I felt. This work is so powerful that it manifested into a conversation with AJ and has given me the opportunity to be a financial freedom coach with Beyond The Green. A job that I love so much. I also am back working in the social work field, following the dream I set up for myself years ago. I value the woman that I am today and most importantly I can finally see my own self-worth and damn does it feel good!

If you have ever felt embarrassed or shameful around money. If you have ever identified as someone who will just eventually “figure it out”. If you were never taught finances and all of it sounds scary and you avoid it at all costs, you are not alone! I can’t wait to see where your money journey brings you.

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