Financial Therapy: What Is Our Savings For?
Dale: Hi, this is Dale in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I normally run an event venue, um, but have not been running an event venue since the beginning of the COVID crisis.
From Death, Sex & Money, this is Financial Therapy. I’m Amanda Clayman... and my job is to help people work through their feelings about money.
Dale: I think if I have a goal in life, it's to facilitate everyday joy and fun.
Dale is 35... she wrote in from Tennessee, where she lives with her husband...no kids.
Dale: In normal times, probably 70% of my job is managing an event space that my husband and I own. And then I also have a small food business where I make, um, hand pies out of that same building.
But of course...times are not normal right now.
Dale: We still don't know when it will be safe for us to gather, you know, even as some businesses are opening up here in Tennessee, it's still pretty unclear when it will be safe for large groups to gather. And so that's hard to deal with. Just having really... no clear answer about when we can operate again.
Both Dale and her husband are taking home about a third less than they normally would, and their savings can last between six months and a year depending on how tightly they squeeze their budget.
And so right now, while Dale can sit home and know she’s safe, her mind is already casting forward to what’s next, and wrestling with the idea of how they’re going to open safely, and what she wants her business and life to look like after this initial crisis has passed.
Dale: And so, yeah, that's the looking forward anxiety. But honestly, I think a lot of it is almost like the looking back at what it feels like we've lost already.
Coming up in just a minute...my session with Dale.
This is Financial Therapy from Death, Sex & Money. I’m Amanda Clayman.
Amanda: Hello! Is this Dale?
Dale: Yes, this is Dale.
Amanda: Hi, it's Amanda!
A few weeks ago, I gave Dale a call, and we dove right in.
Amanda: So before this pandemic happened and all of the shutdowns started occurring, what did a good month look like for you guys?
Dale: I would say, you know, the past year or two, we've really kind of hit our stride in terms of most weekends, you know, being pretty fully booked with, with private events. Um, May, this month now was going to be our busiest month to date. It went from something like over 20 to zero. Um, and the events can vary in terms of what we make per event, anywhere between $300 for a really small event to, um, you know, around $2,000 for a bigger event. I mean, it's a substantial amount of money that we thought was going to be coming in and it is not. So right now it's like in some ways.... we're able to sort of just hunker down and do it, but the busy months in the spring and summer are kind of what get us through the leaner months in the winter. So it, it's almost like it's going to kind of hit us possibly later.
Amanda: And so how has that impacted your budget?
Dale: Well, um... we have less money! [laughs] So, we are able, between my husband and I, we've, you know, we've certainly curbed our spending, and we pay ourselves a little bit lower of a salary than we did in the past. I've also been able to kind of supplement some of what I would have been making with events by doing a lot more of the pie making and shipping them out. And those orders have gone way up, just 'cause there's a lot of people at home, bored and hungry. And so I've sort of shifted into this, like, pie factory which--that's a little bit challenging because I was actually, before all this planning on scaling that way back. Like I was going to stop shipping the pies at all, because I don't particularly like the process of packing them and shipping them. So that's been particularly frustrating, 'cause that was a piece of my work that I was working towards not doing. Um, because I had built up the event business enough that I thought I could stop. And so now to just be back. only doing that is hard.
Amanda: Mhmm. And so, what does it feel like for you to lose business?
Dale: It really varies. Sometimes I feel pretty accepting of it because when things are beyond my control, you know, there's not... if I had done something to lose all of my business, I would be really upset with myself and really frustrated, but because it's something that I have no control over, and because being closed is kind of like, it's the good, correct thing to do. There's a way in which that I can feel really okay with it. Um, it's really when I start, calculating, you know, losing, you know, now it's somewhere between $10,00 and $20,000 like that...that's a significant portion of what I make in a year. Then it starts to feel, um, sad honestly.
Dale: Then I feel it as a loss, you know, even though I never had that money, um...
Amanda: So it's looking at the number, like the cumulative effect of it.
Amanda: And I'd love to make sure that I understand that correctly, because you, one of the things that I listen for with people is the way that they interpret numbers and kind of the story that they tell themselves about it. So when you are looking at the money that's been lost in these events, like how are you--what's the story that you're telling yourself about that money?
Dale: I think I'm telling myself that like that would have made us feel safe. Or, um.... hmm. Yeah. I guess I just, I think of the things that that would do, you know, it, um, it's money that could go into our savings, it's money that we could travel with. It's money that I would have, you know, safely in an account if we needed it.
Amanda: And how does your husband feel about it?
Dale: Um, that's a good question. He's much less, uh, you know, we own the venue together, but it's definitely, I'm the one that kind of manages it and deals with all of the day to day pieces of it. Um, so in a way it feels like I'm on the hook for it more than him, even though I don't think he feels that way. He's also self-employed. He's, so he's a photographer, and so his work shut down as well. So both of us were sort of looking at this unknown amount of time where we would not be working very much, and, you know, we, we have savings. And I kind of kept saying that we can fall back on that, you know, for a while. Um, like if it's for any time at all, it's for this. And I think he was just like, if we can not touch it, let's not touch it. So I think that's maybe a little piece of it where I feel like...that I should be still making money to not, to not be touching our savings. Because if we're going to be making less money anyway, let's not also have to... you know, come out of this much, much worse than before.
Amanda: And when you guys are, are trying to make a plan then, cause I, I guess that's one of the things that's on the horizon right. Is when you're starting to think about reopening the business, how are the two of you going into that decision making process?
Dale: Well, it's a little, I mean, it's interesting because it's like when we've talked about it, an interesting thing can come up for me where on the one hand, I don't want to feel like I'm alone in making this decision. You know, I already feel like, um, I don't have enough guidance from government. I just don't have enough information, um, as a person who throws parties and makes pies for a living to be making, you know, a decision that affects public health. So I don't want to be alone in making that decision, but I have had the reaction at times where like, if he has an opinion that's different than mine, it's like, well, I'm the one who runs the business! I'm right! You know. And so on the one hand, like I really want other input, but I think I can be a little bit, like, territorial about the decision making.
Amanda: Hmm. That feels big to me as you describe that.
Amanda: Because on the one hand, when we want to maintain control over something, usually that is coming out of a need to feel safe and being hesitant to let people be with us when we're in a vulnerable place. Um, but on the other hand, that can be a very lonely feeling, or we can feel kind of burdened with that at the same time. It just can be something to think about, like as your, your finances have shifted with the shutdown in the business, like, is risk evenly distributed? Or is one of you sort of feeling more of the consequences of this shutdown than the other, if that makes sense.
Dale: Yeah, I think that's very true for me. Um, and kind of the way that we've set it up is, you know, our, we have our business kind of accounts and we just have an agreed upon amount in normal times that we just pay a salary. We each, you know, pay a salary into our joint account, and we have a household budget. Um, so, you know, normally that that works kind of great and we don't really have to bother each other about money all that much. Um, I do think then, yeah, like when times like this come up, things are a little bit different and we're both anxious and honestly, like, we're anxious at different times, I think, and for different reasons. And, we're maybe not used to, um, having to even talk about it all that much.
Amanda: Because it just kind of works.
Dale: Yeah, usually it does.
Amanda: Until, like, the ground shifts underneath you.
Amanda: And do you talk with each other about how you're feeling when you look toward the future?
Dale: We do. I mean, I think I'm a little bit more, um, of a talker and an emotional processor for the most part. Um, when he gets anxious, I think he's much more thoughtful and, um, quiet and reflective, and I'm much more very quick into action, let's make a plan. Like, I think it was like the first day we closed down the business. I was like, okay, we're gonna change this public event we do where people gather, and we're going to make these mystery boxes full of, like, local art and products from Knoxville. and we're shipping them out, um, as kind of like a replacement for the gathering piece of it. And I mean, like it was three days from when we shut down to, like, launching that. And I think there's a way that action can feel really good and it's sort of like, okay, I've got a plan. I'm going to do this. I'm going to succeed at this pandemic. Um, like as if a pandemic is something to succeed at instead of just sort of survive. And I think that that's comforting to me. It makes me feel in control, it makes me feel, you know, and people will validate that you for that as well. You know, people like, "Oh my gosh, you're doing this great thing, and look at how fast you responded!" And I think I liked that feeling of being super proactive. It's super self-sufficient and like, "I got this." Um, but then I think it can also put me in the position of like, well, when I don't feel that way and I feel like I don't got this and I need help, I think sometimes it can feel like it invalidates that I'm this like strong, capable person.
Amanda: You'd much rather be in the like pandemic inspo category than...
Dale: But not even really! Like, I don't even believe that that should be like any measure that anyone should measure themselves up to. Like, I really don't believe like I'm a better or worse person if I am kicking ass and don't need any help in surviving this, um, versus someone who like, is really struggling and needs help because I'm really both of those things alternately.
Amanda: I hear you getting it. Like when you look at it, you completely understand what the pieces of this experience are and how those pieces need to fit together. Um, but experientially, when you are, when you are sitting with the feelings that are coming up and you're really present with them. It feels like you have a very strong go-to coping strategy, to dive right in, look for what you can do, and that that's usually how you, you move yourself through, uh, a situation. Um, and so I can completely sympathize with how uncomfortable it is then, when you're in a situation like this one where we're kind of stuck in place in time, um, we're waiting for something to shift in the external situation, so you, you don't have that preferred coping strategy of activity available to you in the way that it normally is. And so on the one hand, intellectually you can see like, okay, then my job here is to just kind of sit in the feelings. But when you do it, it's like every fiber of your being doesn't like that, pushes back against that.
Dale: Yeah, and there's a piece of it too where, in the beginning, you know, there was a, there was a feeling almost of like, we really are all in this together and everyone was sort of reaching out and didn't really, you know, we knew we were just stuck at home and I don't know, I felt this like immense sense of community and I did still feel really connected with...with the community, you know, of our venue, of the people who come to our events and support us. And I really felt that in the beginning. It's been harder, honestly, as things have kind of moved along and it feels kind of both more normal, but then lots of people are going back to work already, um, and starting to kind of get on with it, it feels like? And I still feel like I'm like stuck behind, but without the community kind of there with me. I feel like I oscillate between feeling like, um, oh, I am particularly affected by this in a way that other people might not be. But then I'll say, no, but look at, we're fine. We're, we're not starving. We're doing okay. We, you know, we didn't have to lay off a million people. Like, we're so lucky. Why should I expect someone to feel bad for me?
Amanda: It's so disorienting. You know, everyone's affected, but we can all be affected so differently. I have a friend who said, we're all in the same storm, but we're not in the same boat. And so, it's such a confusing thing sometimes to, to try to figure out like how, how do we need, or how do we deserve support and validation for the things that we're going through that are hard, when we know that other people are also going through hard things... and also struggling?
Dale: Right. And also, I think there can sometimes be a little bit of a tension between like trying to stay in the gratitude of what we do have because things could be so much worse. Um, but then there does need to be space within that to, to just like it's okay to be struggling. Um, I intellectually know that. I think you're right. I do have a difficult time, um, just like voicing that.
Amanda: It's hard, you know, our, our brains want to put things into categories like, when we were talking earlier about telling ourselves a story, putting that story together can be really difficult when the pieces don't all line up really neatly. Um, so when we're telling ourselves a story about where we are struggling, um, or where we're suffering. At the same time, we can also feel deeply aware, and maybe more aware than we were before of all of those things that give our lives great joy and meaning, and may even--!here's a sticky one!--some things that may even feel better or happier in this time being, and what do we do with that?
Dale: Yes, I've definitely experienced that. Um, I mean, running two businesses is a lot. Um, and so as business with the venue has pretty much stopped. You know, I'm, I'm doing more work with the food business, but I'm still working fewer hours than I was before. And boy, just really enjoying spending so much time at home. Um, you know, and as much as I love gathering people and you know, seeing my community, and hosting events for people, I think I'm much more introverted than I realized because just the amount of, um, I don't know, I feel like... an open space in my brain and in my chest, not constantly interacting with people and worrying about, you know, if everyone has what they need. Um, and I think that's even another piece of the anxiety about opening back up. Like there is a, I mean as much as financially, like, we need to open back up at some point. There is a part of me that's just like, but I'm so happy just being at home.
Amanda: And being able to cocoon and sort of have, have that nest of safety around you.
Dale: Yeah, but I think that I've been hesitant to, like, really like lean into that as a source of comfort because I'm like, well, that's, you can't get used to that. You can't just not work that much. So don't. like, get used to it.
Amanda: Yeah, what I'm hearing in that is, is... there's a quality of it being hard to sit still. Like, even though the future is kind of out there, and we don't know what it looks like, we also know that the present isn't going to last forever.
Amanda: And so it's almost like you're conceptually in these two different places at the same time.
Dale: Yeah, I mean, I think there's like a part of me that worries if I like, let myself relax too much. I'll just like get too used to it, and like it too much to never want to go back to work like normal. I don't think I'm, like, that money motivated. Um, it's more reactive. My work is pretty reactive. It's sort of like, I just work the amount of work that there is. You know, same with the pies. Like I make the amount of pies that are the orders that I have, and I ship them out. And so, I'm just going to work the hours that it takes to finish that. So it's almost just like the more, the better. Does that make sense?
Amanda: It does. And I think that's how a lot of us approach work, especially if we're self-employed. Um, we try to keep up with the opportunities as they're presented to us. Like if you were to not just think of all of the things that the business could be, but like really, if you had your ideal amount of time that you were able to devote to the business and then to have for you, personally and creatively. If you were to back that out into what that would look like, the money it would take to support it, that can be a place where, where we can actually kind of like play and explore. Funny enough, money can be one of the things that helps move that from an abstract place into a more concrete place. It can serve as a really helpful guide in, in at least giving you a framework for like, ooh, am I spending more time, but I'm getting this amount of money, is that worth it to me? Do I want to use this information maybe to try to push up when the time is right some of the rates that we're charging for our services or our space? Because that money directly translates into my own quality of life. That's where money can actually be a helpful tool in doing the, the more personal work.
Dale: I do think that there is a little piece of it that has like made me think about my identity a little bit because a lot of what I do, you know, collaborating with people and interacting with people is a big way that I kind of create for myself, like value. I think I put a lot of value on connecting with people in community. Um, so it has been a little bit... uh, I think it has rocked me a little bit, um, noticing how comfortable I am being alone and thinking maybe I need to incorporate more of that. Maybe I am like putting a lot of pressure on myself to constantly be interacting with people because I see value in that, but it may not be what I need all the time.
Amanda: Is there a way that you can take that thought into a next step?
Dale: Well, it's, it's hard to make many next steps right now, um, because things just feel so in limbo. Um, but I do think like, thinking about like what my metrics are for like what in a given week, like am I measuring this based on how much money I make? Am I measuring this based on just how many hours I was in my office at work? Am I measuring this based on what I accomplished? Like thinking about how I'm measuring work and what, what's important to me. I think it is definitely helpful for me to realize, like, that I like, I, I don't ever put a limit to the amount of work that I do. Whereas if I was working for someone else, that would absolutely tell them, no, I've worked too much come into work and again, on a Sunday, and I worked, you know, 60 hours this week. Like I've literally never like had that thought like, "Oh, maybe you should have some boundaries."
That was where Dale and I left it, on the question of work/life boundaries, and how she might want to think about them going forward.
And about a week after we talked, I heard from Dale. She said she’d been thinking about our conversation... with her husband.
Dale: You know, he was asking me how it went. And we actually ended up having like a really great hour-long conversation where we talked about a lot of stuff that like we had kind of skirted around the edges of, or talked about vaguely. And one of the things that hit home, that made me really want to have that conversation was I hadn't really thought about the way that there may be ways in which I'm, I'm carrying some feeling of risk that, you know, I'm not voicing, so I'm feeling alone in. 'Cause there've been times where I've just been a little burnt out, just only making pies. And he was just like, you know, you don't have to keep it doing that forever. Like we, we can figure different things out. Like we can maybe take more out of savings than we have been instead of being so strict about not touching it. And so that, that was really, really great, um, to be able to have that, that language, to have a conversation.
A lot of us are taking in a lot of new information right now, and reflecting about how we used to live our life, and how we're thinking about living our lives moving forward.
And for those of us who get sort of anxious about letting other people in, the trade-off there is that when we make decisions by ourselves, we might feel safer, but we also feel more alone. You know, we're, we're vulnerable when we don't have other people that we can trust to bring into some of the weight and responsibility of those choices. And so for Dale, having this conversation with her husband is not only a way to make sure he’s on board with any changes that she might want to make, it’s also a way for her to feel seen and heard by her partner.
And, a lot of us are learning right now that sometimes we just need support because we need it. We don't have to think about it, we don't have to analyze and weigh whether we deserve it. We just need to start owning that and sharing it with other people in our lives, before we start to edit and judge ourselves about whether or not it’s ok for us to have that feeling.
This special series was produced by the team at Death, Sex & Money: Anabel Bacon, Anna Sale, Katie Bishop, Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn, with additional editing by Jenny Lawton.
Original music by Isaac Jones.
I’m Amanda Clayman. You can find me on Instagram @amandaclayman, and on Twitter: @mandaclay
For more honest conversations about money, and all the other things that are hard to talk about, subscribe to Death, Sex & Money wherever you get your podcasts.
And if there’s something going on with your money that’s really weighing you down, send me an email or a voice memo, to email@example.com.