When I was 19 and on my own for the first time, grocery shopping was always a struggle. Not only was I completely clueless when it came to cooking anything besides spaghetti, but the thought of handing over such a huge chunk of my money at the end of every shopping trip made my stomach churn.
I was terrified of spending money and running out of the cash reserves I had, so I would spend days at a time eating whatever I could pull together. Usually these makeshift meals were almost completely void of nutrition.
Truth be told, I was worrying for nothing. Not only did I still have some financial support from my parents, but I had a steady job and could more than afford to pay my share of expenses. Yet still, even now, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of spending money.
We spend a great deal of time talking about the over-spenders in our society. But while their financial situation might look out-of-control on paper, the seemingly glowing financial picture of a “chronic saver” is sometimes just masking an overwhelming fear of not having enough.
The problems may have vastly different results, but they both represent an unhealthy relationship with money and spending. One I fully admit to having.
While I’ve managed to change some of my unhealthy thoughts about money over the years, an incident a few days ago reminded me I still have more work to do. In that process, here are a few of the realizations I’ve had.
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My attachment to a dollar figure doesn’t really mean anything.
I have an extreme attachment to seeing the amount in my savings account go up each month. I might label this account my “emergency fund,” but I would be emotionally distraught if I had to hand over anything in that account to pay for something I wasn’t expecting.
That number is really just a pacifier for my fear-of-spending mindset.
The truth is, there will never be enough to give me the feeling of security. Numbers can’t actually offer that long term. Therefore, I have to stop placing so much attachment on this part of my financial picture.
Getting others to understand my thinking doesn’t actually help.
When I start to have a rush of anxiety over what money is coming in or going out, I like to try to explain my irrationality to those closest to me, thinking their nod of understanding will validate what I’m feeling.
The truth is, being validated makes me think that my fear is the only sane place to operate from – and we all know that is generally not true.
It’s far better to be surrounded by people that don’t necessarily share my thoughts and fears because it helps me to recognize where my own mind might be leading me astray.
Taking a moment to rethink my priorities can have a huge impact.
Strangely enough, there have been plenty of times when I’ve handed my card over for purchases that were anything but necessary, and not had the same anxiety as I’ve had paying for something that isn’t negotiable.
Often times this has to do with the size of the purchase. A series of small, unnecessary purchases won’t trigger the fear like one important purchase that’s equal in price.
In reality, it’s not necessarily the dollar amount that needs to determine my financial decisions, sometimes it’s what should and shouldn’t be a priority. Taking a moment to check in on these priorities when I’m at the fear-of-spending cliff can help return my thoughts to center.
If I’m spending with my best life in mind, I should be able to quiet the mind chatter prodding me to feel guilty or afraid.
Reflecting on the bigger picture takes the focus off of the small things.
One thing I’ve learned to ask myself is, “Will I regret the decisions to buy X,Y,or Z a year from now?”
The one thing I really need in my line of work is a reliable laptop. So when I went to purchase one a few years back, while struggling with my fear, I almost opted for the cheaper refurbished model that didn’t have a few of the things I knew would be helpful to me. The price difference was less than $300.
My dad, the smart man that he is, pushed me to go for something I would be able to use for the long haul, something that wouldn’t require workarounds or an upgrade in the near future. He was right. And never do I look back on that purchase and wish I had the extra $300 in my pocket.
Thinking about purchases in those terms helps me to see the value in what I’m buying and realize I likely won’t be fretting about it for months or years to come.