Leap into the Void

July 23, 2009

I never thought that facing my worst financial fear would change my life…for the better.

Kathryn Rosko

Kathryn Rosko

But what really shocked me is that my shift in perspective actually gave me greater control over my finances. Let’s just say that in the last month of my life, I’ve been humbled to realize the absolute power of facing your fear, wrapping your arms around it, and doing something about it.
First, some background…I work full-time as a stay-at-home mom, and part-time as a book publicist, which allows me to be at home with my two young children (who won’t be in anything close to “full-time” school for a few years now), and keep my foot firmly in the door of my professional life.

This scenario also means that I am dependent on my husband as the major breadwinner of our family, which is not always easy to accept after many years of supporting myself. We have a mortgage and a home equity loan, and your usual array of credit cards, car payments, preschool tuition, and general bills, and let me tell you: my little part-time gig doesn’t come close to enough to make ends meet. However, I found it excruciating to hand over the financial reigns to someone else (wonderful and smart though he is!). Our styles of working and accounting could not be more different, which just adds another layer of fun to the equation.

Yet, as soon as I had almost accepted my situation, the recession hit, and I began to worry about our financial security. Sure enough, my husband did indeed get laid off—with basically no warning at all. For him, things at work went from: “You are doing super!” to “We need your company car back today” in a flash.

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. My husband seemed far less troubled by this new development than I did. He said, and I quote, that this was nothing but “a nuisance.”

One thing I have come to learn from being married and having children is that you have just about zero control over what someone else is going to do, so you have to focus on exerting the control that you do have in your own life. In my case, that meant taking control of my financial future on my own.

Right around this time, the New York Times Magazine published their money issue, complete with Suze Orman on the cover in a green silk shirt.

As they say, timing is everything. I marched down to my local library the next day and checked out the only choice for me: “Women and Money.” I am a reader of fiction, and usually dodge most nonfiction, but I blazed through this book and took notes! This was a first step for me.

Even though I have always been the house accountant in my family, balanced the checkbook dutifully, and paid my bills on time (for the most part), there was so much about my financial life that I avoided. I bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have more savings, but I did nothing about it, claiming “we just don’t have enough after we pay our bills.” I knew that since I was no longer working full-time, my retirement accounts were stagnating—but thought that I’d just have to pay more into it when I worked full-time again, knowing full well that that will be years from now.

So, in the midst of my husband’s unemployment and complete uncertainty about our financial future, I took a leap and made some things happen. First of all, I combined all of the random savings accounts I had established in this weird bout of “allocation” (e.g., this account will be the one for our vacation savings; this one we will put our children’s cash gifts into, etc.), into one account.

This took all of 5 minutes at my credit union, and it was such a relief to see all the money in one place. I can’t tell you how much time I used to spend transferring money from account to account. Madness! Next, I created an ING Direct savings account, and will be doing a monthly direct deposit into it. Again, this took all of 5 minutes online.

Next, I changed my IRA into a Roth IRA, which basically means that I can deposit after-tax dollars into this account, and then when I choose to take money out of the account, I will not be taxed on it. I will be doing a monthly direct deposit into it to build up an actual retirement account. I only need to change the allocations of where I want the money invested—the advice I’ve been given is that a 90%/10% breakdown of index fund and international index fund is a good bet—but I figure this will take about 10 minutes of my time, as well. So, between a book, one visit to the credit union, and two online transactions that took less than ½ hour, I started feeling better about my financial future.

And you know the ironic part of all this? Since I started on the new road to financial power and prosperity, I have been less worried about where the money will come from, and strangely, we seem to have more than enough to tackle bills as well as random and exciting unexpected expenses like a new alternator in the car ($750—yahoo!).

I am doing some, well, slightly new-agey things, too. I created and am repeating on a daily basis my very own financial mantra. That’s right, folks. The power of positive thought! Why not? I like a dash of the magic with the pragmatic, and it seems to be working for me.

Someone recently said something very powerful to me: Sometimes, you need to take a leap off of the cliff and grow wings on the way down. I have really come to know that action—even if it strikes you at first as ludicrous—is really where the amazing things happen. Even in your bank account.

Kathryn Rosko has worked extensively in theater and publishing. After working on producing and raising money for new musicals in Philadelphia, a love of literature took her to Princeton, NJ, where she wrote copy on subjects ranging from hermeneutics to the Isenheim Altarpiece. She has also worked for publishers John Wiley & Sons, followed by Bantam, where she perfected ad copy on thrillers and bodice-rippers. In her most recent full-time position, she served as Director of Publicity for Princeton University Press. She is now the mother of two very attention-hungry children, who helped create another career shift into freelance publicity work and writing.