What does money mean to me?

by Michelle Kwok ’98

Here is a dark secret of mine: I have been waiting for the market to crash. However, not even in my wildest dreams has it occurred to me that the housing bubble would burst, the financial market would collapse, unemployment would rise to a 15-year high, and my own portfolio would lose about 40% in the last few months.

Of course, my intention isn’t for the world economy to suffer from the worst recession since the Great Depression. I just want the housing bubble to burst so our family will be able to afford a nice house! Having an MD after my name and an Ivy League MBA after my husband’s, I feel like we ought to be able to afford a sizeable home in an attractive area — maybe even a “McMansion.” The price hikes in the last few years have made this impossible. Thus, I have been impatiently waiting for housing prices to “adjust” themselves.

As a psychiatrist who spends all day asking other people questions, I have been digging deeper into my own desire of wanting a “ginormous” house. Why is a house important to me? Why do I feel entitled to have this house? Why does it bother me that I can’t do it? Why do I want more money? What does money mean to me?

In general, there are two subjects that patients in psychodynamic therapy would rather not discuss: sex and money. But, given the choice, most people would rather discuss their sexual dysfunction over their issues with money. Money brings up all kinds of feelings, and it sure makes relationships messy, to say the least. For instance, who pays for dates was a hotly discussed topic when I lived in Browning Hall. In a way, many of us felt that if they guy paid for our dinner, we were somehow inferior to him, or that we then owed the guy something. If the woman insisted on paying, somehow that would hurt the guy’s feelings. But going Dutch seemed so cold!

While I have moved on beyond that — being married makes the question of who pays for dinner a non-issue — my view of money has been enlightened due to our current financial crisis. I am relieved I am nowhere near retirement age and have plenty of time to build up our portfolio again, and perhaps this may be the only time I am able to afford more than two shares of Google. At the same time, I am also struggling with this question: Where does my comfort lie? Given the volatility of today’s market, I don’t want my hopes and happiness to be connected with how much money I have lost/gained!

I don’t have all the answers. But, life is a journey and perhaps the journey is meant to be explored with an inquisitive mind — and to be traveled with thrifty habits.


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