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MONEY MAKE-OVER

Fund-Raiser Needs to Accentuate the Positive

April 24, 2002|JEANETTE MARANTOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Suzanne Morgan is living proof that money doesn't buy happiness--or even freedom from worry.

The 40-year-old professional fund-raiser is making $100,000 a year, has almost no debt, is happily married with two sons and is moving from Burbank to Las Vegas to live in a city she loves and to work at a job she enjoys.

Oh, and there's the $120,000 trust fund for her older son's college education and the million-dollar inheritance she expects to get someday.

So, what's to make over? Nothing, said financial planner Ronnie Kahn, except Morgan's attitude about money.

"She's carrying a lot of negative messages about money that keep her from relaxing and appreciating all that she's done," Kahn said.

Those feelings surfaced after Kahn suggested Morgan do a series of exercises to probe her feelings and beliefs about money. It's an exercise others could benefit from as well, Kahn said. For many, money is a visceral issue, and exploring deep-seated attitudes and fears can reveal a lot about how a person handles his or her finances.

For instance, when Kahn asked Morgan to spend 21/2 minutes writing down "every word, idea, image, thought or experience that the word 'money' brings to mind," the results weren't pretty.

"Judgment, unhappiness, pain, tired," she wrote, "change in my pocket, mom's coupon money in the cigar box in the kitchen drawer, deserving, mom's purse, my electric guitar, paycheck."

Morgan knows she's well off and shouldn't worry, but she can't help feeling she's just a step from poverty. She feels compelled to have two jobs, when what she wants is more time to spend with her family and to work on personal projects.

Her attitudes about money seem to come from her father, a self-employed electrical engineer who emphasized the importance of saving and thrift. One of her earliest memories, she said, was when she was 5 and asked her father for $5 from her college fund to buy a Captain Action Adventure doll.

"I had to go through this whole ordeal with him concerning paying it back with interest, and it was clear from his tone of voice that he was not pleased about this," she said.

Morgan believes that as a child she turned her father's "prudent use of money" message into a judgment that equates wealth with self- worth.

"My parents are not like that," she said, "and it's not true for me rationally, but emotionally, it's like 'poverty is bad, wealth is good.'"

Morgan's emotional tug-of-war over money obscures the fact that she has done a good job of managing her finances over the years.

"The basics of financial planning are 'save more, spend less and don't do anything stupid,' and I think you've done all three," Kahn said.

It helps that Charles Morgan, her husband since 1998, shares her frugal lifestyle. Money was never an issue for him when he was growing up.

"The impression I got from my parents was that some years were good and some not so good, and you just take it as it comes," he said. "I just didn't think about money. If I wanted something, I'd wait for Christmas or my birthday." He studied art in college and eventually got a master's degree in filmmaking and photography from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He stayed in Las Vegas with his parents, doing art and working part time as an adjunct faculty member at local colleges. He made about $15,000 a year, "which was fine with me. It was enough to do what I needed to do."

Now that they're moving back to Las Vegas, he's found another teaching job that should bring in the same amount of income.

Charles Morgan's wait-and-see attitude is a good foil for his wife's tendency to worry, Kahn said. He noted that Suzanne Morgan always is looking to the future, "and sometimes 'future people' work on fear more than reality. I try to get people to have a financial vision of where they want to be, so they can be moving toward something positive instead of moving against fear or pain."

In Suzanne Morgan's case, that could be spending more time with her children and husband or working on her own art project instead of promoting someone else's.

It's important for Suzanne Morgan to deal with her anxieties about money, Kahn said, because they're standing in the way of her dream of working for herself as a full-time fund-raising consultant.

She's already doing consulting work part time, making $16,000 to $17,000 a year to go with the $85,000 salary that comes with her new job managing and building the countywide library arts system in Las Vegas. Her rational side would like to cut back to one job, but her emotional side is afraid to let go.

Kahn believes that Morgan, with living expenses of about $45,000 a year, could easily support her family if she were to do consulting full time.

But that's a big jump for someone like her, he said, because of her fears about being poor.

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