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Video: Victim of Madoff reflects on lessons learned

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    >>> it's time for a serious talk about a topic that is often taboo, you and your relationship with money. no matter how much you have or don't have is a part of kwour life.

    >> how can we create a relationship with money? author jean lost hgeneen roth wrote the book "lost and found." the bernie madoff, that destroyed people's lives.

    >> it was horrible. it was horrible. we woke up one morning to a phone call to hear that we had lost 30 years of life saifgsvings, and it was devastating.

    >> you and your husband when you say we, right?

    >> yeah.

    >> you say devastating. the way we equate it to how we think of food i find fascinating. we buy shoes and hide them under the bed so our husband doesn't see them. there are correlations, aren't there?

    >> yeah, there are.

    >> what did you discover during this process? at first you went through anger and then you started discovering things.

    >> i went through anger, devastation and shock, which is what a lot of people are going through on different levels right now because of this economic downturn.

    >> and the older people can't work anymore. you're still able to work.

    >> then i sort of crawled my way out of it by focusing on what i did have instead of what i didn't have, what i had left. which are more of the tiny things every single day, like being able to breathe and see and drink tea out of my favorite mugs and watch hummingbirds, hold my husband's hand.

    >> everybody gets that.

    >> everybody gets that and everybody has those in their lives.

    >> you've written about this again and again, but somehow food relates to money. a lot of us have the food issue. me.

    >> we all do did a different way.

    >> explain how that correlates.

    >> what happens with food is we have an emotional relationship with both food and money. and with food we go through, okay, i can eat that because it doesn't really count if i eat it standing up or if it's somebody else's plate or if it's off my kid's plate or like that. okay, i can buy that if i can advertise it over about 30 years at two cents a day, or if it's on sale it doesn't count. but the thing that both of them have in common is this feeling of not having enough, not having enough food. the one over there is always better than the one that's on my plate.

    >> it's human nature , isn't it?

    >> the black jacket i just saw is better than the two i just had or even the one i just had? there's always wanting.

    >> i bought things before on sale that i don't really like. but who cares because they're $14. you have to get it. i've eaten things i don't want because they're in the fridge.

    >> or they're free.

    >> or it's free, and after i'm done, i remember eating it, i didn't like it, but that's what i do.

    >> well, you look darn good. it's working for hoda. but don't try this at home.

    >> what does that tell you about a person, though?

    >> it says to me there is an emotional reason why they're doing what they're doing. i'm not going to go too deep into this.

    >> oh, let's do.

    >> but if you at least acknowledge that, if you just say, okay, then you can start making -- you don't have to make yourself nuts about what you're doing. you can say, okay, i'm lonely. i'm sad. i'm bored. but you know what? guess what? eating this piece of cake isn't going to make it better and neither is buying this thing.

    >> well, you're really smart, and your other book, "women, food and god," which is still a huge best seller and so many women connected with it, and it's all the things we care a lot about. it's terrific. i'm glad you came out with another one.

    >> thanks so much.

    >> i'm glad things are still on the mend for you and getting better. you have a lot of joy in your heart.

    >> yeah. and they can get better for everybody if we focus on what's not wrong.

    >> glass half full or half empty kind of thing. good

Image: "Lost and Found" book cover
TODAY books
updated 3/23/2011 8:44:27 PM ET 2011-03-24T00:44:27

When Geneen Roth and her husband lost their life savings, Roth joined the millions of Americans dealing with financial turbulence, uncertainty and abrupt reversals in their expectations. The resulting shock was the catalyst for her to explore how women's habits and behaviors around money — as with food — can lead to exactly the situations they most want to avoid. Here is an excerpt from Roth's new book, "Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money."

What was lost
I was standing in my kitchen wondering what to have for lunch when my friend Taj called.

“Sit down,” she said.

I thought she was going to tell me she had just gotten the haircut from hell. I laughed and said, “it can’t be that bad.”

But it was. Before the phone call I had 30 years of retirement savings in a “safe” fund with a brilliant financial guru. When I put down the phone, my savings was gone and my genius financial guru, Bernie Madoff, was in handcuffs. I felt as if I had died and, for some unknown reason, was still breathing.

Since Madoff’s arrest on charges of running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, I’ve read many articles about how we Madoff investors should have known what was going on, how believing in Madoff was no different from believing there were WMD in Iraq. And I wish I could say I had reservations about Madoof before “the Call.” I wish I could say I knew better about getting such consistently good returns, but I did not. Besides, everything I “knew better” about — stocks, smart financial advisers, real estate — had also proven disastrous: Our financial adviser embezzled a quarter of our money years ago, I lost another third in the stock market during the boom times, and we bought our house at the top of the market and sold at the bottom. Considering that, Madoff seemed like a respite — his fund showed occasional losses along with small, steady gains. (I’m keeping a list of people who want to be notified of our next investment so they can sprint in the other direction. Feel free to add your name.)

Rejecting the pursuit of shiny things
It was always more important for me to find work that I loved than to be rich. I know this is an attitude that reflects enormous privilege, since so much of the world lives on less than a dollar a day and must concern itself with getting food. But I was (and still am) unspeakably fortunate: I’ve always had clean water, sweaters to spare, more than enough to eat.

Although my parents were so poor when they married that they ran out of food money each week by Saturday night, my father worked his way up the corporate ladder — and by the time I was 15, our main metric of worth, both in the community and with one another, was our collection of new, shiny things. Cars, shoes, popular people. But like many baby boomers I spent my college years protesting the Vietnam War, rejecting consumerism and various other activities (like hiring a plastic surgeon to break my nose so that it could look like everyone else’s) for the many iterations of “finding myself”: therapy, living in India, and meditation. In my late 20s, I spent a year washing dishes and being a maid at a local inn and two years as an avocado-and-cheese sandwich maker in a health-food store so that I could spend early mornings writing. After that, I started my first groups for compulsive eaters in my friends Harry and Sue’s house; since I was working as a nanny and living in the bedroom next to their 2-year-old daughter, they gave me the use of their living room to begin what seemed like a far-fetched idea: meeting with women like me to explore our relationships to food and weight.

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Was I able to reject the pursuit of shiny things because I knew that if I ran out of money or luck, my father could rescue me? I don’t know because I don’t know what it would have been like to grow up in any other family. What I do know is that I saw what money cost: parents who were cruel to each other; addiction to alcohol and drugs; infidelity; physical and sexual abuse; and self-loathing all around. It was impossible to know if the pursuit of more caused the wretchedness, but the connection between misery and money was scalded in my brain — as well as the need to find out if there was more to being alive than being rich and sleeping with your best friend’s wife or husband.

Unconscious beliefs about money
Up to that moment, I had had the luxury of not paying much attention to money, partly because I was making enough to pay my bills, after which I’d put what was left over in a savings account, and partly because I had met and married my partner, Matt, and I relegated the money part of our lives to him. He made more money than I — enough to put a down payment on a small house in Berkeley — and I assumed that people who could afford to buy a house knew what they were doing in the financial arena. Not only did I feel money dumb, but I also felt that focusing on money — either on ways to make more of it or on how and where to invest it — was complicated, shallow, and spiritually bankrupt.

Although I wasn’t aware of this until recently, I didn’t believe that it was possible to be interested in consciousness and interested in money, to care about deforestation and care about money. I believed that any kind of awakening from what my teachers called samsara, or the delusion of conditioned reality, needed to be separate from money, as if money were as deadly as the plague and even thinking about it would lead me to being one of the bad guys. So I kept making choices based on my unconscious beliefs, and since those beliefs lumped being an aspirant of the contemplative life with remaining ignorant about money, I chose ignorance again and again. Since I couldn’t admit that I was making money and was therefore, like all the moneyed people who I was convinced had no integrity, I just stopped thinking about it. And I stopped taking any responsibility for having it or deciding what to do about it.

From "Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money" by Geneen Roth. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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