Just last month, right before I turned 48, I opened up an IRA. For you see, in all my years of working, earning a paycheck, and yes, sometimes even saving a bit of it–I had absolutely nothing set aside for retirement.

I am not going to beat myself up about that; for the entirety of my working life, I have been employed with very small businesses that did not offer a 401K, and up until a decade ago, I was mostly living paycheck to paycheck. Luckily, I did not have student loans to contend with (if anyone is curious, not that you need my credentials–I barely have an associate degree from a community college, and even that took me ten years!), and I did not have a car payment, because back in 2010 I bought a used little 2005 Toyota Matrix that I have driven into the ground. It’s still in our driveway today! And speaking of “us,” many years later, I am in a partnership where both of us have solid employment, and we were able to buy a house outright. Which I realize is a massive privilege. That major purchase, however, mostly drained our savings, and so we basically had to start from scratch two years ago.

And so last month, I was finally in a position to start putting some money aside for retirement. And that is when I realized that I know nothing about managing my finances. Especially when I read an article that said by 50 years of age, we should have a cool 600K in our retirement funds.

W H A T.

I don’t have 600K in that account! I don’t even have the tiniest fraction of that! I went to Facebook to consult the masses, and while some of you are doing great (yay!), most of you don’t have that kind of savings, either! Which was, on the one hand, nice to learn I am not alone, but on the other… I feel pretty anxious for all of us!

Enter my friend Hayley.

The TLDR; story is that Hayley makes soap and sells it on the internet (Ývan’s favorites from amongst her offerings are The Hermit and Heima, and I love her sugar scrubs for my feets!) But that doesn’t even begin to give you a glimpse into what a canny, creative, compassionate human she is. And a wise dispenser of advice! Hayley has a way of taking the practical sort of subject that it might pain you to think about otherwise, and she makes it not only palatable, but inspirational, and most importantly–she makes it seem doable.

Who better, then, to gently talk to us about …money? And you have to imagine I am saying the word “money” as an incensed John Mulaney does in that bit where his college is calling and wants MONEY. It won’t let me link to it but look it up because that tone is the way thinking about money makes me feel sometimes!

Even thinking about money is scary as hell and talking about it can be immensely awkward, so Hayley, I am incredibly grateful to you for writing the following for our Ten Things series. Especially as we are talking about money, and I didn’t even pay you to do this! You are a generous soul and I am so appreciative of all you do.


Ten Things About Money From Hayley Jay Croom

Confession: I am a fifty-something micro business owner, with a house & a car & all the trappings of adulthood. And I am, at this moment, fucking broke. I say this not out of some compulsion to overshare, but to make it super clear that I am just three raccoons in a greying meatsuit, and not some financial whiz with all the answers and none of the worries. I’m wading through this capitalist hellscape right alongside you. I have been broker than this before, and fully expect to be so again, and in between there will be some more money, and then it will be gone.

Unless we have incredibly good fortune, we’ll all struggle with money at some point in our lives. Money is fluid, capricious, and subject to all manner of unforeseen circumstances. But just because we’re struggling, it doesn’t follow that we have to panic.

There are lots of spooky scary things slinking in the shadows, but our money health doesn’t have to be one of them. If the thought of even thinking about your financial nuts & bolts is terrifying, here are ten things that might help. Let it be known that I am in no way a qualified financial advisor, nor should anything I write here be taken as financial advice. I’m just a weirdo who found some ways to make money less awful for myself. A LOT of the following assumes certain levels of stability and access to intangible resources that I know are not common to everyone. These are not answers to everyone’s money problems, just some tools that might help some of us.

All images from This Might Hurt Tarot © Isabella Rotman 2019


1. We carry our families’ stories about money, but we don’t have to accept those inheritances.

How our parents & other adults treated & talked about money as we were growing up has a huge influence on our own ideas and habits surrounding our finances. We can mirror our family’s patterns, because it’s all we know & it’s comfortable (even when it isn’t), or we can chase the polar opposite and find ourselves foundering in totally unfamiliar and sometimes just as dangerous financial waters. Our lives as GenXers, Millennials, and Gen Z are completely different from what our parents & grandparents experienced, and our available tools are as well. What worked for our families in the past is likely impossible now for us, & their advice, while maybe well-intentioned, can often get us into even more trouble. It’s up to us to do the work & find our own financial path through this modern wilderness.



2. Money is neutral, just one tool in our arsenal. So is credit.

Being rich isn’t an automatic win at life, & struggling with money doesn’t make us bad people. Wanting more money isn’t a moral failing; money is a necessary tool in modern western society, and we need to learn how to use it to create the life we want. If you’ve grown up in a household where money was a point of friction, it can be hard to see it as a neutral mechanism. Being broke can be frightening, but having money can be just as triggering when we don’t trust ourselves to make “good” decisions with it, or when we’ve seen money make monsters out of people. A lot of us with money trauma are set against using credit cards, or taking out loans, because the prospect of instant access to money we don’t have feels too tempting, or because we saw our parents abuse credit cards and pay the literal price. Credit can be tricky to manage, but can also give us breathing room, especially in the beginning of our money journey while we set up better systems for ourselves. (I want to take a sec to acknowledge that our current system of credit ratings is biased and deliberately manipulated to keep people playing the credit game for fear of losing access to the loan industry. But this is our market-driven dystopia, and we have to live in it for the moment, so let’s use the system in ways that lift us up without grinding other people down.)

3. Focusing on our own values & priorities makes managing our money more rewarding.

It doesn’t matter what we should be planning for & focusing on; if those things aren’t important to us, we won’t care enough to make them happen. The old model of buying a college education, buying a new car, buying a house, going on big vacations, is laughably far from reach for most of us, even when we’re making “grown-up” money, and not something we all categorically even want anymore, so it’s time we let ourselves stop chasing it. Instead, we need to focus our spending on the things that really matter to us, both the practical (safe housing, our preferred foods, transportation that gets us where we need to go) and the philosophical (supporting nonprofits, buying local, taking classes). Obviously, some things are nonnegotiables; we can’t just decide to stop paying off our student loans because they no longer speak to our hearts. But we can take stock of where our money goes and what we can change about that to make our expenditures less soul-crushing and more satisfying.






4. We have to look at everything before we can make it better.

Avoidance gets us in more trouble than anything; we have to be honest with ourselves about our habits & situation. Taking stock & laying out all of our expenses & debts is the first step to finding a way to make things work better. Here are two tools that I’ve used for the past few years, that have made a huge difference in my money awareness:

  • This dirt-basic Google sheet. Save a copy for yourself, and edit the categories to reflect what your own spending & income looks like. I have two of these sheets, one for my business & one for my personal expenses, and every dime I spend gets logged. It’s very analog, and yeah, there are plenty of shinier apps and programs out there that will auto import your bank information. But doing it manually, once a week, with a nice cup of coffee and a little treat, means I’m up close & very personal with my finances. It’s impossible to pretend that I’m not spending too much on restaurants & putting too little towards my savings goals. It makes me look at all of my bank and credit card accounts every week, so I’m rarely caught by surprise with overdrafts or late fees.
  • The free dashboard at Undebt.it. Before Oh My Dollar turned me on to Undebt.it, I would throw haphazard amounts of money at my debts, like handfuls of mud at the barn door. It worked about as well as mud to get my debts paid off; I’d pay down a bunch, leave myself short on cash, and have to put charges right back on my cards to cover expenses. So setting up a plan where I could see how steady, planned progress could eat the proverbial mountain was amazing. It’s so much less appealing to just charge something or miss a payment when I can see how many more months that would add to my debt-free goal.


5. Your budget isn’t my budget.

Once we’re tracking all of our expenses & income, we can start figuring out a budget for ourselves; we can see our spending patterns, and start planning for them ahead of time, instead of scrambling to cover bills. If I know I typically always spend $50 a week on gas, it becomes easier to make sure I have that cash on hand. If we’ve decided that $400 a month is too much to be spending on going out, we can set ourselves a goal of only spending $300. A budget isn’t set in stone, even one we make for ourselves, and we’re inevitably going to have unexpected expenses. But having a framework for what we’re aiming to spend where helps us find room for things like bigger goals, savings, and retirement.



6. Make your money make sense for you, for now.

We don’t have to fix all of our financial puzzles right now. Chances are, there’s something in your current budget that isn’t ideal, or that you’re unable to do at the scale you want. Maybe your car payment is higher than you really feel comfortable with, or you’re not contributing to your 401k yet, or you can’t seem to save for a rainy day. Anything we do is better than doing nothing, so take $5 a week and stash it in a savings account. Set up a 1% withdrawal to your 401k. See if you can refinance your car loan to a lower rate. Starting with small steps and getting comfortable with those makes taking larger steps later more possible. We don’t need to have thousands of dollars in our hand to start changing our financial lives for the better.


7. Make your money work for you, for the future.

Despite what we grouchy GenXers have always espoused, working forever isn’t really an option or a goal for anyone. Refusing to save for our later years only makes them guaranteed shitshows, and foists stress and financial crises onto our families. Think about what later life might look like for you, & what you might have to account for, & work backwards. Use retirement calculators to figure out what you might already have in play, like Social Security & existing retirement accounts, and how much more per month you’d likely need. Utilize any & all 401k options offered through your employer (ESPECIALLY employer matching), or if you’re self employed, start a Roth or SEP IRA, the sooner the better. Again, we don’t have to throw thousands of dollars into these plans right away; every dollar we invest is a dollar more than we had.

8. Chase the dopamine.

This was the really transformative part for me – realizing that I LOVE crossing things off on lists & spreadsheets. So setting up my financial tracking with lots of boxes to check and visible, quantifiable progress reporting like Undebt.it made it super fizzy and something I now actively look forward to doing every week. Figure out what gets you excited & motivates you – stickers, pie charts, spreadsheets, body doubling with a friend; and automate what doesn’t – bill pay, automatic distributions, retirement contributions.

9. Don’t be afraid of the taxman.

Given the ever changing and arcane nonsense that is our tax code, messing up your taxes at some point is inevitable. But putting off filing only ends in tears & penalties, so we have to put our big people pants on once a year and do the proverbial thing. Take time every January to set yourself up for success by collecting W2s and tax forms as they come in the mail, look over the new 1040s before you start filing, & file for free online. Looking at last year’s tax return can show you what you need to have ready for this year. And if you really don’t want to manage it yourself, hire a qualified CPA who will take care of federal, state, & local returns, & help you make adjustments to ensure you don’t owe or overpay the following year. Unless you are actively trying to defraud the IRS, no one will come to arrest you if you make a mistake.

10. It’s okay if you hit a rough patch, just keep going.

Have I mentioned that I’m broke right now? Even with all my planning & utilizing all these great tips, I’ve had to put some things on credit cards and cut back on my savings for the past month or two. It happens. Inevitably we miss a payment, have an unexpected expense, lose hours, change jobs, & set ourselves back. That’s life, babes, not a moral failing on our part. But that also doesn’t mean what we were doing wasn’t working & we should just chuck it all. Take a deep breath, touch grass, and try again. Go back to #4, make some adjustments, and get back on your plan. It’s just money, & with a little effort, we can make it work for us. We won’t get rich, but we just might get by.

Find Hayley: Paintbox Soapworks website // Here Be Hedgewitches Substack

BONUS: Hayley mentioned some great financial podcasts to me in some of our chats, so I wanted to be sure to share them with you all as well! Meadowsweet Money // Oh My Dollar! // Planet Money

BONUS BONUS! Did you know that some of our favorite people have interviewed Hayley? Learn more about this savvy saponatrix at Allison Felus’ I’ll Follow You and Nuri McBride’s Aromatica De Profundis.

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