The taboo subject of money and why not talking about your finances can be detrimental

By : Jeremy Williams
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“Have you ever had to break your family’s rules? Today, I’m breaking mine around money, secrecy and shame.”

That was the opening line of Tammy Lally’s 2017 TED Talk, but for Lally that is more than just the opening line to her lecture, it also describes her personal money journey.Lally is a Certified Money Coach and author of the new book, “Money Detox: Your Invitation to Liberation.” Her journey started in 2006 with a phone call from her brother on his 40th birthday.

“Money Detox: Your Invitation to Liberation” book cover. Available late Sept. 2018.

“My brother Keith called me,” Lally recalls during her TED Talk. “He said to me ‘Tam, I’m in dire straits. I wouldn’t ask unless I had to. Can I borrow $7,500?'”

Lally describes the interaction, saying this wasn’t the first time her brother needed to borrow money. She goes on to say that this time was different. This time his voice frightened her.

“I had never heard him so beaten down and shameful,” Lally said, holding back tears. “After a few basic questions that we would all ask, I agreed to loan him money under one condition. As the financial professional in the family, I wanted to meet with him and his wife to see what was really happening.”

Lally met with the two several weeks later, where Lally immediately began “the tough love budget conversation.” Lally told them they needed to downsize and give up “the toys.” Keith and his wife blamed each other. “It got messy,” Lally recalled.

Two months went by and Lally got another call. Keith had committed suicide.

Suicide rates among adults between the ages of 40 and 64 have increased by 40 percent since 1999, according to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Of those suicides, financial mishaps such as job loss, bankruptcy and foreclosures accounted for more than a third of them.

“[Keith] was caught in our family’s money shame cycle,” Lally said.

According to Lally, “money shame” is defined as”the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging based on our bank account balances, our debts, our homes, our cars and our job titles.”

“What I’ve learned is that our self-destructive and self-defeating financial behaviors are not driven by our rational, logical minds,” she said. “Instead, they are a product of our self-conscious belief systems, rooted in our childhoods, and so deeply engrained in us they shape the way that we deal with money our entire adult lives. And so many of you are left believing that you’re lazy, crazy or stupid, or just bad with money. This is what I call ‘money shame.’”

While the American Journal of Preventative Medicine study did not specify a gender identity or sexual orientation breakdown, Forbes reports that LGBTQ people are more likely to experience bad spending habits, feel less in control of their finances and struggle to maintain savings when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Robbie Puskarich was the director for residential lending for a community bank in St. Petersburg. From the outside he seemed to have the ideal life.

“I was making a very good salary,” Puskarich says. “I lived in the right place. I drove the right car. I always dressed the right way.”

Puskarich may have appeared to have it all, but on the inside he says he felt like everything was on the verge of crumbling down. “You don’t want people knowing you’re struggling financially, especially when you’re making a good salary because people look at you like, ‘Well, you make a good salary, what’s the problem?’ It’s not that easy,” he says. “Just because you make more money, it doesn’t mean you can keep up with the Joneses. It all just completely backfired.”

Puskarich was in his own money shame cycle.

“I felt like a failure. I would look at my bank account. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck. I was making great money and I just couldn’t get myself out from being underwater,” he says. “I was working so much that my health started to deteriorate. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was drinking myself to sleep at night.”

Puskarich was keeping his money shame inside, all while portraying an image in the community that he was well off and doing fine. “I know I put the pressure on myself, but I also felt the community was putting the pressure on me too,” he says.

LGBTQ individuals trying to “keep up with the Joneses” in the community is pretty common, says Lally. Along with the negative stereotypes that society has put on the LGBTQ community, a well-heldview has been that people in the LGBTQ community have money, and lots of it. It’s rooted in the “old world view” that gay and lesbian couples couldn’t marry or adopt kids so they had expendable incomes. This image, Lally says, contributes to an LGBTQ person’s individual money shame.

“What I see with our community is we’re already one down. We’re already, some of us, coming from a shame-based place about being gay or being bisexual or being transgender or being lesbian. Our families have potentially disowned us. It’s really hard to be in your power with money when you don’t even feel good enough to be walking around in your own skin,” she says. “I think what happens in our community is that people don’t launch. You know, they can’t find themselves, they’re underpaid, they don’t ask for what they need and they’re not getting their worth.”

For a community that has spent years knocking down walls and starting conversations on subjects that the rest of society wasn’t comfortable having, LGBTQ people in general have not breached that taboo subject of talking about money. It’s something Lally says comes from our “money autobiography.”

“We all have these money beliefs that started back in our childhoods,” she says. “How did we handle money when we first got it? How did we see our parents handle money? We need to be willing to open up and have these conversations.”

Tammy Lally tells her “money shame” story to a full audience for her TED Talk at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando in June 2017. Photo Courtesy of Tammy Lally

As stated earlier, Lally is a Certified Money Coach, but she doesn’t just talk the talk because she was trained in the subject. Lally herself stared down the long tunnel of her own money shame.

“So, there are two things that have been consistent in my life, two sources of pain: romance and finance,” Lally says. “I met a woman when I was living in D.C. that was in the Navy, and we fell quickly head over heels, and I moved to Jacksonville with her when she was transferred.”

Lally got into finance and the relationship ended. She then met a friend who got her into the mortgage business. “The money that I started earning, wow,” Lally remembers. “Now I was always earning well, but this was just different. I was on my own by this time and it was like watching my talent earn. I got caught up in wanting more.”

Lally sold her house and bought an ocean-front condo, putting over $100,000 worth of renovations into it. She bought a Mercedes and a Rolex. “I went nuts,” she says, “and then it ended.”

After Lally’s brother committed suicide, she went to his house looking for answers. She found a stack of overdue credit card bills and a foreclosure notice served to Keith on the day that he died.

“[Keith] dies and six months later it’s 2007 and the market crashes. I lost everything,” Lally recalls.

With everything weighing on her, she went into isolation.”I didn’t tell anybody how bad it was,” Lally says. “I thought what I did was bad. I thought I was a total failure in my life. I internalized it in such a detrimental way. I totally got why my brother committed suicide. I mean, I didn’t understand it until that happened because I had so much negative energy on myself. I mean I was angry, I blamed the government, George Bush, Republicans. I was doing that, no question. But it was more harm to myself than anything else.”

In what seemed like overnight, Lally had lost her brother, her job and her income; but she didn’t seek help right away.

“It took a year to actually tell one person that I was suffering,” Lally says. “I mean, I would go out and smile and still use my credit card to go to lunch with my girlfriends, still drive my Mercedes, still wear my Rolex. Still in a delusion, a total delusion.”

Lally says things started to turn around when she opened up about her own money shame and did the one thing that so many people in her shoes rarely do. “I accepted the help that was offered,” she says.

But it wasn’t an immediate fix. Not only did she need to accept the help offered, but she needed to get to the root cause of her personal money shame, she says: her past.

“Debt is the tangible manifestation of not forgiving. If you have debt you have not forgiven your past. So, it’s our work to forgive ourselves and others so that we can live freely,” Lally said in her TED Talk. “Follow your dollars; your money will show you what you value. Ask yourself, ‘do I really value all this stuff,’ and get curious about how you’re feeling when you’re spending.”

Lally’s personal journey and her brother’s memory is what, in part, led her to write her book, “Money Detox.”

“The book is really my brother’s legacy,” she says. “His death catapulted me into another level of self-inquiry, learning more about myself and how I can understand myself more. I subsequently created my dream job and now I get to help people that were in the same place I was in, the same place he was in, the same place millions of people are in with money, which is pain.”

“Money Detox” is part self-help book, part autobiography and part textbook.

“The book is a self-help book, you know that’s the genre,” Lally says. “But it’s also layered with a lot of my personal stories, as well as client’s stories, as well as practical exercises, to help people move through their own life.”

Puskarich is currently on his path to recovery from money shame. He left his job five years ago, which he says was killing him. Like Lally, he saw a major change come when he opened up to someone about his shame.

“I had started dating somebody new when I left [my job], and that’s who I started opening up to,” Puskarich says. “I’ve literally been beating myself up for feeling like I’ve just completely failed myself financially. I’m constantly dealing with this. I’m healing, I’m getting in the process.”

Puskarich has taken the next big step in getting out from underneath his money shame. He quit his job, cashed in his 401k and now he and his boyfriend have moved to New Mexico, just outside of Santa Fe.

“I’m starting my life over, but it’s going to be a whole new adventure, a whole new lifestyle,” Puskarich says. “I haven’t felt like I’ve had a purpose and I feel like I’m supposed to be helping people, I just don’t know what that is yet. So I’m going to figure that out. It’s not about the money anymore.”

Whether it’s a big lifestyle change or just simply opening up to someone, Lally says there is always light at the end of the tunnel. She says it comes as long as we recognize the issue in front of us and approach it from a place of understanding.

“The last time I saw my brother was in a financial meeting and I shamed him. I literally shamed the crap out of the guy,” Lally says.

Lally says that 100 percent of the profit from the sales of “Money Detox” will go toward organizations that work in suicide prevention.”For me, I live from a lot of service. I earn a living through my work, and I want people to read it,” she says. If that helps them read it, great.If that makes people want to buy the book, awesome. This is for a higher purpose, not my pocket.”

That purpose? Helping people to recognize their pain and to overcome their money shame.

“Everyone knows that friend who is a bigshot, who picks up the tab, who drives the Mercedes, who is spending outside their means,” she says.”That’s not the answer. You can’t fix money problems with money.”

Tammy Lally’s “Money Detox: Your Invitation to Liberation” is scheduled for release this month.

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