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What’s Love Got to do with It (Money)?

White title banner with a red sports car and red heart hanging from the words: "What's love got to do with money? Lord, grant me the self-love to spend like a privileged white man." ~ Rosie Yeung

It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to talk about money. (Obviously.)

Maybe you’ve heard the line “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, (attributed to Sarah Hagi and quoted by Ali Hazelwood)?

Well, I’d like to propose that we (racialized women) spend money on ourselves like a privileged white man.

This probably needs some ‘splainin’, so stick with me please as I attempt it.

What are you willing to pay for?

In Jimmy O. Yang’s comedy special “Good Deal”, he talks about his Asian folks only spending money on things that are “good deals” [content warning: contains profanity]:

I relate to this hard, growing up as an Asian immigrant in Canada. The model minority myth tells us deal-hunting is prudent fiscal responsibility, since we should always “spend within our means”.

But I think there’s more behind a stereotypical immigrant money mindset than bargains and good deals. It’s bounded by scarcity and expanded by love.

Because no matter how much or how little money we have, we will always spend it on what we love first. Yes, even our basic needs: food, rent, transit — we need these because we want to live. We love ourselves enough to want to live, so we pay for the bare necessities.

And we love our families (generally speaking). Parents will spend money on their children that they won’t spend on themselves. Valentine’s Day works as a romantic holiday because we’re willing to spend money on the partners we love.

So here’s my question for you:

How much do you love yourself?

While you think about that, let me tell you a story.

“If a single word can describe our daily life during those first three years, it is ‘scrounge.’ Even the simplest decision must be scrutinized by the ever vigilant budget committee of your mind.”

As a child, I felt like we were always scrounging. Scrounging is a learned behaviour; no baby is born believing that’s how we should live. My family wasn’t poor, but we weren’t rich or even middle class. I always had food to eat, and toys for my birthday and Christmas. But the money mindset that I internalized was “never enough” and “too expensive”.

As a result, while our basic needs were always met, we were also always doing without.

  • A car without air conditioning

  • Canada’s Wonderland without funnel cake (we brought our own lunch)

  • Sindy without Barbie (anyone remember the Sindy doll? Yeah, exactly)

And we always had to stretch what we did have. Napkins and paper towels ripped in half so they would last twice as long. Clothes worn until they broke (literally), then repurposed as cleaning rags.

Here’s another clip from Jimmy O. Yang’s that describes every Asian household soap dispenser:

Let’s pause here and check in with how you’re feeling. What’s your reaction to what I’ve shared?

Perhaps you’re thinking:

  • Pfft. First world problems.

  • So what? We all went through that.

  • Talk about ungrateful. At least you had cars and dolls and trips to Canada’s Wonderland.

Or am I the only one reacting that way to my own story?

Trauma and Money Mindset

If you are thinking any of those things, I don’t blame you. I’ve thought them myself, and much worse. It’s part of the traumatic impacts of poverty/scarcity, immigration, and much more.

My dad’s family lived in occupied Hong Kong during World War II. They didn’t have much to begin with, but it was obviously even worse during the war. I wonder how much of his mindset today stems from his family’s traumatic experiences?

More globally, there’s widespread intergenerational trauma from colonization, genocide, and slavery. I think about the:

What happens to our money mindsets when centuries of racism, colonization, patriarchy, etc., intersects with poverty, caste, and classism?

Spending like a Privileged White Man

Contrast this with the privileged (albeit fictional) mindset of the rich, male, self-described “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) in Love Story. If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, the basic plot is about this rich white boy, Oliver Barrett IV ("the Fourth"), who becomes “poor” when his rich father rejects Oliver and his working class Italian-American wife, Jenny. (Keep in mind this book is set in 1960’s America, and no, it doesn’t age well. At all.)

Jenny gets a job to support them while Oliver finishes law school, and when he eventually lands the highest paying job of his class, this is his money attitude:

“What was adding to my overall feeling of euphoric triumph was the fact that the monthly rate for my car was damn near as much as we had paid for our entire apartment in Cambridge! Jonas and Marsh was an easy ten-minute walk (or strut—I preferred the latter gait), and so were the fancy shops like Bonwit’s and so forth where I insisted that my wife immediately open accounts and start spending.”
Cartoon of Scrooge McDuck sitting on a pile of gold and silver coins, against a backdrop of skyscrapers and boats.
Image description: Cartoon of Scrooge McDuck sitting on a pile of gold and silver coins, against a backdrop of skyscrapers and boats.

How Much Is “Enough”?

This isn’t about the “right” or “wrong” way to spend money.

It’s not about how much money you make.

It’s not really about money at all.

I asked the earlier question “How much do you love yourself?” because a lot of racialized women tell me they “don’t have the budget” to pay for coaching.

[Before you ask, I fully admit, I have an obvious conflict of interest here, since I’m an entrepreneur who sells coaching services. I can’t say I have no stake in this; but (if you can believe me), it’s a very small stake.]

Because I’m in the same boat. In the last four years, I’ve denied myself coaching, therapy, massage, and more medically necessary services to treat my chronic issues — all because “I don’t have the money”. It sounds reasonable, but since I’m not actually bankrupt, I clearly have money to spend. In fact I’ve spent more money on Earl Grey (my new fur baby!) in the last four months than I have on my health in the last four years.

Please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying to mean that I think women should spend a lot more money on coaching or therapy than they do; or that you’re only imagining your financial constraints. Trust me, I totally respect the reality of high inflation and unaffordable housing, especially intersecting with gender and racial pay gaps. It’s hard and it’s unfair.

And, I think we all deserve to spend a little more on ourselves, à la Oliver Barrett IV’s privileged white man money mentality. I think it’s part of breaking intergenerational trauma cycles.

Alt text: woman with dark hair and clothes jumping up in a field of poppies and breaking free from chains around her wrists.
Image description: Alt text: woman with dark hair and clothes jumping up in a field of poppies and breaking free from chains around her wrists.

I know I’m still in the cycle because I find myself ripping napkins in half and wearing clothes with holes in them because I “can’t afford to waste anything”. I have a place to live, I have food on the table, but losing my job and solopreneurship has thrown me back to the scarcity-scrounge feels that I grew up with.

I compare myself to the fictional Oliver Barrett IV, who bypassed the air-condition-less car for a Mercedes as soon as he got some money. He didn’t even need the car to get to work! He was strutting from his expensive new condo to his office!

I can’t wait to feel as rich as Oliver! Except — I never will. That’s the thing with trauma. Even if I had his money, I wouldn’t feel as rich as he acted. I wouldn’t be buying cars and renting luxury condos right away; I’d be paying down debt and hoarding cash in fear I wouldn’t make money ever again.

I wonder what it would take for me to feel like I have enough:

—> Enough money to buy more than just food and cat toys.

—> Enough money to spend hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars on therapy for my anxiety and carpal tunnel syndrome and a million other things that are stress and trauma related.

—> Enough money to buy new clothes without agonizing for hours to justify the expense.

—> Enough money to eat out with friends in restaurants and bars without feeling ashamed.

How Much is “Enough” for You to SPEND instead of SCROUNGE?

What would it take for you to feel like you have “enough” to do that thing you’ve been denying yourself?

Again, this isn’t about me and my coaching. I’m not writing this to convince you to hire me, or spend money you don’t have.

My question to you, and to me, is essentially this:

How can we break the cycle?

The cycle of intergenerational trauma and “scrounging” that can lead to short-term financial gains but long-term personal losses?

I don’t think there’s any complete answers out there, but here are two ideas for you to consider, if you’re willing:

1. Treat yourself like a best friend, not an investment.

If you were offered $1 million in exchange for $10 (no catches), would you take it?

Hopefully your answer to this fantasy is “yes”, but in real life we usually answer “no”, for understandable reasons. Hypervigilance, mistrust, or just not having $10, right?

Now imagine the “ROI” for spending on yourself was as high as that. Except it’s super hard to do, isn’t it? Asian culture has traditionally valued men more than women, and Western culture has traditionally valued white people more than — well, everyone else. Without consciously or intentionally doing so, we’ve all internalized these inequities that make it hard to put ourselves before anyone else.

What if we didn't make it about ROI? When you buy a gift, you’re not calculating what you'll get in exchange. You buy it because you care about the recipient, because you want them to be happy, and it’s a way for you to express your love and commitment to the relationship.

Could you buy yourself things with the same intentions?

Because you love yourself, because you want to be happy?

In short — because you’re worth it?

2. Practice, fail, practice again.

I call it “breaking the cycle” for good reason: our old mindsets will come up again and again. The centuries of conditioning and colonialism worked as intended. We’re not going to change our beliefs overnight.

Part of self-love is self-compassion. I invite you to be gentle with yourself. Treat it as practice.

When you’re practicing something (piano lessons, ugh), you expect to make mistakes. The point isn’t to be perfect, it’s to notice when the mistakes happen, and try to correct it in the next practice.

So give yourself lots of chances to practice and to “fail”. If you’d like exercises to help you with self-compassion, check out my free resource: “3 Simple Ways to Start Your Trauma Recovery”. (The second and third ways are self-compassionate touch, and compassionate self-talk.)

What Else Could You Do to Love Yourself?

What other ideas do you have to break the cycle of trauma — financial or otherwise?

Do you have any exercises or resources you’ve tried that worked well for you?

If you’re comfortable, please contact me to share your experience, I’d love to hear from you and amplify your ideas!

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