Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year. Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!
Prompt for December 6: Money: where did you spend your money this year? Did you save it instead? What, if anything, would you like to do differently with your finances in the coming year?
I didn’t like myself when I was married. I was searching for something that I wasn’t going to find; looking for a partner who wasn’t going to show up. We were both perfectionists in different ways. He was looking for a doll in a box; one that only uttered the handful of manufacturer-recorded words when you pulled her string. And I was looking for someone to anchor my maddening lifestyle.
What are your non-negotiables? someone once asked me.
An adventurous spirit; the ability to translate my strange dreams into realities; generosity; silliness; good communication; and always thinking I’m beautiful and brilliant, I laughed.
Andrew and I were generous, in some ways. There were always galas; parties. We gave money to many charities; we bought a Steinway key at an auction once (“bought” is awkward; we “sponsored” it). I have a dozen old evening gowns as evidence of the life that I once led; remnants of the Time That I Was A White-Shoe Lawyer’s Wife. They are Evidence of My Life Ante-Bellum — the period B.C. (Before the Crash — of my marriage and the markets).
But I loathed myself. There’s only so much champagne a girl can drink; so much smalltalk one can make before the generosity feels like networking. Before the selflessness becomes selfish.
So Andrew and I split. And I walked away from my life of evening gowns, and Steinway keys, and parties and friends with family names as first names. I started out with a life of Much Less, and had to, in some ways, depend upon the generosity of others in order to survive.
When I got divorced, I didn’t have as much as I once had. But I liked myself a lot more. And I decided upon the following:
1) I would always be generous without expectations, because I felt so icky under the strings-attached regime during my marriage. I would open my home to people as they had opened their homes and lives to me when I was most in need of friends and comfort;
2) I wear a necklace that says “no” to remind me to set boundaries with people. But I would challenge myself to say “yes” to the extent that I could give or provide, even when it scared me;
3) I would give away as much as I could, when I could, and even when I couldn’t. This meant my time (my most precious resource), and my money.
This last one is important, because in 2011, I decided to give away more of my money. Not that I have a lot of it, but my then-significant other, Bill, had decided to move into my apartment for a while, and my life was pretty stable, so I thought I could make a commitment to giving away 10% of my salary.
Gross or net? And are you still a trainwreck with money? my friend Dileep had asked, when I told him this a few weeks ago.
Just listen to the story! I said, And net.
What I hadn’t planned on was Bill being a complete moron; or that I would make some (very good) decisions early in the year that would affect my finances for the next 10 months. But I wasn’t going to give up on the plan.
Calling it a “plan” would be…generous. I didn’t have a specific charity in mind. I gave haphazardly. If I saw a friend who was running a race, or whose friend or family had a charity event that needed sponsoring, I gave. When I ran races this year, I donated either to my own efforts, or directly to the charity. I also give a good amount each year to each of my alma maters.
Here’s a brief list of where I gave (there are others, but this is what I can easily recall):
1) Team for Kids
2) American Cancer Society
3) Children’s Miracle Network
4) Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
5) Michael J. Fox Foundation
8 ) Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California (I donate to several RMHs — SoCal was the one I donated to most recently)
9) New York Junior League
10) Georgetown University Law Center
11) University of California, Los Angeles
12) New York University Law School
I have found it rewarding to give. I would be a sanctimonious asshole if I told you that this has been easy, or that I have found this to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I struggled with the decision to discuss it, but because so many non-profits and endowments are hurting, I’d like to encourage you to try this. Pick a percentage or a set amount you’ll donate each time you’re asked; make the commitment.
It is scary as hell. You’ll never regret it. And no, I didn’t meet my goal. But I came close. And giving, and failing, and providing and learning were the most valuable lessons about money I think I’ve ever muddled through.
On a completely different note, I bought last-minute Paul McCartney tickets this year and took Miss Mal with me to Yankee Stadium for the event. I talked to my mother afterward and said, I think I finally understand Beatlemania. It was the first time I ever screamed uncontrollably in my life, and possibly the best couple hundred dollars I ever spent on a whim.