Since as far back as I can remember, money has cast a shadow over my life. Can you relate?
Sometimes it was a Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized shadow (like when my parents fought about money or when I was barely getting by in my early 20s and knew it wouldn’t be long too before I needed a new car).
In the last decade, the shadow was more human sized but still omnipresent. I would pay off my credit cards only to charge them back up again. And, of course, there were my student loans.
Soon, however, I am going to be debt-free (except for my mortgage) and that has got me thinking: what will my post-debt relationship with money look like? Will the shadow fade away?
How Money Worries Invade Our Lives
There are lots of ways money worries affect our lives. Here are a few I identified that were true for me.
Reluctance to engage with our money. If you are fearful of money, it makes sense you will come up with excuses for staying in the dark about your particular situation.
I remember when I first signed up with Mint which is a website that, once you provide information about your accounts, creates a dashboard of your money. It was in December of 2014 and I am not sure what drove me to do it. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety at the time so I wouldn’t be surprised if I had reached a point where I decided knowing couldn’t be any worse than not knowing.
The crazy thing was, that even with my condo being under water and having a lot of debt, my net worth at the time was not only positive but in the low six figures. And I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t gotten up the courage to engage with my money.
Assuming we are bad with money (and always will be). When we are little, no one expects us to ride a bike or swim without being taught to do so. But with money, there are no classes or opportunities to practice beforehand.
This means that when we make a mistake—which we will—instead of telling ourselves, “I need to read up on this and figure out how to fix the problem and what I need to do next time,” we tell ourselves we are bad with money. And we continue telling ourselves this as we make more and more mistakes.
That narrative was so much a part of me that when I finally started reading personal finance books, I had a hard time accepting that I understood what I was reading.
It couldn’t be that simple, could it? It’s nuts thinking back. I wasn’t intimidated in the least by the instructions that came with my IKEA coffee table but opening and contributing to a Roth IRA? I was certain I would screw it up.
Turns out, it wasn’t that difficult. Yes, there was paperwork involved but the process was straightforward and certainly easier than putting together that coffee table (and it took less time!).
Thinking of money as “bad” or “evil” when the reality is it is just a tool. Logically, money is an inanimate object created by humans to allow for the orderly exchange of goods and services.
But when it is a constant source of worry in your life, logic flies out the window and all of a sudden money has more in common with the monster that you used to believe lived under your bed than a wrench or a hammer. This attitude messes with our perspective and leads us to act irrationally.
For example, when my father passed, my mom received the money from his life insurance policy. That money was to help support her but instead it felt dirty: we had the money but not him.
Mindful Spending vs. Being Worried
To be clear, being out of debt won’t mean I can buy what ever I want. During my debt-free journey, I decreased my retirement contributions to 8% and stopped contributing to my Roth IRA altogether, so the first thing I will do is max out those contributions. In addition, I signed up for a Health Savings Account, or HSA, through my employer for 2018 so I will also start maxing out contributions to that account.
Once that’s done, I do expect there to be excess (i.e., more money than I need to cover my bills and weekly expenses). I still want to be mindful of my savings rate, but having lived bare bones since January 2017, I plan on increasing my “fun money” budget including doing some travel. My passport has been burning a hole in my desk and I have a ton of paid time-off saved up so I see international travel in my near future (fingers crossed!).
So what will it feel like to be transition from worrying about every penny to mindful spending? I hope it will be something like this:
This may be slightly Pollyanna-ish of me but I really do feel more hopeful of the future. “Best value” will take on a whole new meaning: not just price but quality, fit with what I need, and avoiding wastefulness.
Crossing That Bridge
If money worries are still a daily part of your life with no relief in site, here are some things to keep in mind to help you cross that bridge too.
- Knowing your money situation is way better than not knowing. It may not be as bad as you expect it to be, but even if it isn’t there will be things you can do to improve the situation. You get to start from where you are.
- As I discussed here, just because you made bad decisions in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep making them.
- Money isn’t inherently good or evil. It just is. Use that to your advantage.
- There are people out there—including me!—rooting for you.
How Did Your Life Change After You Stopped Worrying About Money?
I would love to hear about your experience with life post-money worries. Let me know in the comment section below (along with your suggestions for places to visit—I have friends in New Delhi so leaning toward India).
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