Last night my financial anxiety woke me up at 4:00am and WOULDN’T LET ME GO BACK TO SLEEP. Anxiety, you’re a son of a bitch.
I’m sorry for yelling, but I’ve been up since 4:00.
Financial anxiety has been a constant companion of mine for the last three years. And it’s kind of weird, because I’ve been crushing the last three years. I paid off all my debt. I’ve been investing consistently. My net worth has grown by over 100%, and I own my own damn business. So why don’t I feel like a financial Wonder Woman?
What Financial Anxiety Is
Financial anxiety is a feeling of stress, concern, or worry around your finances. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a knot in your stomach, or your heart started racing when you thought about money. (It happens to me at 4:00 friggen am).
This was not the first time I’ve been abruptly woken from my beauty sleep by financial anxiety. Sometimes I get the feeling of a cold hand wrapping itself around my heart when I think about just how much money I need to save for retirement, or the fact that as a freelancer if I get sick I can’t earn any money.
And I am not alone in feeling this way. Here are some statistics to bum you out!
NerdWallet’s 2016 poll reveals that three out of four responders had some type of financial anxiety. “The top financial concerns are health care bills and expenses (35%), lack of emergency savings (35%), lack of retirement savings (28%) and credit card debt (27%).”
Y’all, I just came up with anxiety’s new motto…”Anxiety! It’s everywhere, all the time!”
But why do I, a personal finance professional and money nerd, feel so anxious? Don’t I know how to be good with my money?
My Personal Money Shit
First and foremost, let’s remember that no one is inherently good with money. I’ve accomplished a lot in the last few years, but I carry financial scars from my childhood. I’ve had to unlearn bad financial habits and educate myself on good ones.
I grew up pretty low income. I don’t have exact numbers on what we lived on, but I grew up in a single parent household with three children. My mom was sitting on a boatload of debt from her divorce, and for the earlier part of my childhood we were on food stamps for several years.
Money wasn’t ever discussed. It wasn’t like my mom, in between working multiple jobs and getting her Master’s in education ever sat us all down and said ‘hey, fyi you’re gonna want to avoid debt, invest early and often, and really pay attention to what you can deduct on your taxes.’
All I was aware of was that we didn’t have that much money and it stressed my family out. We were a leftovers for dinner, hand me downs for outfits, take the bus to school kind of family. We were never destitute, but we were never balling out.
I remember one time in middle school when I wanted to go on a school skiing trip. The price tag of $500 made me feel sick to my stomach. I didn’t even bring the trip up to my mom because I knew we didn’t have that kind of money.
I assumed the identity of ‘broke’ as a child and I haven’t shed it yet.
There was no reason to shed it. I paid for college with a combination of student loans, scholarships and family contributions from my grandparents. I worked all of my college career, holding three jobs my senior year. Work paid for all my school books and booze, but there was not much to put away. And besides, I didn’t think that saving more than $500 was really possible. Money was hard to earn, and I would never have any of it anyway, and that was that.
Post graduation I struggled to find a full time job, which further reinforced my identity as someone who had a hard time accessing money. This, plus my student loan debt and low income created a cocktail of anxiety that I’m still sipping on. The ups and downs of freelancing haven’t helped anything either.
What to Do About Financial Anxiety
I share all this because I believe that there is power in transparency around finances. It’s a core belief of mine, right up there with the fact that climate change is real and the cake is better than pie.
Voicing your fears and your anxiety helps you take power back from them. It also might help someone else who feels alone in the same fight.
I’ve dipped in and out of therapy to deal with my anxiety, and that has also been tremendously helpful. If for some reason you can’t get into therapy, here are a few other things I do to help with my financial anxiety.
- Track my money. Looking at the numbers can be really hard, but it’s the single most powerful thing you can do. (I’m sort of sick of hearing myself say that but it just continues to be the TRUTH.) Understanding what you have coming in and what you have going out is the first step to controlling your money, and adhering to values-based spending as a lifestyle choice.
- Exercise. Y’all, this is another thing that so many people preach. I want to hate it, I really do. But it feels so good! I always feel much better after I exercise. For me, my anxiety manifests as things speeding up around me. Pushing myself to a physical limit, getting away from computer screens, and forcing myself to focus on only my body helps me back away from an anxiety cliff I may otherwise fall off of.
- Talk it out. Share your feelings with friends or family, or shoot me an email! My inbox is always open. (info_at_bravelygo.co) Like I said, there is a lot of power in naming things, and you can work through a lot just chatting things out with a friend.
Anxiety ain’t easy. It doesn’t have to control your life though.