Material Girl

Have you ever read the series of books, Shopaholic, by Shophie Kinsella? I started reading them after I finished my undergrad education and reading books like Wuthering HeightsThe Jungle, the history of America and statistics. They were a nice escape from academia and a light read. At times, I could relate to the main character Rebecca Bloomwood and her experiences with money. Totally awkward and embarrassing situations revolved around shopping and money mismanagement, but some how she always seemed to barrel through with innovative business ideas, job opportunities, oh and a millionaire beau. It was total fluff.

I grew up in the opulent and excessive 80’s, however, on the flip side. My parents divorced in 1983 and my mom returned to school full-time and working work-study at UNM. We learned of feast and famine. The beginning of the month was when she got paid. After all the bills were paid, she stocked up on groceries, which we enjoyed until mid-month when two young children would have eaten through the stash. Many times, she relied on support from my grandparents or on USDA commodities distributed at our local parish.

My first summer job was babysitting my 5 cousins between the ages of 1 and 10 years. It paid $150 per week and at the time I thought it was a million dollars. Every week, I used what I earned to pay for what I wanted and needed, not giving thought to putting some away for a rainy day. I moved on to working for a small manufacturing company throughout high school and early years of college. I decided that it was too much to balance college and work so I opted for the later. I got married in my early twenties and started a family. I was hired on full-time and worked in corporate America for 16 years. It was challenging. I was paid well and there were numerous benefits including a 401K, health benefits, and tuition reimbursement. It was easy to put money away and build a future while doing work I loved. I took advantage of the tuition reimbursement and returned to school. This time eager to learn. The nature of the work wasn’t entirely stable, so it was important to add to my resume additional education. I was the breadwinner in the home, never giving thought of not spending on wants. It was the height of “Real Housewives” and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” or actually the “Kardashians”. We lived beyond our means and I didn’t say said “no” when pushed about where the money went by my then husband asked. I also wanted to make sure my kids had all the things I didn’t have growing up…what a slippery slope?!? We traveled. We shopped. I gave generously to charity. I invested in luxury items and high-end brand names. It seemed a new vehicle would drive into our garage, every couple of years. While stressed, I knew things would always work themselves out. I think back to some of my shopping habits now and I laugh when I think, who needs 18 Fiestaware place settings. I’m still burning through my stockpile of Candlelite candles. The one thing I did cherish investing in was Louis Vuitton hand bags. I know this is going to sound super materialistic, but hear me out. I would buy a tote or bag once it came out and resell it a few months later for a profit, for example I bought a Monogram PM Neverful at $650 when it first came out, used it for 9 months (with great care) and resold it for $900. I think I missed out on something?!?

“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” Elizabeth Gilbert

When I was laid-off, I wasn’t entirely concerned. I knew if I worked hard I would find the next role that I could make a living from. However, as the rest of the country was coming out of the recession, New Mexico was still in the midst of it. I had the idea to follow my love of fashion and invest in a retail boutique (this was during the time that major layoffs and government shutdowns were happening in our state–not the best business move). I cashed out my 401(k) and invested half of it in the store and used the other half to help with expenses in the home until I could get to a place that we would become profitable. It didn’t. Not only did I lose out on bringing an income home (I estimated it was about $105,000 of household income that I could have generated if I had a paid position during this time), but because of the lack of my income, we had to give up our home. I also personally took on additional debt (securing loans my aunt and a friend over $15,000) to try to salvage the store, and I had been reduced to asking for money in my own household. Once the breadwinner, I had to ask for $7 to go to yoga (my only self-care during that period) every week. I was lucky when I was given $10 for coffee afterwards. I learned some valuable lessons during this time. I now understood the value of money. I had a great lesson in material things especially clothing and living beyond your means. I was also taught at the end of the day, no matter the relationship, I would need to care for myself.

After the store closed, I went on to do consulting work. Still working on my passion project of bespoke fashion, I opted not to jump in head first this time but to do it very thoughtfully and for the right reasons. I would fund it with my own earned income to make it sustainable. Hopeless + Cause Atelier started to get noticed. I had a few friends and family members who really saw my talent and supported me. However, I think the toll of it all had but an unrecoverable strain on my marriage (that and other issues). As my marriage was ending, I found a consulting role that paid a livable wage. I was not only able to do something I was skilled at, but I also was able put money aside into retirement again and take care of myself and my kids. However, I was still living paycheck-to-paycheck, and didn’t have a rainy-day fund. I also realized that I had become a single mom. While my kids were both 18 years and older, their needs didn’t stop. They were both in college full-time and trying to work part-time. My priorities for them are to get college education with as little student debt as they can, and to make sure they felt safe and secure during this transition time for them. As life happens, my daughter was in two car accidents within two months, my son had college expenses that weren’t covered by scholarships, but needed to be paid until we could figure out what student aid was available. I had car problems and legal issues that needed to be resolved, and the basic household expense responsibilities. Once again, I had to access my retirement savings to make sure these things were taken care of. Then my role ended, and I really didn’t know what to do.

After everything, I know there is a reason to be on this journey.

I had a couple of months of income instability, until I landed my next role with another non-profit. I swear the universe enjoys challenging me and taking me out of my comfort zone. I was hired on to support innovation and technology with a well-known non-profit working with New Mexicans to remove barriers and provide opportunities to stability and asset building. What does mean? At the core, it is empowering them to understand and build their own financial futures. The first few weeks were rough. I focused on learning about the average American and realizing all the studies could have been about me. I learned:

A 2016 Federal Reserve Board study showed that nearly half of all Americans (46%) could not afford an unexpected $400 expense unless they borrowed money or sold assets. Research from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report shows:

– 24% of all workers admit their personal finances have been a distraction at work;
– 40% of employees want help achieving financial security; and 

– 81% of workers say worries about financial problems have affected their productivity.

Financial woes lead to stress, health issues, relationship issues, and risky behaviors. This one is the kicker, according to one of the studies I read, “individuals have admitted to lying to family and friends due to the lack of money”. I think of the number of times I’ve asked to reschedule lunch or dinner dates citing, “something has come up” because I either was trying to conserve my gas or didn’t have the funds for a night out. And, it’s expensive to be poor. I went three months without a stable income, I tried to stay on top of my bills as much as I could however I did have to pay my rent late which meant approximately an additional $100 I didn’t have. Luckily, I had a guardian angel or two looking out for me and my kids. I think that is why I’m been so motivated to get this new role working in the community. Finances are not something we normally talk about—there is shame involved. We see on social media how perfectly curated life is…beautiful meals, exquisite travel destinations, laughter with friends and family and posed looks. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on the good, but it’s not always real and for some it’s plain depressing to not feel like their life is living up to that bar. Just this week, I read about the Colorado man who allegedly killed his pregnant wife and two daughters and the details speculate how their life wasn’t as beautifully curated as it was portrayed on Facebook (which if it is all true, is horrific).

This blog has been ruminating around in my mind for quite some time, not sure I wanted to give it to the light of day, but recently, I’ve been talking with and hearing from friends who have had or are having their own financial struggles, especially women. I have a friend who had all the lavishes of life, but chose to no longer be lied to and devalued by her spouse. After 20 plus years of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, she is on her own, trying to rebuild her credit to buy a home, working full-time so she can create a nest egg, and most importantly to have health benefits. I had another conversation this week with a friend who shared her struggles as a single mother reminiscing of eating beans and green chile when times were tight. Her daughters now are professionals in the health field. Another dear friend is tending tables because of her student loan debt and struggling to find a full-time position with a masters degree. What I’ve learned is that while more women are college educated and are taking on debt at the same rates of men, they actually make less when they hit the job market (typically, $0.72 on the dollar unless you are a woman of color, then it’s much less), so taking home less. Ultimately, they have less to put away for rainy days or retirement savings. So, I believe it is important–we need to talk about it, and support each other if it’s only to say, “you’re not alone.”

Once again, I have started saving again (small amounts since I am still trying to get back on my feet). I do side gigss in writing and PR/Marketing to provide extra income. After everything, I know there is a reason to be on this journey. I’ve learned what to value. I thrift and I create (my latest KRQE segment, I didn’t have anything to wear, so I made it, LOL). My only excess expenditures are experiences and primarily travel, however I look for the deals and try to tie it to business whenever possible. I almost didn’t host my annual fashion show charity fundraiser this year. However, I decided to do it much more intimately because I figure if I raise a few hundred dollars than that will be a few more home bound and special needs neighbors that will get the care they need. And again, I rely on my tribe to make it happen with models, beauty team, production and photographers volunteering their time (you can learn more about it by visiting www.HopelessCauseAtelier.com/events). I also realized what a gift this has all been. I have truly understood the value of personal finance and creating opportunities for myself, but also hopefully for others through the work I do. If nothing else, it will help someone else understand that they are not alone and there are ways to improve your financial outcomes.

With light and love from a material girl, but one who now creates with it and no longer lives for it!

Dara Sophia

2 thoughts on “Material Girl”

  1. As always, especially lately, you are putting light on the most vulnerable areas — I see if we keep our struggles in the dark it feeds shame. You have this way – of being bravely honest so we aren’t so alone and shame can’t win. I also appreciate the tie ins of facts & stats (nearly half of us can’t borrow $400 when things are tight and women earning $.072 for every dollar earned by a man – damn how does that even exist now! thank you!

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