The Kenwood Press
: 02/01/2016

Crossing the pass

Donna Colfer

I asked myself, “I wonder if she made it over the pass? It’s raining here so I know it’s snowing there!” On so many levels she’d crossed many passes in her life. She took a class, kept track of her spending, inquired about her Social Security, she stayed awake, and then the time came to retire. She was worried and overwhelmed, but also prepared.

Four years ago, I met Cecelia in the six-week adult course I was teaching at Sonoma Valley High School called “Understanding Your Relationship with Money.” The first night after class was over, Cecelia walked me to my car asking questions and getting to know me; this was the start of our relationship. Afterward, she hired me to teach her QuickBooks and to organize her personal finances so she could begin to understand her financial situation around retiring. It scared her to think she could actually pull it off. She had become accustomed to working hard all her life, nonstop, while raising her twin daughters as a single mother. Not a small task.

Cecelia’s mom passed away when she was just seven years old. She was an only child and experienced a lot of time alone. While her father worked, she was shifted from one caregiver to another: her aunt, her grandmother, and even a neighbor. Finally, her father married the stepmother from hell. Just like the Cinderella scenario, she couldn’t please her stepmom, so food and money were withheld as punishment. Even though her dad was a good man, his alcoholism made him unavailable to her. His unreliable income, overspending, and indecisive nature added to this already struggling family. As the years passed, her father married two more times. No one cared for Cecelia properly, she learned no financial skills, and scarcity was the only constant. Eventually, these conditions caused her relationship with money to include feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and being unworthy.

In spite of her losses and challenging circumstances, Cecelia survived and started earning money from babysitting jobs so she didn’t have to rely on her father and stepmother. She bought her own food or ate in inexpensive restaurants. Emotionally, this wasn’t easy; she felt a lot of shame in eating alone. Cecelia’s resilient and persistent nature pushed her through the barriers at home. After high school she enrolled in college and she received her Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration. She definitely had her Warrior boots on!

However, in her early twenties, she left home to marry into somewhat the same scenario. Her husband was unreliable, an over-spender, verbally abusive, and untrustworthy. They eventually had twin daughters as their financial situation became more and more difficult. The relationship ended in divorce 15 years later.

After her divorce, Cecelia went back to college part-time and worked in an office full-time while raising her girls. She was living life as well as she could and doing it her way this time. It wasn’t always easy by any means, but what Cecelia didn’t do is fall into the Victim mode again. There were many times in her life when she could have stayed in the Victim role by living in the past and blaming everyone else around her for what happened. Instead, she found ways not only to survive, but to thrive as she learned skills that opened doors to jobs she wouldn’t otherwise have had. She had faith that when one door closed another would open. She put one foot in front of the other, taking life day by day. That’s the energy of the Warrior/Magician money types working in tandem. What I’m impressed with is how a person can go through what Cecelia went through and still keep her heart open. She is so generous toward others; making small contributions to nonprofits and helping friends in need without expectations. That’s the Magician.

Cecelia tried to account for every contingency to see herself through the last phase of her financial life. She didn’t want to burden her daughters for support and she knew her small pension combined with Social Security wouldn’t go very far living in Sonoma County. So she made a difficult decision to move out-of-state.

In an interesting side note, Cecelia mentioned that while arranging her move with U-Haul, the employee on the phone said it was their busiest year in five years to explain why it was so difficult securing a truck. There has been an exodus from California. It seems many people have come to view continued California residency as financially impossible.