MONEY HAS ALWAYS caused me stress. As a child, I worried my parents didn’t have enough, even though I had no idea what sum would have been considered enough for our family of six. In college, I worried about accumulating debt. I ended up living so frugally that I managed to save nearly all of the Pell grant that the government awarded me. I not only graduated debt-free, but also had a sizable emergency fund in place as I moved into adulthood.
In my 20s and 30s, mortgages and car loans burdened me with anxiety. I fretted about not saving enough, while simultaneously worrying about how much I should spend to appear outwardly successful to friends and family. As a perfectionist, with a hint of OCD, I would sometimes spend hours combing over bank statements and checkbook registers, making sure my accounts balanced to the exact penny.
Divorce plunged me into an entirely new relationship with money. Initially, I feared I wouldn’t be able to support myself. I reverted back to the extreme frugality of my college years. Once I realized my income was more than adequate for my lifestyle, I began saving nearly 50% of my paycheck. I believed if I ever wanted to retire, I needed to be in extreme savings mode. My anxiety shifted to the investment decisions I was making. Was I being too conservative? Was I being too risky? Every major stock market fluctuation, whether it was positive or negative, had me questioning my choices.
These days, my personal net worth hovers close to $500,000. Just two years ago, I believed hitting that number would make me feel secure. Now I realize there’s likely no number that will make me feel completely comfortable. I’m capable of imagining numerous disasters that could wipe out the exact sum of money I’ve accumulated.
And so, as I enter the new year, I find myself committing to change my emotional reaction toward money. I’m hoping to shift my focus from one of fear to one of calm. I know it won’t be easy. Unlike a commitment to increase physical activity, there’s no Fitbit to measure the incremental improvements in our emotional state.
For now, I’ve vowed to check my retirement account balance once a month rather than once a day. I’m trying not to obsess over the Zestimate valuation of my home, knowing it isn’t likely to fall or increase $20,000 overnight. I’m also allowing myself to enjoy the money I have. I remind myself it’s okay to go out to lunch occasionally. I tell myself to go ahead and buy the book I’ve been looking forward to reading, rather than waiting months for it to make its way to the library shelves.
The next 10 years of my life are likely to contain some major financial upheavals. I’m hoping to leave fulltime work behind. I’m planning to relocate to a different state. I doubt I’ll ever be completely at ease with money. But I’m hoping that—with a little attitude adjustment—I’ll embrace these changes and even relax a bit.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. Her previous articles include Few Absolutes, Why FI and Pet Project. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their three dogs.
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