The Fear of Failure…and Spiders

As our moratorium on micromanaging money continues, I’ve started to think more about the role money plays in our lives. This post is part of that thinking process. 

When it comes to money, there’s a certain amount of fear that is ingrained in us as we grow up. We are taught early on that we need a good education to get a good job to make a good living to pay for a good home in a good neighborhood and provide a secure future for ourselves and our family. To do this, we need health insurance and life insurance and stocks and bonds and savings accounts and IRAs. When we can’t provide these things – or find that what we’re most passionate about in life just doesn’t provide these things – then that fear grows stronger, even paralyzing at times.

I believe that fear is irrational.

See how cute he is??

All my life I was afraid of spiders. Everyone I knew was afraid of them too, from my friends at school to my own parents. Having arachnophobia just seemed so normal, I never questioned it. Then one day, as I was taking a nap on the back porch, I felt something crawling up my arm. I looked down to see a hairy little wolf spider. I wanted to freak out. I mean, I was supposed to freak out, right? The only thing was, I had fallen asleep with my laptop in my lap and any sudden movement would have sent it sailing. So, I sat for a second, just me and the spider. He stopped. I stared. He was so small and well, kind of cute, and even if he had teeth, it wasn’t likely that he was going to chew me up like a wolverine. In that moment, I realized, there was no logical reason for me to be afraid. I didn’t have to do what everyone else did. And who knows, I might even like spiders (or at least some of them).

The same thing happened for me with money. All my life I subscribed to the same fears as my friends and family. I fought viciously to keep up. I racked up student loans to pay for a degree I’ve never used. I took out a zero-down mortgage because “successful people don’t waste their money on rent”. Never mind that part of it was on a 5-year ARM. I bought stuff. I had debt. But I was living the dream, according to those same friends and family. Until I wasn’t. When the economy collapsed, I lost my home. In the months that followed, I liquidated my savings, sold what I could of my possessions to cover my debts, and still ended up filing bankruptcy. Was it something I wanted to do? Absolutely not. Was it the worst thing that ever happened to me? Not even close.

If you’ve never filed bankruptcy, you may not know this, but the first things that you start to get – almost the minute that you leave the courthouse – are credit card offers. It seems counter-intuitive, but it actually happens. Next come the car loan solicitations. From the minute you are free of debt, someone is trying to put you back in it; because this is the way our society works. You are a financial failure if you don’t get back up on the debt pony.

I don’t consider myself a financial failure. I was just unsuccessful at living the American Dream. Why? Because it was never mine in the first place. When I lost everything I owned, a great thing happened. For the first time in my life, my so-called friends and family stopped telling me what to do (most stopped talking to me altogether, at least for a while) and I was left to figure things out on my own – in my own time, in my own way.

I paid off my last post-bankruptcy debt in 2009, while I was living with friends and driving a beat-up Jeep to a job 45 miles away making $11 an hour. I won’t lie and say that it was easy or that I was happy. Happiness didn’t come until much later. What I was back then was focused, but not on the things you might think. I wasn’t focused on rebuilding my credit score or getting back the lifestyle I was “accustomed” to. I was focused on figuring out what really mattered to me.

Bankruptcy didn’t teach me the value of money. It didn’t make me want to earn back all that I had lost and hold onto it for dear life. It taught me that money doesn’t matter much at all in the end. With or without it, I was still the same person, but without it, the world held so much more potential. I didn’t have to live by “the rules” and be afraid of financial failure anymore. I had already failed, but more importantly, I had survived.

It’s a decade later and I believe I have a pretty good handle on what matters most in my life, but my financial recovery has put me right back in the same position with my friends and family that I was before bankruptcy. I get a lot of unsolicited advice and there are some close family members who still give me grief about not owning a home (though I can successfully argue the merits of renting); not getting an advanced degree (In what? Student loans?); and not having a “meaningful” career (which actually means “lucrative” because I’m pretty sure helping non-profits find funding for programs that keep homeless youth off the streets and hungry seniors fed is pretty meaningful). Though I know better, the constant bombardment of other people’s opinions can wear on me and I start to think, maybe I’m not doing the right things. Maybe I do need to buy a house. Maybe I do need to work harder to save more for retirement. Maybe I’m not measuring up to where I should be by this age.

Then I remember: I’m no longer afraid of spiders.

How have your financial failures (or successes) shaped your life to this point? Do your friends and family offer you well-meaning but unwanted financial advice? If so, how do you handle it?

Adventures in Alternative Dental Care

I hate going to the dentist. It’s not because I fear needles or drills or even the smells associated with dental offices. No, I hate the games that dentists play. They remind me of auto mechanics in the 1980s – back when a woman could drive up to get new tires and leave with a dozen extra “necessary” repairs because “you wouldn’t want your differential relay valve gasket going out on the highway, now would you?” Those mechanics preyed on a woman’s fears and the assumption that, because she was a woman, she knew next to nothing about cars. Dentists, in my opinion, are the same. Even though we all have teeth, most of us know little about them. We know to brush and floss and stay away from too much sugar but other than that, a dentist could tell us that a differential relay valve gasket would give us a better smile and we’d be all over it. Why do you think they have Care Credit card applications in almost every dental office these days? Because differential relay valve gaskets are not cheap!

Once upon a time, I had a wonderful dentist. He was sweet and kind and in 20 years of going to him, I only had to have two cavities filled and my wisdom teeth removed. He even sent me a birthday card every year. When I moved to Colorado, I entered a whole new world of the dental arts. My first check-up revealed that I was in need of about $10,000 worth of repairs. Mind you, I had just visited Dr. Wonderful six months prior! Needless to say, I did not grab a Care Credit app and sign my life away. I just stopped going to the dentist…until we moved to Florida, where I thought, surely things were different. Oh no, they were worse! There have been only two times in my life that I have cried in public like my heart was breaking to pieces in my chest. One was at my grandma’s funeral. The other was in the dentist office in Florida…where I had zero work done, not even a check-up, because the dentist made me feel like I was unworthy of being alive, much less sitting in the same room as him.

When I moved back to TN, my mom informed me that Dr. Wonderful had retired and that I would have to find a new dentist. She also told me about her harrowing experience at a chain dental office, where she went in to have a filling replaced and came out with 3 teeth pulled, a partial that never quite fit right, and a hole from her gum all the way to her sinus cavity. The hole later required surgery to close but not before causing some serious sinus infections. Her next choice in dentists fixed all of that, of course, and it only cost a few grand. A few grand??!! To have a filling replaced. That was the original problem, remember.

So, to bring this long story to a close, we decided some time ago to take charge of our own dental care and visit the dentist only when we deemed it necessary. You might be shaking your head now and calling me names like “crazy” and “extreme” but before you judge too harshly, I have one more story for you. A few months ago, I noticed a dark spot, possibly the beginnings of a cavity, on my front tooth at the gum line. My first thought was “my mom needs to stop with the holiday sweets!” My second thought was “OMG! There goes my mental health and my emergency fund!” Then I calmed down and pulled out my Owner’s Manual for Teeth (which is just a fun way of saying I have a bunch of websites that discuss alternative dental care bookmarked in Google). The one that caught my attention was on oil pulling. This was something that I had passively considered before but not something that I gave much credence to. How could swishing oil around your mouth do anything for you?

Oil pulling is believed to have the following benefits:

But I was skeptical. So, I bought a tiny $1 jar of coconut oil at Dollar Tree in early December and started swishing the next day – just a teaspoon at first. Coconut oil has no discernible flavor to me, but the texture was something I definitely had to get used to. I was able to go 10 minutes, after which I rinsed and brushed my teeth with a natural baking soda toothpaste. I immediately noticed that my mouth felt really clean – cleaner than usual. A week later, I actually noticed a visible difference. The dark spot was still there but it was half the size and my gums were nice and pink, just like they should be. And this morning, guess what! No spot at all! (Sorry, I don’t have before and after pictures because I honestly thought this was not going to work.) Angie and I are both doing oil pulling now and my mom is interested as well. She bought the oil but hasn’t brought herself to try it yet (it’s the texture thing, she says).

Have you tried it? What were your results?

If you’re interested in learning more about oil pulling, here’s a great video from Dr. Axe.

As a side note, we are in no way recommending that folks stop going to the dentist. If this is something that is part of your oral healthcare routine, please continue on. We’re simply saying that there are alternatives. We are recommending that you have a working knowledge of everything that you own – from your car to your body and everything in between. Knowledge really is power. You can choose to use it to care for yourself or at the very least, to be better prepared to discern the truth about what your dentist (or your doctor or even your mechanic) is telling you.