Me vs. Money — A Love Story

I have a weird relationship with money.

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All my life I had a weird relationship with money.

When I was 7, I asked my father — who just came back from his first trip to the U.S. — for a dollar. He gave me one.

Then I asked for another one. He refused to give me one, saying, “One is enough,” and put his dollars on the bookshelf.

I got angry.

So — when nobody was looking — I climbed up the bookshelf and stole that second dollar.

Two days later my father found out and punished me. I was grounded for seven days.

When I was at school, most people thought I was rich. They read about my father on the news, who was a big Russian entrepreneur at that time, and assumed that I had ‘all the money in the world’.

My family lived a class entrepreneurial life: one year — you go to Tenerife for a month, the next year — you don’t have enough money to buy a winter jacket.

But I never told anyone about that. I guess I was too ashamed to admit that we didn’t have enough money. And — whenever I had spare cash — I paid for my friends at McDonald’s, reinforcing the narrative that I had money.

My 8th-grade allowance was $100/month.

When I went to college, I didn’t even know how much it cost.

My father sent me $1,000/month to cover expenses — which I all spent in the first week on books, wine, and some more books.

I was a reading drunk at college. And I lived the rest of the month scrapping pennies.

When I found out how much my dad was paying for college (and the fact that he borrowed some of the money for me to go there), I dropped out.

I wasn’t interested in business. Definitely not to the point of putting my father into debt.

Once I dropped out and went back to Moscow, I had a full-time job. My father gave me a small allowance to buy food, and I spent all of my salary ($1,000/mo) on renting an apartment.

My uncle told me, “There are many ways you can spend your salary at 18, and I don’t think that an apartment is one of those,” but I didn’t listen.

I wanted independence. And having an apartment was key to that.

A few years later I found the joy of credit cards.

“Oh my god, I can spend thousands of dollars, and pay just the minimum payment?!”

I thought I discovered the secret of life.

I took my friends to expensive restaurants and made an impression on people.

I wore expensive clothes. I started a couple of “businesses” (which didn’t make any money), and I told myself that being in debt is normal for any serious entrepreneur.

I was a moron.

The result: over the next few years I got into debilitating debt, which I still pay off.

It wasn’t until last December (2019) that I realized that I have a serious problem with money.

I never could work simply “for the money”. I wish I could, but I am not wired that way. Maybe that’s why none of my business attempts work. I am too creative.

But last December I realized, I hit rock bottom. I had more debt I could “just pay minimum payments” on. I thought about declaring bankruptcy.

But I couldn’t stop spending.

One night I was having dinner when my girlfriend asked me why I was so fidgety.

I looked at her and burst into tears.

I showed her my bank account and told the truth: I couldn’t stop spending money on her because I thought she’d leave me.

She called me an idiot.

Four months have gone after that incident. I’ve changed my approach to money completely. This year (2020) — I am working hard to repay my debt, and learned to save money.

Some of the tricks I use:

  • Pay-Yourself-First: I tax myself by 30% on each paycheck and save this money.
  • Pay-Debtors-Second: After PYF and monthly expenses, I take everything else and pay off my debts, using a “snowball effect” (paying the fastest debt first).

I realized that all this time I was in complete denial.

I thought I knew how money worked (I didn’t). I thought that “fake it until you make it” is the best approach to business and life (it’s not). And I thought that I can impress my way to love, friendships and success (not true).

Earlier this year my father went bankrupt. And he gave me a lot of “don’t repeat my mistakes” type of advice.

Most of the friends I impressed don’t talk to me anymore. I exited my (unprofitable, but very tiresome) business and moved to another country.

I am sitting on a balcony, overlooking the river Thames while writing these words.

And I feel that I’ve grown up.

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