Sean O’Connor: Money talks, but I’m too afraid to talk back to mine!

Of all the conversations we need to have with ourselves, the money conversation may be the toughest. But all it takes is a willingness to look your budget in the face, and start with a little bit of change.

Sean O’Connor, Change Exchange, Money

By Sean O’Connor* 

My current financial precariousness has much to do with my lack of budgeting. Why would I want to keep a budget anyway? If I did, I think I’d panic – better to live in ignorant bliss, I feel.

If I knew exactly what I earned and what I spent, my walls would undoubtedly come crashing down, and I’d have to change my ways. Instead, I’m digging a very big hole of debt, carrying on as if everything is okay.

Despite doing my taxes personally each year, which does provide an inkling of my situation, I turn my head away from knowing too much. Is this because my self-worth is pegged to what I earn?

I’ll concede that my feelings of being okay with myself do hinge on what I can achieve financially, to some extent. And as a hedonist, I’m scared of not being able to buy the coffee I like, the bread I like.

So, back to the ignorant bliss. What you don’t know can’t harm you, right?

Wrong. What you don’t know can harm you the most. I juggle five different bank accounts, shifting funds from one to the other like the little boy in the fable who shoved his thumb into the dyke to stop it from leaking. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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This has been going on for years, a behaviour obscured by random income from the occasional well-earning job, like a coat of fresh paint that covers up a derelict wall (one of those very same walls that might come crashing down.)

Now that an illness has incapacitated me for several months, there is no more hiding from the truth. My lack of funds is a stark reality.

I start to slash expenses. I elect to sell things I don’t use much. I cobble along. I have two credit cards and an access bond to help. They are maxed out. I cash in my major investment. It lasts two months.

I sell belongings at the flea market, guided by the mantra of letting things go that I don’t use, touch or love. I cobble along. In this, my sense of resolve is tested. I question what I’m doing, what I want to do for the next ten years.

A freelancer, working in the corporate realm, I realise that my situation has a lot to do with a lack of planning. I have always done whatever is right in front of me, never been motivated by a long-term goal. I feel tired now, tired of the endless hustle or selling a service to sad people who want to pay me as little as possible for something they don’t fully understand.

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My lack of keeping a budget has brought me to this point, and thrown up so many things. My core values are tested. My sense of self-worth wavers. What do I want from life?

I speak to a friend who is a ‘careers coach.’ How much do you want to earn, she asks. I mention a figure. Is that all, she says? I’m humbled. More?

No-one taught me what I’m worth. This is a mess of my own making. I never benefited from financial advice, nor sought it. My fluid attitude to cash has enabled me to do things I might never have done if I’d been strait-jacketed to a budget. I took risks that paid off very well, and have done amazing things in my short life.

But now it’s time to get real. I cannot kid myself – I will never keep a budget, it’s not who I am. If I tried, I’d fail. I can live modestly though. I will rent out my house, and move into a small flat. That’s something I can do. I can do the maths in my head.

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In this impending change, a series of opportunities will arise. I will find new types of work, that relate to what I want to do more of. I will also do work that I am good at, simply because it pays, whether I like it or not. I accept that some things I do not have much choice over.

And for the first time in my life, I will really be in touch with who I am, because there are no walls anymore.

It’s scary, this ‘not knowing-ness,’ and very different to not knowing what I earn and spend. Not knowing what I will do is as exciting as it is scary, as I open up to new things that I cannot yet conceive of. The money conversation I never had I can at last have with myself. I am exposed, vulnerable, human; fallible and free.

  • Sean O’Connor is a dad of three who runs his own business, producing theatre in the workplace, in communities, and in public spaces. He has written textbooks and DJ’d weddings, and looks forward to DJ’ing funerals someday too. He lives in Observatory, Cape Town, with his dogs Seigfried and Milo, and believes that the quality of his community impacts directly on the quality of his life. Which, he feels privileged to say, is good.
  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.