Can we talk about Money?
This is a big, scary word that has held an incredible amount of weight for me for so long. For a word that has had so much weight, I’ve done a really good job pretending like it doesn’t matter. I have spent a lot of years wavering between blissful ignorance and crippling inferiority surrounding my financial situation. So much of my self-worth has been held by the unloving hands of my paycheck. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to come to the people closest to me and have really uncomfortable conversations about the disparities between my reality and my appearance. I love to let you think I have it all together, but a lot of times, I’m hanging on by a thread (or that last $10 in my account.) Can you relate? I am writing this because writing is healing and because it’s only talking about money (daily) with people that I love, that is changing the weight of it. I have spent hours and a lot of you know what, talking about the root of my issues with money. I can blame it on genetics and addiction or the generation I was born in. I could also blame it on the Stars and the time of year I was born and the Planet that rules my house. I could also blame it on the fact that I am lucky and I’ve always had people I love who have bailed me out. There a lot of reasons that I think I have never been able to get ahead, but I am done with making excuses and hanging my head in shame. What if I change the narrative? What if I use my voice to talk about the ways that I am trying to make changes? What if I actually believe that I deserve to be free of financial fear?
I have talked circles around my financial fear for most of my sobriety. When I was newly sober, I wholeheartedly believed that quitting drinking was going to be a magical salve for my impulsive spending. Surely getting sober would at least help me start balancing my bank account on the regular? If not a strict budget, at least I’d stop living paycheck to paycheck? My first sponsor quickly brought me back to the ground after this first flight from reality. She said, “Lori, the two greatest foes of alcoholics are romance and finance. You will most likely find yourself in more financial despair than you are in now.” Well, that was a buzzkill. But she was right.
At six months sober, I decided I needed to revamp my look for the summer. I Maxed out a credit card or two and then shamefully paid the minimum payments for a couple of years. In 2012, I took out a large 401K loan to consolidate some debt (and take a vacation of course). This was better debt to be in, but it was still debt. Then in 2013, I started dating Josh. It was the first time I became painfully clear on how my discomfort with my finances was affecting my relationships. Josh was busy working his butt off to pay off his debt and I was secretly racking it up. We decided early in our relationship that the smartest way to keep our relationship happy was to keep most of our finances separate. This, combined with my ability to work as much or as little as I want, allowed me to hide my indiscretion for a while. I don’t know if you’ve ever hid debt from people that you love, but it is uncomfortable. It is gross. I finally came clean about my situation and he was as loving and kind as could be. So I did it again. And again. And then again one more time. The year we got married was the last time. Something about marriage made me realize how much my actions affect him and it made me want to stop.
The question is, and has always been, WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? The most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done is sit down with my husband and let him look at my bank and credit card accounts. Letting him see my insanity was the beginning of a really strong dose of reality. We discovered that I have a penchant for taking Ubers to get coffee on my overnights. What is already an expensive habit, becomes exponentially more expensive when I am taking Uber each way. And then there is the minimum credit card payments. I was a slave to interest for over a decade.
After cutting up and closing most of my credit cards, Josh and I worked at paying off my debt. And then we worked at saving for our future. The last year has been huge. Two huge vacations that we paid cash for, all while saving for a home. It feels great to be where we are and to have nice things. But even though I’m not creating debt, I’ve not been saving money the way that I want to.
You know what is amazing about being in a relationship with someone who has a handle on their finances? It makes you really want to have a handle on it too. One thing that Josh does to have a handle on things is he looks at his credit card and bank accounts every single day. Me? I’m more of the once a week type. Something has happened though…I created a manageable budget. A realistic one. One that accounts for my insanity around coffee and organic food. I set the numbers high, even though I have a lot of shame around them. In the past, it has felt too gross to acknowledge that I spend as much as I do. By restricting myself, I was creating so much room for error and yep, an incredible amount of shame. Each time I tried to budget, I failed. And each time I failed, I reopened new wounds which tell me that I don’t deserve to have nice things or be free of financial stress because I am a bad person who is always going to fail. (I know that this is false, but this is what setting myself up for failure has looked like for the last 20 years.)
In February, I started talking about my financial fear in therapy. I talked about my inability to accept that I deserve to be free of shame and guilt. We talked about setting a budget. Then we set a realistic one. And guess what? I have stayed within the numbers I have set for myself. It feels so good! Getting paid and having an amount left over from my last payday to roll into savings is one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.
I have a feeling I’m going to write a lot about this from here on out. Talking about my finances has stopped giving them so much power. I know that I have every right to be free of the fear and shame that has held me back for so long.
Do you relate to any of this? Have you had success at making changes? Let’s talk. We are all in this together.