Last week, I wrote about Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s “Cognitive Behavioral Solution” and how I could have applied some of his strategies to my experience as a student pilot back in 2016.
After I finished that piece, I began to think about some of the most important ways that I could apply this idea of “change your mind, change your life” to other aspects of my day-to-day. When I sat down to think about what factors in my life triggered the most anxiety, the first thing that came to mind was: money.
I think this is probably the case for most people. After all, most things in life revolve around money. Where you work, what you do in your free time, what you wear, what you drive… it can even dictate who you spend time with (ever choose to not invite somebody out to dinner because you know they will say that they can’t afford it).
Recently, my relationship with money has become an emotional rollercoaster. After buying our house and doing some renovation work, not only had I drained my savings but I had put myself into some substantial debt for the first time ever. I would stay awake at night worrying about my financial issues; how was I going to get money to pay off my debt as quickly as possible. As someone who had been raised with a very conservation view on money, owing money with no savings was pretty much the worst case scenario. Once it starts, it is really hard to climb your way back out.
To make matters worse, I was drowning at my current job and very unhappy with my life. I knew I wanted to make a change but felt tied to my paycheck and feared that if I didn’t climb the ladder and make more money, I would be in debt forever.
It wasn’t until I took the time to truly understand why money made me so anxious, that I was able to begin fixing the situation in a healthy way and take back control of my finances, and my life.
Why did debt make me so anxious? This was a question that my therapist asked me a couple of weeks ago and I did not know how to answer it. My first response was: I was always taught to never spend outside of my means. Growing up, my parents did a great job teaching me the value of financial responsibility. From a young age, they instilled in me that the importance of savings and the dangers of credit cards. In fact, I did not have a real credit card until I was 25 years old. I had learned how to live without the ability to overspend which kept me debt free for the first few years of my “adult” life.
But as time went on, things in my life began to change. When AJ and I decided to buy our first home, we used our savings towards a down payment which meant that all of the home expenses that came up had to be financed a different way. For the first time ever, I lost control of my finances with no savings to fall back on. And as any homeowner will tell you, things never seem to stop coming up. Every time I found myself getting back on track, I would get derailed with a new expense or issue. I was beginning to feel like I had fallen into a deep, deep hole that I was never going to get out of.
But the fact of the matter was that I was very capable of getting out of it… if I was actually willing to put the effort into it. Keeping myself awake at night worrying about my debt was doing nothing to help the situation. What I needed to do was be willing to accept my situation and start working on making it better. Part of which included realizing that it was going to take me time to pay off my debt and that was okay. You see, owing money only becomes a problem when you continue to pile on top of it. By getting my spending and finances under control, not only could I chip away consistently but I could also save some extra money at the same time.
But it was going to involve completely changing my relationship with money. So for the last two months, that is exactly what I have been doing. Below are the four main things that have helped me create a healthy, less anxious relationship with money:
- The Ten Percent Solution: when I was 24, my dad bought me David Chilton’s “The Wealthy Barber” – a simplified self-help book about personal finances. Back then, I read the first chapter and never picked it up again. I was young and the biggest financial stress in my life was paying rent. Fast forward four years to my 28-year old self, sitting down on a Friday afternoon to read about personal finances. Funny how life works. Anyways, one of the first few chapters addresses the importance of putting 10% of your monthly income into a long term investment. This was something that my dad had encouraged me to do when I got my first job out of college. Every two weeks I would have a small amount of money taken out of my account to go towards my mutual funds. Even after just 5 years, I saw the value in knowing that I had those funds as my security for the future. And even when I have gone through periods where my income was limited, I have always continued to invest in my mutual funds twice a month. Knowing that a small amount of money now can make a big impact for me down the road has helped to ease my mind a bit when it comes to stressing about our financial future.
- The Budget Mom and Envelope Budgeting: a huge shout out to Emily for encouraging me to follow @thebudgetmom on Instagram because she was pivotal in helping me fix my broken spending habits. After checking out her story and following her personal finance journey (she paid off $77k of debt in less than a year), I began doing my own paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting. Breaking my finances down week to week has majorly impacted my ability to save money AND pay down my debt. In fact, last month I was able to pay off my credit card completely (yay!). The key for me has been using cash and tracking everything that I spend day-to-day. By becoming more in tune with my spending habits, I was able to see where I was wasting a bunch of money and cut those bad habits out completely. And the best part? It is easy for me to make goals for myself each week/month in order to set aside a few bucks here and there. The amount that I was able to save in cash doing this for just last month was over $100.
- Defining Need v. Want: when it came to my anxiety towards money, a lot of it revolved around my fear that I would not be able to afford certain things in life. When I took the time to really break down my finances, I realized that – even with my debt payments – the only things that I potentially could not afford currently were frivolous things such as going on vacation or buying a new pair of sneakers. In reading more about financial fluency and a healthy spending/savings balance, it always comes back to one thing: wants versus needs. As I worked on establishing my week to week budget, I quickly realized how much money I was wasting each week on going out to dinner or buying crap on Amazon that I didn’t actually need. It was these “wants” that were a huge part of not being able to save money month to month. So what I have done is I have given myself an allotted amount of money every week that is allowed to go towards my “fun” expenses. This fund is always in cash so that I can’t continue to passively swipe a card and lose track of what I have spent. When it came down to it, I had more than enough money each month to pay for the essentials (bills, mortgage, car, loan payments, food) – my anxiety around not being able to afford to pay for something stemmed from my inability to decrease my “wants” and increase my savings. And as the weeks pass, I find it pretty hilarious how much happier I have been since cutting out the excess in my life. IMAGINE HOW MUCH MORE MONEY I COULD HAVE SAVED THIS WHOLE TIME!?!
- Refocus The Story: at the end of the day, money comes and money goes. The first step to building a healthy relationship with it is understanding just that. This past year, I spent a lot of wasted time stressing out about money. I let it control me and my happiness. For me, refocusing my story has meant having no past financial regrets. Owning our home has been the best thing that AJ and I have done; borrowing money to add value to it should not be a regret. Wasting my time worrying about owing money does nothing to solve the problem – my energy is better spent creating a solid plan and foundation moving forward. I am very happy with my life, regardless of whether I can afford to buy new things all the time… those are no longer a value in my life. What I value now is a good night’s sleep, free of financial worry. Every day is a step towards being debt-free again. I know I will get there… how long it takes is completely up to how much work I want to put into it. It is in my control.
Changing your story isn’t easy, especially when it comes to money. If you are struggling to get your finances under control, I highly recommend reading books/listening to podcasts/joining communities that focus on creating good financial habits. There are many people out there that do this for a living and have some great tools and resources that you can use to get yourself back on track.
When it comes to your financial stress, all I can say is: take a step back and ask yourself a few questions:
- What is it about my finances that is causes me so much anxiety?
- What is my ultimate fear – is this an immediate, realistic concern or just a “what if”?
- What can I control right now to make it better?
- What can I work towards long-term to make it better?
- What is most important to me at this moment, right now and how have my finances helped me get there?
Once you are able to understand and accept your anxiety towards money, it will be so much easier to take your first step towards loosening the grip and doing what you have to do to gain back control over your financial story.
If you have any good resources that you have used to help you manage your money, I would love to hear about them. Comment below or shoot me an email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!