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When you type “Living with money anxiety” into Google, the search result comes up with a lovely long list of how to live with it. Handy tips and guides blur into one, all telling you the same things on how to manage your way out of the situation and live with it for the time being. The assumption being, of course, that you are in a little financial pickle that is not permanent. 

But what happens when your money anxiety is not based on a financial situation but is instead, as can often be the case, a product of irrational thought process? Or even a by-product from a situation you were in in the past that just hasn’t left?

The Trigger

My money anxiety started during the final throes of organising my wedding three years ago. We were both scraping everything we could to afford the wedding without debt, and when the last few months rolled around I found myself picking up a lot of the financial slack (through no fault of the mister, I hasten to add). It meant that by the end of pay day every month I was left with £50 or less to last me the month after bills. Opening my bank statements, taking money out of the bank and paying for anything became panic-inducing. It was like having the morning after the night before feeling every minute of every day. 

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Effect of living with money anxiety

As the wedding went by and things settled back down, I assumed that my anxious feelings towards money would stop. It didn’t. Despite a promotion, reduction in outgoings and massive life changes, the anxiety didn’t go away. And still hasn’t.

The way it manifests itself hasn’t changed; I can’t spend money without near panic attacks, look at my statements without moral support or actually purchase anything without serious consideration of what would happen if I lost my job and found myself without a wage. Even a 50p pack of mints. Any trip to buying something always includes a 20 minute rational talk with the husband – who is the only one I can go shopping with – meaning that social life is, and has been, firmly out of the window for me. Going for a post work catch up with a friend just can’t happen because spending £2 on a diet coke just doesn’t happen without a serious meltdown. 

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Finding a solution

For me the reasons for feeling nervous about money ended a long time ago. I’m incredibly lucky to find myself in a comfortable and secure financial position. Like I said above, it isn’t rational – anxiety rarely is. I’ve seen counsellors, undertaken CBT, tried all the guides and even tried a few avant guard self-help methods to get me back on track but it doesn’t go away. The husband calls it money dismorphia because to me 50p is the same as £1000. It is the act of spending that sets me off. But I do have a few tips that has helped, and might help someone else suffering:

  1. If targets are your thing (meeting a unattainable goal in your savings) then set one and knock a percentage off. Say you want to save £100; knock 10% off. Continue to do this monthly as much as you can. You’re still saving but your managing your own expectations.
  2. Prepare yourself for spends if you can. One of the things I have to do is get excited about what I’m buying. If I need a new pair of jeans I’ll find the ones I want and then plan outfits around them. I tend to find I’ll find one that I can convince myself I can’t live without and focus on it until I can get to buy the jeans.
  3. Remind yourself that whatever you think is going to happen if you spend your money, it most likely won’t. My go-to is that I’ll lose my job and that I will regret being “frivolous” with my money. But sometimes you need a sandwich and buying that £3 sandwich is not frivilous. It is survival.
  4. Arm yourself with an understanding friend. The husband has been a rock through this whole thing for me. Sounds soppy but it is true when I say that I have no idea what I would do without him. Being with someone who will walk you to the quiet corner of the hat section in TK Maxx while you bawl your eyes out about buying a £4.99 top and talk you through it is a life saver. 
  5. Arm yourself for the big stuff. Talking mortgages, car payments and vet bills when you’re paralysed by the thought of money is no picnic. So arm yourself with facts, find the best values deals and make sure you take breaks. We have to starting talking about the big stuff months before it needs to be looked at, primarily because I can only think about it in short bursts, anymore and it’s too much. When they come as a surprise (hello emergency vet visit!) revert back to the basics; breathe through it, break it down into chunks and remember that what you are paying for is the health of your beloved furbaby – even if it is the little bugger’s own fault. 

If you are struggling with anxiety around money please talk to professionals, have a chat with your GP for a referral to CBT. If you’re struggling financially speak to the Citizens Advice Bureau who can give you help and advice. As always if you need someone to talk to the Samaritans are the place to go. 

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