When Worry About Money Impacts Emotional Health
I moved into my first apartment in my early twenties filled with so much expectation and pride. My mother and I spent weeks before my ‘official’ move-in shopping for all the must-have items from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom I was set. I had taken my time, planned and found the perfect apartment with rent in my budget. I had shopped sales and accepted hand-me-downs from friends and family for my necessities all with the goal of saving money. I had checked with the utility companies and knew what my expected bills should be. I was ready to be out on my own for the first time.
The first month in my apartment was great, then those bills started to roll in and every single one of them was more than I had budgeted for. I had no idea how my utility bills were so high, I was living alone and being super conscious about leaving lights on and keeping the thermostat set at a reasonable level. Still, every single bill from heat to water was almost double what I’d been told to expect.
Then my car needed a repair and that bill was higher than I expected it to be as well. While it was in the shop the mechanic kindly pointed out I needed four new tires, and a few other things in order to keep driving my old car. Buying a new car was definitely not in my “living out on my own” budget. Panic started to set in. How on earth was I going to make this work?
When All You Do is Stress Over Money
I quickly started cutting back. I cut back everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I was no longer meeting my girlfriends for shopping dates, or going out for drinks after work with co-workers. And still, the budget just would not stretch far enough to cover all the bills.
Worse than the lack of available cash was the emotional stress of worrying about money all the time. I worried about money when I was at work—I should pack my lunch not order takeout with everyone else. I worried about money when I was at home—sitting in the dark might save a few bucks so don’t turn the light on. I worried about money when I was supposed to be sleeping—tossing and turning all night long worrying about the unpaid bill, the incredibly low bank balance, and the empty refrigerator.
Instead of living alone and having this glamorous, independent life I expected, I was completely stressed out to the point that even on my days off I rarely left the apartment. I had completely isolated myself from friends. I had no social life at all. My self-worth crumbled and I was so anxious and overwhelmed that my performances at work even started to suffer, which resulted in a fear that I would lose my job which was really the only thing I had at the time that was keeping me going.
I felt like a failure.
I had done everything right, and yet I had completely burned through my savings and ended up flat broke in just a few months.
The worst part was the stigma I felt around being a financial failure. I was so embarrassed I didn’t tell anyone what was happening. My friends who still lived at home had plenty of money for impulse buys and nights out on the town and I sat at home alone night after night.
I was miserable, depressed, and so lonely.
Pretty soon the inevitable happened, I had to call my parents to borrow money to make rent for the month.
Even after borrowing money—twice—to pay rent I still insisted to my parents that everything was fine. I was determined that things would work out and I would keep my failure to myself.
A Meltdown Leads to a New Money Plan
After living with the emotional stress and anxiety of struggling financially for several months I finally had a small (major) meltdown to my mother and realized something had to change. Not only could I not continue to struggle month-to-month worrying about whether it was okay to buy a few groceries or if I needed to save the money to pay bills. I also couldn’t continue to live with the emotional stress and anxiety, afraid of what bill was going to turn up next, and how I was going to pay it.
The stress was overwhelming and isolating.
After I blew off some steam with a vent to my mom, I realized I had some clear and actionable steps I could take to make things better for myself.
- Stop feeling ashamed of the financial struggle. Struggling financially was not my fault, I hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. I had made a mistake, and gotten some bad information that I used to make some pretty critical decisions on. Once I started talking about how broke I was several friends were relieved to hear that I hadn’t been ignoring their calls for any reason other than I couldn’t afford to go out. And several were relieved they could also start to be real about their financial hardships whether they were short or long-termed.
- Make some changes. As soon as my lease was up I moved out of my one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. Not only did I save on rent by splitting that each month, but I also saved on utilities, groceries and everything else. The result was I could rebuild my savings and start to be less stressed about money each month.
- Save, save, save. I learned the hard way that when the cash flow is great that’s the time to stash it away for a rainy day. It’s so tempting to splurge on that great new pair of shoes, or the latest makeup palette, or a fun night out with friends and all of those things can and should happen, in moderation. After that year of living alone I religiously put money into a savings account every payday so that if something unexpected comes up I had a cushion to get me through the rough patch.
The added bonus of moving in with a girlfriend was even when I needed to stay home to save money I wasn’t sitting alone in a dark apartment feeling sorry for myself and being stressed out.
The Valuable Lessons of Being Broke
The truth is that financial strains can happen to any of us, at any time. An unexpected bill, a car repair, loss of a job, any of these things can pop-up and they are never planned for ahead of time. Instead of lying awake at night full of anxiety trying to figure out how to stretch the money I have to cover all the bills, it’s so much easier on my emotional health, and my sleep schedule if I can stick to a routine of saving first, and splurging later.
Because they can happen to anyone, at any time, no matter how carefully you’ve planned, the stigma of a temporary financial crisis is one that we should all just let go of. Those who truly care about us will understand, and be able to share a story about when something similar happened to them. And by sharing our story—-and our struggle—that’s when we truly empower ourselves and others to learn, grow and thrive.
About the Author
Angela Keck is the community manager for Sanity & Self. You can always find her hanging out on the Real Convo tab of the app, on our social media pages, as well as right here on the blog. In addition to being passionate about self-care, Angela is also a wife, a mother of two, and a writer (in her spare time).