In my previous post, I shared how I paid off my $17 000 student loan within 7 months. Was it easy? No, it wasn’t. It was one of my greatest challenges to date and it took a lot of unlearning and unpacking to achieve this goal. I know I’ve shared what I did to accomplish my goal in such a short time, but what I didn’t mention is the reason why it was challenging for me. Simply put, my mindset and behaviours regarding money made the mere thought of paying off my debt sound far-fetched.
In reality, there are experiences and principles regarding money that can greatly affect the way you think of it and manage it. I can guarantee that I would not have paid off my student debt so soon if I didn’t explore my relationship with money. Using the term “relationship” may sound weird, but based on Google, a relationship is how “two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected”. Therefore, you and money are connected in more ways than one.
I believe the saying “more money, more problems” is true in the sense that having more money doesn’t change an unhealthy relationship with money, instead, it creates more problems. You won’t become financially literate due to a higher income. You don’t suddenly adopt a positive mindset because you have more money than before. In essence, your mindset will not change unless you challenge it. I’ve always wanted to be financially free someday though I needed to start by unpacking my understanding of money and my financial habits as they were barriers to me reaching my financial goals.
With that being said, I suppose that it’s no surprise that some behaviours as an adult can stem from your childhood…
What I Knew About Money as A Child
Growing up, it was made clear that having food on the table, clothes on my back and a roof over my head are what matters most. Nonetheless, I did not know much about money because an adult talking to a child about finance was taboo. Therefore, most of my knowledge was from observation (oh let me tell you, I was a child that would STARE lol).
I cannot tell you what our exact financial situation was, but looking back I understand that our situation was not easy. Despite the struggles, my elders always made that sure I was taken care of, which is why I didn’t feel the brunt of whatever was going on.
While I wasn’t a demanding child (at least I think so!), I always wanted to be fashionable and have the newest toys. I knew I wouldn’t get everything I wanted so I got pretty creative. Based on the anecdotes my mom shared with me, when catalogues and flyers would come through the mail, I took the ones that interested me, flipped through every page and carefully cut out the items I wanted with the prices attached. I only looked at the stores that offered what I wanted at a cheaper price, then I’d create a makeshift magazine/booklet of my own to present to my mother (I guess my creations were the old-school version of a wishlist? ).
My creativity often paid off because I’d get at least 2-3 items. I was able to differentiate what was affordable versus what was expensive from a young age. I don’t know if this story makes me an odd one, but hey it’s the best anecdote I can give on my understanding of money as a child.
As an adult, my behaviours translated to me being frugal (or extremely cheap as some may argue *rolls eyes* lol), but on the other hand, I was very anxious when it comes to money.
My Relationship with Money
I’ve witnessed and experienced many situations that caused a great deal of anxiety and financial stress. As a result, I’ve inherited the negative emotions that were tied to money.
Essentially, my relationship with money got worse when I landed my first job at 18. I was always worried about money to the point that I would barely touch my paychecks. I’d only use my money for necessities then the rest would be stashed away. While it’s expected for teenagers to splurge on certain things, I had a difficult time deciding if it was worth buying simple things such as clothing even when I needed it.
Conversely, I felt guilty whenever I spent “too much” money. For this reason, I couldn’t rationalize going out much because I was afraid that I wouldn’t have money available for emergencies. I always anticipated the worst and felt like I should “be prepared at all times”.
My behaviours only intensified once I got into university and started taking on bills then eventually student debt when I graduated (woo adulthood! Can you sense my sarcasm?). Knowing that I had a $17 000+ student debt, bills and a car lease consumed me daily.
When I landed my first full-time job after graduating, I became overwhelmed with my financial responsibilities. I felt like a walking calculator. I was always calculating how much I’d get per paycheque, how much money goes towards bills and if it were possible to start paying off my debt. Some of my papers and notebooks would have scribbles of all the calculations I’ve made throughout the day. This became an obsession. The constant worry was causing me stress and headaches, which eventually led to meltdowns. Feeling stressed all the time is what led me to address my financial relationship. I had to change.
Developing Healthy Financial Habits
Honestly, it was only within the last year that I could acknowledge that I didn’t fare well with money. My issues with money weren’t discussed in detail with a mental health professional, but I was able to identify that it’s a major problem that I need to resolve.
It took some work, but I managed to shift my mindset. I was able to notice when I’m being irrational or when I’m excessively worried about money. How did I do this? I started by looking at why I behave this way. I gathered that my behaviours stem from my past experiences. It was best to acknowledge this fact and gather the lessons from these experiences before I risk repeating the cycle.
I also came up with practical day-to-day solutions. I learned how to manage my money by researching and listening to podcasts. As a result, I learned how to budget. In the past, I would only track my spending, which I thought was how people budget (spoiler: it’s not only that! There’s more to it!). Back then I thought I was super proactive, but in reality, I wasn’t diligent with my money. It’s by budgeting that I was also able to build an emergency fund.
Being more proactive was like a domino effect. It lessened the stress I have with money because I know exactly how much I make and where it’s going. I was then able to cut down on my spending and work on eliminating debt. Also, with budgeting, I was able to tackle the guilt I felt when I spend money. How? Well, it’s because every month I set aside some money for discretionary spending. Remember folks: life is not all about bills and debt. Like I’ve said in my previous post, I make room for self-care and leisure because it’s vital to my well-being.
Another solution was to come up with the following mantras whenever I felt anxious or stressed about money:
- I acknowledge that money comes and goes; I should not let it scare me
- I am responsible enough to enjoy my earnings while putting some aside in case of emergencies.
- I understand that “life happens” though I shouldn’t always anticipate the worst
It sounds corny to repeat these things but it works!
Lastly, I had to keep reminding myself that my debt is not a punishment. I felt irresponsible for not finding ways to graduate from school with zero student debt and for leasing a car rather than buying a used one that’s in good condition. What helped me was to think of all the pros (and only pros) of having a degree and diploma in social sciences. I’d remind myself that going to school was necessary for my career trajectory and if I found something in my field (which I did), my debt would be worth it. For my car, I admit it’s still hard to convince myself it was worth leasing. The most I could say is “at least it was the cheapest and most fuel-efficient car on the lot!” (On that note, please don’t ask me for car advice! I know little to nothing lol!).
In a nutshell, I had to take time to see how my mindset impacted me all these years. This motivated me to change, gain knowledge and led me to pay off my student debt without going insane! I’m still working on paying off my car and I’m confident that I’m making wiser decisions with my money.
Now I challenge you to think about your relationship with money. Are your thoughts and habits hindering you? If so, how can you overcome them? Also, if you managed to overcome an unhealthy relationship with money, I’d love to hear how you did it!
Until next time! (which is TBD! Gotta get over my random bouts of writer’s block!)
All the best!