It’s a slightly awkward topic, but let’s talk about the money mistakes gay men make, and the corresponding solutions for them. In the privacy of a confidential therapy or coaching session, guys can “let their hair down” and discuss things with me that stress them out, things that they might not want to talk about with even close friends or family members. One of these is topics is money management. Whether it’s a younger man just starting his career out of college, or even a middle-aged guy, money stress can cause anxiety about the future, or frustration in the present.
Part of how I help clients manage this is a discussion of their career strategy and their earnings that are planned to evolve and rise over time. For most people, how much you earn, and the lifestyle that goes with it (where you live, what you drive, what you wear, what you do for fun) depends largely on what you do for a living, and this varies quite a bit, especially in a big urban area like Los Angeles. But I find that two guys who have similar jobs, or similar incomes, can manage things differently, with varying outcomes in terms of how secure they are in the long term.
After over 20 years of observation in my work, here are the five most common errors that I see in terms of gay men and money management, with some tips and solutions on how to address them:
1. Not planning for retirement – It’s true that many Americans do not save at all, or enough, for retirement. Some do, through 401-K or 403-b plans at work, and that’s great. But some guys I work with don’t even contribute to those at work, and some of the guys I work with who are freelance professionals don’t set aside anything from their income for the long term. The earlier you start doing this – as in, like, your 20s! – the better you will be, due to the idea of “compounded” interest – you earn interest on the interest you earned. This can “snowball” (yes, I know that word means something else sometimes to gay men J) over time, earning you a progressively-larger nest egg for retirement. Since I work freelance myself and don’t have a 401-K, I set aside 10 percent of my income for retirement investments each week, which is a tip from the classic book, “Think and Grow Rich”, from the 1920s, that recommended this. That is generally the rule of thumb percentage, but I know some financial planners would say to do more like 15 percent or more, depending on your age, income, and other circumstances (books by (lesbian) financial planner Suze Orman, or those by Jane Bryant Quinn, can help also with this –but not Dave Ramsey, who is known to be anti-gay). I can’t give investment advice, but I really like Vanguard.com Total Stock Market Index funds or “target retirement date” funds, because they are easy to use online and their administrative fees are low. Every investment has some risk, though, and you have to weather the ups and downs of the financial markets and think very long term (decades). But you’re not exercising good self-esteem and self-care if you ignore your long-term savings for when you’re in retirement, which for our generation, could be a long time between your 60’s and death. Planning ahead now protects your standard of living then. SOLUTION: Learn about retirement plans from books or websites, and stick to investing in them consistently.
2. Not realizing the costs of drinks/drugs – It’s just habit for a lot of guys to go out for cocktails occasionally (except for those in recovery). Because the bars and clubs are so much a part of gay culture across the world, as a group we sometimes forget how much we are spending. Add in gay men’s propensity for this-or-that drug, and the cost is higher. To avoid financial pitfalls, it’s important to have just an “awareness” of how much you’re spending on that one line item in your budget. If there is a gap between how much you’re spending on that and how much you’d like to be, it’s time to close the gap. Instead of a night at the bars, which can cost as much per person as dinner at a 4-star restaurant, consider going to a movie, a local theatre show, or a comedy show, or having an in-home game night, at least occasionally, to trim the budget. Then a full “night out” can be done sparingly. Don’t let the hype of bars and clubs drain your cash without being clear on how much that’s costing. SOLUTION: Vary your leisure and entertainment activities, and only spend as much as you can comfortably afford. Suggest specific alternatives when friends just want to “go out”.
3. Impulse vs. planned buying – Gay stereotypes aside, many gay men like to shop. But just showing up at a mall or a street with boutiques can prompt “impulse” purchases with money you hadn’t planned on spending. While occasionally this can be fun and spontaneous, ideally there would be a line item in your monthly budget for “miscellaneous/spontaneous”. Instead, think about your work wardrobe, your casual clothes, and your household products needs (don’t forget the surprising cost of grooming products). Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store. Comparison-shop online for the best prices on suits, accessories, housewares, appliances, or electronics. With planning, you end up not spending any more than you “have to” to get what you need (or want). SOLUTION: Think about what you can afford to buy, now, before you go to shop – this avoids building up credit card balances.
4. Not planning ahead strategically for the year – People often talk of keeping a monthly budget, but I actually use a table in Microsoft Word that charts the 12 months of the calendar year, and marks certain “expense months”. These are the months when annual car insurance is due, or other unusually large expenses for those certain months – vacation, the holiday season, etc. By budgeting with the perspective of an “at-a-glance” chart of the year, you can plan ahead and stay solvent every month. SOLUTION: Plan a 12-month financial budget and monitor your savings balance to be ready for months with unusual expenditures.
5. Co-dependence and boundaries with others – I hear from clients sometimes about how they are influenced, coerced, or manipulated into giving much of their hard-earned money to other adults who are not truly in need. This can include parents who rely on their adult children rather than come to terms with their own spending, partners who are not even seeking work and relying on the working partner for support, and over-indulging friends who are not in need. While this may vary, I find “neither borrower nor lender be.” Usually, if someone in your life needs a loan this month, the circumstances that got him there will not end next month, or the month after. This is especially true if there is a drug or alcohol problem involved. In session, I work with clients on their budget for charities, donations, and helping others – but I also help them with assertive communication skills to set limits and boundaries against being taken advantage of. SOLUTION: Put yourself first, then help others as circumstances allow, but always with healthy boundaries and clear expectations of each other.
Whatever your current challenges, more in-depth solutions that are customized for you require counseling or coaching sessions to change the scenario for the better over time. Let me know if working with me on this might interest you: Call/text 310-339-5778 or email me at Ken@GayTherapyLA.com for more information on office, phone, or Skype appointments.
What are some of YOUR money challenges? Tell me in a comment, below.