When I was in my early twenties (I’ll be 50 this summer) my BFF Judie and I were workout queens. Gym rats. Gym nerds. Muscle heads. Whatever you want to call it. We were amateur body builders who lifted weights three times a week in training from our body builder friends and spent three more days a week running or rollerblading around local lakes (it was the early nineties, after all 🙂 )
On the outside, our appearances were perfect. In fact, one time a guy came up to me on the street and said “MAN, you have the nicest calves I’ve ever seen!” It felt good to be complimented on a part of the body that most guys don’t usually notice. 🙂
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Unfortunately, though, that fine physical appearance was deceiving in a way – at least for me.
I looked perfect on the outside, but my inside wasn’t so perfect. This should have been evident by the fact that Judes and I routinely left the gym and headed over to the local bar and grill for a giant burger and fries, along with an order of onion rings and an order cheese curds. On special days, we topped off the meal with some kind of gooey, chocolately dessert.
The calories didn’t affect us thanks to our crazy workout schedules, but our insides were pretty toxic.
You see, thanks to years of childhood and early adulthood emotional and physical traumas, I had become an emotional eater.
So although my outside looked perfect, my inside was a hot mess.
I wouldn’t realize this until years later. Marriage and four kids within six years meant no time for workouts, but I still succumbed to emotional eating.
This girl uncovered the reason behind her spending and paid off $500k in debt: Money Love
Over time, my rail thin, super muscular frame would become fifty pounds heavier. I’m 5’9, so fifty pounds isn’t as traumatizing on me as it is on someone who’s 5’2, but it still made an impact and wasn’t fun to carry around.
This “false appearance” of physical health carried over into our finances too, as it does with many people today.
When I worked in the banking world I learned this first hand. People would come in, asking for help because they were in a boat load of financial trouble. I remember one guy: he and his wife were in their mid-fifties. They were wanting to get ready for retirement but had only a few thousand in retirement savings. On the flip side, they had well over $150,000 in credit card debt. And a bloated mortgage. And car payments on high end cars. Their income? $150k a year.
We worked with them to formulate a plan to get the debt paid off via a mortgage refinance, but I wonder to this day if it stuck.
Customers like this guy and others like him – along with my own personal experience – showed me that appearances don’t mean crap.
When Rick and I lived in the ‘burbs, we lived in a pretty da*n nice neighborhood. But our nice neighborhood was side-by-side with an even nicer neighborhood that boasted homes that were worth twice as much as ours.
When we’d walk through those neighborhoods, Rick would always say “Wow. What do these people do that they can afford this house/this car/this boat?” But spending 15 years in the banking industry taught me that most of these people probably didn’t own the stuff they had, but instead were in hock up to their ears trying to pay to keep up appearances.
How to find what you really want: Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
$150k guy should have been able to easily survive and have huge cash in the bank, but instead they were a hidden financial mess looking to get happy by spending money.
Get to the Root if You Want to Change the Fruit
I know firsthand that you can pay off (or refinance) all of the debt you want, but if you don’t get a handle on WHY you’re spending above your means, you’ll keep falling back into your old spending habits no matter how much extra money you have.
This is what happened with us. We would pay off our debt (usually by cashing in an investment or retirement account, or by taking out a home equity loan) and be debt free. But it wouldn’t be long at all before we’d start wracking up debt again.
Because, like when my gym rat days ended and I put on 50 pounds, I hadn’t dealt with why the gluttony was happening in the first place.
When I finally uncovered and dealt with the emotional traumas that were causing me to use eating as an emotional outlet, the weight came off even without the workouts.
Putting food in its proper place: When Food Is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy
Similarly, when Rick and I finally faced up to and dealt head on with the emotional traumas we had experienced (which I will warn you isn’t fun but IS worth it), we no longer felt the need to buy stuff to be happy and we started spending within our means. Living within our budget became easier, and subsequently, paying off debt became easier. It was no longer the struggle it had been for so many years.
It’s amazingly calm living a life where you’ve dealt with past traumas and actually overcome them. The key for me was in realizing that my value isn’t in what I own. Or how I look. Or the car that I drive. Or in how successful my kids are. My value is based on what the Creator of the Universe says about me. And He says I’m awesome just because. And He says that about you too. And who are we to argue with the Creator of the Universe? 🙂
You’ll never be happy living someone else’s life: Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want
If you want true and lasting change in any area of your life, whether it be with your relationships, your physical appearance, or with your money, you’ve got to get down to the root of why you’re not treating yourself as you deserve to be treated.
By asking yourself why you make the financial and other decisions you make – and being prepared to accept the answers to those questions – you can begin the hard work of inner transformation that will lead to lasting outward transformation and true change.
We live in one of the cheapest houses in our neighborhood, and I can totally relate to Rick’s question – “Wow. What do these people do that they can afford this house/this car/this boat?”. I think that all the time. But, then again- technically, we could buy those things too…if we wanted to take on all that debt. Now that I know the feeling of less stress and more options with having less debt, I’ll never fall into that trap again.
The question of why you spend, eat, treat yourself as you do is an important one. Once you can identify it and deal with it, it becomes so much easier to make those big changes. And once you make one big, positive change, it inevitably leads to others.
Too many people are afraid to ask “why”. It’s a tough thing to do, especially if you think the answer might be a painful one, but healing is SO much better.
Hi Laurie – great post.
Overcoming obstacles and working through the pain is part of life and I’m very happy to know that you have been able to do so. I also appreciate you sharing your perspective on the subject.
Right now in my life, I’m trying many different things and some of these things hurt me mentally and my physical state isn’t as great as it could be. I try to take at least 15 minutes out of each day to decompress (turn off all electronics, put down the books, etc) and just sit there. I’m not necessarily mediating, but it’s close. I was listening to a podcast and the person said that we should embrace the pain and understand exactly what is causing it, instead of ignoring it by doing something else.
Thanks for sharing – great read for a great Friday 🙂
Decompressing is HUGE. Yesterday I could feel I had overpacked our schedule this week and went to bed at 6:30. I didn’t fall asleep till about 2 hours after that, but just that decompression time was great for the spirit!
Laurie, great post, and I wonder what ever happened to “$150k Guy” and his wife. I’m guessing he’s still working, tho he lost his $150k job in a downsize and is now making $65k staring at a computer somewhere.
Make it real. Make it Personal. Make it happen.
“Make it Real. Make it Personal. Make it Happen.” Okay, that SO needs to be a post, Fritz. 🙂
This resonated so much with me! When we first started getting out of debt, we made big changes much too fast. It was a recipe for failure. But when we started moving slowly and changed our attitudes towards money, everything stuck. Long term success is with your attitude.
Most people find that to be the way to go. We’re often just too conditioned to be able to handle massive changes in a short period of time. Glad you found your way!!
Hi Laurie, I have to confess, I am still a muscle head at age 40. I now just workout in my basement and the weights have gotten much lighter. That is fine because it is more about health today and keeping my waist less than 36″.
Your analogy, however, was perfect about having everything look good on the outside, but the inside is a mess. There is a development near me where the houses start at $500k and go up from there. Many of these people buy the house, but the rooms are empty because they cannot afford to furnish the house.
I’m still a muscle head too, Dave. 🙂 But as you mentioned, it’s a much healthier version of a muscle head than what I used to be. I love lifting weights now, hiking, biking and whatever. But I do it for ME and not for appearance sake. So much more fun that way. 🙂
There was a neighboood like that near where I used to live also. There were these McMansions in a gated golf club community. Luxury cars ( mainly leased) were in the drives. The people wore designer clothing. Then you went inside and there might be a small table…..no other furniture!
When I was in the personal banking biz, a guy called in for a loan to buy furniture. He was denied – credit was okay but he had mega debt. He got so angry with me when I gave him the bad news. He said, “I just bought a new house – I HAVE to have new furniture for it. Now what am I supposed to do??” Umm, save up CASH and buy your new furniture??
Good article. And yes, our Creator is our only true critic.
All about breaking those bad habits. Want to lose weight? Don’t go on a diet. Diet implies something short term, change the way you eat for good and you’ll have long term success. Money is the same way, less you change the mindset, no matter how many time you consolidate, refinance you’ll never get ahead.
Amen, Brian!!! Have a good weekend. 🙂
So often we treat ourselves worse than we would treat a stranger. I remember hearing someone say “If you saw a little girl alone, crying in the street, would you kick her?” And that’s what we do to ourselves.
I’m so glad you were able to face your traumas and become a happy person. It’s so much easier when we stop trying to prove to ourselves that we are worth, and just accept that we ARE worth it.
As an aside, for anyone with emotional eating problems, especially women, I highly recommend books by Geneen Roth. “When Food is Love”. is a classic. And as an aside to my aside, she and her husband were scammed by Bernie Madoff which she wrote about in “Lost and Found”. And life still went on.
Wow – what a powerful saying about the little girl!!! Thanks for the book recommendation – I’ve not heard of that one before!!! The Lost and Found book sounds good too! I always appreciate your comments, Mrs. G. They always give me pause for reflection. 🙂
Great post. I remember doing 3 aerobic classes in a row, then outside to smoke!
And I remember going running with a friend and then sharing half a dozen donuts with him.
Okay, that actually sounds fun. 😉
LOL, the world of living in denial is a crazy one, isn’t it?
“Get to the Root if You Want to Change the Fruit” – I love this. It’s definitely what’s inside that’s important, and affects all our outside behavior. I’m so glad you were able to deal with your issues and how it affected both your health and your finances. I’m still a work in progress, especially on the health front, but I sure am trying.
Gary, you GOT this, my friend. Just. Look. Up. 🙂
So many points of recognition here! The coolest is the fruits & roots bit. This week, in our Christian group at school, we discussed the fruit of the Spirit, and how it’s not something you can have via willpower. The fruit of the Spirit is the natural result of being rooted in the Spirit. One of the students jumped up and drew a diagram of two trees, one producing good fruit and one producing bad. He got us all to say what nourishment (through the roots) led to the development of each type of fruit – an exercise that definitely applies to personal finances too. (And I’m 5’9″ too.)
Wow – that class sounds so awesome!!!! And so true about the fruit of the Spirit. It sure is nice knowing the God that IS wisdom. 🙂 And yea for 5’9!! 🙂
Love this article!!
The Millionaire Next Door proves that many people who have nice homes, pay for their nice cars, etc do not actually have money.
80% of the top 1% are the stealth wealthy, meaning they don’t even appear to be wealthy and few know they are.
Have you read Sam’s post on the couple making 500k? http://www.financialsamurai.com/scraping-by-on-500000-a-year-high-income-earners-struggling/
I totally agree that starting on the inside, accepting who you are and knowing you are a good person goes a long way in your finances / life!!
I hadn’t seen that article – thanks for sharing!!! LOVED the Millionaire Next Door. My kids have been taught enough that they will say “Big hat, no cattle” when they see someone pretending to be richer than they are via debt. 🙂
Awesome post Laurie!!! My wife and I live in one of the smallest houses in the neighborhood. We definitely look around and wonder what others do as well, especially with their nice cars and other fancy toys. But I keep telling myself to keep our head down and we’ll reach our real goal which is FIRE. I don’t need other people’s goals 🙂
I think you said it right when you said “keep our heads down and reach our goals”. The key is to not let yourself get distracted by what others are doing. I find we have to watch ourselves in that area. We don’t do the actual spending when we get distracted by what others have, but we think about it. 🙂
Well as I have said before Laurie, If you buy/read just one financial help book let it be Your Money Or Your Life. It changed things for us back in 2000. Luckily we have never been in debt but we felt the urge to perhaps prepare for something. Within a couple of months of reading the book we were glad that we were thinking along the lines of living off one salary and as you know we needed to.
All worked out well and this weekend we have been the owners of this home for 15 years. Yes we were so lucky, we inherited it. But looking around the neighbourhood we see big changes. This was always a very affluent area, £million + houses just around the corner. But developers appear to be buying up the smaller ones like ours and before you know where you are there in it’s place is a £million MacMansion. We regularly ask ourselves – how are they affording them? Who is buying them? Mostly folk from London who think they really need a 2nd home down here usually. Then the “homes” stay empty for months at a time. I wonder how they will be feeling/coping after the General Election on Thursday????
We are happy with our small bungalow and garden, all paid for, the 7 year old car, paid for and the fact that we are able to go off on our travels when we want to. Life is good.
You’ve got it right, my friend. So, so happy for you that you are living your dream life. I know many of those around you appear, as I did, like they’re doing well, but in reality not so much. 🙁
Amen, Laurie. Because I was trying to prove my worth to others for a good chunk of my adult life, my underlying financial health was in tatters. It was only when I chose honesty over appearances that my finances changed for the better. It was hard admitting that I wasn’t well off. But then I discovered that your family and friends still love you even if you drive a crappy car. Keep spreading the word, Laurie. The inside is way more important than the outside–even though the world can’t have enough perfectly sculpted calves.
LOL, wise words, my friend. 🙂 “honesty over appearance” is vital. And it helps one sleep better at night. 🙂
Love this!!! Absolutely sound advice that you need to start inside first. All the fancy clothes, houses, cars, etc. won’t make us better or happier.
I’m so glad Rick and you were able to get past the things that haunted you to find your awesomeness!
It’s amazing what a little delve into your feelings and history will do. It can be a scary trip to take, facing up to that stuff, but man, is it worth it!
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