You Need Help: Balancing Financial Security and Moral Bankruptcy

Q:

At some point about two years ago I basically went to sleep as a 30 something married, heterosexual, stay-at-home mom with financial security and woke up an angsty, gay teenager in an anarchy t-shirt looking for a fight and some weed; ready to light everything on fire.

There was more to it, but you get the idea. Big shifts.

I’m rebuilding my life as a single gay mom while healing from trauma and just trying to make ends meet.

I want to be secure (financially and emotionally) for me and for my kids in a world I generally don’t agree with, want to rebel against, and feel like a total alien in. I do not want to give my time and labor to something I don’t feel connected to. I want to be passionate about the work I do and feel like it’s something positive for the world but I feel directionless.

Any gay advice you can give is super appreciated. xo

A:

An important starting point here is to acknowledge the things you’ve already done that stand in the face of the compromised world we live in. You had a life that many people would say was “secure,” and yet you confronted the ways in which that life wasn’t serving you, was even hurting you, and that you deserved so much more. You shouldn’t diminish the tremendous value of living life on your own terms because of the example you’re setting for all the people around you — most of all your kids.

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I can understand why that might not feel like enough. I’m of the belief that there is, unfortunately, no way to live a life that isn’t complicit in the moral bankruptcy of the world. Examine any action and you’ll find that it supports something utterly heartbreaking. This is particularly true when it comes to securing our livelihoods. If you stay in an organization long enough, you’ll start to question how committed it is to its mission over its funders and whose lives are being sacrificed to make it all happen. Which is why I think it’s important to acknowledge what you’re already doing because there is no truly satisfactory answer to the question of “how do I live by my values in this fucked up world?”

That doesn’t mean you should give up, though. If you haven’t yet, define what financial security actually means for you. I mean concretely – as in, what are the numbers? If you’re not sure, start by tracking your expenses assiduously for three to four months. A number of online services can make this easier. Or if, like me, you’re wary of giving your financial information to third parties you can do it the old-fashioned way with a spreadsheet and your bank and credit card statements. (I make a note on my phone when I use cash.) This will be tedious and time consuming, but it’s worth it. With your spending data, you can quantify the income you need to cover basic living expenses and things you and your kids enjoy.

Be sure to factor in savings because they will increase your financial security and make risks feel more approachable. There are countless resources on how much you should be setting aside each month for emergencies and your and your kids’ futures; talking to a financial planner can also be helpful. This might feel daunting initially, but putting concrete monthly targets around your savings will allow you to work towards building sufficient savings and see how much flexibility you have with your income. Of course, savings are the literal fuel that the capitalist, white supremacist machine burns to keep running. I really don’t think there’s an alternative, though. Using a credit union can mitigate some of the damage, but the challenge is finding a convenient one. (I’m still waiting for Superbia to launch.)

Putting all this together, you can calculate the salary you need to live comfortably and save. That’s half the information you’ll need to explore your job options.

The harder part is managing that sense of feeling “directionless.” One approach is to work on making your current job more aligned with your values. A few ways to do this include: making sure under-represented groups (particularly Black and Latinx people, trans people, and people with disabilities) have a voice in important conversations, encouraging supervisors to examine their problematic assumptions, and pushing hiring and retention managers to follow practices that promote diversity and inclusion. This can be incredibly frustrating work, but it is critical and necessary in every organization.

But maybe it’s just time to do something new. If you’re struggling to decide on your next professional move, take stock of the things that you’ve done so far, whether or not it was in the context of a paid job, and reflect on what you liked and didn’t. You can also use this exercise to make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try. Talk to people you trust who can help you identify strengths you take for granted. Using those reflections, start looking at jobs that are more aligned with your values and interests. They might feel out of reach, but I promise you that is the gendered bullshit of the world whispering in your ear. My friends always tell me to do informational interviews with people in organizations I’m interested in because that can help you learn more about the field and build your network. I also hate talking to strangers, so I get that this isn’t for everyone.

You might find that the most fulfilling-sounding jobs are completely impractical: they pay too little and expect too much work on your own time. This is the sad reality of the capitalist nightmare we call life. In that case, look for jobs that aren’t exactly your dream job and are “only” somewhat morally questionable but meet your salary requirements and give you enough time outside of work to pursue the things you care about.

Don’t forget that money is the driving force of our world. Buying from ethical organizations owned and operated by people from under-represented groups may help you feel like more of your resources are going to things you believe in. This also has no real endpoint so pick what feels possible within the confines of your budget.

Finally, remember that doing “something positive for the world” is a constantly moving target. Everything I’ve suggested comes with some unfortunate tradeoff. You may find that one approach feels good for a while, but after a few years you’re ready to move on to something else. Be kind to yourself — recognize all the things you’re doing — as you continue fighting for a better world.

Himani has written 22 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this, it’s so relevant for me as well. The big picture of “where do I even start and is it even possible in this society, to live according to my values”. This is really practical and helpful advice.

  2. Nice to see an article about financial health here! The article is great, but in case anyone is curious, here are some tips I’ve come across that might be helpful (caveat: I’m not a financial expert, just someone who grew up poor and now lives for money advice on the internet)

    If you qualify (and credit scores are a scam, etc) getting a credit card that offers reward points can be a great perk. Unfortunately, your local credit union probably doesn’t offer these sorts of cards, which is annoying in the scheme of supporting the most ethical/local companies. But, if your choices are basically BOA or Capital One anyway, I suggest going for a reward card. I think the best value comes from the travel ones but obviously it’s worth looking up explainers on each card (like on The Points Guy) and deciding from there. Basically: If you qualify (and don’t personally run the risk of spending extra with a card in hand, etc) they’re a great way to “earn” money when you spend.

    My other advice: There is no shame in doing a “meh” job if it gives you time to do what you love (or even what you simply *need* to do) outside of work. Bland work but very short commute? No shame in that. Uninspiring but you never have to take work home with you, and you have more time to focus on your art or your kid? That’s ok, too. For a variety of reasons, not everyone can work in their passion area all of the time, and that’s fine.

    Lastly: If you’re into YouTube, the channel The Financial Diet has some great videos on financial health. It’s mostly geared toward women (not the most inclusive language, unfortunately)and talks a lot about debt, food budgets, etc. Could be helpful depending on where you’re coming from.

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