How One Small Step Helped Me Get Over Financial Anxiety

 

I love reading financial advice from smart women. But for about a year, I soaked up a ton of info and did absolutely nothing with it, except get stressed out. Really stressed out.

I know, I know...everyone worries about money. Financial anxiety ranks as the #1 stressor among Americans, according to the American Psychological Association.

But looking back, I can see now that I spent most of 2016 overwhelmed by financial anxiety and headed straight for a major money meltdown. I just didn’t know it at the time.

What's a money meltdown anyway?

Financial anxiety is different for everyone, but for me, it looked a little like this:

Denial and avoidance: I’d whisper things like “you’ll make more money in the future” and “you’ll save eventually” and “there’s no way you can afford to save when your rent is 40% of your salary!” I avoided putting any kind of tangible plan together to pay off my credit card, opting to make random payments that didn’t actually help me balance my expenses in a manageable way. I pretended I didn’t have a measly $2,814 in my retirement account (that I definitely wasn’t contributing to).

Self-deprecation: As I drove to and from work each day, I agonized over my impulsive decision to lease a new car that left me with a $500 monthly payment. (Don’t make the same mistake as I did…just because your credit is good does not mean you should buy nicer things.)

I spent countless hours trying to figure out a way to break the lease without penalties. I told myself that next time, I’d do my research and show up at the dealership prepared. None of the time I spent beating myself up saved me any money, helped me find a lease transfer, or allowed me to even enjoy my expensive luxury vehicle.

Obsessive behavior: I over-analyzed every single purchase, turning a drink with a friend into a painful internal dialogue about how much each sip of a $12 spicy margarita must cost. As a result, I wasn’t even fully present when hanging with friends. I was obsessing over the numbers, basically acting like a complete gremlin.

Fear and Isolation: I became a bitter, angry person. I love going out, trying new things, travelling—and my fear of spending money meant that I isolated myself from the things I loved most, and from happiness in general. Even worse, I was getting hopeless. I was somehow unable to see that the answers were right there in front of me—I just needed to take action.

Enough is enough

Even though I was hopeless, I was still reading, listening to podcasts, watching webinars. A previous colleague of mine wrote this piece on the money app Digit, and it seemed so simple that I figured I might as well give it a shot. 

The savings started trickling out of my account without me noticing. It was something that I didn’t have to plan or think about—which was the major hurdle I had when dealing with my financial anxiety.

My success with Digit gave me the confidence to take it a step further. I did a no-spend month (that turned into two months) to see how much I could save, meaning I bought groceries, gas, and necessities at the start of the month (with a small refresh mid-month) but otherwise, pretty much stopped spending money altogether. For an entire month.

I’m sure there were many moments of self-pity, especially as I was eating 2-for-1 cans of soup on the reg. But honestly, I can’t even remember now, because when I finally logged back into my Digit account, I saw this: $1,500. WHAT?! 

That 2-month long experiment was a turning point for me. I realized I had complete control over my finances (yeah, that whole hindsight is 20/20 thing is very real when it comes to anxiety.) Suddenly the stress cloud lifted and I was able to objectively figure out a plan.

How you can own your finances too

Start with one small change. Digit is definitely not the only solution. In fact, the internet is full of personal finance resources, investing apps, and tools to help you save money. There is no shortage of small changes you can make, either. And I dare you to take the leap and start today.

Why now? Because they say it only takes 21 days to make something a habit. Committing to anything for three to four weeks is a great way to test out a new perspective. For me, my small change helped me realize that I can take ownership of my finances.

That confidence also helped me see that I needed calm the heck down about money. It was all going to be okay. And, every once in a while, it’s OK to enjoy a $12 spicy margarita.

Words: Meghan Raab
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch